Organisation - March 2, 2011

Ban on 'mega' harms sustainable agriculture

A sustainable livestock farm and a ban on mega-barns do not go hand in hand, contends Edo Gies of Alterra.

The Dutch Lower House has announced a temporary ban on the construction of mega-barns, and various provinces have tightened up construction regulations. A farming business is not permitted to exceed 1.5 hectares in size; multi-storeys and new branches are prohibited. According to Alterra researcher Edo Gies, this is a political statement which fails to address the core of the problem. Many people are worried about animal welfare issues, public health risks and adverse effects on nature and the environment.
Gies asks us to realize that the move towards sustainable livestock farming requires more room for manoeuvre. More space is needed, not only for rearing livestock in an animal friendly way, but also for a proper integration with the landscape. The current measures will not curb expansion, Gies writes. Instead, they will result in 'existing building blocks being utilized down to the very last square metre, making a good layout of the land impossible. There will be a tight squeeze in built-up areas. Bad for the animals, bad for people. Examples abound in rural areas.'
Gies appeals for a spatial vision of sustainable livestock farming in the Netherlands. Provinces have to make use of spatial regulation instruments to stimulate sustainable livestock farming instead of work against it. 'The building block policy has to be thrown out', Gies says. 'We should not put any restrictions on the extent of the building blocks, but give companies room to expand under clearer qualitative standards. The area of a building block should be determined by a business plan incorporating business economics, accountable landscape solutions and sustainability.'
Gies is one of sixty authors of the Wageningen UR essay collection about livestock farming. He says that a good spatial regulation of livestock farming will improve the quality of the countryside, and also help to reduce livestock diseases, health risks, and smell and environmental pollution.