The Dutch livestock farming sector faces complex challenges concerning its sustainability and social license to operate. Engaging with what is widely understood as a legitimacy crisis, the Dutch government organised a two-day multi-stakeholder meetings to explore future directions. Participants engaged with the public as a key but absent stakeholder, in ways that contributed to the outcome of the meetings in important ways. The paper charts and analyses how and with what consequences this happened. Findings are that participants discursively constructed citizens in terms of consumer roles, with deliberations turning citizen concerns about livestock farming into questions of consumer responsibility, side-lining citizens’ political voices and discursively displacing the possibility of politics around livestock farming. This instance of network governance presents a case of depoliticisation of an issue of concern to citizens, closely related to market players being put in the driver's seat of change, with the government in a supporting role. The article argues that this raises significant questions on the nature and role of construction of publics in network governance.