In the old days, agriculture in the Netherlands was
done on mixed farms. These were small farms, with some
cows, and some other farm animals, like pigs for meat
and horses as beasts of burden. Arable farming was purely
meant for producing fodder for the animals on the farm.
The rest of the production was traded on local weekly
or monthly markets or used for consumption by the farmers
themselves. It was difficult for most of these small
farms to exist. Farmers had a tough life, especially
on the nutrient-poor sandy soils.
After the Second World War Dutch government policy was
aimed at the recovery of the economy and increasing
industrial production. To increase the purchasing power
of the population, the price of food was kept low. But
the farmers needed a good income, so the production
of farm products had to increase. This increase of production
was achieved by making labor more effective by using
more machines and yielding more harvest from both the
soil and the animals.
Increase of the yield was achieved by using artificial
fertilizer, pesticides and high-energy fodder.
History of Dutch factory farming
problems in farming methods
growth in free range eggs
Label cattle sheds
See also: Why does it take so long to improve
the lives of animals in livestock farming?
|Dutch agriculture has become
dependent on foreign countries for the import of raw materials
and for export markets for agricultural produce. To counter
the economic superpowers USA and USSR, the European Economic
Community (EEC, now EC), was created. The agricultural
policy of the EC has had a strong influence on the national
The agricultural developments have led to a considerable
contribution of agriculture to the national economy.
The Netherlands is, where agricultural products are
concerned, far more than self-sufficient. Much employment
has been created in the industries linked to agriculture,
at processing plants and producers of fodder. The social
welfare of the farmers has increased, and physical labor
has become less hard because of mechanization. Finally,
the market prices for agricultural products have declined.
Some of these problems are dealt with here further.
The objections against industrial
farming are listed elsewhere.
The miserable life of a pig farmer facing swine fever
etc. is portrayed in this
The problems surrounding
the common agricultural methods
The low price for our food has a downside: the current
agricultural methods has associated problems, that are
increasingly more threatening. The costs that these
problems carry with them are not included in the price
of our food.
The problems can be summarized as follows:
- Economic problems, like the creation of surplus
food and the destabilization of world market, which
also has severe consequences for the Southern Hemisphere
(or the Developing Countries)
- Social problems, like the decrease of employment
opportunities for farmers, the low average income
of farmers and the increase of income differences,
the increase of stress amongst farmers, new physical
stress (noise pollution and chemicals) and a reduction
of the self-sufficient way of life of farmers.
- Problems concerning animal welfare as a consequence
of industrial production methods.
- Problems concerning quality, for example because
of chemical substances added to products (antibiotics)
and too much produce.
- Environmental problems, such as created by manure,
the use of pesticides and the (dis)appearance of the
The EC has an important role in controlling the supply
and the prices of agricultural products. This happens
through a complex system of taxes (milk quota) and farm
support subsidies. This system enabled the production
within the EC to grow substantially. The EC has become
more than self-sufficient in this way: More than one
product has a surplus.
Well-known examples are the mountains of butter, the
sea of milk, and the grain surpluses.
To get rid of the surplus products outside the EU, large
export subsidies are available.
This causes the world market to destabilize: the prices
for these products inside and outside the EU have decreased
because of the overwhelming supply. Because of this
unfair competition, farmers from countries outside the
EU only get meager prices for their products.
Another consequence of this market and price-policy
is that countries in the Southern Hemisphere, like Brazil
and for example and the countries in the Sahel-desert
start to grow crops for the production of fodder. There
is a demand for fodder from countries in the West (Europe
and the USA). On one hand, these countries earn money,
but on the other hand food production for the own population
Because of the change in agricultural economy after
the Second World War, a sufficient income for farmers
could only be generated by starting new, large-scale
farms. This led to a decrease in the number of farmers.
The land available for agriculture could only accommodate
a certain number of large farms, and the farms that
could not keep up with the growth of the largest farms
were forced out of business. The remaining farmers have
to work hard to stay ahead of the competition. This
Finally, the farmer has become so ensnared in the web
of loans, subsidies and marketing rules that self-reliance
is nonexistent. Investments of half a million dollar
are no exception in industrial farming.
Most environmental problems in agriculture exist because
the nutrient cycle is not closed. This is true for both
the world and the Netherlands. Therefore first a global
view of that nutrient cycle.
Plants grow with the aid of solar energy, CO2
from the air, and nutrients from the soil. Humans and
animals eat these plants, or eat other animals that eat
these plants. Energy is taken out, and the remains leave
the body as manure. This manure is deposited on the soil,
as are remains of dead animals and plants and humans,
which are converted into nutrients for plants.
On a global scale this cycle still holds, but often the
separate processes take place in different places. In
the Southern Hemisphere farmers grow food. Instead of
using this for the local people and animals, it is sold
to the countries in the West. There it is used as fodder
for farm animals.
These animals produce a lot of manure, which is not returned
to the soil where the nutrients for the plants were removed.
