Nieuws - 10 februari 2011

Wageningen: now with added ethics!

Rik Nijland on the livestock essays

'Many instruments, one concert', declares the subtitle of Wageningen UR's collection of essays on ethical livestock farming.
But Aalt Dijkhuizen cannot resist a sneer at the critical layperson: by ridding the Netherlands of mink farms, he says, you ensure that the animals are bred in Poland or China, where they are bound to be worse off. Leaving aside the sweeping ethical claim, this suggests a certain animosity towards lay involvement in a typically Wageningen field. When the Nijmegen professor Roos Vonk organized a petition for sustainable livestock farming last year, the response was no different: stick to your own business.
And the bold retort from the agriculture capital - 29 essays by 63 authors - is proclaimed in the foreword by the big names Rudy Rabbinge and Pieter Winsemius as 'a many-sided contributed to the societal debate'. Many-sided it certainly is. In fact it is a veritable mishmash of partial technical solutions, metaphors, perspectives and social visions (with remarkably little attention to environment issues such as ammonia and manure pollution). Qualitatively, this is a mixed bag without much noticeable academic harmonization, selection or depth. It does have something for everyone: you could pick the naïve contention by Bastiaan Meerburg, for example: if we just explain it all better, all will be well. Or read in Maartje van Lieshout's essay that the issue is complicated by the way 'the various parties compare apples with pears'.
A few hard critical nuts do get cracked in the collection, but anyone hoping to find the views of Roos Vonk or someone from the Rathenau institute, for example, will come away disappointed. This volume is almost entirely local produce (with a striking absence of critics such as Paul Struik or Jan-Douwe van der Ploeg). This does not so much make for one concert, as the title promises, as a cacophony around the village pump. Will this provoke debate? I venture to doubt it. There is far too little outside information integrated into this volume for that. In fact it is first and foremost a PR brochure for Wageningen UR. A shop window full Wageningen knowledge - now with added ethics! Let's hope there are some buyers.