Team:Wageningen UR/Background/N timeline

iGEM Wageningen 2021

Dutch Nitrogen Crisis

Cow in smog

The bursting of the Dutch nitrogen crisis (DNC) catched the attention of the 2021 iGEM team of Wageningen University and Research (WUR). We made the decision of tackling the DNC and the associated societal and environmental crisis by developing a technology with the help of synthetic biology. This page complements the project Background page by providing a timeline of the measures that were put into place to prevent the environmental damage caused by nitrogen excess. The new policies had consequences on the society, especially on certain groups, such as cattle farmers. This explains why farmers were the ones mostly expressing their discontent through protests. With the project called Cattlelyst, the WUR iGEM team 2021 aims at providing technological support to the farmers, facilitating the process of complying with the regulations and helping them in reducing the environmental impact of their job without losing profit.


First rules 1980s

Awareness on the environmental damages caused by acid deposition led to new policies already back it 1980, but these were only effective for reducing sulphur oxide levels. The emissions of this gas have been reduced by 80% in the past 40 years, but the emissions of nitrogen compounds have only halved since 1990 and ammonia emissions have increased in recent years [1, 2].


The Programma Aanpak Stikstof (PAS, literally “Nitrogen Action Program”) started in 2015 with the aim of reducing the deposition of nitrogen in Dutch natural sites. Here you find the link to the Dutch PAS webside

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Spetember 2019more_vert

In September 2019. the Dutch government presented new short-term recommendations to reduce the emissions of nitrogen in the Netherlands, which were fittingly called “niet alles kan" (literally “not everything is possible”) [5].

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October protests

Image from BBC news article at this link

The new measures have caused friction between the government and farmers. This was the last straw for many farmers that on the 1st of October gathered in a massive protest on the ‘Malieveld’ in Den Haag. Thousands of farmers went to the Dutch political capital in their tractors clogging the highways and many other strikes followed [7, 8].

New 2020 regulationsmore_vert

In April 2020, the cabinet allocated €5 billion to new measures to solve the nitrogen crisis. The money was mostly meant for restoration of nature and to fund solutions to lower emissions at the source. A new long-term plan to lower nitrogen emissions was proposed in June 2020, which contained several more detailed recommendations. With this plan in place, a reduction of 26% of nitrogen emissions in 2030 would be achieved.

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Protests July 2021more_vert

Image from our team members! Follow this link to read an article on the topic from Resource (Wageningen University and Research magazine). The sign in the picture sais: "Whoever leaves the farmers under this burden will soon have nothing to eat."

Recently, on the 7th of July 2021, farmers organized a protest in several cities all over the Netherlands: The Hague, Zwolle, Assen, Arnhem and Den Bosch. The campaign had “ruimte voor de boer" (literally “room for the farmers”) as a message.

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A perfect solution to the nitrogen crisis has not been found yet. Therefore, sustainable techniques that can be used in barns to reduce the nitrogen emissions can be subsidized within these new measures [4, 5]. Read more about the Cattlelyst approach and our results!

Go to the Result page of Cattlelyst
  • References
    1. PBL. (2010). Zure regen, een analyse van dertig jaar verzuringsproblematiek in Nederland. In 500093007. Bilthoven: PBL publicatie
    2. RIVM. (2019). Grootschalige Concentratie- en Depositiekaarten Nederland. In RIVM Rapport 2019-0091.
    3. Sikkema, A. (2019). The nitrogen problem in five questions. Resource, WUR. Retrieved from
    4. RIVM. (2020). Nitrogen and PFAS suddenly big societal issues in the Netherlands. Retrieved September 7, 2020, from
    5. Rijksoverheid. (2019). Niet alles Kan April 4, 2020, from
    6. Rijksoverheid. (2019). Maatregelen om stikstofprobleem op te lossen. Retrieved September 7, 2020, from
    7. “This is why farmers are going to demonstrate - Farm.” (accessed Apr. 14, 2021).
    8. “Kabinet wil met eiwitverlaging in veevoer ruimte geven voor woningbouw | NOS.” (accessed Apr. 14, 2021)
    9. L. van de Storm, Vier vragen over de protesterende boer: waarom juist voer de boeren zo boos krijgt | Binnenland | (2020), (available at
    10. M. van Rossum, Vets fear the consequences of nitrogen rules - New Harvest (2020), (available at
    11. “Schouten bevestigt: veevoermaatregel geschrapt, te weinig eiwit in gras | NOS.” (accessed Apr. 14, 2021).
    12. Heller, A., & Winterman, P. (2020, August 19). Omstreden voermaatregel voor boeren gaat van tafel. AD. Retrieved from
    13. Houthuijs, P. (2020, July 3). Waarom melkveehouders boos zijn over “eiwitplan” minister Schouten. NOS. Retrieved from
    14. NOS, Farmer protests over, still action at Wageningen University (2021), (available at
    15. A. Sikkema, What did the farmers want from WUR? (2021), (available at
About Cattlelyst

Cattlelyst is the name of the iGEM 2021 WUR team. Our name is a mix of 1) our loyal furry friends, cattle, and 2) catalyst, which is something that increases the rate of a reaction. We are developing “the something” that converts the detrimental gaseous emissions of cattle, hence our name Cattlelyst.

Are you curious about our journey? We have written about our adventures in our blog, which you can find here: