Speech by Minister of Nature and Nitrogen at the first ‘Global Conference on Sustainable Livestock Transformation’ of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

Speech by Minister of Nature and Nitrogen at the first ‘Global Conference on Sustainable Livestock Transformation’ of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on 27 September 2023.

Ladies and gentlemen,

No. More. Hunger.

That’s what the Netherlands said after World War II. After a terrible winter of famine – full of empty stomachs. Thousands and thousands died.

So what did we do? We innovated. We radically modernized our agricultural system. Invested in research and education. In scaling up and mechanizing. We transitioned.

And our farmers got the job done. Top production, top-notch entrepreneurship. Very efficient. You might say: We became masters of our environment.

But now . . . The masters must go back to school. Because as frontrunners, we’re running into a frontal collision. Into a wall of challenges.

You know the challenges – they’re worldwide. Extreme heat and droughts. Heavy rains and floods. Challenges with air quality, soil quality, and water quality. Challenges with crop protection agents. Animal welfare. Biodiversity loss. Am I forgetting something?

For many decades, the Netherlands has expanded its agricultural capabilities, especially with livestock. But our livestock farming has simply become too input-dependent: water, fertilizers, plant protection, feed imported from afar – at the expense of forests. We do have high meat and milk outputs, but also produce unwanted output that the environment just cannot handle.

We’ve been stretching our ecological system, like an elastic band. And now, that elastic band has grown tired. Here and there, it’s showing cracks. Some might look the other way, hoping it doesn’t snap.

I think it’s time to act. “No More Hunger” deserves a happier ending than the pressure it’s putting on our planet today. It deserves a new future.

A new transition.

You might say: “Hey, I heard the Netherlands is buying out farmers to lower nitrogen emissions. Sounds pretty luxurious. They have enough to eat. They have food security . . . ”

And you’d be right. But the problems we face, feel very non-luxurious. The environment is suffering. We simply have to act. Not only because European laws oblige us to. But also because our conscience obliges us to. It’s saying: “What legacy are you handing the next generation?”

So, how does this minister from “Cow Country” see the future? Well, I think we can stop stretching the cracking elastic band. We can innovate again and achieve a new transition, without depleting the planet. I see hope in shifting – within Earth’s boundaries.


By embracing sustainable livestock farming. By embracing a diet with less animal protein and more plant-based protein – which is also healthier. And by embracing promising developments like cellular agriculture, precision fermentation and cultivated meat.

Transitions will be difficult. I’ll never forget the days when farmers protested right at my very own doorstep. But we’re already making progress. For instance, for many months, we’ve worked hard on a “National Program for Rural Areas” – aiming to protect our water and to protect our soil. And we’re slowly but surely finally squeezing the nitrogen tap. Agricultural entrepeneurs throughout the country are now taking important first steps, cooperating locally to create a healthier environment for everyone.

No. The Netherlands does not have all the answers. Finding a sustainable food system will be hard. But having friends by our side will make it easier. After all, climate change, biodiversity loss and other environmental problems know no borders or differences.

Whatever happens, the Netherlands is dedicated to the new transition. And though we may not share the same vision for the future of livestock, the Netherlands will share its newfound knowledge, willingly – to help you avoid going through similar challenges.

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I came here to deliver a message. I came to extend a hand of friendship. I’m also here with open arms – to listen, especially to young people from all over the world. They need hope, they need to grow, they need to prosper. So I want to hear their ideas. After all, the future is mostly theirs.

Let’s help them shape it.