Farming is the world’s biggest driver of deforestation, and beef and soya production are the prime culprits, writes Nicole Polster.
Nicole Polsterer is sustainable consumption campaigner at Fern, the forests and rights NGO.
Germans are torn between conflicting desires. On the one hand, a love of meat – from the bratwurst sausage to schnitzel and salami – which is part of the national cultural identity; on the other, a growing commitment to environmental causes.
Germans are among the world’s biggest meat eaters. Meat eating has almost doubled since 1950, with consumption encouraged by a powerful meat industry, which slaughters around 740 million animals a year, and whose leaders will gather this week in Hannover for the world’s leading animal production trade fair.
The incompatibility of these two drives is reinforced by the fact that while German meat is largely locally-produced, the soya that feeds these animals is to a vast extent imported. And in the places it comes from – principally Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina – it is causing untold environmental damage: deforestation, human rights violations and land grabs.
Farming is, in fact, now the world’s biggest driver of deforestation, and beef and soya production are the prime culprits.
The latest proof of German complicity in this was revealed this week in an alarming report by the US NGO Mighty Earth, which shows how soya imports for chicken rearing in Germany are driving deforestation in South America. The report highlighted a shocking lack of transparency in supply chains: in a survey of 40 German meat companies, not one could name the original source of the soya they feed their animals.
So how should Germany reconcile its longing to protect the environment and respect human rights, with the devastation its meat industry causes?
The first thing to say is that it’s not a knowledge gap – policymakers are acutely aware of the issue. This is why Germany has included support for deforestation-free supply chains in its own coalition government agreement.
But commitment is not enough, and Germany alone cannot save the world’s forests. Concrete and far-reaching policy change is needed.
At home, Germany must revise its strategy on receiving European Union (EU) agricultural subsidies. By 2020 Germany will have received €44.1 billion in subsidies via the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) since 2014. It has also received an EU support package of more than €69 million, which the German authorities have chosen to distribute to farmers in the pig, beef and dairy, sheep and goat sectors.
All this has enabled Germany to be the EU’s top pig producer, second largest cattle producer and among the top five poultry producers: and this highly-subsidised, intensive meat sector relies on soya imports from forested countries.
The CAP is currently being reformed. This process offers Germany the chance to curtail the harm caused by its meat industry, by strategically planning how to diversify protein production – including alternatives to meat – and by supporting the transition towards agroecological practices that benefit farmers and improve soils.
Germany can also play a decisive role at the EU level, helping to end the deforestation and rights abuses caused by agricultural expansion in forested countries.
Since Brexit, Germany’s position and power in the EU has grown. With it should come greater responsibility and leadership on forests and agriculture.
In May 2019, Germans will elect new members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and in 2020, the nation will chair the European Council Presidency, which rotates every six months.
If Germany elects environmental champions as its MEPs, it can then use its position as president to support an urgently needed EU Action Plan to Protect Forests and Respect Rights globally.
This new Action Plan – which Fern and others have long called for – needs to ensure that agricultural commodities do not worsen climate change, stem from illegally converted land or violate international human rights norms in their production.
Germans may love their meat, but they undoubtedly love the planet more – so given the chance, an EU Action Plan is something they will surely rally behind.