Director General of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Management and Fisheries of the Netherlands


The Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Management and Fisheries is very pleased that the Conference Livestock and the Environment takes place in the Netherlands and that the International Agricultural Centre, which is part of the Ministry, has an important task in the organisation of the Conference and in the preparation of the study.

Dutch agriculture is characterised by a high productivity and intensiveness. A negative result of this is an output of polluting substances. With regard to livestock, this has the form of a mineral surplus which results in water and groundwater pollution.

On the other hand, livestock production also has positive environmental effects. It contributes to the closure of mineral cycles and it is a way to add value to by-products of agribusiness. In addition, it is a way to make good use of marshy areas, of which we have a lot in the Netherlands.

The first policy effort to control the mineral surplus in Dutch livestock production is more than ten years old. We started to curb the rapid growth of manure production. Now, the policy aim is to arrive at a sustainable situation in the year 2010 in which mineral output in agriculture is geared to the carrying capacity of the environment. We have had to conclude that it is far from easy to control a mineral surplus caused by livestock production once it exists, in particular in areas in which intensive livestock production is subject to rapid growth. Maybe the Dutch experience can provide some clues for the development of general policy recommendations. It is for this reason that I entitled my speech ‘Lessons To Be Learned’

First, I will outline the development of environmental policy in the Netherlands. Then, I will look at the environmental problems caused by livestock production and the policies developed to abate it, and to conclude, I will sum up the lessons that can be learned from the Dutch situation.

Environmental policy in the Netherlands

As in most countries, environmental policy is relatively new in the Netherlands. It started in 1971 with the creation of a separate environmental ministerial department. Since then, environmental policy has become an important policy item.

In the first ten years, the emphasis was on the development of legislation and a system of environmental permits. At that stage, the legislation targeted pollution in the environmental compartments water, air and soil. Laws were drawn up and standards for environmental management were laid down. On the basis of these, environmental permits were granted. Enforcement is largely devolved to the provinces and municipalities.

1 The paper was delivered by Mr Ger de Peuter, Livestock Officer of the Department for Agriculture

With this legal approach of air, water and soil pollution, significant results have been achieved. However, drawbacks became apparent, too. By targeting air, water and soil separately, there is not only a multitude of rules, but they can also be inconsistent. Combined with the fact that different organisations are involved in the enforcement of the rules, this caused lengthy procedures and delays. The complicacy of the legislation led to enforcement problems, too.

These drawbacks necessitated a turn-around in environmental policy. A start was made with simplification and co-ordination of rules and procedures, and new policy lines were initiated, aimed at target groups, areas and products. The two basic preconditions for a successful long-term environmental policy were considered to be internalisation and integration.

Internalisation is the process where environmentally friendly behaviour becomes second nature. For this to happen, two things are required - a change in attitude and methods which integrate environmental considerations in management. To accomplish this, the main thing is to ensure involvement of groups in society in the development and implementation of policies.

Integration is understood as aiming at the realisation of cohesion and consistency between elements of the environmental policy and between the environmental policy and other policy areas, such as spatial planning, agriculture, traffic and transportation. Integration also implies a greater involvement of specialist ministries in environmental policy development. This means that responsibility for the mineral policy and crop protection policy is primarily with the Ministry of Agriculture.

In the new approach to environmental policy, the policy aiming at specific target groups in society has reached the highest level of sophistication. The government consults representatives of industries, such as the chemical industry, power companies, the food processing industry, agriculture, etc. In these consultations the parties act as equal discussion partners, and they conclude voluntary agreements on the contribution of that sector to a cleaner environment now and in the future, and on conditions and facilities that need to be provided by government. Such an agreement is laid down in a covenant. These covenants always include the following elements:

Subsequently, the covenant functions as a guideline for the issuing of permits to companies within the industry. In this way, the target group approach results in a feasible environmental action plan which is geared to the specific situation in the industry. It is not meant to replace the legal approach, but to supplement and support it. In agriculture, there are covenants on crop protection and energy use in glasshouse horticulture. A new covenant is expected to be concluded for the long-term development of glasshouse horticulture.

The target group approach has produced some important successes. It has notably increased the involvement of industries and it has promoted the development of a large number of technological innovations.

The other two new policies are aimed at areas and production chains. Here too, the emphasis is on consultation with groups in society and the conclusion of agreements. The area policy is aimed at specific regional environmental problems or resources such as drinking water or nature reserves. The production chain policy aims to draw up a customised plan for the problems in a specific production chain. This production chain policy is still under development - in livestock production the chains targeted could be the pig production chain and the dairy chain. The policies for areas and production chains are really part of the target group approach.

In the years to come, these policies will be supplemented by a further inclusion of environmental cost in production cost. The strategies we think of include tax measures and systems of emission rights.

To conclude my review of Dutch environmental policy, I want to mention the importance of international environmental policy. A large number of environmental problems have an international scope, such as the greenhouse effect, acidification, and water quality. To solve these, the Netherlands is dependent on the progress of international initiatives. On the other hand, international agreements and EU directives are becoming more and more important for the development of the national policy. In short, for policy development the international aspects of the environment take on an increasing importance.

