Organisation - September 27, 2012

'Dijkhuizen is polarizing the issue'

Rudy Rabbinge says Dijkhuizen makes it seem as if we have to choose between eating and animal welfare, which is wrong.

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The éminence grise of Wageningen UR is concerned. 'He sees contradictions that are not inevitable.'
Rudy Rabbinge phones us. He is concerned about Wageningen UR's position in the debate about intensive farming and he'd like to talk to the editors.
Rabbinge is Wageningen UR's éminence grise. The emeritus professor of Production Ecology has an impressive track record. Rabbinge was a member of the Scientific Council for Government Policy, he was a senator for eight years and he currently chairs the UN food security panel. He is highly respected, both in the Netherlands and internationally. In 2008 it took Rabbinge just one phone call to arrange the speaker to open the academic year: Kofi Annan.
What's bothering you?
'I'm very concerned about the image of Wageningen University. We have worked hard to be a university for the life sciences and now we are wrongly being seen as advocates of factory farming. Rather senior people have been asking me about this over the past two weeks. Pieter Winsemius, the former chairman of the Society for the Preservation of Nature, Henk Bleker, supervisory board members and senior executives at the Rabobank. They are saying: "You mustn't do that'.
Why not? It got a debate going.
'Dijkhuizen says he is basing his arguments on Louise Fresco and me. But I never used the word "intensive" like that and I never would. "Intensive" has all kinds of connotations; it's almost synonymous with bad in influential circles.  Dijkhuizen is polarizing the issue. People will stop listening to your arguments if you use that word. You get a debate between the deaf.'

You both stand for the same approach. Dijkhuizen is more subtle than he seems. He sees that our society is rejecting the clean, highly productive agriculture that Dutch farmers excel at on the basis of emotional rather than rational grounds.
'We do agree up to that point. Only I think you should listen carefully to society and take its views seriously. So you mustn't make people choose between satisfying hunger and animal welfare. He sees contradictions that are not inevitable. You have the Minderhoudhoeve in Flevoland and many trend-setting farmers who are highly productive without destroying farmsteads, disturbing herd behaviour, etc. Studies by Plant and Animal science groups confirm that it is possible to combine efficient farming practices with consideration for animal welfare.'
Dijkhuizen is exposing the myths of the environmental lobby and the Green Left political party.
'I understand this; I too get annoyed at the incorrect, completely unsubstantiated claims that are made. Integrated farming systems have been shown to be much more environmentally friendly than the systems that are supposed to be designed for sustainability, such as organic farming. That is counter-intuitive and difficult to explain, but we need to do that.
I should say that I'm fine with people opting for organic farming; I'm the last person to stop them. We have that luxury in the West. I'm just opposed to taboos on using artificial fertiliser, pesticides or gene technology and incorrect claims about health or the environment. That's what you should be doing as a scientist.'
Even if society is deaf to what you are saying?
'In 2007, Roger Pielke Jr described different roles scientists could play. You have always had the pure scientist, who provides society with information and says "You choose". I think Aalt sees himself as a pure scientist. A contrasting role is the issue advocate, the scientist who steers things in a particular direction - a lot of people in organic farming adopt that role. A more recent arrival is the honest broker, who listens and helps society in the process of deciding. Honest brokers won't portray an end to hunger and animal welfare as two opposing goals because they understand society's preferences and scientific insights. They see this as an incentive to develop healthy livestock farming.'
Dijkhuizen in debate with students
A debate on farming will take place soon in Leeuwenborch; participants will include Aalt Dijkhuizen and the students who protested against him. See the intranet and studentnet for the exact date.

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