thanks to Wytze for this interesting answer on the announced changes in German ag.
On 12 Feb 2001, at 11:40, Klaus Wiegand wrote:
Maybe Klaus can provide more details, also on how financial subsidies will be redirected?
i'll try to give s.th like a status report (and make clear distinctions between hard or already given facts and opinions).
the facts: meat consumption is down to 50-60% of the long-time trend. some of the decline was already expected and isn't caused by BSE, because consumption of beef already dropped from 16.? kg/consumer in 1999 to 14.6 kg in 2000 (in the 80ies number were 20 kg). beef consumption dropped the most and was only partly subsituted by turkey/other avian or horse meat.
the new minister for consumer protection and agriculture last week announced in parlament drastic changes in agricultural politics from "mass" to "quality" and that she plans to protect "consumers" and not "consume". though the minister ms. kuenast is a lawyer, in her first public appearances she showed a remarkable and convincing knowledge of agriculture and meanwhile (after only 3 week on the job) is highly recognized among consumers and most of the market groups involved. even farmers agreed, that her knowledge of their problems is quite good (so she evidently has very good state secretaries)
her announcements (which due to local authority outside of EC-rulings she definitely CAN and WILL implement):
- for every "animal unit" (5 cows, 8 pigs, 20 sheep iirc 800 chickens) a farm will need 2 ha of farmland (owned or rented), if the farm will get subsided at all.
- she will spend larger parts of the subsidies for support and development of rural regions (a stop to the rush into cities, more jobs in rural regions, more attractive rural social life). this is also supported by the EC.
- the ministry will pay for the culling of 400.000 cows ONCE (and certainly not for a 2nd time). this means: bse tested meat will be bought at a price of about 1000 mark, which is a little lower than before the crisis (1.200 dm/cow) and also higher than today (850 dm/cow). farmers themselves will have to find a way to market any future surplus.
- german feedmills will have to switch back to the "OPEN DECLARATION" meaning labeling of the individual ingredients and not only the content of lactation energy, fat, carbohydrate and protein content. no more meat/bone meal in feedstuff (not even slightest amounts).
- she will reduce subsidies for corn production and instead increase those for grassland and leguminosae like peas, clover, alfalfa and beans (also already supported by bruxelles).
- the "blue box"-system (since long proposed by WTO and bruxelles, but simply not implemented) will be introduced immediately. this means: support of rural agriculture in combination with measurements for reducing output (hello, mr. avery, see your wrong assumption of starving germans???) like put-aside areas, a lower slaugther weight of cattle in combination with higher milk prices (most consumers have shown to have not the slightest idea, that you need constantly calving cows for a continuous milk production).
- a plan for perfect control of origin of the meat. plan: after birth, when the ear tags are attached to the animal, the small piece cut out of the ear will get analysed by pcr, so the history of every animal can be exactly traced back (and probably another ear tag, as if the 2 existing ones were not enough. so every cow will look like a military general dressed up for a parade with all his medals of honor. as things stand, the whole control system will not really seem to reestablish consumer confidence and is mere activism)
- a rise of organic farming from 2,5% today to 10% in 2005 and 20% in the year 2010. this is a plan, for which she will offer subsidies for farms willing to change their production methods, but she has no legal means to enforce it. this will depend on consumer attitudes and their desires for "non-scandal-prone" food. it alos will depend on the rulings of the countries around germany, who are allowed to freely sell their products to any country in the EC community. few doubts: most will comply, as they also suffer from the same problems.
a lot of farmers cried "fire", but she also made it very clear, that the government isn't willing any more to pay subsidies (= taxes from consumers) for the simple fact, that farmers just do *not* harm consumers and the environment (for example farmers get paid by the water companies for reducing nitrogen pollution of groundwater instead of fining them for contamination of public water ressorces (the cause-principle: he who causes the pollution, has to pay for elimination - a principle, which is every-day practice in the rest of industry).
so future subsidies will be coupled to environmental and quality advantages for consumers and stricter "ethical" basics, the consumer wishes to see (but up to now has not paid for - example: better rural cultivation of land scene, free access to pivate areas, where farmers do the work for the public, but get no money for like care for moorland, creeks and forests, cultivation of heath regions and mountain areas, which otherwise would cause enormous havoc - example: avalanches). in short: no more externalisation of costs/pollution and privatisation of financial gains, but *direct* payments for *direct* social benefits by farm work.
