Sustainable livestock production

The government is taking steps to make livestock farming more animal-friendly and more sustainable. Farmers must work in a way that respects the animals, the environment and people.

Livestock production more sustainable

The livestock sector is made up of farmers, the processing industry and buyers. They must themselves find ways to make livestock production more sustainable. Supermarkets and other retailers have a decisive role to play. Demand from shops for sustainable products is rising, and this is leading more farmers to produce sustainably.

Government supports this approach with:

Sustainable Livestock Production Agenda

The Ministry of Economic Affairs is also actively supporting the partnership for the Sustainable Livestock Farming Agenda. It works with companies, civil society organisations and provincial authorities on the 6 main features of sustainable livestock production:

  • sustainable animal housing and husbandry systems;
  • animal health and welfare;
  • integration of livestock farming into the landscape and the community;
  • contributions in the areas of energy, climate and the environment;
  • business opportunities and a viable market;

  • responsible consumption.

Coordinating progress on sustainable livestock production

The Ministry of Economic Affairs believes effective coordination is vital for faster progress on sustainable livestock production. In a letter to parliament, the minister wrote that a coordinator should be appointed in the spring of 2017. The coordinator will set up a platform with the parties in the sector to speed up progress towards a more sustainable sector.

'Phosphate rights' limit expansion of dairy farming

The Netherlands produces too much manure. Manure contains phosphates, so the country also produces too much phosphate. By the end of 2017 the Netherlands has to bring its phosphate production under the European production ceiling. A set of measures has been adopted to make this happen. The measures focus on dairy farming because its livestock population is growing fastest and its phosphate output is highest.

Three measures have been imposed:

  • Lower phosphorus content in feed

    Through ‘feed tracking’, every cattle feed producer will reduce the amount of phosphorus in feed. The feed industry will implement this measure.
  • Reduce phosphates from dairy farming

    The dairy farmers’ association has made a plan to reduce phosphate emissions, which has been incorporated in the Phosphate Reduction Scheme Order 2017. The order aims to gradually reduce the stock of dairy cattle on farms that have grown in recent years. Starting on 1 March 2017, these farms will be assigned a target every other month for reducing the number of cows, thus also cutting phosphate production. Farms that fail to meet their target will have to pay a large penalty, while farms that do meet their target will receive a bonus.
  • Shrinking the stock of cattle

    Producers who quit dairy farming in 2017 will no longer produce manure or phosphates. These farmers are eligible for a bonus, paid for from a grant scheme for quitting dairy operations.

Pig farmers are cooperating voluntarily on phosphate reduction in 2017. For this purpose, their association is working on an incentive scheme for low-phosphorus pig feed.

Sustainable livestock production and animal welfare

Animal welfare is also important in sustainable livestock production. The minister wrote a letter to parliament in 2013 setting out the Netherlands' policy on this issue.
In recent years central government has taken steps to further enhance animal welfare. For example, there is now a list of mammals that may be kept as pets. There is also a list of animals that, as from 1 July 2017, may no longer be kept as pets.

Reducing antibiotic use in livestock production

Animals in sustainable livestock production are given fewer antibiotics. Excessive antibiotic use can make bacteria resistant, which is dangerous for both humans and animals. That's why the government is working to reduce antibiotic use in livestock farming.

In recent years antibiotic use in livestock farming has fallen by 60%, but the goal was a 70% reduction. This has not yet been reached. In mid-2017 results should be available from a study that will give a clearer picture of the scope for further reducing antibiotic use and what measures are effective.

Based on these results, the livestock industry will step up measures to reduce antibiotic use. In mid-2017 it will also announce new targets for antibiotic use in 2020.