Towards a new alliance between man and animal

The Cabinet wants to move towards more animal-friendly livestock. This was agreed to in Rutte IV’s Coalition Agreement. The covenant will include agreements on raising livestock in the future, based on the needs of the animals.

“I want to work with the sector and other parties to shape that,” Agriculture Minister Beit Adema wrote when the preparatory committee was appointed on November 3, 2022.

In the future, raising livestock is part of circular farming. For animals, there is more room for natural behaviour, among other things. The usual physical interventions, such as removing the shell from the calves, are unnecessary. With the covenant, Adema gives additional article to the Animals Act 2013. This is a framework law with general principles and responsibilities, without detailed rules.


More room for natural behavior and no standard physical interventions

Based on the covenant, Adema wants to state the law when a farming system falls under “designed to be animal oriented” and when systems must comply with that. The covenant must be signed no later than June 2023 and forms the basis for additional legislation and regulations.

We are heading towards a new alliance between humans and animals. The position of man as ruler of animals lends itself to one characterized by involvement with animals and acceptance of their individuality, said Jan Stamann, Chair of the Council for Animal Affairs (RDA) in November 2021. Which is now leading the transition to animal friendly livestock farming.

Press Testament

There is a lot of pressure on the covenant. The Minister of Agriculture, Adema, will use it to give legal authority to amend Section 2.1 of the Animals Act, which will come into force in January 2024. But above all, the Covenant must protect the status of animals.

At a time when topics such as climate and the environment are prevalent, there is a good chance that an animal will be a victim of the bill. ‘This has happened often in the past,’ said RDA member Han Swinkels in March during a recording of College Boer van Nieuwe Oogst.

For LTO Nederland and the swine producers’ organisation, the focus in moving into more animal-friendly livestock farming is on integration. Furthermore, the content of the covenant must be practicable, feasible, and affordable.

Six guiding principles

The RDA, which includes scientists, NGOs and sectoral parties, drafted the opinion on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. It identifies six principles that should guide future policy. It is based on the recognition that the animal has intrinsic value, that it is a sentient being that can feel pain and pleasure.

Animal-friendly livestock farming also satisfies the three basic needs: good nutrition, a good environment, and good health. The fifth principle relates to possibilities and space for normal and basic behavior and satisfaction of needs. The last principle refers to the animal’s emotional state. It should be mostly positive.

The RDA believes that an animal must be able to respond to the conditions in its environment. Examples include natural behavior such as scratching and dust-bathing behavior in chickens, grazing in dairy cows and rooting in pigs. But there are also things like enough space, daylight, a healthy coop climate, access to the outdoors, and the ability to care for one’s offspring well.

The committee preparing the Covenant is chaired by Bram van Oijk (GroenLinks). In addition to LTO Netherlands, the Producers Organization for Pig Breeding (POV), Dutch Poultry Farmers Association, Dutch Agricultural Youth Connection, Animal Protection, Concerned Farmers, Sustainable Dairy Chain, Central Office of Food Trade and LNV also have seats on the committee.

In discussions of covenant, the main focus is on housing and the physical living environment during transportation or slaughter. The farming system is animal oriented if the needs of the animals are taken as a starting point. The University of Utrecht determined what these needs were for each animal category in a quick survey.

In the second phase, from March to June, topics such as animal health, nutrition, barn climate, transportation and slaughter, as well as research and innovation will be discussed. In addition to the core group, various parties participate in subtopics through consultations and discussion tables. This may relate, for example, to agreements for certain animal species, the ability to earn or support from the market and government.

complex conversations

Janet Van de Ven, portfolio owner of LTO Healthy Animals, recalls the conversations about the Covenant Complex. “We are only at the beginning of the process. The interests are large and a lot is still unclear. For LTO and POV, the focus in moving to more animal-friendly livestock farming is on integration. There must be coherence with the other tasks that livestock farming has to perform, related to environment and climate.

We can’t get a score of 10 on all items and, for example, focus on animal dignity and then have to tackle environmental impacts a year later. This is why sectoral plans always include this integration,” remarks Linda Ferrett, Head of POV.

In addition, the content of the covenant must be practically applicable. It should be possible and affordable and there should be a realistic timeline. Cattle farmers need to know where they are and not impose additional requirements on them once they have just invested,” explains Van de Ven. “In the discussions we have with each other under the covenant, we also have to agree on what factors are at play and exactly how we weigh them.”

A lot has changed

What Van de Ven places in discussions of animal-friendly livestock is the implication that nothing has changed in livestock farming over the years. While this has certainly been the case over the past 25 years or so. Adema also wrote this in his letter to the House of Representatives dated November 4. He commends cattle breeding for the steps already taken.

All animal sectors have a sustainability agenda with a timeline. “We didn’t start the transition to animal husbandry from scratch,” says Van de Ven. She does not rule out that the era will accelerate in some areas, but “ranchers are used to dealing with changes.” Talk of more animal-worthy ranching isn’t the end destination either. “This is an ongoing process.”

Delta ranching plan

A year before the RDA made its point, Animal Protection launched the Delta Ranching Plan. Animal protection has believed there have been structural problems in livestock farming for years, but sectors and society go no further than putting out fires. In the Delta Plan, the NGO outlines what animal-friendly and sustainable livestock farming should look like in 2050.

In the plan, the Dutch Society for the Protection of Animals, just like the RDA, takes Professor David Mellor’s Five Domains as a starting point. For NGOs, this means that in addition to the animal-oriented design of housing systems, attention must also be paid to interventions, robust breeds (dual purpose), breeding for social behaviour, animals rearing their young, as little transportation as possible and access to pastures or Free pasture for any animal.

“In addition to the RDA report, the livestock breeder’s role is changing from a production specialist to an animal welfare specialist,” says Gemma Willemsen, MD, a strategic advisor. In future-proof livestock farming, everyone who interacts with animals has, according to them, extensive knowledge and skills regarding animal welfare and behavioral needs. Willemsen says technology such as sensors and artificial intelligence (camera images) can help.

Sign of a better quality of life

With the Beter Leven quality label, Animal Protection has been steadily revising the standards for its various animal groups. Those of pigs currently have the highest priority. “In it, for example, it was suggested that the taper pen be introduced and that measures be taken to prevent tail biting,” explains Willemsen.

The parties that make a covenant with each other agree on the RDA’s Six Principles of Opinion. The essence lies in the explanation and clarification. There is a big shift. Exactly what the final picture will look like, how quickly a rancher will notice it and how it will be implemented financially, there seems to be no logical word to be said about it.

Various and multi-colored

It is clear that the future path will be diverse and colorful. and that changes in orderly farming must match the investment tempo of the ranchers; Construction takes place for fifteen to twenty years. By June 2023, the preparatory committee should be ready and Covenant should be colored.

Agriculture is in transition to circular farming. Minister Adema promised to put together the integrated puzzle in the agricultural agreement, which is scheduled for February 2023. Then he shows the way to 2040 and livestock worthy animals are also part of it. None of the parties involved can currently provide more clarity as to how the Convention and the Covenant will affect each other.

Animal welfare is high on the agenda in Western European countries

The Preparatory Committee asked agricultural councils in various countries about recent developments in the field of animal welfare in the context of the Covenant. Their responses show that animal welfare is high on the agenda in every country in Western Europe. For example, castration without anesthesia will be banned in France from 2022, as will the killing of day-old chicks. Germany is on the eve of mandatory introduction of the animal welfare label by 2023. One consequence of the label combined with environmental regulations is that almost all German livestock farmers have to replace or adapt their existing stables.

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