It should finally work on the third attempt: After his predecessors Christian Schmidt (CSU) and Julia Klöckner (CDU) had failed, Federal Minister of Agriculture Cem Özdemir (Greens) now wants to introduce state labeling for meat.
Based on five levels, consumers should be able to see at a glance how the animals were kept when shopping. Unlike Klöckner’s proposal, which had opted for a voluntary solution due to concerns about European law and was thus rebuffed by the coalition partner SPD, Özdemir wants mandatory labeling. This should initially only apply to pork sold in supermarkets, in butchers or online. Sausage and other processed products are to follow later, and other animals such as poultry or cattle are also to be included in a further step. The same applies to gastronomy and canteens. Contrary to what was agreed in the coalition agreement, transport and slaughter should also not play a role in labelling, it should only relate to fattening.
“Anyone who keeps animals has a duty to keep them well,” said Özdemir on Tuesday in Berlin when he presented the cornerstones of the planned reform. But when farmers invest in better animal husbandry, these investments should be visible, the minister stressed. The new attitude marking should ensure that. It should also give farmers a perspective. “I want good meat from Germany to be on our tables tomorrow,” emphasizes Özdemir, who, however, is a vegetarian.
The new, labeled products should be available in stores as early as next year. Consumers can then choose between five types of housing: the housing type “Stable” is the lowest level and just reflects the legal standards, in the second level “Stable Space” the animals get 20 percent more space.
With the “fresh air pen” there is at least 46 percent more space and one side of the pen is open so that the pigs have constant contact with the outside world. In the “outdoor/free range” housing type, the animals must be given at least 86 percent more space and eight hours of outdoor access per day. The fifth type of husbandry is “organic”. The planned state husbandry labeling is similar to the system that the trade has been using for years. On the four-level retail scale, however, discontinued and organic together form the premium level.
Özdemir wants to help farmers financially if they offer their animals a higher quality form of husbandry. However, there should only be state support for fresh-air stables, outdoor areas and organic farming. There are no funds for keeping them in stables, but farmers get money from the trade for keeping them in stables.
The budget of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture for the period from 2023 to 2026 is one billion euros for the labeling of husbandry and the conversion of the stables. However, the money is not enough for permanent financing. According to calculations by the farmers’ association, farmers need four billion euros a year. In order to raise these funds, the expert commission still used by Klöckner, headed by ex-Agriculture Minister Jochen Borchert (CDU), had proposed an increase in VAT from the current seven to 19 percent on animal products or an animal welfare tax of 40 cents per kilo of meat. According to calculations by Greenpeace, both measures together would burden consumers with additional monthly costs of almost ten euros.
You can’t do that with the FDP. “In times when food prices are going through the roof, you can’t and shouldn’t increase VAT or introduce a state animal welfare tax,” Gero Hocker, spokesman for agricultural policy for the FDP parliamentary group in the Bundestag, told the Tagesspiegel. Hocker warns that such a measure will only make people buy cheaper, foreign meat. This is doing “a disservice” to German agriculture.
The new state husbandry labeling should not apply to imported meat. With this, Özdemir wants to eliminate possible legal concerns of the EU Commission. The FDP calls for a purely market-based solution. Özdemir rejects this, but has not decided which model he prefers. He could also imagine financing by increasing his budget accordingly, he said.
But one thing is clear: Even if there is no agreement in the coalition, the minister wants to start. “We’ll do it now,” Özdemir announced. “The animal owners can’t wait any longer.” The farmers need a perspective, in many companies the decision about the farm succession is now pending.
The minister still hopes that the FDP will give in. It’s about “very Swabian sums”, said the native Swabian, at the same time the benefits are very high. With every euro you invest in more climate, animal and consumer protection, secure the farm succession and thus the future of rural areas.
“The FDP must finally give up its blockade attitude when it comes to financing, otherwise it will look bleak for animal welfare,” warned the animal welfare organization “Four Paws”. The Federation for the Environment and Nature Conservation called on the federal government to agree on a financing system as quickly as possible. “The FDP’s refusal attitude endangers the future of livestock farms,” criticized BUND federal manager Antje von Broock.
Greenpeace agricultural expert Martin Hofstetter also fears that improved labeling alone will not be enough without sufficient money to meet the Herculean task of animal welfare.
The farmers’ association would like to see more extensive regulation. “If there is no binding schedule for processed meat products, for sales channels other than food retail or for the beef and poultry sectors, then there will be no steering effect and the concept threatens to be undermined in the market,” fears Farmers’ President Joachim Rukwied.
Greenpeace demands that aspects such as slaughter, transport and animal health must also be included in the label. The SPD also sees a need for improvement here: the husbandry labeling must apply from birth to slaughter and not just during fattening, stressed the agricultural policy spokeswoman Susanne Mittag.
“Government labeling must begin with fattening, but ultimately our goal must be regulation for all three livestock species over the entire life cycle,” she said. However, the Ministry of Agriculture does not want to regulate the requirements for slaughtering and transport via the husbandry labeling, but via animal welfare law.
A seal that only looks at the form of husbandry is misleading, criticized the consumer protection organization Foodwatch. “Pigs with inflamed lungs, chickens that can no longer walk at the end of fattening and therefore die of thirst – Özdemir’s planned animal husbandry labeling will not change the daily suffering of farm animals,” said Foodwatch agricultural expert Annemarie Botzki.