Going Dutch – National Debate on Factory Farming

Laurens Peters

As is the case in many countries, Holland’s factory farming business has always been largely hidden from the ordinary consumer’s view. This is no small feat in a country that slaughters half a billion farm animals per year. Holland is as densely populated as New Jersey, less than twice its size. Over the past five years however, the number of factory farms (loosely defined as >12,500 pigs, >185,000 egg laying chicken, > 300 milk cows per farm according to Dutch animal welfare organization WakkerDier) has almost tripled, sparking local resistance and debate.  

The local debate reached a national audience when it became an important topic in the campaign for this month’s provincial parliament elections. Since the composition of the national senate depends on these elections, national parties and politicians suddenly found themselves debating the issue of factory farming on national TV. Although the debates often focused on the health effects and environmental consequences of factory farming, the issue of farm animal welfare also featured prominently.

Much of the credit for this goes to the Party for the Animals (PvdD). Since its founding year, 2006, this fully fledged political party has held two seats in the Lower and one seat in the Upper House of the Netherlands. Its parliamentarians are known for bombarding the government with parliamentary questions on diverse issues, but mainly on animal welfare and environmental issues. The party is very adept at generating media attention for their advocacy, boycotting end-of-parliamentary-session barbecues and bringing their message to Schiphol Airport’s travelers. Their recent (lost) litigation to win access to an important but limited national TV debate got them daily media coverage.

Farmer organizations have been weighing in on the debate, saying that economies of scales are necessary for farmers to maintain a standard of living and comply with the strict health, food quality and (yes!) animal welfare regulations. Henk Bleker, who is a Christian Democrat secretary for agriculture and known for his addiction to the immensely popular reality TV show ‘Farmer looking for a wife’, refused to suspend the construction of new factory farms. However, he has called for further national debate on the issue. Meanwhile, the PvdD won representation in the parliaments of 7 of the 12 provinces and will keep its Senate seat.

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