The Magic Hexagon

The Magic Hexagon – Renate Kunast speech

Renate Kunast


ALL OVER EUROPE today, one topic is the centre of attention: food. The shudder people feel when they consider the BSE crisis is a shudder at ourselves; at the way we farm, the way we treat our animals and the way we produce our food.

Of one thing, now, I am absolutely certain: the BSE scandal marks the end of agricultural policy as we have known it in recent decades. It marks – it must mark – the end of intensive farming as we know it; and a move towards ecological, ethical methods of food production.

As never before, we are realising the ills and implications of an agricultural policy geared to mass production. BSE has catapulted the public out of the treadmill of thoughtless mass consumption, and we can never return.

Normally, we slaughter 6 million cattle every year in Germany. The BSE scare, though, gave us such a fright that beef consumption has declined by 57 per cent since last November. Our livestock buildings are becoming ever more crammed, ruling out species-specific animal husbandry. Exporting beef is impossible, as the world systematically closes its markets to European beef. In short, we cannot sell the 400,000 cattle we have in surplus — and even if we could, nobody seriously believes that consumers will be prepared to eat them.

What can be learned from this? I believe the lesson is that BSE is not an isolated problem but a symptom of an agricultural system gone badly wrong. For that reason, I back a turnaround in agriculture – and I intend to implement one in Germany; our yardstick, in future, should be simple: quality instead of quantity.

I am under no illusions about this ambitious proposal. It will be a path of trial and tribulation. A change in agricultural policy will take time, and have strong opponents. We will only be successful if we start right away, take firm action and involve as many people as possible.

Six sectors of society will ultimately determine the success of our new agricultural policy: the consumers, the farmers, the animal feed industry, the food industry, the retail sector – and the politicians. These six players form the magic hexagon of Germany’s – and, ultimately, Europe’s – agricultural U-turn.

Let us address them one by one.

The consumers: in future, the choice must truly be yours! We plan to give consumers guidance with two new quality labels. The first will designate organic products, for which we intend to secure a 20 per cent market share within 10 years. The second will uphold minimum food production standards: more species-specific animal husbandry, medication only to cure a disease and a preference for regional products. Consumers need to be prepared to change their eating habits: if they do, we can guarantee them quality food.

The retail sector: we want change through trade. Currently, 80 per cent of foodstuffs are bought in supermarkets. Our turnaround in agriculture will only be successful if all, in particular the larger chains, no longer focus their competition on who offers the cheapest milk, but who provides consumers with the broadest range of good products. Organic products must lose their marginal status. It is quality that counts. Quality has its price, of course, but we will ensure that the new products will remain affordable for all. It is a question of quantities, of marketing and social justice.

The food industry: our food suffers from the fact that we are watching out for prices first and quality second. I am campaigning for a partnership between the food industry and farmers. This alliance will ensure quality for the food industry and income for farmers. The days when the farmer was the cheapjack are over. Those producers who fail to meet the requirements of the new quality labels, will, quite simply, incur a serious competitive disadvantage.

The animal feed industry: good feed is a prerequisite for good quality. We are going to introduce a transparent production system through open declaration and a positive list of feeds. I am in favour of tightening the penalties for intentional feed contamination by means of the legislation on feeds.

The farmers: in the past few weeks it has almost seemed that they, along with politicians, were solely to be blamed for BSE. But this is not the case. The turnaround in agriculture opens up opportunities for them to focus on quality again and not just on quantity, It’s not the farm size, large or small, that counts, and we will need both organic farms and conventional farms.

Farmers’ readiness to rethink, and their inventiveness, will constitute key prerequisites for our turnaround in agriculture. I want to give farmers in this country, who have been suffering from structural changes for some years now, a clear incentive towards more organic and regional production. This means, there must be an alliance of farmers with nature. We need more direct and regional marketing, thus retaining the value added in the region.

And finally, to us politicians. Is politics capable of assuming its responsibility? If I have anything to do with it, the answer will be yes. Already, we have taken an active part in developing a new quality standard for meat. We got all the protagonists in this magic hexagon around the conference table earlier this year to thrash these issues out. And we have provided DM 1 billion for measures against BSE: the buy-up campaign and the disposal of meat-and bone meal.

