Commission seeks new ways for agriculture

After years of dispute over agriculture in germany, a government commission is to look for common ground.

At the kick-off meeting this monday with chancellor angela merkel (CDU), environmental and consumer advocates called for new overarching solutions that must also be affordable for farmers. Agriculture minister julia klockner (CDU) called for more environmental protection and animal welfare to be combined with economic efficiency. "Ecology alone, which does not pay off, will eventually lead to the abandonment of operations," she told the german press agency.

The "future commission on agriculture" includes representatives of agriculture, trade and the food industry, consumer, environmental and animal protection groups, as well as scientists. She is expected to present an interim report in the fall and a final report with recommendations in the spring of 2021. Merkel had proposed the advisory body at the end of last year in the face of nationwide farmer protests.

The head of the federation of german consumer organizations (vzbv), klaus muller, told dpa that germany needs an ecologically, socially and economically sustainable agricultural sector. "Only in this way will it be widely accepted by society."There must be a consensus that challenges such as climate change, the loss of biodiversity, but also the death of farms and the economic problems of many farmers must be solved.

However, the idea that consumers will bring about this change through consumption decisions alone is "naive and wrong," says muller. Fair prices that reflect the actual costs of more environmentally friendly and animal-friendly production are central to the necessary change in agriculture.

The managing director of the environmental organization greenpeace, martin kaiser, told dpa: "agriculture is vital for all of us. It must not continue to destroy its own foundations."The current agricultural policy, however, uses billions of taxpayers’ money to promote monocultures and large-scale livestock farming, and thus an agricultural sector that exploits natural resources and does massive damage to the climate. He wants to work in the commission to make agriculture more ecological and to reduce subsidies that are harmful to the environment. "The necessary funding for farmers must be put in place quickly," kaiser said.

Klockner emphasized: "it is a matter of seeing resource conservation and economic viability as two sides of the same coin."A common understanding needs to be developed on how to reconcile increased biodiversity and crop security. "Agriculture and society must treat each other with respect, because they are in the same boat."

It is important that agriculture in germany has a good future, so that the young generation will still be interested in working in the fields and stables in 50 years’ time, said the minister. "We need to discuss just as openly, however, how we can achieve greater appreciation and recognition of the achievements of agriculture among consumers, so that there is a balance of interests."

The 32-member commission is chaired by peter strohschneider, former president of the german research association. A wide range of issues will be discussed: the agricultural challenge, the "balance of power" in the food chain, the role of consumers, globalization and trade agreements, manure, biodiversity and plant protection, climate change, renewable energy, animal welfare and husbandry standards, and meat labeling in supermarkets.

Recommendations of another commission under the leadership of the former minister of agriculture, jochen borchert, are also to be taken into account. She proposes progressively higher standards of husbandry until 2040, and has talked about a tax surcharge on animal products for it. 40 cents per kilogramme of meat and sausage was conceivable. Klockner advocates such an "animal welfare levy", which could be implemented as a consumption tax. Borchert emphasized: "more animal welfare costs more money. There is no way around it."Investments had long terms and were usually depreciated over 20 years.

The working group for peasant farming wants to lobby for a "social contract. For a transformation to more nature and animal protection, the commission must develop goals, a time frame and sufficient funding, said chairwoman elisabeth fresen. "This is how we can pacify the conflicts within agriculture and between agriculture and civil society."

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