Dutch Cabinet slowly taking steps towards sustainable palm oil and soy
On Wednesday November 5th, Dutch State Secretary for Infrastructure and Environment, Mansveld, and Minister for Agriculture, Dijksma, issued a letter to the Dutch House of Representatives. This letter was their reaction to the ‘Advice Sustainability Food Sector’, which was drafted at the request of the Cabinet by the Commission Sustainability Issues Biomass – or Commission Corbey in short. Paul Wolvekamp of Both ENDS is member of this commission and gave his opinion on the letter.
On what was the Commission supposed to give advice?
“The Cabinet requested the Commission to look into ways for the Netherlands to make the food sector as sustainable as possible, and to issue advice on this. Not only in the Netherlands, but also in countries where we get our resources and other food products from. The Commission has, amongst others, ordered the Landbouw Economisch Instituut (LEI) and the University of Wageningen to conduct several studies, and has done an analysis and several recommendations. We presented these to the Cabinet in a report some time ago. In part, the letter issued by Dijksma and Mansveld is a reaction to this. In December, a general meeting will be held in the House of Representatives, during which the letter will be discussed.”
What was mentioned in the letter?
“The Cabinet has accepted several concrete commendations; these will likely be incorporated in government policy. For example, our recommendation to learn from the currently existing sustainability criteria for biofuels was seen as interesting. And the importance of transparency in the food chain, which the Commission supports – so think of: where does it come from, where was it produced, what are the consequences and who is accountable – is also backed by the Cabinet. In line with the Commission’s recommendations, the Cabinet says it will tie in with initiatives that have already been developed by companies to make the food chain more transparent. And, ‘last but not least’, I think it is a good sign that the government will follow advice on sustainabilising consumption patterns.”
Was the letter also disappointing?
“A few years ago, the Dutch agro-food industries agreed on only using certified soy and palm oil after the year 2015. This is a difficult process that is being monitored by the industries themselves. Of course, ultimately the progress made will be validated by the CBS (Central Bureau for Statistics), but in the meantime, the Cabinet sits back and leaves everything to the market and NGOs. The production of soy and palm oil is cause for many social and environmental problems, and the Netherlands is a large consumer. Our government could and should do more to stimulate the use of certified soy – for instance via fiscal measures – and draft clear rules on the requirements of the production of these resources. Businesses as well have mentioned that it would help if forerunners in sustainability were rewarded, and ‘free riders’ were discouraged.”
So now what?
“Of course, I hope that the Cabinet will not only incorporate the recommendations in policy during the rest of the office term, but also really implement this policy. Only then will we be able to see its effects in Dutch investments, trade and diplomacy. The Netherlands really has a role as forerunner, also within the EU. If the Netherlands - as one of the world’s largest food exporters - drafts rules for sustainabilising global food production, then this will stimulate other EU countries to follow. In the past, one of the Dutch government’s most often used arguments for not venturing in strict sustainability requirements, was that these were in conflict with WTO rules. The Commission Corbey, however, thinks this barrier can be removed, and we will let experts do further research on this.”
On October 30, the Ecosystem Alliance organised a seminar on soy and palm oil in The Hague. Dutch businesses, the Dutch government, as well as Dutch and Southern NGOs gathered and discussed the question of how the Netherlands can contribute to making the production of soy and palm oil more sustainable. The NGOs presented a ‘Call for Action’, an appeal to the Dutch government and industries to take action. Also, a video was made in which the impacts of large-scale soy and palm oil production and possible solutions are being explained and shown by local experts.
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