2,100 Dutch dairy farmers in hot water for suspected ‘calf fraud’
The Dutch Department of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality has restricted animal movements on 2,100 Dutch dairy farms for suspected fraud following investigations by the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) and the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO.nl).
In a statement to Dutch MPs, Carola Schouten, the Dutch Minister for Agriculture, announced that a significant number of farmers had registered calves as multiple births to different cows in order to make herd sizes appear smaller.
It is understood that the aim of the suspected manipulation was to dodge strict emission rules.
Back in January, the Dutch authorities noticed an anomaly in the amount of twins or multiple births being registered online. Over 2,000 farmers reported a percentage of multiple births that was 10% or higher; plus a further 5,700 farmers giving recordings between 5% and 10% in 2017.
The motivation for the suspected fraud is the stringent phosphate reduction plan that the Dutch government implements.
In the context of the phosphate reduction plan, a dairy cow counts as one livestock unit (1.0LU); while a heifer counts as about 0.5 LU. After the heifer has calved, milk production starts and it becomes a dairy cow on paper of 1.0LU.
It appears that farmers attributed numerous calves to one cow, which was then registered as having a multiple birth on paper.
As a result, some cows remained ‘heifers’ on paper – registering as 0.5 instead of 1.0LU each. On the system, this gave the impression that a smaller herd had been registered.
Certain animals on the farms in question are currently “blocked”, in lock-down, or are unable to be transported off the premises. The minister has also declared that: “Animals that cannot be identified with reasonable certainty must be declared unfit for human consumption.”
This applies both to the animals at the origin farm and to customers of these companies.
“This means that the entire company to which the animal is brought is not blocked; but, only the animals whose identity cannot be established because of the I & R [the Dutch animal registration system] violations at the farm origin,” the minister said.
Farmers found guilty of fraud will be penalised on their CAP payments – Dutch authorities are also considering criminal investigations with the Public Prosecution Service.
Minister Schouten said that numerous calves that were incorrectly registered ended up in veal production facilities. Following advice from the Dutch Office for Risk Assessment and Research, the government was assured that there is no risk to food safety.
Nonetheless, the department has blocked all calves with uncertain status “until registration is demonstrably restored”.