Livestock, feed and the environment

by Teresa Acklin
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Danish livestock and compound feed industries operate under strict environmental regulations aimed at controlling fertilizer and animal waste pollution.


   In the mid-1980s the discovery of dead lobsters in the marine waters of Denmark was brought to public attention. The leaching of nutrients used in agricultural fertilizer was blamed for the situation; the nutrients promoted the growth of algae, resulting in a lack of oxygen in marine waters.

   Also in the 1980s, concentrations of nitrate above the maximum acceptable limit were found in the groundwater in some regions in Denmark. And again the leaching of nitrogen from fertilizer was blamed for this.

   Since then, the discharge of nutrients in marine and ground waters has been considered one of the main pollution problems in Denmark. These circumstances have focused political interest on farmers' use of fertilizer and, especially, the storage, handling and use of animal manure.

   In April 1987, the Aquatic Environment Action Program took effect, fixing targets for reduction of nitrogen, phosphorous and organic matter emissions into the environment. In relation to agriculture, the main objectives of the plan were to eliminate run-off from storage of animal manure and silage and to reduce total nitrogen leaching by 50% from the mid-1980s reference.

   But by 1990, it was recognized that the Aquatic Environment Action Program had not achieved its objectives in reducing nitrogen leaching. New studies were initiated to define the criteria for a sustainable development of agriculture and the policy required to achieve it.

   In spring 1991, the government presented the Action Plan for a Sustainable Agricultural Development, which was particularly aimed at nitrate leaching from agriculture. This plan was adopted by the parliament at the end of 1991.

   These two programs have been the cornerstone of Danish nitrate policy, upon which laws and regulations since then have been based.

   The two programs contain several important components that establish strict requirements for livestock producers.

   All livestock farms must establish sufficient storage facilities so run-off of manure and silage is eliminated; the maximum amount of per-hectare nitrogen applied through animal manure is restricted; all animal manure must be incorporated in the soil immediately after spreading, if it is not applied to growing crops; manure-based nitrogen must be used according to percentages fixed by the Ministry of Agriculture, with total nitrogen applications from manure and fertilizer for all crops not to exceed the amount set by official standards; and compulsory crop rotation, fertilizer plans and fertilizer balance sheets are required for all farms exceeding 10 hectares.

   For large livestock operations, additional special requirements apply. Pig and poultry farms with more than 250 animal units must request special environmental approval from local authorities. The approval is needed when livestock production is established, expanded or changed in such a way that the impact on the environment increases. Before approval is given, the location of livestock houses and manure storage is considered, as is the distance to urban zones and summer house areas.

   Farms with livestock production larger than 250 units also must undertake a special Environment Impact Assessment, which is completed by the counties according to rules set up by the European Commission. Before a permit is granted, neighbors, organizations and the general public must have an opportunity to express their views.

   Danish legislation addressing nitrate problems is characterized by the use of many regulations that individual farmers must obey. An extensive burden of rules and authorities seeks to fulfill the overall aim of reduction in nitrogen and phosphorous in the environment.

   Danish policy has also been based on the assumption that research and development, together with the extension service, would redirect farm practices toward lower nitrate emissions. In particular, changed farm practices in the handling of manure are expected to reduce nitrate emission.

   From the viewpoint of environment authorities, the many regulations and rules in the Danish environment protection policy will ensure that farms — and especially those with livestock — will be managed in a way so the rules and requirements set up by the Danish legislation will be met.

   If you ask an ordinary farmer, he would say that he is accustomed to these rules — even though some of them have substantial economic consequences. Running your farm according to these rules is not only what you have to do to satisfy the authorities, it is also common sense and good agricultural practice.


   Pesticides are considered the other major problem related to farming and environmental protection in Denmark.

   In 1987, the Danish parliament adopted a Pesticide Action Program. The target for this plan is to reduce the use of active substances in pesticides, to reduce the treatment frequency and to reevaluate the approval of all pesticides to exclude those which are most damaging to the environment.

   The Pesticide Action Program has so far resulted in a drastic reduction in the amount of active substances in pesticides. In 1994, the total amount was reduced by 40% from the starting point in 1987. This reduction is primarily because of the use of new pesticides, in which the individual dosage per treatment is significantly lower than for older pesticides.

   The rate of treatment frequency has not yet experienced a similar reduction, as an increasing part of the agricultural area is covered with winter crops that have a relatively higher need for crop protection. Nonetheless, Danish use of pesticides is lower than that in other countries with modern agriculture.

   All farmers must keep records of their use of pesticides, and their spraying equipment is submitted to control by the authorities. Farmers also must undertake compulsory education in the correct use of pesticides and sprayers.

   Authorities follow the content of pesticides in groundwater very closely. In the last nationwide investigation, residues from pesticides were found in more than 7% of the test samples, and some of the samples had pesticides concentrations higher than 0.0001 mg per liter.

