One in nine Dutch dairy farmers has been banned from selling or buying cattle because they are suspected of fiddling the books in order to get round the new strict rules in the Netherlands on manure and phosphate reduction.
Farm minister Carola Schouten said farmers are suspected of passing older animals off as younger , because adult cows are more polluting.
Farmers are under suspicion of achieving this by claiming their cows gave birth to twins or triplets, thus hiding the true ages of some calves. Fraudulent practices came to light when ministry inspectors found faults in registration of animals on half the 93 farms they visited in one week. Since then, inspectors found possible fraud on about 2,000 of the country’s 18,000 farms.
‘I consider the scale of the fraud extremely concerning,’ said Minister Schouten. ‘We have to prevent farms which stick to the rules being disadvantaged by those that fiddle their books.’
It is part of a clampdown on evasion of new manure and phosphate rules, introduced in 2017 under pressure from the EU. The strong increase in the Dutch dairy herd after EU quotas finished in 2015 had sent phosphate pollution above the allowed ceiling, requiring new measures including significant reduction of dairy cow numbers, for which the government pays compensation.
At the end of 2017, many farmers were also found to have forged accounts, illegally traded manure, or dumped more on their land than permitted, to ease phosphate reduction scheme effects.
Transport companies were fiddling lorry weights and making unrecorded trips to dump manure at night.
Now, cross checks comparing milk production and insemination data, and absence of birth notifications for heifers, have led to Netherlands Enterprise Agency restriction of about 2,000 farms.
“Stop dealing with farmers as criminals,” reacted the LTO farmers organisation chairman, Marc Calon.
He said farms are restricted by government agencies for “small and unconscious carelessnesses”.
With 1.8m dairy cows, the Netherlands is the world’s fifth largest dairy exporter.
Reacting to the latest controversy involving 2,000 farms, the World Wildlife Fund called for a 40% cut in Dutch cow numbers over the next decade. Also pressing for stricter controls are the GreenLeft party and Party for the Animals, both of which enjoyed a surge in support in last year’s Dutch elections.