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'There are 80 million would-be farmers in Germany'

Interview Trade Letter February 2017

Jochen Fritz and Marcus Holtkötter, both connected to the 'Wir machen Euch satt!' (We feed you!) demonstrations talk about sustainable agricultural and food policy. Topics like organic farming and animal welfare labels are part of the interesting interview, which is part of our new Trade Letter February 2017.

METRO GROUP: Both of you are farmers. What do you think farms and agriculture will be like in the future?

Jochen Fritz: At our farm, we focus on traditional, more ecological agriculture. It’s very important to us that the industry isn’t able to have as much of an influence on farms here as is the case in, for example, the USA since the merger of Bayer and Monsanto. A sustainable farm faces up to the present-day challenges within society. People in Germany want animal-friendly husbandry, fewer pesticides, no GM technology and farm-based structures.

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Marcus Holtkötter: Germany is too diverse for us to be able to talk about one single farm of the future: in the south there are a lot of smaller businesses, in the north-west many farmers specialise in animal husbandry and in the east we have a lot of agricultural cooperatives. I don’t consider the merger of Bayer and Monsanto to pose any major problems, because it doesn’t result in a dominant market position.

METRO GROUP: Mr Fritz, among other things, your initiative calls for a stop to industrial farming. This question is addressed to both of you: is this a realistic demand in the 21st century?

Jochen Fritz: We stand for more ecological farming, but our alliance also includes conventional businesses. I am, however, convinced that we have to make farming more ecological, because it is currently society that bears the external costs. Organic farming is a blueprint that can be used all over the world. We will be able to apply a great deal of what we have learned over the past 30 years to conventional farming. But we also need to get more farmers on board in Germany, which is why it’s good that the Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture Christian Schmidt is pushing for 20 per cent organic farming.

Marcus Holtkötter: I don’t think organic farming is a blueprint. There was already a failure to meet the mark of 20 per cent organic farming under Renate Künast. There’s simply not a market for it – organic farming isn’t worth it for farmers in Germany. As a farmer, I produce what’s economically viable and what the consumers will buy.

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METRO GROUP: The rate at which farms are folding continues unabated. What action needs to be taken to stop this development? Or is it a development that we simply have to accept?

Marcus Holtkötter: Not only are there 80 million would-be coaches of the national football team in Germany – there are just as many people who think they know better than the farmers how farmers should do their job. But the consumer is then unwilling to pay the price when he gets to the supermarket checkout. We are therefore creating a utopia for ourselves in Germany. And as such, we will eventually be competing with cheaper products from abroad, forcing domestic farmers to give up.

Jochen Fritz: It really hurts to know that 3,500 dairy businesses folded last year. I think it’s an oversimplification to make the conditions within society responsible alone for the folding of farms. It’s the poor price situation that makes the farmers suffer. We need market regulation in the dairy sector. If I want higher standards, I also have to protect farmers from cheap products from outside. And that includes having a clear place-of-origin and husbandry certification mark.

Marcus Holtkötter: But a German place-of-origin mark should only apply to German animals. Many young pigs currently come from the Netherlands or Denmark, but are given German place-of-origin labelling after just 16 weeks of being fed in Germany. This ‘dual citizenship’ is pushing German products out of the market. We therefore need to talk about a whole different set of standards.

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METRO GROUP: You are both in favour of place-of-origin and husbandry labelling. Can measures such as ‘Initiative Tierwohl’, the BMEL Animal Welfare Initiative and an animal welfare label improve the lives of animals?

Jochen Fritz: For now, we are supporting any initiative that concerns itself with animals, and that includes ‘Initiative Tierwohl’ (Animal Welfare Initiative). However, we do not approve of products not sourced from animal-friendly husbandry likewise being given a label. An animal welfare label is long overdue. In contrast to what Food and Agriculture Minister Schmidt is planning, I would like to see a mandatory label similar to how eggs have to be labelled. This would allow other markets to develop between organic and conventional farming. Not only the husbandry, but also the produce’s origins should appear on the labels.

Marcus Holtkötter: I still think ‘Initiative Tierwohl’ is right and important. I think the initiative’s approach of financing itself by means of a levy is very sensible. I’m in favour of an animal welfare label – and I too think something along the lines of egg labelling is a good idea. But I am firmly against any cross-subsidisation of the label by the government, if it is not working – it’s up to the consumers to decide whether they wish to pay more for animal welfare or not.

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METRO GROUP: Some farmers are fed up with how other farmers are feeding the consumers. Do the two of you see any chance of a compromise?

Jochen Fritz: ‘Wir haben es satt!’ (We are fed up!) is a political movement directed at the politicians. But we’re not against conventional farming, nor are we against specific businesses. In view of our dependence on the major agricultural businesses, I would like to see us coming together more and recognising who our partners really are.

Marcus Holtkötter: We are on the same page with regard to origin and husbandry labelling and the promotion of regional products. But unlike Mr Fritz, I see conventional farming remaining at the forefront for much longer.

METRO GROUP: If you could request something of the politicians, what would it be?

Jochen Fritz: We are calling for a change in agricultural policy, with additional investments in traditional and organic farming of 500 million euros per annum, thereby creating greater incentives to engage in animal-friendly husbandry. At present, 80 per cent of public funds goes to 20 per cent of the businesses, because the funds are only allocated on the basis of business size. I also think it is the responsibility of politicians to regulate the market.

Marcus Holtkötter: I would like to see planning reliability for farmers. And the politicians shouldn’t interfere so much – the market should regulate the situation. The politicians shouldn’t create a bubble that then forces farmers to give up their farms. I think there is a danger of creating standards that aren’t actually being demanded

Information about the author

Brussels Office, METRO GROUP