German agriculture minister: Food supply chains function despite COVID-19

German Minister for Agriculture Julia Klöckner speaks at a press conference on 17 March. [Mika Schmidt/ epa]

Supermarkets in Germany will not close and there will be no problems with food production, says German Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner. Meanwhile, at the European level, officials are seeking ways to simplify cross-border food transports.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Germany will not experience a food supply gap or rising prices. This was the message Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner (CDU) sent at a press conference convened in Berlin on Tuesday.

She said agriculture was continuing to operate normally and there were no bottlenecks in basic foodstuffs, the supply chains, or animal feed in stables. Cross-border supply chains also remain intact.

“The food supply for the coming weeks and months is secured,” said Joachim Rukwied, President of the German Farmers’ Association (DBV), who was also present. Germany is self-sufficient in the supply of most basic foodstuffs, he stressed. The degree of self-sufficiency for wheat is 117%, for potatoes 148% and for pork 119%.

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Traffic lanes for food transport?

However, one problem is the traffic jams that form at border crossings as a result of border controls, leading to delays in food deliveries. The European Commission has therefore proposed to keep special lanes free on roads for trucks transporting food.

Klöckner considers this a sensible measure. In addition, a relaxation of the ban on Sunday driving and driving time limits for truck drivers in Germany was conceivable.

In the coming days, EU agriculture ministers want to discuss further improvements for food delivery in a video conference. In a telephone conference on Monday (16 March) evening, Klöckner exchanged views with several members of the European Parliament.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced on Monday that a large number of shops are also to be closed in Germany. Supermarkets, however, are to remain open and possibly even extend their opening hours.

The federal government repeatedly warned citizens to refrain from panic buying, saying that they put additional, completely unnecessary pressure on supply chains. Rationing for certain items is currently not planned, Klöckner stressed yesterday. Instead, it is up to the individual shops to introduce such a rule.

According to the supermarkets, they have adjusted to the increased demand and requested additional deliveries. “Our stores are well supplied and will remain so,” said Lionel Souque, chairman of the board of the Rewe Group, a popular German supermarket chain.

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Seasonal workers wanted desperately

However, there could be problems with the harvest in the fields, confirmed DBV President Rukwied. Of the approximately 286,000 seasonal workers who work in German fields every year, many come from abroad.

According to Klöckner, their ministry is currently working on “workable solutions” to recruit the required workers. For example, workers from other sectors, such as catering, which are currently at a standstill, could be used.

Temporary, flexible solutions will be worked out, such as relaxing the law on ‘mini-jobs’ or Sunday working. If not enough seasonal workers can be made available, they could also be flown in from abroad to cross closed borders, said the agriculture minister. She added that this was also a matter of dialogue with the EU Commission.

Klöckner was cautious about reports of a possible airlift to fly in food. She said that she was in talks with Lufthansa and that there was indeed free capacity. In her opinion, deployment of the Bundeswehr to support the food supply was not necessary now.

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[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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