Not easier, but increasingly sustainable and innovative

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17 September 2019

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Trends and developments in the meat industry

What will the meat sector look like in 10, 20, 50 years? Will there still be room for livestock farmers to run a healthy business if the rules only become stricter and consumers embrace more and more meat substitutes? Or are the media presenting the situation in a more extreme way than it really is? Kiempunt went to investigate and talked to Mark Tijssen, vice president and portfolio holder for Sustainability of the LLTB.

The figures

The Netherlands has 54,000 farms, 25,000 of which have cattle, 4,000 pigs and 2,000 poultry. Collectively, Dutch meat producers produce over 2.4 million tons of meat annually. Red meat alone accounts for a turnover of 10.4 billion euros and 12,000 jobs. A large part of the meat produced is exported; Dutch meat ends up on the plates of 100 million consumers in 140 countries worldwide.

But the Dutch themselves are also an important target group: the average consumption in the Netherlands is 76 kg per person per year, which is above average compared to other countries. Most Dutch people, 96 percent, eat meat at least once a week.

Most people in the Netherlands, 96 percent, eat meat at least once a week.

Does meat consumption fall or not?

In the media are conflicting messages about the actual consumption of meat. For example, figures from Wageningen University & Research and research bureau IRI show that meat consumption has not declined, but has remained virtually the same. The NOS reports that meat consumption has indeed declined in recent years. One of the reasons is that figures from supermarket sales are considered normative, and sales through the catering industry are not included. Also, the number of producing companies has decreased in recent years, but the companies grew in size, the WUR reported.

And then there is a world market: meat consumption worldwide is not declining, but rather rising due to increasing prosperity. Tijssen: "The consumption of pork worldwide is stable at the moment, while the total consumption of chicken and fish is increasing. More and more people are demanding a larger quantity of animal protein. It is a basic necessity of life that is becoming accessible to more and more people."
That said, there is a lot of growth in meat substitutes. The number of vegetarians is not growing, but there are more and more flexitarians, people who alternate meat with vegetarian products.

Since 2017, the supply of meat substitutes in the supermarket has increased by 51%. This is in line with the increasing demand from consumers. Whereas the number of vegetarians in the Netherlands has been around 4% for years, around 50-60% of consumers, the flexitarian, choose meat substitutes more often. Of the total sales of meat products, consumers bought 4.5% meat substitutes (NOS, August 2019; Rabobank, 2019).


More and more consumers are becoming more critical of their lifestyle and eating habits. In doing so, they place high demands on sustainability and animal welfare. As a result of social developments, the demand for sustainably produced products is increasing. At the same time, the demand for meat 'with a story' is growing. But in addition to this critical and aware consumer, there is also a consumer who primarily looks at price and quantity.

It results in a dichotomy: farmers who start producing on a larger scale for the mass market and farmers who opt for specialization and marketing a niche product, where, for example, more guarantees can be given on origin, nutrition or living conditions of the animals. "In the case of a niche market, a special product is sold with a bit of an experience, but of course that's not for every farmer. It has to suit your business and you as an entrepreneur," says Tijssen.

See for yourself


The LLTB also sees a role for itself in telling the story, the story of all farmers in Limburg in all their diversity, large-scale and small-scale. In addition to press contacts, several meetings and open days are organized annually with the support of the LLTB, so that a more complete picture is created. "People get a more nuanced picture if they can take a look at the farm themselves. That's why it's a good thing that there are exhibition sheds, Campina open days, 'Loeren bij de Boeren' days and organized cycling tours along several farms. For example, with regard to animal welfare and animal health, many people do not know what farmers are already doing to keep their animals healthy through nutrition, genetics and hygiene measures." The expectation is that visits from and sales at the farmer's location will further increase in the coming years and thus also professionalize.

Innovations in the meat sector

1: SecurEgg Farmer

The Fipronil crisis of 2017 duped some poultry farmers in Limburg. "After the crisis these entrepreneurs decided to develop a joint system called SecurEgg Farmer. This system unburdens the agricultural entrepreneur by making a product-supplier combination and checking whether the products and raw materials used are registered for use on the laying poultry farm. In this way, safe nutrition can be better guaranteed." More information can be found at

2: Data and robotization

Drones and smart robots in farms ensure that work is done as efficiently as possible and at the same time a lot of data becomes available. How much did this cow eat and how much milk did she produce? It can now be tracked very precisely. Big data and robotization make it possible to work more efficiently and improve the traceability of products for all parties in the chain. An additional advantage is that robotization can prevent food waste, because products can be monitored and checked at an individual level. Examples are Hoeve Rosa in Sevenum, where scaling up and automation are central, and the dairy farm of family Hoven in Eckelrade, where efficiency is central. The Province of Limburg and LIOF are therefore actively supporting this development.

3: Health and animal welfare

Thanks to computer-controlled feeding systems, animals get the nutrients they need. To purify manure and ammonia odor, many farmers have installed the air scrubber. Free-range barns and other innovations in barn construction increase welfare. There is also an increasing focus on improving the quality and sustainability of animal feed. More and more residual flows from the food industry are being used as raw materials for animal feed. Tijssen: "Over the past 15 years, genetic modifications and changes in feed composition have already resulted in significantly lower emissions of CO2 or ammonia." The Feed Design Lab in Wanssum conducts practical research and offers education for innovation & sustainability in the animal feed sector. Over 100 companies from across the sector and from home and abroad have joined Feed Design Lab as partners and are actively participating in the network. There is also a pilot plant where entrepreneurs can test new feed compositions. More info via

4: Making the cycle more sustainable and smaller

The sector is trying to develop more innovations and systems that will enable it to close the cycle as efficiently as possible. Tijssen: "We do that with import and export, use of residual streams and a coordinated supply and demand. We also see opportunities for reducing emissions, preferably at the front end of the production process. We share these innovations with each other, so that animals, the environment and people benefit from them.

What does the future look like?

Emergence of other meat

The meat processing industry will develop new products, such as hybrid meat, lab-grown meat or products with proteins from insects. For now, traditional meat products can coexist just fine with these new products; there is still plenty of market for both.

Collaborate, become more versatile or stop

However you look at it, the Netherlands is asking for sustainability. To be able to do that as a livestock farmer, it is important to start cooperating with other sectors for the optimal use of residual flows and a closed cycle. Another strategy could be to transform the traditional farm into a multifunctional business, in which direct sales, tourism, recreation, care or education play a role. In addition, some of the current livestock farmers will stop because there is insufficient physical or financial space to innovate or because there is no successor.

Fairer prices for the farmer

What complicates innovative farming is the uncertainty about future regulations, in the Netherlands and Europe. Investments require a payback period, whereby the rules can change again in the meantime. The investment must also be recouped, and that is only possible if the additional costs can be passed on to the consumer in the form of a piece of meat. Retailer and consumer must accept that a higher price is necessary to meet all the wishes and demands of our time. If it were up to Minister Carola Schouten, farmers would get a 'fair price' for their products. This will also be necessary if stricter regulations are to apply, while supermarkets are still using promotions on meat to lure consumers. Tijssen: "Our position on this point is clear. In principle we are against price gouging on agricultural products. Only if farmers receive a fair price, there is room to continue investing in new environmental, climate and animal-friendly innovations. And that is what we all want."
Kiempunt previously wrote an article about True Pricing and a fair price for sustainable products in Limburg, read that article back here.

Sources: General Journal, Boerderij, CBS, COV, Sustainablebusiness, Foodlog, Green Knowledge Network, Kiempunt, Rabobank, Government, RVO, WUR.