Livestock farming in the Netherlands has become “too input dependent”, the Dutch Minister for Nature and Nitrogen Policy, Christianne van der Wal-Zeggelink has said.

For many decades, the country expanded its agricultural capabilities, especially with livestock, she told the Global Conference on Sustainable Livestock Transformation earlier this week.

The conference organised by the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome was also attended by Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue.

The Netherlands has “high meat and milk outputs”, however, the country’s nature and nitrogen policy minister said it also produces “unwanted output that the environment just cannot handle”.

Speaking about hunger and global climate challenges during a high-level ministerial discussion at the FAO headquarters in Rome this week, van der Wal-Zeggelink said:

“You might say: ‘Hey, I heard the Netherlands is buying out farmers to lower nitrogen emissions. Sounds pretty luxurious. They have enough to eat. They have food security’.

“And you’d be right. But the problems we face feel very non-luxurious. The environment is suffering. We simply have to act. Not only because European laws oblige us to, but also our conscience.”

Dutch livestock farming

She told the conference that livestock farming in the Netherlands has become too dependent on water, fertilisers, plant protection, and feed imported from “afar at the expenses of forests”.

A new transition has to be achieved “within Earth’s boundaries”, the minister said, by embracing sustainable livestock farming, however, also by embracing a diet with more plant-based protein.

Extreme heat and droughts; heavy rains and floods; air, soil, and water quality; crop protection agents; animal welfare; and biodiversity loss are challenges worldwide, she said.

Acknowledging that transitions will be difficult, and that there were days when farmers protested “right at her own doorstep”, the Dutch minister said progress is being made.

The Netherlands has worked on a national programme to protect water and soil quality, and is “slowly but surely finally squeezing the nitrogen tap”, van der Wal-Zeggelink told the conference.

“No, the Netherlands does not have all the answers. Finding a sustainable food system will be hard. But having friends by our side will make it easier.

“After all, climate change, biodiversity loss and other environmental problems know no borders or differences. Whatever happens, the Netherlands is dedicated to the new transition,” she said.