New German coalition plans mandatory animal welfare label, restructuring of farm subsidies

The coalition partners also want to support the restructuring of livestock farming to improve animal welfare and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is to be financed through a "system supported by market participants", according to their agreement. EPA-EFE/CLEMENS BILAN

Germany’s next government will introduce compulsory livestock labelling and revise the distribution of EU agricultural subsidies, according to the coalition agreement the three parties agreed to on Wednesday (24 November). EURACTIV Germany reports.

In the coalition agreement, the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens, and liberal business-friendly FDP promise to work towards sustainable agriculture that serves “the interests of farms, animal welfare and nature at the same time”. The agriculture and food ministry, which will go to the Greens, will remain in its current form and not be merged with the environment ministry.

The deal also promises the launch of a binding animal welfare label from 2022. It will provide information on transport and slaughter and be accompanied by an education and information campaign.

Species extinction and farm extinction are central challenges, emphasised Green Party co-leader Robert Habeck at the presentation of the paper. He spoke in favour of a change in agricultural policy.

Restructuring livestock farming

Coalition partners also want to support the restructuring of livestock farming to improve animal welfare and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to their agreement, this is to be financed through a “system supported by market participants”.

The SPD shot down plans to introduce a voluntary labelling system in the previous government, favouring a mandatory one.

This time, the three parties in the new “traffic light” coalition want to nationally adopt the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) “without delay” while adapting it to “environmental protection as well as income security” goals.

The Bundestag passed legislation to implement the CAP reform in the summer, but ordinances will regulate specific issues like the individual premium levels for environmental services.

The caretaker government of Chancellor Angela Merkel already agreed on one of them on Wednesday. However, the “traffic light” coalition wants these revised soon as Germany’s deadline to submit its national CAP implementation plan to the Commission is the end of December.

In the long term, the new government also wants to present a concept for developing EU agricultural subsidies once the current funding period ends in 2027, including replacing CAP direct payments with “rewarding climate and environmental services”. This position is close to the election campaign demands of the Greens, though the FDP had advocated liberalising the agricultural sector and making farmers “independent of agricultural payments”.

Compromise on new gene-editing techniques

In agriculture, the three parties want to reduce plant protection products and thus improve species conservation. “The loss of biodiversity is an (…) ecological crisis,” the coalition paper states.

Germany will ban the sale of the controversial weedkiller Glyphosate from the end of 2023 and promote organic farming more strongly.

The plan is to ensure 30% of the land is used for organic farming by 2030, a step up from the previous target of 20%. This would mean Germany could surpass the EU target of 25% set in the flagship Farm-to-Fork strategy.

The coalition also wants to help promote high-precision techniques for spreading pesticides to reduce the quantity sprayed.

However, the coalition agreement is still vague regarding the controversial issue of authorising new gene-editing techniques for plant breeding. The paper says that the new government will create “transparency on breeding methods” and strengthen risk and detection research.

The coalition partners thus appear to be clearly in favour of labelling products produced with new gene-editing techniques but did not explicitly reject the use of new breeding techniques, which the Greens and the SPD had called for in the election campaign.

Commission, NGOs brace for gene-editing battle

New genomic techniques (NGTs) have received the backing of the European Commission in a strategy paper, while NGOs promise an intense campaign against them over the coming years.

Everyone needs to be involved

The quick conclusions of the coalition negotiations were welcomed by the German farmers’ association (DBV). However, “further enormous challenges remain for agriculture,” it also said.

“German agriculture is undergoing a profound and difficult transformation process,” said the association’s president, Joachim Rukwied. This can only succeed if the transformation “is understood as a task for society as a whole and ensures economic sustainability”, he added.

According to him, the new government must take care to “secure domestic agriculture and prevent structural breaks” in the development of agriculture towards more environmental and climate protection.

The working group of farmers known as AbL also welcomed the coalition agreement in principle. It addresses “correct and important challenges for agriculture”, according to Chairman Martin Schulz. However, the paper remains “unspecific in some places,” he added.

Environmentalists largely welcomed the agricultural policy content of the agreement.

“The traffic light coalition has presented an ambitious start to the restructuring of animal husbandry,” said Olaf Bandt, president of the environmental organisation BUND.

Jörg-Andreas Krüge, president of the country’s Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU), also assessed “large parts of the agricultural section as positive”.

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[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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