The effect is that the soil in the South is being depleted,
and in the West there is a surplus of organic fertilizers
Food is also exported from South America and the Middle
East to the West, to be used as fertilizer without passing
through animals first. This is also a one-way road of
Jos Collignon, The Volkskrant, 14-9-99
Solutions to the problems
attached to the common agricultural methods?
It has already been mentioned that the costs of these
problems are not included in the price. Food produced
in this way is therefore cheap. More and more consumers
are critical of the current methods of agricultural
Especially the meat gives rise to concern. This is mainly
because of the animal unfriendly way of production,
the excessive use of antibiotics, and the occurrence
of BSE. The consumer is more worried about his health
than ever before. This gives rise to demand for environmental
and animal friendly products. The conventional agricultural
industry has exploited this trend. But not everything
that is labeled 'green' is welfare friendly. What's
more, animal friendly methods do not always reduce pollution:
because free-range animals can wander freely outside,
the emission of manure is larger. Environmental pollution
can best be tackled by a reduction in the numbers of
cattle and a change over from industrial farming to
organic cattle farming.
Surplus of manure
A major environmental problem in Dutch agriculture
is the surplus of manure. Meat and livestock production
has become a very important industry. At any one time,
there are, on average, 110 million production animals
present in the Netherlands on a population of 15 million
people. Most of these are poultry (laying-hens and broiler
chickens together approximately 85 million), pigs (14
million) and cows (less than 4 million). The remaining
animals belong to what is also called the 'hidden industrial
Because broiler chickens and pigs are species of animals
that can produce multiple waves of animals each year,
the total livestock turnover in the Netherlands is about
450 million per year.
All these animals produce manure, per year about 80
to 100 million metric tons. This amount of fertilizer
is about two times the size of the amount of nutrients
the soil needs to produce a good harvest of crops. But
since the farmers have no way of getting rid of the
excess fertilizer, it is ploughed into the soil anyway.
As a result of this manure surplus environmental problems
occur especially in areas where the concentration of
factory farms is high (the province of Brabant).
Green Label cattle sheds
In order to reduce the environmental pollution caused
by cattle, the so-called Green Label Cattle sheds are
being built. These are low emission farm buildings which
reduce the amounts of ammonia, smell and sound reaching
the outside world. The over production of manure of
course still exists en is still ploughed into the soil,
where it eventually ends up in the ground water and
thus in the environment. The animals often have more
room, but less than a free-range animal. It is important
to realize that the animal welfare improvements in the
Green Label Cattle Sheds are minimal, the main purpose
of these buildings is to reduce environmental pollution
in the direct surroundings. A solution for the environment
does not automatically mean a solution for the lack
of welfare in the industrial farming industry.
Explosive growth in the
free range farming industry
From within agriculture itself objections were raised
to the animal unfriendly way of producing in industrial
farming. A new method of production came into existence:
the free range industry. In this branch of agriculture
there is more attention paid to the living conditions
of the animals. Animals which produce free-range meat
have lived under better circumstances than their factory-farmed
counterparts. The animals can go outside and have the
benefit of more space.
In the supermarket new brand names popped up, that sounded
like the product was environmental and animal friendliness
itself. Often this is not true. Brands like Quality
Farm, Boeuf Limousin, Nijkerks Real CornChicken and
Natupur Chicken only sell industrial farming meat. Alongside
these there are brand names such as Boeuf Blond d'Aquitane
This meat is a little better than normal industrial
farming meat, but the production of it is not checked
by independent organizations. Butchers that sell free
range meat have a sign with the logo on their shop front
and pre-packed free-range meat has the same logo on
the package. As far as eggs are concerned, new brand
names also appear on a regular basis.
The better living conditions claimed for chickens are
only true for the voliere-egg, the free-range egg and
the grass egg. Voliere chickens and free range chickens
cannot go outside, although the last group has some
more room. Therefore grass eggs, eggs laid by chickens
that do get to go outside, are the best choice.
The producers of these eggs are checked by an independent
organization. For voliere and grass eggs this is the
Inspection agency for Poultry, Eggs and Egg-production
(CPE) and for free-range eggs the Foundation for the
inspection of Free range Egg production. These eggs
are recognizable by the logos on the box or a stamp
on the egg.
Organic Farming (EKO)
or organic farming tries to implement methods and
means that are not harmful to nature, animals or humans,
and that try to keep or redress the balance between
humans and nature. It is aimed at the maintenance and
improvement of soil fertility and the survival and use
of different varieties of crops.
The environment is polluted as little as possible and
farm animals such as cows, pigs and chickens can move
In ecological farming natural, preventive crop-protection
and organic fertilizers are used in contrast to the
chemical-synthetic crop-protection and artificial fertilizers
used in conventional agriculture.
Also the choice of which variety of a crop to use plays
an important role.
Weed control is mainly mechanical. Where machines cannot
be used, weeds are pulled out by hand.
Non-soil bound production methods, like industrial farming
and the growing of vegetables and fruit on synthetic
materials such as tomatoes grown on mineral wool, are
The inspecting authority is SKAL,
which gives issues the "EKO" quality emblem.