News - May 17, 2010

'Intensive livestock farming: professors, stick to what you know'

Wageningen professors are among the signatories to the petition against intensive livestock farming.
Professor job title has been abused, says Board Chairman.

More than two hundred professors in a wide range of disciplines are calling on politicians to make radical cuts in intensive livestock farming. The signatories include twenty five Wageningen professors. They endorse the 'Plea for Sustainable Livestock Farming - an end to organized irresponsibility'. The plea was drawn up on the initiative of Roos Vonk, professor of psychology at the Radboud University Nijmegen and a former chairman of the animal welfare organization Wakker Dier.
'As scientists working in a range of disciplines', say the professors on the site (in Dutch), 'we feel that intensive livestock farming should be downsized and restructured to become an animal-friendly, human-friendly and environmentally friendly system compatible with the nature and needs of all living creatures'.
Livestock industry
The plea refers explicitly to the findings of the Wijffels Commission. As early as 2001, this commission recommended radical changes to livestock farming.
Since then, say the professors, we have had to deal with Q fever, livestock-related MRSA, ESBL and the threat of an H5N1 pandemic. The effects of the livestock industry on greenhouse gas emissions have also become clearer.
The professors feel nothing has been done with the Wijffels recommendations. On the contrary, says the petition, the sector has just become more intensive and more large scale. 'Meat and dairy products are so cheap it is irresponsible; the price is being paid by the animals, nature and the environment - and therefore by us and future generations. The livestock industry is having a major impact on our environment, biodiversity, world food production, mineral equilibrium, freshwater supplies, human health and, in particular, animal welfare.
The Chairman of the Executive Board, Aalt Dijkhuizen, points out that the manifesto has not been signed by any of Wageningen's livestock professors. 'As a professor, you should be able to make the distinction between the subject you are a professor in and subjects you can join in debates on as an ordinary, concerned citizen. In this particular case, I can't help feeling quite a few of the signatories might have been abusing their job title of professor. As scientists, we should stick to the facts. For example, I would not want to venture an opinion about a medical operation based on the authority of my academic titles. And I don't think the medical world would stand for that either.'
See also: If you ask me.