NU.nl regularly checks messages for reliability. Claim: "A map of Europe shared on Facebook shows that cattle do not cause a large proportion of nitrogen emissions at all."
Judgment: largely untrue
On various Facebook pages, such as Boer Bewust, a map of nitrogen in Europe was shared at the beginning of September. Industrial areas such as the Ruhr area are clearly visible on this map, but nitrogen is not visible in places where many farmers are active. This map is used to show that agriculture does not contribute much to the current nitrogen problems, which means that 127 government projects, for example, do not seem to be allowed to continue for the time being. But does the map show all the harmful nitrogen emissions?
Where is it from?
The card that is currently being shared the most comes from an article of the AD of 10 September. This article is about a scientific study, which showed that possibly one in five asthma cases in children is caused by air pollution. According to the AD, the authors of the study see in particular nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emitted by cars and industry as "a major culprit for children with this lung disease". For this reason, the newspaper added a map with the concentration of nitrogen dioxide in Europe to the article.
The map is therefore not about the current nitrogen discussion and the reason that many construction projects are now stalling. This discussion focuses on several substances that contain the element nitrogen. The first group that is important here is the nitrogen oxides, which include nitrogen dioxide. According to the Emission Registration, these substances are mainly emitted by traffic and industry, because this is a by-product of combustion processes. Cities and industrial areas are therefore clearly visible on the maps shared on Facebook.
The second substance that plays an important role is ammonia. According to the same emission registration, this is mainly emitted by agriculture. 86 percent of the ammonia emitted in the Netherlands comes from agriculture. This substance is not visible on the Facebook cards.
77Why does nitrogen cause so many problems in the Netherlands?
Surplus nitrogen oxides and ammonia threatens nature reserves
Why are nitrogen oxides and ammonia actually a problem? RIVM writes in the Nitrogen Monitoring Report 2018 that these nitrogen compounds are important food sources for all life, they become a problem when there are too many of them. If too much nitric oxide and ammonia end up in a nature reserve, this can, for example, make it difficult for some species to survive in that area.
To prevent biodiversity from declining in Europe, EU member states have designated special nature areas that require extra protection. These are the so-called Natura 2000 areas. There are 160 such areas in the Netherlands. 118 of these areas are according to the RIVM
"sensitive to nitrogen". This means that the type of nature in these areas can only withstand a surplus of nitrogen or that the areas are already struggling with a surplus of nitrogen, threatening biodiversity.
The Council of State stated on May 29, 2019 that the current Dutch regulations that must protect these nature areas against a nitrogen surplus do not comply with European legislation. As a result of this ruling, for example, many construction projects have now stopped.
Agriculture contributes to surplus nitrogen
But how much does agriculture contribute to the nitrogen problems in these nature reserves? Firstly, not all ammonia and nitrogen oxide that is emitted in the Netherlands ends up in the Netherlands again. A part will end up in another country due to weather conditions. A large part of the nitrogen that settles in the Netherlands also comes from abroad. According to figures from the RIVM, this is about 30 percent of the nitrogen that precipitates in the nature-sensitive nature areas in the Netherlands.
Approximately forty percent of the nitrogen harmful to these nature areas comes from Dutch agriculture. And thus Dutch agriculture makes a relatively large contribution to the amount of nitrogen in vulnerable nature areas. According to RIVM, cattle, poultry and pigs are the main sources of ammonia in agriculture.
The nitrogen on the cards that is shared on Facebook is nitrogen dioxide. This substance is released during incineration and is mainly emitted by traffic and industry. Nitrogen dioxide is bad for air quality and contributes to the nitrogen problem in nature reserves. However, agriculture plays an important role in the nitrogen problem in nature reserves due to the emission of ammonia, a substance that cannot be seen on the maps that are currently being shared on Facebook.
We therefore assess the statement "A map of Europe shared on Facebook shows that cattle do not cause a large proportion of nitrogen emissions" as largely untrue .