Published on: September 14, 2021



What is in news : The Netherlands is considering proposals, which are the most radical of its kind in Europe, of slashing livestock numbers by 30 per cent by forcing farmers to sell their emission rights and even their land to the state.

What is the proposal :

  • The Netherlands is the EU’s biggest meat exporter. It has also one of the largest livestock industries in Europe, with more than 100 million cattle, chickens and pigs. The country had average densities of 14 goats, 93 cattle, 298 pigs and 2372 poultry per km2 and of 414 persons per km2 in 2018.
  • The proposal states that the livestock numbers should be slashed by 30 per cent by forcing some farmers to sell emissions rights and even their land to the state, if necessary.
  • This comes following growing public debate in the country over the effects of livestock production on human health and the environment. The debate had found a renewed impetus after the Q fever epidemic which hit the most densely populated livestock areas in the country in 2007-10.

What is the reason behind such a plan:

  • Acute climate crisis caused by an excess of nitrogen emissions.
  • Concern regarding livestock stems from the fact that they produce manure which, when mixed with urine, releases ammonia, which is a nitrogen compound.
  • Ammonia, via farm runoff, can get into waterbodies, in which case the excessive nitrogen will damage sensitive natural habitats. Nitrogen can lead to algae that deplete oxygen at the surface of the water.
  • Run-off and leaching of nutrients from soils and groundwater leads to eutrophication as a result of which nitrogen concentrations exceeded the standard at 50-65% of the measuring points in the sand region and in about 40–60% in the clay region between 2011 and 2014.
  • Deposition of nitrogen compounds can also affect terrestrial ecosystems through acidification and eutrophication. The study stated that 60% of the surface in nature areas in the country is exposed to higher nitrogen deposition than the critical load values for the specific nature target types.
  • Livestock production in the Netherlands contributes roughly 40% to the total nitrogen deposition, mainly through the emissions of ammonia.
  • The largest contribution to the ammonia emissions is from cattle with 63%, followed by pigs with 21%, and poultry with 11%. Changes in total nitrogen deposition do not proportionally affect changes in critical load exceedance. When zero emissions from animal husbandry are assumed, the exceedance drops from about 60% to about 15%.