Under the terms of SDG 2, nobody in the world should have to go hungry in 2030; everyone should be able to eat safe and nutritious food whenever they want. As malnutrition and food insecurity are rare in rich countries, these countries focus more on reducing food waste.
Summary of results
- Medium-term trends (2015-2022) for five of the 13 indicators point towards increased well-being, trends for two indicators point to a decrease.
- The Netherlands ranks low in the EU on five of the eight indicators for which international comparison is possible. For two indicators it ranks among the leaders.
- The downward trend for the volume of agricultural production in relation to the labour used to achieve it is indicative of decreasing well-being. The Netherlands is still one of the EU leaders for agricultural production, however.
- More favourable trends from a well-being perspective include decreasing livestock density and increasing area of both organic farming and protein crops. However, the Netherlands is still at the bottom of the EU rankings for these indicators.
- Sales of chemical pesticides are no longer decreasing in relation to the volume of agricultural production. The Netherlands is still near the top of the EU rankings, though, with a favourable ratio of production to pesticides.
Dashboard and indicators
SDG 2 aims to end hunger, guarantee food security and promote better nutrition and sustainable farming. As malnutrition and food insecurity are uncommon in the Netherlands, this dashboard examines how the country produces food, how sustainably it does so, and the impact of this on the living environment. The dashboard also covers an aspect that officially belongs under SDG 12 (Responsible consumption and production), namely food waste. Dutch SDG 2-related government programmes centre on food policy, circular agriculture and sustainable management of agricultural land. In this respect, optimum quality soil that can retain its high quality to remain productive for future generations is also relevant to SDG 15 Life on land.
Trends in the Netherlands are predominantly positive, although compared with the rest of the EU the picture becomes less favourable. The Netherlands is trailing behind particularly on sustainable production methods. Dutch farmers use relatively little land for organic farming and high-protein crops, for example. The Netherlands also has more farm animals per hectare of farmland than all other EU countries. Three trends have turned from increasing well-being to neutral: sales of chemical pesticides, and antibiotic use in livestock are no longer decreasing, and the market share of organic food is no longer rising.
Resources and opportunities
Resources and opportunities concern land and labour available to produce food. The area of agricultural land fell to 43.4 percent of the total surface area (land and water) of the Netherlands in 2022. At the beginning of the trend period, 2015, it was 44.4 percent. The volume of agricultural production value in relation to the labour used to achieve it is also declining, although at 173 million euros (2015 prices) per thousand working years in 2022 the Netherlands still ranked second in the EU behind Denmark (with 236 million euros per thousand working years). Both these trends are red.
Use concerns how – and how sustainably – food is produced. Trends here are moving towards higher well-being, but the Netherlands sometimes occupies very low positions internationally. Areas devoted to organic farming (2020) and high-protein crops (2022) grew further, to 4.0 percent and 0.5 percent of total agricultural land respectively. As a result of organic farming and the cultivation of crops such as legumes and soy beans, more animal-friendly and environmentally friendly food and meat substitutes are becoming available. Although the areas are growing, they are still small compared with other EU countries.
To calculate livestock density, different categories and ages of farm livestock are converted to livestock units (LSUs). These livestock include cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry and rabbits. Although LSUs per hectare are decreasing, the Netherlands still had the highest density in Europe in 2020. The latest comparable European figures on livestock density date from 2016, a year in which the Netherlands had the highest density in Europe. Although this results in higher food production, it is primarily viewed negatively in the context of sustainable production and well-being because of concerns about animal welfare and pressure on the environment.
Three-quarters of dairy cows had access to outdoor grazing in 2021, 10 percentage points more than at the start of the trend period in 2015. The period of time cows spend outdoors has become shorter, however: they often graze outdoors only during daytime. From the perspective of well-being, outdoor grazing is positive for animal welfare, and people also enjoy seeing cows in the meadows in their living environment. There is an ongoing debate in the Netherlands about the burden of cattle farming on the environment. The Council of State has now declared that the manure produced by grazing cattle will not normally put extra pressure on protected natural species. In brief: compared with cattle kept indoors, faeces and urine are spread out more across meadowland and produce less ammoniac.
Sales of chemical pesticides amounted to 358 kilograms per million euros of agricultural production volume in 2020. The medium-term trend is no longer downward but neutral. For this SDG, we look at the amount of food produced with these pesticides, and from this perspective the Netherlands outperforms many other EU countries. It should be mentioned, however, that because of the intensity of agricultural production in the Netherlands, pesticide use does cause considerable environmental damage; as this is not a first-order effect, it is not measured for this SDG. (In terms of the area of agricultural land used for production, the Netherlands performs worse in pesticide use per euro earned. From this angle, use is relatively high, and the Netherlands would then be near the bottom of the EU rankings.)
Antibiotics may be used in cattle farming to stimulate animal growth. However, large-scale (or careless) use of antibiotics can lead to resistant bacteria, with consequences for both animal and human health. After a peak in 2007, the use of antibiotics in Dutch livestock farming has fallen sharply. EU regulations gradually restricted the addition of antibiotics to animal feed, and since 2006 this is no longer allowed. In the Netherlands, too, the amount of antibiotics used has fallen substantially. Following a sharp decrease, the trend is now neutral. The intended 70 percent reduction in 2020 compared with 2009 has been achieved. Sector-specific targets set in 2019 prescribe a 50 percent reduction in large-scale users among poultry, pig and veal farmers in 2024 compared with 2017.
Outcomes describe food affordability and the impact of food production on the living environment and on animal welfare. Effects of food production on local environments and water quality are partly related to nitrogen and phosphorus uptake rates. More efficient intensive agriculture will result in less loss to the environment and more efficient use of resources. Crop uptake of nitrogen amounted to just over 60 percent of total nitrogen input from manure in 2022. This means that 40 percent more manure is applied than agricultural crops need. Nitrogen that is not absorbed evaporates or remains in the soil, and is subsequently washed out into ground and surface water. Phosphorus uptake was substantially higher than that for nitrogen, at 87 percent, and an input-uptake balance is in sight here. Uptake figures are not available for almost half of EU countries, but for those for which comparisons can be made, the Netherlands lags behind in the uptake of both phosphorus and nitrogen.
Dutch consumers are increasingly buying sustainable food: according to Wageningen University’s Sustainable Food Monitor , 36 percent of meat sold in 2021 had a sustainability label. Consumer spending on organic food in supermarkets, specialist sustainable food outlets and the hospitality industry were around the same level in 2021 as in 2020, which means the trend is no longer rising but neutral.
The SDG agenda includes the aim of halving food waste in 2030 compared with 2015. The latest figures for the Netherlands (2019) are from the Food waste monitor, also published by Wageningen University, and estimate food waste to be between 88 and 138 kilograms per person. On the basis of waste and feed statistics, the medium-term trend in food waste does not appear to be decreasing, but the estimated total amount of food waste was substantially smaller in 2019 than in 2018. The EU now requires all member countries to report their own food waste from 2020. They use a different definition of food waste for these data. Future reports by Wageningen University will also be based on the EU definition.
Subjective assessment relates to how satisfied people are with food quality and supply, and with the living environment and animal welfare. For this category, no indicators are currently available that comply with the quality criteria of this report.