   Among other reasons, these results caused the parliament last year to adopt legislation that enables the Minister of Environment to forbid the marketing and use of pesticides if there is a risk they might seep into the groundwater. So far, seven pesticides have been forbidden by this legislation, and more than 20 pesticides are on their way to being forbidden.

   At present, a new tax on the use of pesticides is being discussed in the parliament. Under the proposal, a duty of 279% of the sales price will be imposed on insecticides and pesticides for soil disinfection, while herbicides and fungicides will face a 13% duty. Tax revenues will be returned to farmers to help offset property taxes.

   The politicians claim the tax on pesticides is a new instrument in the environment protection policy. In fact, it is our firm opinion that this tax is just a new way of redistributing income among individual farmers.


   The Danish compound feed industry consists of much more than just fodder. The industry produces and sells or is an agent for a large range of products used by livestock farmers. In many cases, the industry can be the sole supplier of all the materials the farmer uses on his farm — from diesel oil, seed and pesticides to compound feed. Some 60% of the compound feed industry in Denmark is owned by farmers themselves, just as they also own the many slaughterhouses, dairies, etc.

   The Danish compound feed industry is subject to strict control by authorities. The control includes rules for production, storage and sale of feed, for industry inspections and analysis of the products. Product analysis is concentrated on the declaration of content and on investigations to determine the presence of any unwanted substances.

   The strict control of the compound feed industry should be viewed in light of demand for feed of high quality. Salmonella in pork and poultry caused a great public debate in 1993, and in spring 1994 the Ministry of Agriculture and the Federation of Danish Slaughterhouses agreed on an Action Program for Salmonella.

   The program comprised all areas where efforts against salmonella could take place. The total cost of the program is estimated to be about 200 million krone (U.S.$37 million) and is expected to be paid for by the agriculture sector itself.

   In the meantime, salmonella controls in meat and feed have been intensified, and a new government notice put up stricter rules for the industry.

   We have not yet seen all the results from the Action Program, but the frequency of samples testing positive for salmonella has decreased since the notice took effect.

   Much of the effort to prevent salmonella at slaughterhouses and farms would be useless if farmers were not guaranteed against salmonella in compound feed. So, controls over the compound feed industry include compulsory tests for salmonella.

   The industry and farmers have identical interests in the delivery of a product free of salmonella. Therefore, in addition to official controls, the compound feed industry and agricultural organizations have agreed voluntarily on good management in the production of salmonella-free feed.

   In 1993, 5,614 test samples were taken in connection with inspection regulations. Out of those samples, 317, or 5.6%, had deviation, which caused a fine for the compound feed company in question.

   As a rule, the frequency of test samples should be one for each 1,000 tonnes of fodder in a lot. Of course, each test sample is taken according to specific regulations to be representive of a homogeneous lot.

   If a lot or a company for some reason is under suspicion, the sample frequency is higher. This is a way to catch a product of poor quality.

   More laboratory tests are made on every test sample from a lot; for example, all the samples are analyzed for nutrition and energy content. The rest of the test parameters are analyzed in selected samples. For these samples, a much more comprehensive analysis takes place, including quality and content of unwanted components such as aflatoxin.

   All the samples with deviation from the fixed declaration will be tested by a microscope for analysis of the compound raw materials. E.U. analytical methods are used at the laboratory, and the test margin is the closest possible according to the E.U. directive on compound feed.

   During the past 13 years, aflatoxin content in compound feed generally has decreased. However, in 1993 a higher-than-usual number of samples had aflatoxin content above the maximum limit of 0.005 milligrams per kilogram.

   No analyzed raw material had more than the maximum accepted content of 0.02 mg per kg. This means that the rising content in the feed was caused by a new lot or some unanalyzed raw materials.

   I should add that all results are made public. This ensures that a company releasing compound feed of poor quality will be known to the public by name and test results.

   Like farmers, the compound feed industry also is involved in efforts to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous content. A lower content in feed will mean less nitrogen and phosphorous in animal manure, reducing manure as a potential pollutant of the environment.

   National research institutes have joined forces with the industry in the effort to produce feed of high quality as well as feed that ends up as high quality animal manure. Improvements in this area made by the industry in the coming years are likely to affect the compound feed products made on individual farms.

   Many pig farms — especially the large ones — produce their own feed using their own and purchased raw materials. Today, about 25% of total pig feed consumed is made on farm. This feed is not controlled by the authorities, which means that control of purchased raw materials is very important indeed.

   This puts a great responsibility on the compound feed industry. However, I am sure that the industry will be as successful in this task as it has been in the joint effort to solve the problems with salmonella and aflatoxin.

   Peter Gaemelke is vice-chairman of the Danish Farmers' Union. This article is based on his May presentation at the Federation Europeenne Des Fabricants D'Aliments Composes (FEFAC) Congress in Maastricht, the Netherlands.