Dutch pig farmers fighting for factory farms for porkers

Creil, the Netherlands — Modest farms, 90 acres or less, dot the region here, most of them raising grains and vegetables, some the occasional sheep or cow.

In the midst of this idyllic scene a few years back there appeared what residents now call “the pink invasion,” three huge hog barns each with 10,000 or more pigs in the fields that skirt the dike that protects the region from the Ijsselmeer, once known as the Zuiderzee.

“Some people don’t like the idea,” said Dick van Leeuwen, 65, who walks his dog Thor along the roads leading to the largest of the barns. Local people feared that the pig farms would stink, while bringing an unwanted increase in truck traffic, he said, delivering feed for the thousands of pigs or hauling away manure or grown hogs for slaughter. But their complaints fell mostly on deaf ears.

The Netherlands, a country of almost 17 million people, is home to a pig population of 14 million. Despite its status as one of the smaller countries in the European Union — about half the size of the state of Maine — the Netherlands has long been Europe’s leading exporter of pork and pork products, though that ranking has been contested in recent years by wurst-loving Germany.

Like pork producers everywhere, Dutch farmers are fighting rising costs by resorting to ever bigger herds and barns, a trend that is reinforced by the petite size of the Netherlands…As the big barns become more common, the government has begun to respond to public complaints about industrial farming and cruelty to animals. Officials are now discussing ways to curb the size of barns like those in tiny Creil, with its 1,600 people in trim brick homes, much to the chagrin of the new generation of farmers who see industrial-scale husbandry as their only means to compete…

Critics of the pork industry argue that enormous pig barns damage the environment because of the immense amounts of manure they produce, threaten people’s heath because of the antibiotics used liberally to avoid sickness among the animals and disregard the welfare of the animals by confining them to barns…

Pig farmers like Mr. Vowinkel insist that they can compete only if they keep costs and the price of their pork down. “Some disappear, others get bigger, to lower production prices,” he said. A fellow farmer, Sietse van der Meer, agreed. “You grow bigger, or you stop,” he said.

Politicians feel the pressure of the environmentalists and animal rights groups. In December, Parliament will begin discussing a possible restriction on the size of farms and a ban on antibiotics, two steps the farming region of Noord-Brabant, in the south, has already taken on its own.

RTFA. The arguments of the Pig Farmers Association seem specious to me. They argue that the diminishing number of pig farmers is proof of their inability to compete because of regulation. They sound like Wall Street Republicans. But, the enormous expansion of the size of farms, number of pigs produced at lower prices is as likely to be the cause for small farmers being forced out of business.

They’ll never be able to compete with pork produced in nations with an excess of arable land – from China to Brazil – and their natural market is the citizens of the Netherlands and Europe. The rest – especially reliance on antibiotics – is the same sort of propaganda we get from members of every greed-driven guild in the world.

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