Dozens of livestock farmers in Oost Brabant and Noord Limburg are breaking the rules for the disposal of surplus manure, according to an investigation by the NRC.
Farmers are forging their accounts, illegally trading their manure or dumping more on their land than permitted by law, while transport companies are fiddling lorry weights and making unrecorded trips to dump manure at night, the paper said.
In total, the NRC found that 36 of the 56 manure processing and distribution companies in the two regions had been fined for fraud, or suspected of fraud, in what the paper calls the ‘manure conspiracy’.
The two regions are home to 60% of all pigs, 40% of all chickens and one sixth of all cows in the country which together produce 16.5 billion kilos of manure, or more than fifth of all manure produced in the Netherlands.
While nitrogen and phosphates are good for plant growth, they also pollute the groundwater and factory farms are subject to strict rules about how much manure they can put on their land.
The rest has to be disposed off or traded with other farmers who have not used up their own manure quotas. But disposal costs money and some farmers are unwilling to spend the cash. Instead, they falsify their own manure records, in some cases, by doctoring manure samples to alter the concentration of phosphates and nitrates.
The lack of manpower means there are few controls and the fraud is also difficult to detect, the NRC said. A report by the environmental assessment agency in April said 30 to 40% of all manure produced by Dutch farm animals is illegally spread on the land while a police report on organised crime said that 25% of manure is illegally traded or dumped.
The EU has urged the Dutch government to tackle illegal manure dumping and some action has already been taken. Samples can no longer be handled by the farmers themselves but are collected by an independent body. The public prosecutor is also stepping up actions against companies suspected of fraud – two companies were raided in October alone.
The paper spoke to dozens of professionals involved in the manure processing business but most denied the sector has a problem. An exception to the rule is Wilfried Nielen, a manure transporter from Zeeuws-Vlaanderen who told a meeting attended by the NRC journalists: ‘Gentlemen, we are all committing fraud’.
Nielen told the paper he is in favour of more and better controls by the food safety board NVWA, which he described as ‘a guard dog without teeth.’ The NVWA declined to answer the NRC’s questions.