COV President: ‘The rise of food nationalism is poor development’

Laurens Hoedemaker has been chairman of the Central Organization for the Meat Sector (COV) since July last year. It is his mission to tell the positive story of Dutch meat. ‘About 95 percent of Dutch people eat meat. It makes us a very relevant sector. The meat debate is now being hijacked by people who want everyone to stop eating meat. ‘

© Henk Riswick Photography

The debate about meat production and consumption is quite out of balance. That is the opinion of Laurens Hoedemaker (51). When it became known that he would become the new chairman of COV, several people said to him: ‘You like a challenge.’

We need to get rid of the concept of protein transition and rather look at the optimal protein balance

Laurens Hoedemaker, chairman COV

Nevertheless, it is a completely logical choice for Hoedemaker itself to serve the interests of the Dutch meat sector. It also fits with what he did before. For example, he was director of the Royal Dutch Hunters Association for seven years.

“It is also a sector that is always the subject of much debate. And we must be aware of that ‘, says Hoedemaker. ‘The transition from life to death in an animal is something of it. You should never let it pass you by without a thought. Respect for the animal is important. As a hunter, I know well what it is, even though killing is only a very small part of a hunter’s useful work.

Hoedemaker has formulated five spearheads for the Dutch meat sector for the coming years: the image of meat, sustainability, animal welfare, labor and food security. He sees the emergence of ‘food nationalism’ as a serious threat.

What do you mean by food nationalism?

‘The development of stimulating in more and more countries that food should mainly come from one’s own country. Think of Germany, where the 5D program prescribes that a pig in supermarkets must be born, bred, fattened, slaughtered, processed and cut in that country. This problem is less serious in the fruit and vegetable sector, but in the meat sector it is a threat to the square footage.

“It is simply the case with pigs that the Dutch like to eat hares and chops. The Germans and Italians love hams, the English love our bacon and pork belly. And heads, paws, ears and snouts often go to China, where they are highly valued. This means that we can make optimal use of the whole pig. That principle also applies to our beef and veal. ‘

At the same time, the Netherlands imports a lot of meat such as lamb.

“This is mainly because the Dutch no longer know the value of meat. Imported lamb often comes from the other side of the globe and with transportation costs and the whole thing is still cheaper than Texel lamb. Where the consumer in France will usually choose ‘produit en France’, the Dutch often choose the cheapest. ‘

Is cheap so bad?

‘Food security is important, but in the Netherlands about the smallest percentage of the world’s income is spent on food. Great emphasis is placed on sustainability. The focus is on the environment, climate and labor. But sustainability also means that it must be financially sustainable and thus sustainable. ‘

Should we eat less meat?

‘The vast majority of people eat meat. This percentage has been around 95 for years and is not declining. Humans need animal protein in their food palette. After all, we are omnivorous. We should therefore get rid of the concept of protein transition and rather look at an optimal protein balance.

“It is not comparable to energy conversion, where one type of electricity can be exchanged on a one-to-one basis. This is not possible due to quality differences in the food. It is possible that people will eat less meat. But that meat is of even better quality, or it is produced in our country even more sustainably than we already do. ‘

And what about the increase in meat substitutes?

‘I do not know why you would choose a meat substitute. Why go for a mega-processed product, laundry lists with artificial additives, beans that pretend to be meat? While you can also choose beans, nuts or other healthy vegetables. It is not obligatory to eat meat. But if you want it anyway, choose genuine. ‘

This week there was another debate on abuse in the sector. Why does it go so often wrong?

‘Unfortunately, the political debate is often determined by events without regard to common practice. Remember, every incident is one too many. And an event should certainly not have a structural character. At the same time, compliance with laws and regulations at Dutch slaughterhouses is 98 to 100 percent. It is very high, even if one compares it with other countries.

‘Over the years, there have been fewer and fewer incidents. This is stated in reports from the Dutch Food and Consumer Safety Authority, which monitors daily. A lot of work is done with company cameras.

That does not mean it can not get even better. As a sector, we are looking at how we can minimize the use of fuels, we have recently introduced a code of conduct and we are working on techniques to optimize (chain) processes and remain an international leader in guaranteeing quality. ‘

Yet the image people have is very different.

The debate over meat is now being hijacked by people who want everyone to stop eating meat. They benefit from spreading inaccuracies or half-truths. It’s up to us too. As a sector, we have thought for too long that we will automatically be appreciated for the good we do. It’s not true. This applies to the slaughterhouses, but also to the livestock sector.

‘We need to tell our story and show how we work. That’s what we need to do, and our joint campaign will start soon. I am convinced that we can put our history in the spotlight. ‘

Veterinary medical background

Laurens Hoedemaker studied veterinary medicine in Utrecht, was a veterinarian for eight years and worked as a veterinary teacher at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine for two years. In 2007, he became Secretary of the Animal Affairs Council of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality and President of the European Forum for Animal Welfare Councils. In mid-2014, he started as director of the Royal Dutch Hunters Association. Since July 1, 2021, he has been President of the Central Organization for the Meat Sector (COV) and the Association for the Dutch Meat Industry. The members of COV together account for about 90 percent of Dutch meat sales and serve more than one hundred million consumers every day.

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