Wetenschap - 28 november 2013

Decline in farming knowledge in Dutch parliament

Albert Sikkema

Knowledge about farming among Dutch MPs is in continual decline. They have drawn this conclusion themselves, re-ports livestock sector magazine V-focus.

MPs from various different cabinets were invited to give their assessment of how much they and their colleagues knew about farming in 1993, 2003 and 2013. The grade they awarded themselves 20 years ago was  8 out of 10. Ten years ago they scored 7 out of 10 and this year only 6. Agricultural Economics Institute LEI economist Krijn Poppe is not surprised.

‘This result is in line with a scenario study on lobbying, published jointly in 2009 by the LEI, Alterra and Food & Biobased Research,’ says Poppe. ‘You can see lobbies changing in the world. The Dutch agriculture board disappeared long ago, now there is no ministry of Agriculture anymore and the Product Boards have been dissolved. With the drop in the number of farmers it is no longer so attractive to politicians to stand up for agriculture. And the chances of a farmer or horticulturalist ending up in parliament are smaller too. What is more: an MP who wants to get into the papers or be on Pauw & Witteman [a Dutch TV talk show] stands more chance if he or she is on the human rights committee than on the agriculture one.’

But does than mean a drop in agricultural knowledge?

‘The research might be slightly distorted. The future of agriculture is more controversial at the moment than it was 20 years ago. Now there are parliamentarians, like the Animal Rights party, who have outspoken political views on agriculture, based on norms and values. Their opponents sometimes feel that the factual knowledge of these MPS about an issue like factory farms is not what it once was. But politics is not just about facts, it is also about ethics.’

How important is national government these days?

‘The world of lobbying is changing and increasingly decisions are taken either in Brussels or at regional level. Now the sector can no longer rely on the knowledge of the parliamentarians, it will have to go about drawing attention to its interests differently. You would assume that the large agrifood companies have found these new routes, although I don’t often see them featured in a positive light in the current affairs columns.’