Farm minister Henk Bleker on Tuesday published plans to limit the size of factory farms because ‘there is no room in the Netherlands for extreme industrial farming’.
Although no figures have yet been decided, Bleker told parliament in a briefing he was thinking along the lines of a maximum 500 dairy cows, 10,000 pigs, 240,000 broiler chickens, 2,000 goats and 2,000 veal calves.
After the proposal has been discussed with farming organisations and other interest groups, the limits would either be enshrined in law or in a covenant with the industry, Bleker said.
Change of heart
Last November, Bleker told MPs the cabinet had no plans to introduce a maximum size for factory farms.
It is up to provinces and local authorities to combat the drive towards ever bigger farms, the minister said. The government will only intervene in the size of a farm if ‘public health, socio-economic effects or ethics’ make it necessary.
However, Bleker urged local councils to continue to hold back mega-farm developments pending the outcome of a health council report on the likely effect on public health of farms with thousands of animals. That report is due in the third quarter of next year.
Cows and pigs
According to research by Wageningen University earlier this year, the Netherlands now has some 242 ‘mega’ factory farms for cows and pigs compared with just 95 five years ago. A mega-farm is defined by the Alterra institute as one which has 7,500 pigs or 250 dairy cows or 2,500 veal calves.
Most of the mega-farms are in Noord-Brabant, Overijssel, Limburg and Gelderland provinces, where they have generated considerable local protest.
The Netherlands is one of the most animal-intensive farming countries in the world, with annual production of 450 million animals and birds for consumption.
The move towards mega-farms is part of continuing consolidation in farming. Last year, the Netherlands had some 50,000 livestock farms, compared with 78,000 10 years ago.