Mediator Johan Remkes Wednesday in the Gelderland Province House in Arnhem after talks with Bouwend Nederland, VNO-NCW and MKB Nederland.Statue Guus Dubbelman / de Volkskrant

    The umbrella organization of the supermarket sector, the Central Food Trade Agency (CBL), refuses to discuss the nitrogen problem with the cabinet. The organization had initially accepted Remkes’ invitation, but suddenly changed its mind on Monday afternoon. On reflection, the CBL believes that the cabinet must first reach an agreement with the farmers’ organisations. Only then will it be the supermarkets’ turn, according to the CBL.

    The unexpected cancellation has hit Remkes in the wrong way. ‘I don’t understand how the food sector, as a major player, has also failed. I grew up with the motto: you have to take responsibility. And that responsibility is not taken. I often hear very nice words about corporate social responsibility. This attitude does not reflect that.’

    Higher purchase prices

    The fact that the CBL does not give in is a major problem for the cabinet. Van der Wal and agriculture minister Staghouwer would like to see supermarkets pay higher purchase prices for the agricultural products they put on their shelves. If farmers are allowed to keep less livestock and use less fertilizer to save the environment, their production will decrease. In order to earn the same income, they would have to get better prices for their products. The cooperation of the supermarkets is therefore crucial to offer farmers perspective. But the supermarkets have no interest in raising their prices. They are now hiding behind the farmers to avoid that conversation for the time being.

    Remkes let off steam on Wednesday afternoon after the third round of talks about the nitrogen problem. That meeting between ministers and employers’ organizations VNO-NCW, MKB-Nederland and Bouwend Nederland took place in the Gelderse provincial house in Arnhem. The cabinet was represented by Van der Wal and her colleagues Adriaansens (Economic Affairs) and De Jonge (Public Housing and Spatial Planning).

    In fact, Remkes had not planned any separate consultations with the employers’ organizations at all. According to the original plan, the cabinet would meet with companies from the agro-industry on Wednesday. Invited were, among others, dairy cooperative FrieslandCampina and meat processor Vion. But almost all agribusinesses declined the invitation. They also first refer the cabinet to the farmers’ organisations.

    Clear mission

    VNO-NCW and the two others came to Arnhem with a clear mission: to increase the pressure on Van der Wal to allow more technical innovation in livestock farming. The nitrogen reduction plan presented by the VVD minister in June strongly emphasizes the extensification of livestock farming. Rural livestock should shrink by about 30 percent within eight years. Only about 20 percent of the intended reduction in ammonia emissions is achieved in Van der Wal’s plans with technical innovations.

    The employers’ unions are pushing for a much larger share of technical innovation, namely about 65 percent. Like the farmers’ organisations, VNO-NCW, MKB-Nederland and Bouwend Nederland want the government to rely more on innovative housing systems and management techniques. Measures proposed by farmers and employers include the introduction of low-protein cattle feed, more frequent grazing of cows and new manure techniques.

    Van der Wal promised on Wednesday that she will look at whether she can allow more innovation. She stipulates that these techniques must be legally tenable. The past shows that technical innovations in practice do not always deliver what they promise on paper. For that reason, judges no longer accept combi-air scrubbers and low-emission stable floors as a justification for expanding livestock farms.