Opinion Wouter Baan

Food security is more than just symbolic politics

May 17, 2024 - Wouter Baan

Leading up to the Dutch parliamentary elections, food security was the major theme. Therefore, it's a positive step that the newly formed coalition is adding "food security" to the agriculture department's name, while also giving due recognition to the fishing industry. This move goes beyond mere symbolic politics from the new government, which claims to advocate for the agricultural sector but remains heavily dependent on Europe.

Not too long ago, agriculture didn't have its own department, and now it seems that the most pro-farmer party in the Netherlands might provide the new agriculture minister. Things can move quickly in that regard, despite the agricultural sector often perceiving its influence in The Hague as limited. Speculation about who will assume this role has already begun, much like discussions about the new prime minister. It's going to be a tough job, especially when it comes to navigating Brussels regarding issues like nitrogen and derogation.

Red diesel
The agriculture section of the coalition agreement reflects positions of the Farmers' Party (BBB), one might say. It's noteworthy that not only are there focuses on major themes, but also practical measures like the reintroduction of red diesel. While other parties likely wouldn't have considered this, it was etched in the collective memory of Caroline Van der Plas's party that it was taken away as a cost-cutting measure in 2013. This practical measure benefits farmers' business models without increasing food prices. However, farmers will have to wait until 2027 for its reintroduction. Farmers in Germany are probably quite envious; earlier this year, the abolition of tax benefits on agricultural diesel led to major protests there.

Brussels' willingness
But red diesel alone won't solve everything for the new coalition, and there's also a sense of urgency. In the short term, finding a solution to the manure crisis in animal husbandry is essential. Additionally, there's the contentious issue of nitrogen policy, on which the new coalition has entirely different views, despite the VVD once again joining the government. The success of the new cabinet on these fronts heavily depends on Brussels' willingness, which has been limited so far. However, this might change with the upcoming European political elections next month, potentially altering the distribution of seats there. For now, farmers must make do with the government's determined pledges to find solutions to these seemingly intractable problems.

In any case, the new government will chart a different course compared to policies of the past decades. It's a business cabinet with a prime minister lacking a voter mandate, and with each party leader serving as a free agent in parliament. This might just be the perfect execution of the new governance culture, although one might also fear that this diverse assembly, with three of the four ruling parties being inexperienced, will soon find themselves at odds.

Lastly, about the new name: the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature, and Food Quality will be renamed to Agriculture, Fisheries, Food Security, and Nature. What's in a name? say the British, but the new name goes beyond mere symbolism. It's recognition for the often overlooked fishing sector in our country. It also underscores that food security is not a given and thus requires policy action.

Wouter Baan

Wouter Baan is the editor-in-chief of Farmerbusiness and a market specialist in dairy, pork, and meat at DCA Market Intelligence. He also tracks developments within the agribusiness sector and conducts interviews with CEOs and policymakers.
grond Engeland

News Insights

'Food security is considered a given'