Germany: Agriculture minister fights against cheap meat

Cem Özdemir’s new Green Party Agriculture Minister knows how to formulate a catchy slogan. – Sometimes I get the feeling that good engine oil is more important to us than good salad oil – he told the popular German newspaper “Bild am Sonntag” last weekend.

He described the average German’s diet as too unhealthy. Over 50 percent adults are overweight, he said, blaming processed foods with too much sugar, fat and salt.

For too long the previous government tried to persuade the industry to cut these components by voluntary commitments. It is over now. Binding targets will be introduced in my office – explained the minister.

Özdemir complained that the overall food quality in Germany was too low, as were the food prices. “There shouldn’t be any junk prices anymore. They are ruining farms, prevent animal welfare, encourage species extinction and burden the climate. I want to change that. “The price of food should, in his opinion, convey” the ecological truth. “

The declared goal of the new government, formulated in the coalition agreement signed at the end of November, is to increase the share of ecologically cultivated land in Germany from the current 10 percent. up to 30 percent by 2030.

These declarations are nothing new to Christoph Minhoff, head of the Food Federation in Germany, an industry association that represents several hundred food companies.

Özdemir breaks down the open door DW said. – In the end, nothing will help if the company tries to sell something that will just stay on the shelf. Products that consumers will buy are needed.

Minhoff insists that the food industry is already doing at least as much as every other industry to make its products sustainable and climate friendly. “Nobody wants to make more meat from tortured animals,” he said. – All these goals have been formulated before. The problem is, it costs money. The key question is who is going to pay for it?

In July 2021, a special government commission for the future of industrial farming, made up of both environmental and farmer groups, set the same overall goals that Özdemir had set. This was to reduce meat consumption and increase climate protection. Surprisingly, the committee concluded that a kilogram of beef should cost five or six times more than it is today – over 80 euro per kilo, not around 13 euro as now.

Such a price increase would be necessary to offset the costs incurred in terms of environmental pollution and biodiversity loss. According to the same calculations, dairy products should cost two to four times more than they currently do, the committee said.

The Commission also calculated that environmental damage caused by industrial farming costs around EUR 90 million a year and recommended investing EUR 7-11 billion a year to finance the transformation of the farming industry into a green one.

As stated in the report, a reduction in the total number of livestock on German farms cannot be avoided under any circumstances.

Farmers and environmentalists are not as far apart as the media debates sometimes suggest. Farmers clearly want their food to be valued more.

Reinhard Jung, head of the independent farmers group “Freie Bauern” (Free Farmers), himself a part-time farmer, he welcomed the general direction taken by Özdemir.

If consumers were consciously asked for regional and sustainably produced food, it would increase not only recognition but ultimately the amount of money farmers can earn DW said.

However, Jung does not believe that food prices will necessarily risethat farmers receive a fair wage. – If we could get some money from large supermarkets, large slaughterhouses and large dairy plants for the benefit of producers, the consumer would not have to pay much more – he comments.

Free Farmers have three main ideas on their wish list to Özdemir. First, an origin label on each food product so that consumers can more easily identify the locally produced food. Second, what Jung calls fair relationships in the supply chain so that farmers know up front how much they will get paid. As things stand, the big farming concerns pay farmers later, based on market forces at the time of sale.

“This incredibly exploitative system is especially noticeable in the case of milk,” says Jung. – It is only after a month that a farmer finds out how much he really gets per liter; namely, what is left when all the brokers have gotten their share.

Thirdly Jung wants a law regulating the so-called unbundling, which will break the monopolies of large industrial concerns. This, he argues, can also lead to lower prices due to the power of free market competition and allow farmers to play an active role in competition.

Of these three goals, the label of origin has been included in the new coalition agreement, and at least the other two are being discussed. The new government has expressed the ambition to develop a system that enables agricultural enterprises to compensate for their running costs, while at the same time supporting investment in agriculture.

But German Farmers’ Uniona much larger group of the industrial lobby doubts whether the law breaking the monopoly will be politically or legally realistic.

Farmers are under a lot of pressure because retailers negotiate very hard – says Udo Hemmerling, deputy secretary general of the association. – But decoupling is really just a theoretical option. Internationally, there are very few examples of where competition authorities have been able to smash large companies.

Works Hemmerlinga are more modest: he proposes state bonuses for farmers who offer better protection for animals or the environment. Such state investments seem inevitable given the ambitions of the German agriculture minister Cema Ozdemirabut they are also difficult, because at the request of the liberal FDP, one of the three coalition partners, the government has already ruled out tax increases and additional loans.

There is also a social aspect in the debate that the center-left government with the Social Democratic Chancellor cannot ignore. Higher food prices mean an increase in the cost of living, which would be problematic for people on low incomes.

In Germany 3.8 million people take advantage of state benefitsTherefore, the Paritaetischer Gesamtverband, the roofing organization of German social welfare organizations, demands that less well-off Germans receive compensation for higher food prices.

– The fact is that the necessary ecological transformation must go hand in hand with good social policy – says the chairman of the association, Ulrich Schneider. – People need to feel that they are being taken into account.

For this reason, Schneider believes that it was unfortunate for Özdemir to talk about rising food prices as his main line of argument rather than environmental issues and sustainable businesses.

Polish editorial team of Deutsche Welle / Ben Knight

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