News - September 28, 2017

‘Dutch milk is already pretty sustainable’

Tessa Louwerens

The Dutch environmental lobby organization Milieudefensie has launched a major campaign drawing attention to milk production. The organization wants supermarkets to sell only sustainable milk. But according to Maarten Vrolijk of Wageningen Livestock Research, it is too simplistic to call the milk that is now in the supermarkets unsustainable.

Illustration campain Milieudefensie

Maarten Vrolijk
Maarten Vrolijk

How sustainable is Dutch milk?
‘There is more than one definition of sustainable. For me it means sustainable milk production which does not harm the environment, and with which the dairy farmer can make a good living as well. The sustainable dairy chain monitors the sustainability of the whole production process annually, and dairy farmers use the Annual Nutrient Cycle Assessment to calculate and demonstrate their environmental performance. The use of this Assessment tool has been compulsory since January 2016.’

Isn’t rain forest felled for the soya in livestock feeds?
'No. The soya which Dutch dairy farmers use is 100 percent environmentally friendly. Some of it does come from South America but is grown in regions where no rain forest is felled for it. It is good to stand up for sustainable production, but only on a factual basis.’

Do cows graze in the fields less and less?
‘Currently 81.2 percent of the cows go outside and that is a slight increase: in 2016 it was 78.9 percent. This is stimulated too because farmers who produce for the dairy companies get a premium for putting the cows out to pasture.’

Is it feasible to have only sustainable milk in the supermarkets?
‘I think it is too simplistic to call the milk that is in the supermarkets now unsustainable. Imagine if we now all came to an agreement: organic, that is what we mean by sustainable. Even then it would be impossible to arrange that from one day to the next there is only organic milk in the supermarket fridges. We are working nonstop at making production more sustainable. In the last 10 years we have made great strides in the Netherlands. And it is noticeable that the group of consumers who are able and willing to pay for that is growing.’