Agricultural environmental policy

Now that I have given you an impression of the Dutch environmental policy in general, I would like to go into environmental policy for agriculture. Dutch agriculture is characterised by a high intensity and productivity. For a large number of products, total production is far more than the national consumption. The intensiveness of production brings on a variety of environmental problems, for instance due to pesticides, mineral pollution due to livestock production and greenhouse gas emissions from greenhouse horticulture. One of the priorities of Dutch agricultural policy is reducing the burden on the environment. We have identified two strategies to effect this: a step-by-step introduction of environmental management and environmentally friendly technology on farms, and the development and stimulation of sustainable production systems.

Research and practice show that agriculture can at the same time be both highly productive and environmentally benign, provided environmentally friendly technology is combined with good management.

Environmental policy in livestock production

And now the policies for livestock production. Too high levels of nitrogen and phosphate emission are the main problem here. The pollution caused by these minerals partly results from the high livestock density in the Netherlands. In this country, the pig population is just as large as the human population, i.e. 15 million. In addition, there are a little less than 5 million cattle, of which 1.7 million dairy cows, and 90 million poultry. In the 1980s, it became clear that the growing livestock numbers led to a continual increase in the mineral surplus and the concomitant adverse environmental effects. In particular, water quality suffered as a result of nitrogen and phosphate leaching. The growth in animal numbers took place particularly in pig and poultry farms in the south and east, with little or no land. A quick and simple remedy was hard to find, so that a phased approach was opted for. The ultimate aim is an agricultural sector of roughly the same production level which allows for a clean environment.

The policy up to now

In the first policy phase, from 1985 to 1990, the aim was to achieve a stabilisation of manure production. The following instruments were used: a no-expansion policy for farms with a manure production that was too high in relation to their land; gradually stricter regulations for the use of manure; a stimulation of the distribution of manure from areas with too much to areas with too little manure; and extensive research efforts into manure processing and the use of manure, and into concentrates with a lower mineral content.

In the second phase, from 1990 to 1998, this policy was pursued, including a gradual tightening of the manure application regulations. Application during the autumn and winter months was forbidden and application with low-emission machines became obligatory. In addition, housing systems were developed with low ammonia emissions. Unfortunately, the research into manure processing has so far not resulted in a practicable large-scale technique. The first two policy phases have resulted in a reduction of mineral output by livestock by about 30%, a more efficient use of manure and improvements in the distribution of manure over the Netherlands. The reduction in mineral production was largely accomplished through feed improvements, improvements in the use of inorganic fertiliser and a reduction in herd size as a result of the milk quota system.

The future

In 1998 a new policy phase starts which will end in 2010. The objective is to have the mineral surplus at farm level halved in 2010 compared to 1985. The core of this policy is an obligatory minerals accounting system, which reveals the mineral surplus on each farm. The surplus is the difference between the volume of nitrogen and phosphate that is supplied to the farm in the form of fertiliser and feed and disposed of by a farm in the form of products and manure. Allowable surplus levels have been set. If the surplus exceeds this allowable level, a levy has to be paid. The height of the levy is designed to deter farmers from exceeding the set level. The allowable surplus level is high at the start and will be reduced in steps. To give an impression, the allowable surplus level for grassland will be 300kg of nitrogen per hectare in 1998 and 180kg in 2008. The obligatory minerals accounting system will be introduced in phases, too, starting with intensive livestock farms.

The advantage of the obligatory minerals accounting system is that it sets a clear objective on the farm level, while the farmer is free in the way he wants to implement this objective. This stimulates integration of environmental considerations in management methods and promotes innovation.

Experience has shown that the first steps taken to control a mineral surplus tend to save money. Often a more efficient use of concentrate, manure and fertiliser leads to both lower mineral losses and less cost. Further steps require the use of new technology, in particular in intensive livestock production.

The disadvantage of the obligatory minerals accounting system is that it is rather complicated and that it causes a heavy administrative burden - manure that is disposed of must be sampled and weighed.

In the policy phase to come, low-emission housing will become obligatory for intensive farms.

An extensive package of supportive measures has been put in place, which among other things intend to stimulate a restructuring of pig production. The aim of this restructuring is to promote modernisation and scale enlargement, combined with the introduction of environmentally friendly housing systems.

In case the envisaged policy does not have the effect desired, a reduction of the livestock herd may have to be considered.

As you will have understood from what I have said so far, going back from a mineral surplus to a situation in which the burden on the environment is less heavy will be a real effort.

Lessons to be learned

I would like to draw some conclusions now and see what lessons can be learned from the Dutch environmental policy and the policy on livestock production in particular.

I hope that this picture of Dutch environmental policy and the lessons that can be learned from it will be useful in your discussions of the days ahead.

I would like to end with stressing that livestock production can contribute a great deal to the development of a sustainable society. It produces quality food, it provides a lot of employment and it is beneficial to a sound environment, especially in regions with mixed farming. The challenge is to make use of and strengthen the positive effects, while minimising the negative effects. It is with this challenge in mind, that the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Management and Fisheries is sure, also because of its own experience, that the Conference on Livestock and the Environment is a highly valuable endeavour. I hope that you will be able to draw conclusions at the end for the purpose of policy development on livestock and the environment. We are interested in the outcome and we are prepared to contribute our knowledge and expertise to the development of a sustainable livestock production also on an international level.

I wish you a very successful conference. Thank you.