"The Netherlands should continue to lead in agriculture"

Published on
November 9, 2022

The nitrogen crisis may give the impression that Dutch agriculture is under pressure. And that is strange, says professor by special appointment Leo den Hartog, because, on a global scale, the Netherlands is a frontrunner in the AgriFood sector. ‘Take, for example, the over 70 per cent reduction of antibiotics in livestock farming,’ says Den Hartog. ‘Everyone wants to know how we achieved that.’ The animal feed expert has retired after a career spanning of more than four decades in which he worked for the government, Wageningen University & Research and industry.

If there is anyone who knows how the world perceives the Netherlands, it is Leo den Hartog (67). Over the last two decades, Brabant-born Den Hartog served as a Research and Development director at Nutreco and sealed contracts with over one hundred universities across the globe. In addition to his work for Nutreco and WUR, he has held numerous advisory and supervisory positions, for the Animal Affairs Council, for example. Even now that he is retired, Den Hartog still holds ‘about ten, I estimate’ of these positions.

Feeding the world

In addition to reducing the use of antibiotics, the Netherlands should also take on an exemplary role in the challenge of feeding the increasing world population in the coming years, Den Hartog says. The global population is increasing, as is the level of wealth, which causes an increased demand for meat, fish, dairy and eggs. Den Hartog says, ‘In the next three decades, the world must produce more food than it has in the previous six thousand years combined’.

Efficient use of resources makes reducing waste necessary. Consider, for example, less overconsumption and less food waste. Moreover, the so-called yield gap must be reduced. The yield gap is the difference between potential production under optimal circumstances and actual global production.

Pioneering role

Animals play a crucial part in the food supply, according to Den Hartog. This is because they can convert byproducts and roughage into high-value food products. Den Hartog would like to see the Netherlands take on a pioneering role in developing a socially valued and economically profitable livestock sector. To this end, he has formulated a ten-point plan in a private capacity.

That pioneering role is not a priority at this time, as the livestock sector is occupied with the nitrogen crisis. Den Hartog says there is a dire need for clarity and a consistent policy by the government.

Holistic and integrated approach

The extraordinary professor calls for an integrated and holistic approach in the coming years. ‘We have taken too many measures without considering the bigger picture’, Den Hartog clarifies. ‘For example, battery cages have been prohibited. An excellent decision from an animal welfare perspective. But in return, we now have a particulates problem.’

An integral policy may not have been achieved, but much has changed for the better during his career of over forty years. In addition to reducing the use of antibiotics, animal welfare has improved tremendously, food safety has increased considerably, and even emissions have been pushed back through improvements in efficiency.

Leo den Hertog. Photo: Raad voor Dierenaangelegenheden
Leo den Hertog. Photo: Raad voor Dierenaangelegenheden