EU urged to act on nitrogen in animal feed

Dutch researcher urges amendment to nitrates directive as back-up to CAP reform

The EU should introduce special measures to encourage use of lower-protein feeds for pigs and poultry as a matter of urgency if excessive nitrate excretion is not to present "a major threat to the environment," a senior Dutch researcher says. Changes could include an amendment of the EU's 1991 directive on nitrate pollution from agricultural sources to include preventive measures as well as incentives for farmers switching to lower protein feeds, according to Dr. Floor Brouwer of the Agricultural Economics Research Institute in the Netherlands.

Protein levels in feeds for intensively reared animals are often "far too high," Dr Brouwer told an international conference at the UK's Warwick university last week, "because formulas are generally calculated by computer to meet nutritional targets at the least cost per tonne. These do not automatically correspond with the most environmentally friendly feeds." Protein levels in European feed average 17% compared with 14% in the USA. This is the target level Dr Brouwer would like to see achieved in the EU.

The major reform of Europe's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) now being introduced should help to reduce the cost of cereals - which have relatively low protein content - by 10-15%, Dr Brouwer says, making them more attractive to livestock farmers. They will hopefully build on the last round of CAP reforms in 1992, which helped to raise cereal content of animal feed from a low of 29% to over 35% - an increase deemed to have had a significant impact on nitrate levels.

But CAP reform will be insufficient to achieve the desired reduction in protein on its own, Dr Brouwer cautions. "Major uncertainties" will remain in world prices of animal feed component particularly higher-protein soya derivatives which provide high nutritional content at relatively low cost, he told ENDS Daily. Any reduction in soya prices would quickly translate into higher nitrate production by European farms, unless policy makers take additional steps to influence feed composition.

Dr Brouwer said that intensive livestock rearing was contributing to severe nitrogen problems, particularly in the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the southern UK and western France. In western France, only half the pig manure can currently be disposed of on farms without convening the nitrates directive, and the remainder has to be transported some distance for disposal, with a cost in time and money to farmers. However, better nutritional management could reduce excess nitrogen by almost 15%, enabling all of it to be disposed of in situ without contravening the directive, Dr Brouwer calculates.

Follow Up:
Dutch Agricultural Economics Research Institute, tel: +31 70 330 8330.

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