Netherlands: Braced for contraction Green legislation will add to already declining pig numbers, and the industry can no longer delay action The tide of environmental legislation is running against the Dutch pig industry which, in addition to steadily declining pig numbers and the prospect of over-capacity on the killing lines, means that the whole sector faces contraction on a scale long expected ­ but successfully dodged and delayed over the last three years. It is a time when the Dutch counterpart to the UK's MLC, the PVE, could legitimately claim to need contingency funding to ease some of the changes. But since the agency is funded by a producer levy paid on clean pigs at the abattoir, it is already planning a 15% cut in its long term budget. "Fortunately, our discussion is far better focused now than it was," says head of processing standards at the PVE Hans Verschouwen. Three large producer co-ops account for over two thirds of the Dutch pig kill. While the largest, Dumeco, is planning a replacement abattoir at Appeldoorn, the new unit will almost certainly replace more than one plant in Holland. Other Dutch operators are starting to look at setting up killing lines in Hungary and Poland, where costs are lower. At the same time, lower water tables in these countries will mean that the demands of the EU nitrate directive should be easier to meet and operating conditions generally will be less fraught than in Holland. Dutch slaughterers need to retain farmers and have, in the past, been reluctant to run the risk of losing them by making more stringent quality assurance demands. But this autumn, processors have agreed to tighten up the requirements for IKB, the food chain safety management system for the Dutch meat industry. IKB is an enclosed chain: no retail product can carry the IKB label if it has left dedicated IKB facilities at any point. For the retailers, this means buying exclusively from IKB suppliers and handling the product in dedicated facilities. Among other things, it also means that IKB meat cannot be delivered with other products, something few UK retailers would be keen on. As of January 1, the system of sanctions against pig producers will be centralised. The most extreme IKB sanction ­ exclusion from the scheme ­ will now be enforceable within a day where previously a pig farmer was an entry in 25 separate databases which were reconciled at longer intervals. At the same time, the PVE is laying the foundations for an anti-salmonella programme, requiring new on-farm hygiene standards and feedstuff management rules in the first half of next year. This month the PVE starts work on a full anti-salmonella IKB module. Next year the Dutch will start to chase down the Danes' five-year lead in salmonella eradication, inspired by Sweden's salmonella-free status. One of the likely features of next year's Swedish EU presidency will be some form of salmonella eradication programme across the entire EU for all meat production. "In Holland, much of the groundwork has already been done ­ we are just drawing together the different strands," says Verschouwen. What distinguishes IKB for the Dutch is that everyone is involved in setting the standards. For Verschouwen, the discussion is almost more important than the outcome. "You can write as many rules as you like, but the only ones people take any notice of are the ones they decide for themselves." And while a lot of the discussion is going on upstream, because that is where major changes are also underway, retailers of IKB product can be sure that they, too, will be expected to match these improved standards. {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}