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.
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
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jos Collignon, The Volkskrant, 14-9-99
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
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
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.
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.
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.