Science - December 1, 2011

Hoorah, Bleker is doing nothing

Environmental and animal welfare organizations grumble loudly about state secretary Henk Bleker's views on the mega-barn and intensive livestock farming. ‘Bleker is doing nothing and just leaves it to the market', declares Klaas Breunissen of Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth). Exactly, and a good thing too, says Ge Backus of the LEI.

‘Bleker thinks that government has a limited role to play in making livestock farming more sustainable. In recent years, the government got tough now and then, but not always successfully. Take the Reconstruction law of 2000, which led to an enforced removal of companies, protest from local residents and a popular campaign against the mega-barn. You always get unexpected effects, because intensive livestock is a complicated case. Bleker knows there is a limit to how much the livestock sector can be manipulated.
He thinks chain parties should take the initiative themselves to solve the problems in livestock farming - fertilizer, antibiotics, welfare, unpleasant smells and air pollutions. A varied committee that included Daan van Doorn, Pieter Winsemius, Ab Klink and Marijke Vos has just published an advice on this. The approach suits Bleker fine. Food companies and supermarkets have endorsed it too. This way, the ball is where it should be: in the court of the production chain. That's where the problems should be solved, and quick.
The government should set criteria for this sector on matters of environment, public health and welfare, without prescribing how big companies can get. Counting animals is not an effective way to solve environmental and welfare problems. We have a tricky relationship with upscaling - we don't really want it, but it happens anyway through market developments. For sustainability scale makes no difference. The government should now concentrate on getting rid of legislation that puts the brakes on sustainable farming. An example? Pig farmers in the ‘Better life' market sector, with higher standards of animal welfare, are now allowed only 700 pigs per shed rather than 1,000. This just makes it unattractive for them. Like this the legislative framework holds back investments in sustainability.'

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