the dilemma: up to december farmers rated quite high in public opinion. that has partly changed due to some "black sheep" among them. first the bse crisis (farmers were NOT blamed for this, but quite correctly the feeding industry and the ineffective governmental controls. in december a funny law was passed, that made it unlawful, if the feed industry did not comply to a law, which got effective 4 years ago. the US faces the same problem).
then came the antibiotic scandal (for which *only* the farmers were responsible, though only some of them acted unlawfully, but this is ignored, in public opinion it were THE farmers), then some farmers slaughtered their cattle in the netherlands and denmark, where they were not obliged to test for BSE and then brought the meat back to germany (strangely that procedure was allowed and legal), because they feared a positive test in germany. this resulted in another loss of confidence into farmers.
so in the end confidence in labels, quality control programs and private assurances of butchers and farmers is down to an all-time low. from what i heard from polls and personal talks, NO label will really get back confidence and "control programs" are not trusted anymore. and contrary to recent scandals (which were temporary problems: problem solved and consumption increased again) BSE will be with us for at least some years. this again means: any mentioning of another bse-cow in the newspaper will remind consumers of the latent thread (minimal as it may be compared to great britain) and will keep meat consumption down for the next years.
another problem for consumers: animal rights rate quite high in germany and consumers (and also farmers) are faced with the problem, what to do with the LIVING animals. burning them is the least desired option, though it seems to be the only one. a lot of farmers have already announced, that they will not sell their animals for "project hellfire", because it's against their ethics to raise animals for the waste incinerator. most of the consumers heartly agree (but are not willing to buy the meat either)
following years of intense debate, the european commission had stated since long, that in exceptional cases the three traditional assessment criteria of safety, quality and efficacy may not be sufficient (communication sec (91) 629). afaik a quite different approach has prevailed in the usa where the us executive branch concluded a review of literature on the social impacts of rbst, with the statement: "at no time in the past has the us federal government prevented a technology from being adopted on the basis of socio-economic consequences " (us executive office of the president 1994). correct me, if i'm wrong, but i'm not aware of any change since then.
what will definitely come:
- subsidies bound to reduced use of fertilizers, pesticides and implementations of IPM plans
- subsidies bound to a certain relation of the number of animals to owned farm area (which will be followed by a rise in farmland prices and might drive more farms out of production).
- a detailed declaration of feedstuff and a more local distribution system (i already saw labels in butcher shops: the slaughtered cows of this week came from farmer xxx in town yyy (phone: xxxx-xxxxx) ). a better labeling of food ingredients, certainly an obligatory labeling of the kind of meat (bovine, avian) in every canned food (already law, but not enforced and hardly inspected), labeling of the country f origin, more "quality labels" (though most probably not valued by consumers, see above)
the real taugh question is, whether consumers do personally *believe* the seller to be honest, i had an interesting talk on that with the german ceo of unilever. any company, who will be part of the NEXT scandal in 2001 will be hit by extremely heavy financial losses and maybe never ever recover from it!! food security suddenly has become an extremely sensitive and delicate item, something it has never been before to that point.)
- reduced input-systems (nothing new so far, we already have the plant varieties for that, they just did not get the appropriate attraction), a reduction in corn area in high-agriculture areas, restrictions in manure application
- subsidies based on environment-friendly production methods and changes in animal-housing (free ranging, local production of feed with low energy transportation costs, reduction in exports of off-farm protein, a ban of the last 4 antibiotics allowed for pure weight gain, restrictions for areas 25% gradient to reduce soil loss - this may sound strange to americans, but it's a large problem in mountain regions, of which we have a lot more than you. soil conservation has been implemented in the german constitution!! 2 years ago. not just a simple law, it has become *constitutional* law.
