News - February 28, 2011

Collection of essays on intensive livestock farming

In a voluminous collection of essays released in early February, 62 Wageningen researchers shared their views on intensive livestock farming. Is this a significant contribution to the current debate, or will this scholarly work sink like a stone in the waves of society?

For the debate or the shelves?
Dick Veerman
Owner of the website
'The compilation consists of superb contributions, although I would like to see more diversity in the opinions. It criticizes the sector itself and at the same time, gives an apology on its behalf. I can empathize with that, but what's the point? It will sink like a stone in the waves of sentiments directed against any livestock farm which is not a model of the good old days. Such sentiments have been so deeply ingrained into the minds of the public and the media by the opposers that they have become dominant. That makes such a book - regardless of its quality - interesting only for the archives.
Roos Vonk
Professor of Social Psychology at the Radboud University in Nijmegen and initiator of the professorial pamphlet against intensive livestock farming last year.
'I have received a copy of the book but haven't got time to go into it yet. The impression given by this collection of essays is that things are going to work out fine for intensive livestock farming. Well, I don't think so myself.' A day later: 'I have just received another publication from Wageningen UR. It's a brochure called Meat lovers, meat critics and meat abstinents by Bakker & Dagevos. That looks much more interesting to read!'
Dick Veerman
'It should be done in a different way. Make people see in a familiar light how food can affect them socially and economically. Show how animal and crop farming are parts of one whole. Keep coming up with new angles, and think of exciting follow-up stories to remain in the news. Otherwise, such a report is only meant for those who are on its side so that they can back up one another's opinions. The sector does not have any media strategy. If anything, this report points to the fact that it's time to look for new advisers.'
Martin Scholten
Director, Animal Sciences Group, Wageningen UR
'Are you for or against intensive livestock farming? That was publicly debated last year. I didn't see Wageningen UR making any particular stand in the debate. The essay collection now looks comprehensively at livestock farming from the knowledge point of view. We supply many building blocks, from the perspectives of animal welfare, environment, public health, food security, economy and ethics. There isn't just one wisdom. Ultimately, we have to ask the question: which livestock farm is best for our society?  We don't call the shots; that's done by the entrepreneurs, the government, community organizations, citizens and consumers.'
Wyno Zwanenburg
Chairman of the Dutch Association of Pig Farmers
'I was given the book, but have not read it yet. I won't have time to do so in the next few days either as I have other priorities. Almost all pig farmers are in a precarious financial situation, now that raw materials have become very expensive and the price of meat hasn't gone up. I do a lot of talking to the government and to chain partners to raise the price of pork. Only in mid March will I have time for the book.'
Martin Scholten
'The collection features many different viewpoints. The essay form makes this diversity easily accessible, also among the writers themselves. The essay writers now understand one another's viewpoints better. A network of researchers has been formed concerning this issue. We have to avoid ending up in a dogmatic and narrow discussion, such as: a company may not exceed 1.5 hectares or a certain number of animals. That will lead to all sorts of adjustments, without a sensible direction in sight. We should not relegate our insights to numerical standards. We should instead turn these into room for innovative design. This requires not only technical know-how; opinions have to be viewed factually too.'
Henk Jochemsen
Professor of Christian Philosophy at Wageningen UR, Jochemsen signed the petition from Roos Vonk against intensive livestock farming and is one of the authors in the essay collection.
'It is good to have such a collection of essays. The critics of intensive livestock farming will find the essays not radical enough, I can imagine. But in this collection, steps are being taken in the right direction: sustainable livestock farming. There is concern for transporting large quantities of raw materials, with animal welfare, problems with fertilizers and risks to public health. The solution cannot be found in new techniques, but in profound adjustments in livestock farming. We've taken a step. I don't believe in big master plans; it's time for debate. The debate has to be open; the motions must not sound too rigid. It strikes me that in the essay collection, much more attention is given to sustainability in agricultural science circles than ten years ago.'

Sjoerd van der Wouw
Campaign leader for Wakker Dier (a Dutch animal welfare organization)
'It's in front of me, but I'm not going to read all of it. Writing more reports doesn't serve any purpose; it's high time that Wageningen UR comes up with practical solutions. Chickens raised for their meat are bred to be so large that their welfare and health are no longer acceptable. Dairy cows too suffer from welfare problems because they are bred to produce milk during lactation. These mistakes in the system need to be rectified. Wageningen UR appears to be convinced by this, but I'm still waiting for the practical solutions, which I don't see coming from Wageningen just yet. The major research funders, those in the private sector, are directing the research. And they want production to continue. If Wageningen wants to make headway, it would have to move away more from the interests of these companies when doing its research.'
Henk Jochemsen
'A weak area in the collection is that everyone tells his own story and does not attend to the other arguments. But you can call that an area of strength as well: that has resulted in a panorama of insights. That's a point of discussion again. There isn't any new policy in sight yet, but that's something which politicians have to come up with.'