A Dutch City Is Banning Some Meat Advertisements in Public Spaces

The climate change-motivated move is accompanied by bans on fossil fuel ads elsewhere in the Netherlands

A bus shelter in London with an advertisement for a Tesco Christmas turkey on it
Ads like this one for Tesco turkey in London may no longer be allowed in the Dutch city of Haarlem starting in 2024. Mike Kemp / In Pictures via Getty Images

The Dutch city of Haarlem is the first in the world to ban advertisements for some meats in public spaces, reports Maarten van Gestel for the Dutch newspaper Trouw.

Ziggy Klazes, a city councilor for the green political party Groenlinks, says to Trouw that the ban is motivated by meat production’s negative effect on the climate. She tells the Agence France-Presse (AFP) that it contradicts Haarlem’s politics to “earn money by renting the city’s public space to products which accelerate global warming.”

Haarlem will begin enforcing the ban in 2024, when current advertising contracts expire. But it’s not clear yet which types of advertisements the ban will cover. For example, the government hasn’t decided whether ads for sustainably produced meat will be allowed, according to the BBC’s George Wright.

But ads for “cheap meat from intensive farming,” are on the chopping block, Klazes tells the AFP. “As far as I’m concerned, that includes ads from fast food chains.”

The motion is meant to address meat production’s significant climate impact. The livestock industry alone accounts for roughly 14 percent of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions, per the BBC. Livestock digestive processes, manure storage and fertilizers release planet-warming methane and nitrous oxide, which are, respectively, 25 times and 265 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide is.

Plus, forests that would otherwise absorb carbon dioxide are cut down by ranchers to make room for animals to graze, per the Guardian’s Daniel Boffey. Unchecked, the industry’s impact on the environment will only increase as the global population continues to climb, wrote the Guardian’s Hannah Devlin in 2018.

Haarlem’s motion has already faced backlash from meat producers, per the BBC. “The authorities are going too far in telling people what's best for them,” a spokesman from the Central Organisation for the Meat Sector says in a statement.

It’s unclear whether the proposed ban could be challenged legally. Herman Bröring, an administrative law expert at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, tells Trouw that the ban could possibly be construed as a violation of freedom of expression. “At the same time,” he tells Trouw, “some infringements are allowed.”

In defense of the motion, Klazes tells the AFP that advertisements for products posing a risk to public health, such as cigarettes, can be banned.

This news comes while Dutch farmers are protesting a federal plan to cut nitrogen emissions by reducing the size of the country’s cow herd and potentially closing some farms, per the AFP. The protesters have burned hay and manure along highways and caused blockades with their tractors, Claire Moses wrote for the New York Times in August. Agriculture is the greatest contributor to nitrogen emissions in the Netherlands, and the government wants to reduce those emissions by 50 percent by 2030 to meet European Union requirements, per the Times.

Haarlem’s meat ad ban follows similar decisions from other Netherlands cities: Amsterdam, Leiden and The Hague have banned commercials for air travel, gas-powered cars and the fossil fuel industry, according to Trouw. And the French city of Grenoble banned all public advertisements in 2014.

A study published earlier this year in the Journal of Health Communication found that people who looked at advertisements with images of meat reported a higher desire to eat it. But it remains to be seen how much of an effect the Dutch ban will have on meat consumption, where 95 percent of residents currently eat meat—but less than half eat it every day, per the BBC.