Friday 14 August 2020

Gassing geese

Gassing geese is cruel and a complete waste of time, writes Marianne Thieme.

The gassing of geese around Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport is being presented as an inevitability: after all, who would want aircraft to collide with geese?

But gassing geese is an act of mindless violence. Schiphol is surrounded by crop fields, partly owned by the Dutch government. In most other countries agriculture around airports is not allowed because it attracts birds which can endanger air safety. Not so in the Netherlands. Because of over- fertilisation we have the most protein-rich grass in Europe, and some of it grows in the area around Schiphol airport. The geese love it.

In their efforts to combat the geese, the cabinet even lifted the general ban on gassing animals living in the wild so the moulting birds – a period in their lives when they can’t fly – can be herded into mobile gas containers where a painful death awaits them.

Research shows that geese only lose consciousness after a minute from being gassed and that brain activity goes on for another two to three minutes. During that time the animals have convulsions, struggle to breathe and try to fly. Until now only mice and rats were allowed to be submitted to this treatment but now any animal could be condemned to die like this.

European ban

The national law governing flora and fauna states that the means used to kill an animal must not cause unnecessary suffering. Breathing in high concentrations of CO2 is very stressful and painful. On top of this, the geese have to go through the equally stressful process of being caught, handled, stored, transported and finally loaded into the gas containers. The European guidelines are clear as well: mass catching and culling, which is what the Geese Accord comes down to, are not allowed.

The effectiveness of this type of mass killing, moreover, is questionable. From research carried out by Sovon we know that such interferences serve no real purpose. The remaining animals will only breed all the more quickly in order to compensate for the loss. You can shoot them or gas them but as long as there’s food aplenty the population will bounce back.

This is exactly what happened in 2009 on the island of Texel where 4,000 geese were caught and gassed – a one-off action or so it was said. The effect on the geese population lasted only a couple of months and Texel now has at least as many geese in summer and winter as some years ago. 

The truth of the matter is that Schiphol can only be made safer by disallowing farming in a large area around the airport. Installing pv parks around Schiphol – as has happened around many German and American airports – would get rid of the geese without the need for gassing.


Even Schiphol’s runways could be transformed into giant solar panels. According to research, compensating the farmers would come cheaper than imposing one unhelpful scheme after another. Polder agreements such as the Geese Accord are all well and good but if they don’t work junior agriculture minister Sharon Dijksma should have the courage to call them off.

The wholesale abolition of the national ban on gassing wild animals makes it much easier for provinces to label all wild animals as pests and condemn them to death by asphyxiation. Farmers’ organisation LTO recently complained that tits were threatening the pear harvest. Are we going to gas the tits for taking a bite from a pear?

If we want nature to thrive in this country we need to create space for natural processes, not allow the large-scale killing of animals.
Marianne Thieme is party chair of the animal rights party Partij voor de Dieren.

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