German gov't's agricultural reform plans spark mixed response

Source: Xinhua| 2019-09-05 03:25:12|Editor: huaxia
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BERLIN, Sept. 4 (Xinhua) -- Following months of extensive discussions between the German ministries for agriculture and environment, the German government approved a reform package on Wednesday aimed at making agriculture more environmentally friendly.

The package includes increased protection for insects, better labelling of meat products as well as more funding for research and new financial incentives.

Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said it was a "strong and effective action program" against the dramatic death of insects, given that "a world without insects is not worth living in."

"We want to promote everything that helps insects and we will avoid anything that harms them," Schulze emphasized. This explains the government's decision to ban the use of the particularly controversial herbicide chemical glyphosate in Germany from the end of 2023.

In addition, the government plans to provide an additional 100 million euros (110.3 million U.S. dollars) per year in funding for insect protection measures and research.

The German Ministry for Research and Education, which presented the insect protection plan together with the Environment Ministry and the Ministry of Agriculture, emphasized that almost one-third of all animal and plant species in Germany "are considered endangered."

Environmental organizations like the German Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU), which welcomed the package as an "important step in the right direction," were generally positive about the overall approach adopted by the German government.

Olaf Bandt, managing director for politics and communication at Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND), also welcomed the German government's commitment but warned that the measures were "not sufficient to initiate a trend reversal in insect protection and prevent further extermination."

For German farmers, the package may go too far. "We know that there must be changes towards more animal welfare and insect protection, but this package is toxic for farmers," complained Joachim Rukwied, president of the German Farmers' Association (DBV).

With regard to animal welfare, the German government also agreed to regulate the framework conditions for a label that would enable consumers "to recognize pork from better husbandry." Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner described it as "an offer to livestock farmers and consumers" that would provide more clarity.

Reinhild Benning from Germanwatch does not expect the animal welfare label to change much. She told Xinhua that "cabinet decisions will hardly change anything in stables and fields and even less for farmers who expect higher incomes from state labelling."

Instead, Benning is calling for a "labeling obligation and a corresponding shifting of subsidies" in order to achieve climate protection and socially demanded animal protection.

According to the German Agriculture Ministry's "2019 Nutrition Report," the majority of consumers in the country wanted to see a government label for animal welfare.

The final piece of the agricultural policy puzzle adopted by the German cabinet on Wednesday was a decision to shift more money over the next year away from direct payments to farms and into nature conservation through agricultural subsidies from the European Union (EU).

This means that "75 million euros more" would be available for environmental protection and sustainable agriculture, said Kloeckner.

Until now, 4.5 percent of EU subsidies have been used to finance environmental protection measures in Germany, but the government wants to increase this amount to 6 percent in 2020.

Silvia Bender, head of biodiversity at BUND, told Xinhua that "6 billion euros in agricultural payments flow into Germany every year. This money must be used to reward specific agricultural services for climate, nature and animal protection."

The DBV has joined the critics and fears that the redistribution of agricultural subsidies would mean "painful cuts in farmers' incomes," according to DBV President Rukwied.

The proposals adopted by the German government will not be directly adopted as laws but will be implemented through a series of laws and ordinances in the coming months, meaning that the debates -- sometimes critical -- are bound to continue. Enditem