The German state and federal agriculture ministers agreed to extensively restructure livestock farming on Thursday (27 August). In parallel, a national animal welfare label is to be introduced soon. On Monday (31 August), EU agriculture ministers will discuss a similar project at EU level. EURACTIV Germany reports.
At the conference of agriculture ministers on Thursday, the representatives of the 16 German states agreed to develop a legal framework for the nationwide conversion of livestock stables before the parliamentary elections next autumn.
Agriculture minister Julia Klöckner (CDU) promised to present a feasibility study by the next conference in spring, which will show how such a major project could be financed.
The resolution was based on the results of the so-called Borchert Commission, which had presented proposals for the conversion of livestock farming in February. In July, the Bundesrat asked the government to develop a concept for this.
“I believe we have taken a big step forward today,” said former Agriculture Minister Jochen Borchert (CDU). Hardly anyone half a year ago believed “that we would be able to start implementing it so quickly with such a broad foundation,” he said.
To finance the conversion of stables, the government is to create new sources of income. Among other things, a higher value-added tax on animal products or direct subsidies from the federal budget are under discussion.
The Borchert Commission assumes that investment requirements will amount to €3 to 5 billion per year. It recommends an animal welfare tax for this purpose, so that consumers are “burdened proportionally to their consumption of animal products.”
Specifically, the experts suggest taxes of 40 cents per kilogram of meat and sausage, two cents per kilo for milk and fresh milk products and 15 cents per kilo for cheese, butter and milk powder.
According to calculations by the Ministry of Agriculture, consumers in Germany would pay an average of €35.02 more per year. The German government’s coronavirus economic stimulus package already provides for €300 million to be invested in animal welfare stables in 2020 and 2021.
Only two member states with animal welfare labels
Improving livestock farming in the EU is one of the German presidency’s priorities In 2019, the EU Council, led by Finland, called on the Commission to develop a legal framework for a uniform EU animal welfare label. So far, only Denmark and the Netherlands have introduced such a national label.
On Monday (31 August), when the EU agriculture ministers meet for an informal council meeting in Koblenz, the EU animal label should be on the agenda.
In Germany, which has the largest pig production in the EU, an animal welfare label is also on the way. Initially it will only apply to pigs and will be voluntary.
The four-stage system, of which the European Commission has already been notified, categorises animal husbandry according to barn size and husbandry conditions. According to the Borchert Commission, by 2040 only animal husbandry from stage two onwards will be permitted. At present, three quarters of all animals in Germany are kept in accordance with the legal minimum standard.
Klöckner’s plans are controversial
But Klöckner’s plans are highly controversial. The animal protection policy spokeswoman of the SPD parliamentary group, Susanne Mittag, has already announced that her parliamentary group would not support the label in the Bundestag, stating that “we need an obligatory animal welfare label on the packaging. And this must apply to all farm animals.”
Numerous animal protection organizations oppose the project as insufficient, since it is on the one hand voluntary and on the other hand still tolerates tail docking piglets, although this has bee banned for over ten years in the European Union.
According to Jasmin Zöllmer of the organization Provieh, “no husbandry system should be accepted, let alone financially supported, that continues to permit amputations on animals, such as the routine tail-cutting in pigs.”
There was also criticism from the consumer protection organisation Foodwatch.
“The promotion of new stables does not change anything about the export fixation of the German agriculture industry and the brutal undercutting of competition resulting from it with animal, environmental and industrial safety,” said Matthias Wolfschmidt, veterinary surgeon and the organisation’s strategy director.
In addition to ideas for an EU-wide animal welfare label, European agriculture ministers will also discuss lessons learned from the pandemic and stricter rules for animal transport to third countries.
In addition, they are seeking a general orientation from the Council on the urgent reform of the Common Agricultural Policy by October, said Klöckner. The negotiations have not been ongoing for a year and a half.
However, before these continue, a more relaxed item is on Monday’s agenda; an excursion to the wine region of Winningen on the Moselle.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]