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Let’s have a riot in Brussels

Author: Kai Kreuzer

At the beginning of the event “EU Reform of Agriculture – Does it fulfil its own Claims?” the chairman got straight to the point: do we need a riot in Brussels? What ways and means do we have to change current agricultural policy? What chance do the cautious attempts at greening have? These questions were explored in four interesting hours on Organic Agriculture Day at Green Week in Berlin. With the exception of CDU State Secretary Kloos, all the speakers were in agreement that the approach taken so far was totally inadequate and that a fundamental change of direction was urgently needed. However, consumers, who as we know are also voters, were completely left out of the discussion. People asked how they could be organized and mobilized to help achieve the aims of organic agriculture. The organizer of the conference was BÖLW, the umbrella organization representing producers, processors and retailers in the organic industry. (Picture: Jan Plagge/right, Martin Häusling/centre, Elke Röder/left)

 

Dr. Felix Prinz zu Löwenstein (picture), the chairman of the board of BÖLW, introduced the theme and demanded that agriculture should at long last be brought in line with the objectives of society. He said, in the official terminology, that public money had to produce public goods – benefits to the public from agriculture - that had to be distributed in the interest of society and according to the vision of society. “The consumer supports our concept of agriculture,” said Löwenstein. In belligerent mood, the author of “Food Crash” lambasted the “medication madness” in animal husbandry and also the abolition of financial support in two federal states. He said that general statements in favour of sustainable agriculture such as those dispensed by the Minister of Agriculture Aigner were hollow platitudes that didn’t spell out in detail how food was to be produced by the agricultural industry.

Professor Dr. Beate Jessel (picture) from the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (Bundesamt für Naturschutz) gave a comprehensive overview of the impact of the common agricultural policy (CAP) during the last 50 years. She said that far too much agricultural land, particularly grassland, was still being built on. Currently 87 ha were being lost every day. Also, biodiversity was continuing to decline, a development she demonstrated with the level of bird populations on farmland. With a nitrogen input of 105 kg/ha, the upper limit of 80 kg/ha was being exceeded by a large amount and, although in some areas the volume of nutrients and pollutants leaching into water systems had decreased, in others it continued to be high.

Summing up her analysis, she said that the proposals of the EU Commission were going in the right direction, but greening had to be developed much further. In her view, it was important to adhere to the target of 20 % of agricultural land in Germany being managed organically and to increase the number of farmland biotopes in order to promote biodiversity. Regarding the greening proposal of the EU Commission, Jessel called for a better financial provision for agri-environmental measures (the so-called second pillar). Within the framework of the reform of agriculture in 2013, in keeping with the motto “public goods for public money”, she felt the ecological achievements by farmers should be better rewarded. What the public was demanding today was multi-functional agriculture that served everybody.


EU-Commission Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, Dr. Beate Jessel
Greening component: recognising fulfilment of compulsory criteria with 30 % of direct payments

Minimum obligation of 7 % organic  priority land

Ban on ploughing up grassland planned

25 % minimum budget of the total agricultural support for agri-environment

Maximum 50 % co-financing

Organic agriculture referred to as a separate measure  in Art. 30. 
 
Poor design of greening component: little environmental effect, high administration costs

Definition of organic priority land unclear

Danger of grassland being ploughed up before ban comes into force in 2014

Agri-environmental measures watered down

No incentivizing components included e.g. 80 % co-financing for poorer regions

Improve the interplay of greening and agri-environmental measures,

Better focusing of measures

Organic agriculture should be included in Article 30 as a compulsory measure
 

The president of Bioland, Jan Plagge(picture on left) called for the re-allocation of the billions spent on agriculture in Europe from subsidising land to financing agri-environmental measures (from pillar 1 to pillar 2). Elke Röder, from BNN Herstellung und Handel, that represents processors, suppliers and wholesalers of organic food (picture: in discussion with Jan Plagge), is certain that if you asked consumers for their opinion they would be in favour of a bigger role for the environment and more support measures in agricultural policy. State Secretary Dr. Robert Kloos (picture on right) said he wanted to see more sustainability in agriculture. “We urge the 94 % who are not organic farmers to farm more sustainably,” said Kloos. Martin Häusling from the European Greens criticized the new green speak of some agricultural politicians. He said that by now all politicians were proclaiming they were on the side of sustainability, whereas in reality the first steps towards greening EU agricultural policy – as proposed by the EU Commissioner for agriculture Dacian Ciolos - were meeting huge opposition from the agriculture lobby. Instead, they ought to be getting behind measures that slow down climate change, protect the soil, promote biodiversity and encourage rural development.

“The logic of EU agricultural policy has to be radically changed, and we have to set it on the right course. Organic agriculture has to make itself heard more in Brussels, and it must stop being sidelined,” demanded Häusling (picture on left). He criticized the fact that about 80 % of protein fodder was still being imported mainly from South America instead of Germany developing its own fodder strategy. It was an illusion to regard Europe as an exporter of pork, etc., when millions of hectares in developing countries were needed to produce that fodder. Häusling regretted that the EU Agricultural Commission involved a majority of conventional agricultural groupings in the debate about the new regulations and did not seek discussions with environmental and consumer groups. He appealed to committed individuals to approach EU politicians in their constituencies and to demand changes. The prescriptions in future agricultural policy would ultimately be the result of negotiations between the Commission and the Parliament. (Picture: The European Green Party politician Martin Häusler: it’s far too much about money and far too little about future prospects)

The managing director of BÖLW, Dr. Alexander Gerber (picture on right), called German agricultural policy to account. He pointed out that the Minister of Agriculture, Aigner, and the president of the farmers association, Sonnleitner, had said that, although there were problems in agriculture, in Germany they had already been solved. In his words: “Politicians are not getting to grips with the bold strategies needed to further the sustainability we are demanding.” Gerber went on to say that the input of nitrogen in the soil by agriculture was still far too high, which was resulting in more damage to the environment. Regarding the proposals of the EU Commission for agricultural policy in the future, Gerber was of the opinion that the glass was neither half full nor half empty but at most only a quarter full. “The opportunity is there, but the substance has to be further developed.” The 7 % regulation to encourage more extensive production, for example, was still not specific enough. Gerber also demanded that funds should be taken from subsidising land and invested in measures that would benefit the agri-environment and biodiversity. Moreover, organic agriculture should be firmly established as the model on which EU agricultural policy should be based.



Comment: The event focusing on EU agricultural policy at the end of January in Berlin was meaningful and successful. The keynote speakers, Beate Jessel (BfN) and the EU green politician Martin Häusler, focused their contributions on the essence of the issues with skill and deep commitment. Two short films plus statements of the demo “We’ve had enough”, that took place a week before, and of the bio-market hall at Green Week revealed to all those present what the real issues are and what many people in Germany think.

It was regrettable, however, that the millions of consumers, who vote day in day out when they go shopping and want to promote organic production by buying organic food, played no part in the discussions. An estimated 100 million consumers in Europe buy organic products regularly or occasionally. How can they be empowered, for example via a European internet petition, to give voice to their opinions? Without huge support on the part of consumers, who are at the same time voters, we will not succeed in getting a realignment of EU agricultural policy. Unfortunately, the public had no chance at the Berlin conference to instigate a discussion about this vital issue.

06.02.2012

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