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The animal protein and fish domain: hotspots in the field of sustainability


The Monitor Voortgang Verduurzaming Voedselketens ('Monitor for the Development of Sustainable Food Chains') was created to provide insight into the progress that the Dutch food sector has made in recent months on the most important sustainability issues, which are also known as hotspots. A hotspot is a component within a product’s food chain that has a major impact on the sustainability of the entire chain.

The animal protein and fish domain plays a central role in this research. The summary reveals where progress has been made in food consumption in the Netherlands or where things may be improved and often need to be improved in terms of sustainability.

The goals that have been set within some hotspots have been achieved: two examples of these are the issues concerning the environmental impact of the cultivation of animal feed raw materials and antibiotics in livestock farming. However, in both of these cases this has also resulted in new future goals.

Hotspots that have experienced less progress in recent years and/or a number of concerns are the antifouling problems in the fishing industry (which involves the application of special antifouling paint in order to protect boats and prevent the growth of bio-organisms), animal welfare, air quality, energy consumption, methane emissions, health, employee safety and well-being, and manure management.

Main findings on animal protein and fish

This year, we have seen a reduction of almost 70% in the field of antibiotics in comparison to 2009. This objective has consequently been achieved in the livestock sector. New policies have mainly focused on reducing the number of frequent users of antibiotics.

Since 2010, the anti-fouling paint Tributyltin is no longer being legally emitted by Dutch ships. This is an agent that stops the growth of organisms on the ship’s hull, which is the part of the ship that is under water. But copper-based antifouling agents are still being used. The use of these agents decreased between 2010 and 2013, but after 2013 there was no longer a monitoring system and since that time the data has been non-existent.

The objectives for sustainably certified soy and palm products in animal feed have been achieved. In 2018, new objectives were set in order to increase the percentage of home-grown protein in dairy farming. The figures for these objectives have not yet been published.

The turnover of sustainable eggs and dairy products increased in 2019. But the growth in the percentage of meat that carries the Beter Leven ('Better Life') quality label has stagnated in the last three years. The percentage of organic meat, fish, dairy and eggs has been lagging far behind the growth of other quality labels for several years now. There has been no marked increase or decrease in welfare violations or barn fires.

Nitrogen and phosphate emissions have decreased in recent years and have now fallen below the established thresholds for nitrogen and phosphate. The Nitrates Directive's water quality objective of 50 mg is still being exceeded.

Livestock farming, the fishing industry and the processing industry are all making progress in energy efficiency, although the self-generation of energy has yet to take off in these sectors. Dairy farming is lagging far behind in its objective to generate 16% of its own energy consumption.

Absenteeism among livestock workers has increased slightly. In 2019, the number of fatal accidents in livestock farming was much lower than it had been in previous years. No figures are available for the processing and retail industries.

Waste and residual water have had no significant impact on the environment in the Netherlands. This is because process water is cleaned before it is discharged.

Air quality is a major concern. Since 2010, there has either been an increase or a slight decrease in agricultural emissions, such as particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and ammonia.

In addition to this, methane emissions have once again increased following a significant reduction between 1990 and 2010. The Climate Agreement on Agriculture and Land Use includes reduction targets, which have been set for the livestock farming sector for 2030.

The amount of high-protein compound feed raw materials that we import from outside the EU has fluctuated considerably and there has been no significant decrease. As a result of certification schemes, the non-regional raw materials that we do import, such as soy and palm products, do meet a range of deforestation requirements.

About this monitor

The preliminary research that was conducted in the 2016-2018 period has shown that a global sustainability monitor for Dutch food chains is impracticable because the amount of public data that is available is insufficient, the frequency with which data is being published is too low and the collection of missing data is expensive.

In contrast to a global sustainability monitor, this study, which has been funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, focuses on hotspots and on identifying the information that has already been systematically collected, the information that is still lacking and the way in which this information can consequently be collected.

Compared to the Monitor Duurzaam Voedsel ('Sustainable Food Monitor'), which looks at the consumer purchase of sustainable food that carries a quality label, this monitor takes a system-wide look at how sectors score on sustainability indicators such as emissions, the use of antibiotics, employee safety and animal welfare. The Monitor Duurzaam Voedsel does form an important core component of the Monitor Voortgang Verduurzaming Voedselketens.

Follow up
Over the next few years, the following domains will be added to the Monitor Voortgang Verduurzaming Voedselketens: potatoes, vegetables and fruit (2021), dry goods (2022) and tropical products and drinks (2023).

You can read the report here.

Additional information for this item

Making the animal protein and fish chain more sustainable

Willy Baltussen
+31 70 33 58171

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