Intensive animal farming is a ticking time bomb

3 minutes to read
Tessa Chaplin

During the Q-fever epidemic, between 2007 and 2011, around 50,000 Dutch citizens have been infected with the disease and at least 74 people have died of the consequences. Since 2012, 300 Q-fever victims are actively involved in a lawsuit against the government for negligence, and demand a financial compensation.

For a small country, The Netherlands counts relatively many animal farms, for example for pigs, chickens, goats and cows. Therefore, it is not surprising that many of those farms use intensive farming methods. Unfortunately, these large scale production methods lead to an increased use of fertilisers and pesticides, and creates a situation whereby animal diseases are easily spread. Since the 1990s people began to wonder if this situation is safe. The concerns among Dutch citizens, but also of the European Union, resulted in an ongoing debate in parliament about agricultural policies. On March 15th 2017, the Dutch citizens went to the polling stations. The big win of the party GroenLinks (GreenLeft) and Partij voor de Dieren (Party for the Animals) shows that Dutch citizens demand the government to take action.

300 Q-fever victims filed a law suit against the government for negligence, and demand a financial compensation.

This feeling of urgency did not come to be overnight. In 2009, Dutch citizens were shocked after hearing that the government identified an outbreak of the zoonosis (a disease that can be transferred from animals to humans) named Q-fever in several goat farms in 2007. Q-fever is very contagious and can be wind-borne. Symptoms can be acute, but chronic infections are also possible. The extreme outbreak of this disease is mainly due to intensive farming. It is well known among farmers, scientists and everyone within animal farming, that intensive animal husbandry involves high health and environmental risks. The indifference of politicians on the issue is alarming and has undoubtedly been a crucial factor in the escalation of Q-fever. Due to the outbreak, it became clear that there was no research done or policy made for this situation whatsoever. This indifference even resulted in a free pass for the government to not take any measures.  

The RIVM (National Institute for Public Health and the Environment) estimated that around 50.000 Dutch people have been infected by Q-fever during  the epidemic between 2007-2011 and at least 74 people died of the consequences. 300 Q-fever victims filed a lawsuit against the government for negligence, and demand a financial compensation. The victims believe the government has waited too long to take measures, after they identified the disease in 2007 in a goat farm in the village Herpen. Furthermore, they accuse the government of not warning or even informing the residents near the infected areas while the disease spread through the Netherlands. When the story was eventually picked up, not one government institution was willing to give information about the exact location of the infected farms.  According to P. de Leeuw  of the Ministry of Agriculture, they chose this approach to prevent people from panicking. On Tuesday January the 25th 2017, the Court of Justice has pronounced the government not guilty. The government had acted correctly and took their responsibility; there was no obligation to take further measurements. The goverment cannot be held accountable for informing residents of the infected areas. They only have to be transparent. Mentioning the Q-fever on a website no one normally reads, is therefore  enough. It is the responsibility of civilians to read this.

Dutch citizens saw how their government sacrificed their health for a quick economic profit.

The judgement of the Court of Justice reveals a shocking truth: despite the fact the disease was able to escalate as it did, because certain measures were not taken, the government has acted just and should not have done it any other way. But what will be the consequences of this policy when another, even more threatening, zoonosis occurs, and who is going to cover the expenses?  We know how SARS infected tens of millions of people; some even claim the real amount is rather around hundreds of millions. But SARS, of course, entails other dimensions in addition to public health implications. The estimated cost of SARS for America alone approximately lays around 50 billion dollars. According to research conducted by the Free University in Amsterdam, at least half of the price payed for meat is not paid by the consumer, but by society.  At the moment, the real price of meat is invisible, because negative externalities are not included in the cost. On top of that, approximately 40% of the EU-budget, in other words 58 billion Euros a year, goes to the common agricultural policy as a subsidy. According to the EU, this feudal system is necessary to sustain regional farms in Europe, as they are not capable to stand on their own two feet.

By paying taxes, civilians are forced to contribute to this sickening. During the Q-fever epidemic, Dutch citizens were able to experience it with their own eyes. They saw how their government sacrificed their health for aquick economic profit.