Announcing the move in the Bundestag, new Federal Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir said that the labelling system should cover the breeding, rearing, transportation and slaughter of livestock.
Özdemir, a Green member of the recently elected coalition government, said that the label needed to be introduced alongside support for a new system of production that replaces the current ‘exploitative system’. Detailed proposals for the new national label will be unveiled this year.
In particular, the Green politician has emphasised the financial plight of German farmers. Higher animal welfare – which he said will mean fewer animals on farm – should not have a negative impact on farm incomes, Özdemir argued, insisting that ‘cheap products’ delivered at the expense of producers should no longer be tolerated.
“Improving animal welfare on farms cannot be achieved with zero costs,” he conceded.
The German pork sector has been particularly hard hit by financial pressures and Özdemir insisted that it is not acceptable for farmers to receive 22 cents of every euro that consumers spend on pork at a retail level. “I won’t continue to accept the exploitative system,” the agriculture minister noted, speaking in Berlin.
‘Time is of the essence’
The rhetoric was welcomed by the German Farmers’ Association, Deutscher Bauernverband, which agreed that there is a pressing need to improve the economic prospects of the country’s farmers whilst simultaneously transitioning to a less environmentally damaging food system.
Joachim Rukwied, President of the German Farmers’ Association, said that this legislative period would see ‘many farms’ charting a course between ‘further development’ and ceasing to trade.
“The announcement must now quickly be followed by concrete steps for implementation. It is important to ensure diversity in the agricultural structure in Germany and to prevent structural breaks - the Federal Government will have to be measured by this,” Rukwied responded.
The test, the farming advocate continued, will be turning policy ambition into action quickly enough to provide farmers with the support they need. “The economic situation on many farms is still tense and disastrous for pig farmers. Time is of the essence here. Farmers are willing to support the conversion of animal husbandry. It is important for the coming months that a practicable and reliable way of financing is ensured. A separate financial pot must be created for this. Our farmers now urgently need political decisions in order to be able to further develop their farms.”
Growing support for action on animal welfare
According to Özdemir, his policy efforts are broadly popular amongst German shoppers. “The majority wants a change,” he told the Bundestag.
Indeed, a recent survey conducted by Kantar on behalf of Greenpeace found better animal husbandry conditions are supported by 88% of Germans. Mandatory state labelling of the husbandry conditions for ‘all meat and dairy products’ in retail and gastronomy was identified as ‘particularly important’ by 78% of people.
Martin Hofstetter, Greenpeace's agricultural expert, said the result was a call to action for Özdemir to end ‘the massive animal suffering in industrial agriculture’. “Consumers want to know reliably how the animals are kept,” Hofstetter said.
Significantly, Greenpeace data shows that German consumers are open to the use of financial levers to support higher animal welfare: 85% of those surveyed support state aid for farmers to improve animal husbandry. They would also agree to pay additional taxes or duties on meat and sausages in return.
Greenpeace said that Özdemir has ‘started a debate’ about the low price of meat and the sector’s impact on environmental objectives.
“The consumption of meat and dairy products in Germany causes environmental and climate damage amounting to around €6bn a year. However, the true costs are not reflected in the price. And the consumption of animal products is also subsidized with more than €5bn annually because only the reduced VAT rate of 7% is levied on these products. Minister Özdemir has named the problem and must end this paradoxical policy at the expense of the climate and the environment,” Greenpeace ag expert Matthias Lambrecht argued.
Lambrecht believes that that taxation mechanisms should play an important role in delivering solutions.
“There is a simple solution: the new federal government should adjust the VAT on meat and dairy products to the regular rate of 19 percent. In return, it can reduce or completely eliminate VAT on fruit and vegetables. This would relieve consumers and create incentives for more environmentally friendly and climate-friendly consumption of plant-based foods.”