History of Dutch factory farming

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.

Subjects in the history of Dutch factory 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 agriculture.
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 article.

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.
  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. Problems concerning animal welfare as a consequence of industrial production methods.
  4. Problems concerning quality, for example because of chemical substances added to products (antibiotics) and too much produce.
  5. Environmental problems, such as created by manure, the use of pesticides and the (dis)appearance of the landscape.

Economic problems

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 suffers.

Social problems

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 invokes stress.
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.

Environmental problems

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.
Jos Collignon
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 (and nutrients).
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 resources.

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 production.
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 farming'.
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 and Greenfields.
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)

Ecological 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.Demeter The environment is polluted as little as possible and farm animals such as cows, pigs and chickens can move freely.
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.
Skal emblemAlso 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 not used. The inspecting authority is SKAL, which gives issues the "EKO" quality emblem.

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