New German insect protection legislation draws a sharp divide

In December, environmentalists demonstrated in front of the Chancellor's Office for stricter insect protection. In recent weeks, farmers protested in the same place for less regulation. [EPA-EFE | Filip Singer]

Farmers always say that they care about the environment, while environmental protection organisations demand ever stricter regulations for the agricultural industry. With Germany’s new insect protection law, the conflicts of interest between the two groups have reached a new peak. EURACTIV Germany reports.

On Wednesday (10 February), the German government is due to vote on the draft of a new insect protection law.

However, the road ahead is still strewn with hurdles, which have embroiled the two ministries concerned in a deep dispute. For months, environment minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) and agriculture minister Julia Klöckner (CDU) have been discussing the new insect protection legislative package both internally and publicly.

The bill had been introduced by the German Environment Ministry (BMU), prompting farmers to hold protests in Berlin and other cities in the past week and urge Chancellor Angela Merkel to stop the package. The Federal Ministry of Agriculture (BMEL) has been complaining for months that the BMU’s legislative proposal overrides its interests.

German cabinet fails to reach an agreement on insect protection

Due to continuing divisions between the Agriculture and Environmental Ministries, the German government was unable to reach an agreement on the draft of a Insect Protection Act (ISG) on Wednesday (16 December). EURACTIV Germany reports.

Environmental organisations support the law

However, the dispute is also heating up the tempers of affected individuals and associations. Environmental protection organisations hope that the new law will be an “urgently needed step for more insect protection in the agricultural landscape.”

With the Action Programme for Insect Protection passed in 2019, the German government presented an overdue catalogue of measures for better insect protection almost two years ago, according to a statement by an alliance of environmental organisations, including the Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND), the Nature And Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) and the environmental umbrella organisation Deutscher Naturschutzring (DNR).

“The task now is to implement the action program ‘one-to-one’ instead of calling the agreements into question again,” they demand.

The development of insect populations “continues to be dramatic, especially in agricultural landscapes,” the statement continues. Specifically, the NGOs are calling for a ban on biodiversity-damaging pesticides in nature reserves and FFH areas.

The latter are zones designated by the EU’s Habitats Directive to protect plants, animals and their habitats. The organisations also advocate “a consistent phase-out of glyphosate use and the introduction of pesticide-free margins along all water bodies and their headwaters.”

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Farmers fear for their livelihoods

A broad alliance of farmers and other agricultural stakeholders, including the German Farmers’ Association (DBV), the German Agricultural Society (DLG) and the German Forestry Council, issued their own statement on Monday (8 February), criticising the draft law and calling its revision.

The costs of insect protection would be passed on to farmers and land users, the agricultural associations argue, and the result would be major losses in land value: “Arable crops, grassland, permanent crops and forests can no longer be reliably protected against pests. Cultural landscapes from the Kaiserstuhl to the Alte Land, which have been tended by farmers for centuries, are in danger.”

Instead, they would like to see cooperation between agriculture, forestry and nature conservation and voluntary measures instead of bans and requirements in nature and species conservation.

Industrial agriculture linked to insect collapse, says new report

Insect populations are plummeting across the world because of industrial farming and heavy pesticide use, and this decline is a threat to food production, warned a new report released on Tuesday (9 June).

Compromise likely

Although both sides seem determined to get their way, the ministries will be forced by the political schedule to reach an agreement. The industry outlet Top Agrar reported that BMU and BMEL are determined to bring the draft and any proposed amendments to a decision at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday (10 February).

It  said this is the last date “for the law to be passed by the Bundestag without shortening the deadline before the Bundestag elections.”

It is conceivable that a compromise could be reached if ministers abandon the minimum requirement for plant protection, in exchange for a deal on the protection zones. In the end, the ministers could agree but neither environmental organisations nor the agricultural sector will get what they are demanding.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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