Poultry production in the Netherlands has to change for a prosperous future. This is a mutual task of poultry producers, consumers, governmental and non-governmental organisations, and knowledge institutions. The outbreak of avian influenza in the beginning of 2003 in the centre of the Netherlands made the urgency of change quite clear. This is the outcome of an investigation by researchers of Wageningen University and Research Centre. In a report (in dutch) they provide building blocks to facilitate discussions and actions to be taken.
Dutch poultry production is internationally orientated. About 70 per cent of the production is as yet exported. The size of Dutch poultry production in the future is an outcome of the changes that can be arranged. Geographically, the Netherlands is very well located in an area with about 150 million prosperous consumers. Paris, London, Berlin are all within 500 km. Production for the world market is not cost-effective because of relative high costs of labour and other production factors. On the other hand, consumers in North Western part of Europe have more and more specific demands with regard to food quality and production methods (e.g. an animal and environmental friendly husbandry), but are as yet not ready to pay the costs of these demands.
Dutch poultry production, both eggs and meat, has a future in this part of Europe, mainly in fresh products provided that
– Food safety is guaranteed and full transparency of the production process up to the consumer is warranted
– Both product development and innovation continue
– Producers adapt to trends (like convenience food)
– New production methods and concepts fit in corporate governance
New structures in poultry have to be developed to replace the dutch ‘poldermodel’ which is too much based on consensus and collective structures. Chain reversal, individual entrepreneurship, chain concepts and cooperation in the production chain are key issues.
National and EU rules and laws for animal production should be qualitative and aimed at goals to be reached, not prescribe the animal producers specific methods.
Direct and indirect contacts between poultry farms are the main risk for outbreak of infectious diseases. The high concentration of farms and animals in the Netherlands as such is not a factor in the chance of outbreak on an individual farm. However, the high density does increase the effects of an outbreak enormously, as well in terms of further spreading of the disease as in terms of costs.
Strict rules and directions for contact structures that are followed by all involved, in stead of more rules, is the most effective way to control the effects of a disease outbreak.
ICT-based systems that give immediate and accurate information on all professional contacts of farms, transport vehicles and persons involved, are technically possible and factual required in whatever poultry production the Netherlands will have in future.
Theoretically, concentration of agro-production chains to different specific regions is a good concept to reduce the effects of disease outbreaks and might have advantages in relation to logistics and use of space (which is limited in the Netherlands). However, the free market, family farm structure, the investments required and the attitude of the general public make this development in the near future unlikely.
Farming systems and resistance of animals
Avian influenza does not distinguish between poultry in battery housing or free range systems, nor between modern highly productive chickens or chickens of old breeds or kept for their plumage and colour. Free range systems have a higher risk of contact between poultry and wild birds. In this respect the free range systems have a higher risk for introduction of diseases (those related to food safety included). Measures aimed at improving animal welfare through more natural housing systems have to be balanced against the increased hygienic risks. (International) consumer and animal welfare organisations should play an important role in decisions on this balance.
Vaccination and control of infection
Reconsidering the non-vaccination policy in the EU is urgent and has also a rationale in the technological developments in marker vaccines. The least that should be considered is a vaccination policy for zoo and hobby/companion animals and rare species and breeds. Stamping out measures for these categories of animals are not socially accepted any more. A full proof identification and registration system is then required for these animals.
Effective monitoring and early warning systems can reduce the effects of an outbreak of an infectious disease to a great extent. Such systems are as yet not in place.
Consequences of a disease outbreak
The current EU and dutch system of compensation at an outbreak shows contradictions between individual and collective interest. Insurance systems that combine public and private components could solve this problem and stimulate desired behaviour of individual entrepreneurs. In such a system, risk taking behaviour of farmers or other institutions involved in poultry production should direct be reflected in the costs of insurance of such farmers or institutions and in the payments in case of damage due to disease outbreak.
In the Netherlands there are approximately 4000 poultry farms for eggs and meat production, with about one hundred million animals. The annual egg production is more then ten billion, while the meat production is about 900.000 tons.
Wageningen University and Research Centre. July 2003.