Meeting climate targets requires a new food policy

In the long term, Dutch climate targets will inevitably lead to a lower permissible livestock production capacity and a change in diet. The Dutch government should prepare for this transition by developing a new food policy that will minimise the negative consequences and take advantage of the opportunities that will arise. This is the conclusion of the Council for the Environment and Infrastructure (Rli) in its advisory report ‘Sustainable and Healthy’, which was presented on 3 April to Carola Schouten, Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, and Paul Blokhuis, State Secretary for Health, Welfare and Sport.

In the Netherlands more food is available than ever before, it is safer and relatively cheap. Dutch food is efficiently produced and exported all around the world. At the same time, there are concerns about the impacts on the environment, biodiversity, public health and animal welfare of the production and consumption of our food. A more recent concern is how the production of our food affects the climate. Even if all the currently available measures were taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from Dutch livestock farming, in 2050 livestock farming could take up the total amount of the Netherlands’ permitted greenhouse gas emissions. For this reason, argues Rli, it is imperative to make the transition to a healthier and more sustainable food system.

The Council argues that it is important that the government gives clarity to farmers and the food industry as soon as possible on the future of livestock farming and the policies to be pursued over the next thirty years. Laying down formal emissions ceilings in a Climate Act will give farmers time to plan ahead, for example by changing production methods or shifting towards plant production, and avoid making a loss on their investments. One of the instruments the government could use to bring about the necessary transition is to transform the existing system of animal production rights into a system of tradable emissions rights that will gradually be reduced over time.

The measures needed to meet the climate targets will not be enough to solve all the problems, though. The manure surpluses and other environmental and public health problems make it necessary to take additional measures in a number of regions. The Council advises the government to open negotiations with the relevant provincial governments on the financial and legal instruments needed to effectively resolve specific regional problems caused by livestock farming.

But it is not only livestock farming that will have to be transformed. Major changes will also be needed across the whole food chain, from production and processing to retail and consumption by the consumer. A sustainable diet contains proportionally much less animal protein and more plant protein. The Council therefore recommends that the government work with the whole food value chain to ensure that the proportion of animal protein in the Dutch diet is reduced from 60% at present to no more than 40% by 2030.

This change in the menu will create numerous opportunities for the development of innovative, sustainable food products. Besides the domestic market for these products, there will be abundant export opportunities, both for the food industry and for Dutch farmers as producers of raw materials. The Council expects that this inevitable food transition, if steered in a timely and prudent manner by the government, can generate new opportunities for the Dutch agricultural sector and turn the currently strained relationship between farmers and consumers into a common purpose with shared ambitions.

For further information on this advice, please contact Hannah Koutstaal, project leader: tel. +31 (0)611797505.

The advisory report and a video of a brief introduction to the advice will be available soon on

To request interviews, please contact Miep Eisner, communications advisor, tel. +31 (0)615369339.

About Rli

The Council for the Environment and Infrastructure (Rli) is an independent advisory body to the Dutch government and parliament. The Council provides solicited and unsolicited advice on policies for the sustainable development of the built and natural environment and infrastructure. The Council advises on strategic issues concerning spatial development and the economy, housing, the environment, food and raw materials, nature conservation, agriculture, mobility and public safety.