Dutch Government position on scale of intensive livestock production

The Dutch Government is introducing regulation to enable provincial and local governments to limit the scale of livestock production units where necessary in the interests of public health. The scale of livestock production in a particular area, livestock density and the size of the area the unit covers must be appropriate to local surroundings. Each rural area has its own specific landscape and social characteristics and this demands tailor-made solutions at provincial and municipal level.

In a letter to the House of Representatives, Minister for Agriculture Dijksma, also on behalf of Minister Schippers of Public Health and Sport, and Minister for the Environment Mansveld, conveyed her vision on livestock production in the Netherlands and described the government reaction to recommendations from the Health Council of the Netherlands.

Sustainable livestock production

The Netherlands is the second largest exporter of agricultural products in the world, and the agricultural sector is therefore an important driver of the Dutch economy. At the same time the sector’s image is under pressure from public concerns about animal welfare and the environment.  Risks to public health, upscaling, and the suitability of livestock production businesses to their surroundings also form part of the public debate.  At the same time, there is an increasing number of mouths to feed, which means more food will be produced.

Green growth is the key. Measures are already being taken to make the sector more sustainable, by reducing the use of antibiotics, manure processing, research and innovation in the Top Sector Agro & Food, and the development of new market strategies for more sustainably produced animal products. Minister for Agriculture Djksma: “If all parties involved opt for greater sustainability in livestock production, we can create a production system that enjoys broad support and has an economic future.”

Limits to unbridled growth

The Government supports the sector’s economic position but does not wish to see unbridled growth. Current environmental and planning legislation provides enough scope to limit the effects of livestock production on the quality of the natural environment. Under the Spatial Planning Act provincial and local governments can require businesses to build premises that are suitable for their location, taking account of the natural environment. Government bodies are called on to make use of the Odour Nuisance and Livestock Farming Act to control nuisance from livestock production.

The Government is drawing up new legislation to enable provincial and local governments to limit growth in specific areas for reasons of public health, should this be necessary.

This will include an upper limit to the scale of the farm (number of cows, chickens or pigs) in a specific area and a ban on locating farms in a specific area;
Limits to the intensive nature of the farm in an area (number of animals per hectare).
Limits to the size of the premises in an area (number of animals in a housing unit).
This will require revision of the Animals Act which regulates the keeping of animals, including public health interests. The revisions will be made on the basis of supporting scientific evidence.

Other measures

An inventory will be made of possible measures to limit risks to public health from livestock farming.   Standards for particulate emission from animal housing will come into effect in 2014. Licence applications will be subject to the standard for endotoxins (bacterial cell membrane residues) set by the Health Council of the Netherlands.

The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, Wageningen UR, the Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences and the Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research will carry out a joint study into the effects of livestock production on public health. The Government has earmarked EUR 3.4 million for this purpose. A pilot forum will be set up to support provincial and local governments with information about livestock production and public health. The Government will also consult with the Association of Provincial Authorities and the association of Netherlands municipalities.