Germany’s new bioeconomy strategy criticised for overlooking agriculture, food production

Germany's strategy for the bioeconomy is not an isolated case, given that around 60 countries have developed such strategies across the globe with the aim of converting their economies to become more sustainable and circular. [RTimages/ Shutterstock]

This article is part of our special report Bioeconomy in the CAP’s nine objectives.

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Germany’s federal cabinet adopted a new bioeconomy strategy last week, which has immediately been criticised for hardly mentioning agricultural reform and focusing too much on technology and optimisation. EURACTIV Germany reports.

“Tires made of dandelions, car doors made of hemp fibres, or rubber boots made of corn”. These were the examples Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner cited when she unveiled Germany’s new bioeconomy strategy, which the federal cabinet approved on 15 January.

The strategy is the third of its kind and thus updates the previous versions from 2010 and 2013. Its logic sounds impressively simple: The economy should increasingly switch to renewable raw materials, meaning it should become independent of coal, oil and gas.

While Germans have to import most of their fossil fuels, renewable energies are growing on meadows, fields and in forests, according to Klöckner.

The broad strategy that Klöckner’s ministry has drawn up, together with the research ministry, is based on two main principles. While it focuses strongly on biotechnology and research, more biogenic raw materials are to be made available to the industry. Some of the basic materials for bio-economic products include, for example, plants, microorganisms, algae or fungi.

Germany’s strategy is not an isolated case, given that around 60 countries have developed such bioeconomy strategies across the globe with the aim of converting their economies to become more sustainable and circular.

For Research Minister Anja Karliczek, this clearly offers economic opportunities as well because a sustainable economy secures Germany “a leading position on the markets of the future in the long term”.

Commission official: 'Bioeconomy is a unique opportunity to address societal challenges'

More and more member states are adopting bioeconomy plans and the EU is actively encouraging its Central and Eastern European partners to develop their own strategies. EURACTIV Slovakia talked to the Commission’s John Bell about the issue.

The strategy does not address the CAP

Although experts have praised the strategy because it is forward-looking, it is still being criticised. In a detailed evaluation of the strategy, the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (Nabu) has criticised the strategy for focusing too much on biology and omitting more social aspects.

“Sustainable development also requires cultural, economic and institutional changes that will not be without resistance and conflict,” the environmentalists have warned.

The environmental organisation has criticised the strategy for simply not featuring any institutional changes, including the CAP.

Yet, in the EU’s Bioeconomy Strategy, which the Commission presented in October 2018, improving the living conditions for farmers and fishermen is mentioned as a clear goal, which is also listed as one of the nine objectives of the CAP.

EU bets on bioeconomy to deliver farming aspects of the Green Deal

The European Commission and the member states intend to use the concept of bioeconomy as a tool to achieve political priorities at the core of the bloc’s new environmental flagship policy when it comes to agriculture.

However, neither the CAP nor its other objectives such as restructuring food chains, preserving landscapes or ensuring healthy food are mentioned in Germany’s bioeconomy plan.

Instead, Nabu has criticised the strategy’s focus on digital optimisation, which relies far too much on technology and the optimisation of individual plants.

Bioeconomy vs food production?

For its part, the opposition has argued exactly the opposite. The technology-savvy Free Democratic Party (FDP) believes that the new strategy not only lacks defined and measurable goals but also lacks “a positive commitment to the opportunities of genetic engineering” with regard to agriculture.

The FDP believes that for Germany to be able to profit from the opportunities offered by the bioeconomy, the 20-year-old German Genetic Engineering Law must be reformed and adapted to new breeding methods, according to the technology policy spokesperson of the FDP parliamentary group, Mario Brandenburg.

His party has submitted a motion to this effect to the German Bundestag.

So, to what extent does the bioeconomy contribute, and how does it hinder sustainable food production? After all, the large-scale cultivation of regenerative materials for the economy also means less space for food production in the fields.

The strategy also provides for the expansion of the existing Bioeconomy Council of the German government to ensure a discussion of the bioeconomy’s limits and conflicting goals. Representatives from industry and society are to discuss, among other things, how the bioeconomy can guarantee food safety.

However, this dilemma cannot be solved by new technologies alone, as suggested by the German government, said the managing director of Nabu, Leif Miller. And the government needs to come clean with all those involved, as “the economy’s transformation will only succeed if we consume less”.

EU emphasises ‘ecological limitations’ of new bioeconomy plan

The European Commission unveiled a new bioeconomy strategy on Thursday (11 October), saying it could reduce the EU’s dependence on fossil fuels while underlining the ecological limitations of Europe’s farming and forestry sector.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Gerardo Fortuna]

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