Dutch City Moves to Ban Ads for 'Intensively Farmed' Meat

The move follows similar bans on ads for products that accelerate global warming.

street view in Haarlem, Netherlands

Vladislav Zolotov / Getty Images

Dutch advertising agencies seeking prime real estate for promoting meat products, beware: the city of Haarlem may soon no longer offer you a seat at the table.

In an unprecedented move to curb the promotion of products deemed prime contributors to the climate crisis, city officials have approved a measure to ban intensively farmed meat advertisements from buses, shelters, and screens in public spaces. The exclusion of meat comes in addition to bans already in place in Amsterdam and The Hague for vacation flights, fossil fuels, and cars that run on fossil fuels.

"It will be the first city in the Netherlands—and in fact, Europe and indeed the world—to ban 'bad' meat ads in public places," Ziggy Klazes, councilor for the GroenLinks (Green-Left) party who drafted the motion, told the AFP.

Klazes added that, in her view, the ban on advertisements for "cheap meat from intensive farming" would also include by association ads from all fast food chains. "We are not about what people are baking and roasting in their own kitchen; if people wanted to continue eating meat, fine," she told the Haarlem105 radio channel. "We can’t tell people there's a climate crisis and encourage them to buy products that are part of the cause."

The Meat of the Problem

According to ​​Wageningen University & Research, Dutch meat consumption annually averages 167 pounds per person (compared to a little over 224 pounds per person for the United States). Globally, food production accounts for 35% of all planet-heating gases, with more than half (57%) of those coming from the feeding and raising of cows, pigs, goats, and other animals for food.

For the Netherlands, the issue goes beyond just looking at promotional ties to meat. Known as "the tiny country that feeds the world," the Dutch are the largest exporter of meat in Europe. They also have its highest density of livestock, with more than 100 million cattle, pigs, and chickens. As a result, all of those animals in a space only slightly larger than the state of Maryland has led to some very serious manure issues. In 2021, the Dutch government unveiled a 13-year, $24.6 billion dollar plan aimed at slowly reducing livestock and cutting emissions of pollutants by 50% nationwide by 2030. 

"The message now is that this needs to be fixed, no matter what," MP Tjeerd de Groot said in a statement. "We have to move away from the low-cost model of food production. This industry is causing damage to the farmers' business model and the environment. It's time to restore nature, climate and air, and in some areas that may mean there is no more place for intensive farmers there."

While some farmers understand that a sustainable shift is necessary, others have resisted. Earlier this summer, Dutch farmers protested the livestock reduction plan by dumping manure and garbage on highways and setting fires on the sides of roads.

Due to existing contractual obligations with advertisers, Haarlem’s advertising ban won't actually take effect until 2024. As reported by the Dutch publication Trouw, there's also the potential legal hurdle of enacting a ban on something that could be perceived as an attack on freedom of expression.

"You can't ban adverts for a business, but you can ban adverts for a group of products for public health," Klazes said. "Take the example of cigarette ads."

Whether the climate crisis falls under the umbrella of public health is yet to be decided, but Klazes regardless sees the ban as an opportunity to hopefully spark inspiration for other Dutch cities. 

"Of course, there are a lot of people who find the decision outrageous and patronizing, but there are also a lot of people who think it’s fine," she added. "It is a signal—if it is picked up nationally, that would only be very nice."

View Article Sources
  1. "Per Capita Red Meat and Poultry Consumption Expected to Decrease Modestly in 2022." United States Department of Agriculture.

  2. "Meat Consumption." Wageningen University & Research.

  3. "Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks." United States Environmental Protection Agency.