- "good agricultural practice" has become a federal law five years ago. up to now this has been more of a "rubber" paragraph, because "good" was not exactly defined. the control of its implementation will get enforced on a regional basis (what's good for one region, isn't necessarly for another. more exact definitions will be defined by individual state laws) this, in combination with the precautionary principle, by implication, puts a high value on nature and on future generations and, therefore, on sustainability. however, it is essentially a political axiom and will be open to interpretation. It implies that public risk must be minimised. the precautionary principle may supersede or conflict with other principles, such as environmental capacity or cost benefit.
to help in this it is useful to have an indication of what are perceived to be important indicators of a desirable environment, remembering that most europeans live in cities and are not biologists. in the table below i try to list some indicators (chosen on the basis that they are those that most people will see from the windows of their cars). clearly they are NOT those often used by regulatory authorities to monitor environmental health, which would include amphibians, lichens and other species whose populations are highly sensitive monitors of change, but they are those that one would expect consumers to recognise and in so doing be aware of change. as almost all the indicators have been subject to major change in most environments throughout europe, it is not surprising that public concerns about the health of the environment have become so evident to the public.
subjective indicators of a "desirable" environment in europe.
birds present in sufficient numbers well-known species songbirds
trees present in sufficient numbers well-known species diversity distribution mature
flowerspresent in sufficient numbers well-known species sufficient colour in the environment
unspoilt areas land not growing crops and unmanaged grassland managed nature reserves
most of these indicators can be met by very significantly reducing the intensity of agriculture, allowing weeds to produce seeds and leaving larger areas of land for mixed woodland and rough pasture (which is even easier, if meat consumption is dropping). it is feasible, but unrealistic to believe that all farmland is converted to low intensity agriculture, and equally unrealistic to assume that eating habits will change rapidly. furthermore, there is little likelihood that farmers would adopt such methods willingly without major financial support (but they might be forced to adopt by consumer power). so we will have to look, how existing farming practices can be modified so that food production is maintained in an environment that is "friendly" for wildlife, while at the same time allowing sufficient productivity from agricultural land to maintain farm incomes. it is to be seen, how much farm prices will rise, but consumers are well aware, that a farmer gets 5 pfennig from a bread, for which they have to pay 500 pfennig. a good argument for a future increase in direct marketing..
what MIGHT come, is a tax on fertilizers and pesticides.
- consumers have become aware for the first time (beside the brent spar incident), that they have the power to change entire production systems to their desires by refusing to buy potentially dangerous meat. this will have the most impressive results on future markets and food choice. most consumers in their actual shopping behaviour do not reject or accept meat on absolute criteria, rather they weigh the perceived benefits against the potential risks (personal! opinion; the greatest dangers of BSE were in the 90ies and are over. the measures were taken late, but finally they WERE taken, but you cannot communicate that to the consumer) such perceived cost-benefit balance may have more to do with individual tastes than with values and norms.
personal opinion: processed food will suffer some losses in future markets. or as ms. kuenast addressed food industry: 'instead of offering "confidence labels" on processed foods, why don't you simply try to offer the pure, freshly harvested apple and give consumers a choice between processed apple pie and the apples for private choice of usage ?' the applause in the auditorium of the nationwide broadcasted talkshow parlament was damn convincing and overwhelming !!!
in short: before all other countries europe on a short to medium run will become a more consumer-driven food market. consumer associations will get more governmental support (morale and financial) and as a producer you better adapt to that very soon. and scientific research results ? partly, consumers give a sh*t after all these failures of recent scientific predictions and "bought" or "job-frightened" scientists (see new "inquiry report" of the british MAFF, where scientists behaved like hungry beagles before a full napkin and NOONE had the courage to oppose evidently wrong "orders of silencing"). on the other side they EXPECT answers on how to avoid BSE and 100%-proof tests and all that pretty fast! in other words: they will honor *solutions* and no more any predictions !
i also strongly doubt, that "we-know-better-what's-good-for-you" marketing strategies will be convincing any more and PR slogans like "the taste of the new generation" or "come to xxx-land" or "better than ever" will make any more sense. europeans will demand less processed food of higher quality, but with higher prices and a more conscient attitude against cheap food. PSE-meat or cheap separator meat each day will be history for half of the population (for the rest: no idea. it is known, that about 50% of the consumers will or can not pay more). yet today organic meat is almost sold out in germany and as most the readers here have an agricultural background, they also know, that it needs another year to raise a cow and another 2 to raise a calf to slaugther weight. the year 2001 will become a huge experiment for producers, marketers and consumers....
organic agriculture will definitely increase, but because of the transition phase of 3? years i strongly doubt, that it will reach 5% in 2005
sigh, the mail has become too long...