He took his time with the subject for half a year. Now Cem Özdemir is pushing the pace. “We’re doing it now,” said the Federal Minister of Agriculture. “The animal welfare labeling cannot wait any longer.” There is a coalition partner who “obviously needs a little more time,” said the Green with a clear reference to reservations by the FDP. But he must act: “I want good meat from Germany to come to our tables tomorrow.”
The key points presented by Özdemir on Tuesday regarding the “mandatory state animal husbandry labeling” should ensure this. In the course of 2023, the minister wants to make it mandatory for pork from Germany in the refrigerated section and at the service counter, in online retail and at the weekly market to make it clear to consumers which of the five husbandry levels the meat comes from.
The first level is “Stable”, which corresponds to the minimum legal requirements. This is followed by “barn plus space”, where the pigs have at least 20 percent more space. The third stage is called “fresh air barn” with 46 percent more space than the minimum standard and partially open walls so that there is “permanent contact with the outside climate”. Level four is “Outdoor/Outdoor” with 86 percent more space and being outdoors for at least eight hours a day. The fifth level “organic” corresponds to the EU organic regulation and, according to the paper, means “an even larger outlet area”.
The farmers have to have the authorities register and monitor how the animals are kept. But that only applies to German breeders. Meat from abroad can still be sold without labelling. He wants to have Brussels check whether Özdemir’s national initiative is compatible with EU agricultural policy. If the Commission agrees, he wants to extend the labeling to include sausages and the meat of other animals.
Although Özdemir only wants a labeling obligation – no specifications for keeping – he hopes for an upswing for more species-appropriate forms of fattening. “The need for change is immense,” said the minister. “I don’t think,” he said, referring to the current, inflation-related tendency of consumers to buy cheaper meat, “that this is a lasting consumer behavior”. In order to secure the conversion of the stables for higher animal husbandry levels, Özdemir wants to change the building code with Building Minister Klara Geywitz (SPD) and the Immission Control Act with Environment Minister Steffi Lemke (Greens). He wants to have his own bill ready before the summer break.
It is still unclear whether Özdemir’s system will replace the old four-level labeling that has become established in large retail chains, or whether both systems will run in parallel, at least temporarily. The old system can be “super-integrated” into the new, said Özdemir; but retailers don’t seem to have reached a final consensus on this yet. However, it is said that the new system will initially only apply to pigs. At least temporarily, the old rules must therefore continue to exist for poultry and beef.
A change from four to five levels could be made easier by the fact that Özdemir, at the urging of the economy, has added the second level “Stable plus space”. Animal rights activists see it critically, but it could enable discounters to stick to the advertising message that they do not offer meat of the lowest quality. “Such a stage preserves the successes of private-sector initiatives such as the Animal Welfare Initiative and helps to develop them further,” said the Federal Association of the Food Trade.
The discounter Aldi in particular, which has invested heavily in animal welfare advertising, wants to avoid customer confusion. “A way must be found to transfer and harmonize these achievements into state labeling. In particular, the two labels should not contradict each other,” the company said. The trade wants to build on the existing concept without blocking itself and, like the meat industry, is pushing for the plans to be fleshed out.
The meat industry association (VDF) warned that the farmers could only convert the stables once the financing was secured. “To finance this, we are open to abolishing the reduced VAT rate for animal products,” explained VDF Managing Director Heike Harstick: “The FDP must now give up its blockade attitude.” So far, however, the FDP has refused to pay the additional costs for farmers willing to convert through an animal welfare levy or to apply changes in VAT.
Özdemir is only sure of one billion euros in start-up financing from 2024 in the federal budget. “That’s not enough,” said Özdemir – but did not specify where more money should come from. Almost defiantly, he said, “I’ll definitely do the labeling, even if the long-term funding isn’t there.” The farmers shouldn’t have to shoulder it. At some point you are faced with the “question of how to proceed,” Özdemir added pointedly. “This question will not only be aimed at me.”
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