What is truly heartening, too, is to see that the possibilities of a genuine and radical turnaround in agricultural policy — from the intensive to the sustainable — go beyond the borders of our country. EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler has already taken up the challenge we have posed here in Germany, and recently he posed four pertinent questions to the EU itself: Why do we focus our attention on the products only and not on their quality? Why do we spend less than 10 per cent of our funds on rural areas? Why don’t we take cost decreases into account? And why do 45 per cent of agricultural funds go to the arable crop sector?

They are vital and sensible questions, and they bring me to the subject of how we will finance our turnaround. Simply, the politicians in Europe, in the federal government and in the Laender, our local government, must do more. Every year, German agriculture receives about DM 27 billion in state assistance, about DM 12.6 billion from the EU and DM 10.2 billion from the federal government. There is, in other words, a lot of funding available.

But consumers want their tax money to be responsibly spent on the turnaround in agriculture. And they do not want any new charges. So we propose not to subsidise surpluses, but to pay for quality. We do not want any cruelty to animals, but we will pay for a move to species-specific animal husbandry. And we do not want any overexploitation, but the conservation of water and soils.

I have said it before and I will say it again: this is a very ambitious aim. But the overwhelming majority of Germans want a new agricultural policy, and I want to give them one. I will endorse more flexibility in the policy on subsidies so as to relieve the strain on our local government. But for this I will need the support of our partner countries in the European Union.

For agricultural policy is European policy. The signs I have received from Brussels are encouraging, and I hope we can change course Europe-wide at the next meeting of the Agriculture Council at the end of February, or certainly not later than with the mid-term review of Agenda 2000. I hope we can widen the scope for individual nations to change their agricultural subsidies.

So, what are the hallmarks of our new agricultural policy? For a start, the turnaround in agriculture means more sustainability in agricultural policy. The federal Environment Minister has introduced a draft Nature Conservation Act, and this pivotal bill will not fail because of the farming sector — as it has done in the past. I will actively support new ideas on nature conservation which contribute to the turnaround in agriculture.

As producers of energy, farmers will be able to tap new sources of income in the field of renewable energies. My principal idea is for those farmers who contribute to the management of our cultural landscapes to get some returns out of it.

Forests, for example, are important to us, and the current problems do not make us forget that German forests have been suffering for a long time already.

Sustainability also has a social dimension. For years, structural changes in agriculture have resulted in the loss of jobs in rural areas. The turnaround in agriculture focuses on regional structures; a great leap forward for local economies. In the future, regional products must be first choice.

A change in animal husbandry also forms part of the new policy. In Europe, animals are still having to make too many long and unpleasant journeys. Animals are still kept in miserable conditions. It is still the quantity that counts, not the life of the animals. We fully support the current Swedish presidency of the EU in its efforts to tighten the Regulation on the Keeping of Farm Animals and the Animal Transport Directive. Export subsidies which make these long-distance journeys so agonising for the animals and at the same time so profitable for people must become a thing of the past.

We also want to create a transparent production system; vital if we are to restore trust in farming and food production. What happens to our food must be monitored from pasture to barn to shop counter. As a first step, I will therefore implement the EU Herd Record Book Directive, and improve the documentation of the herds.

The federal government is completely committed to banning antibiotics in animal feed. In the future, animals should be treated with medication if and when they are sick. Farmers should keep the animals in such a way that they do not have to be treated prophylactically. Pig doping, turkeys being no longer able to walk, and millions of chicks being killed after hatching because they are the ‘wrong’ sex are part of yesterday’s agricultural policy. We will introduce a positive list of feed stuffs and secure transparency through open declaration.

Our aim is also to turn away from overproduction. We should start right now to reshape the premium system for cattle — in other words, to move away from the herd or slaughter premium towards a premium system which rewards a reduction of herd numbers and environment-friendly extensification.

To this end, I have already proposed practical steps.

To begin with, we want to link livestock farming to the land again. In the medium term, we only want to support those farmers who do not keep more than two livestock units per hectare. The support also includes forage crops. We will reduce the unjust favouring of silage maize. And we will promote grassland by including area aid in the shape of a grassland premium.

Finally, we will take measures to reduce the slaughter weight of cattle.

Let us not delude ourselves. There will be people who refuse to become involved in this turnaround in agriculture, those who profited from the previous system. Yet one thing is clear: people have lost their appetites. We want our food to taste good again. We want the ecological modernisation of Germany, and the turnaround in agriculture is a central project of this ecological modernisation.

A new agricultural policy is the prerequisite for successful consumer protection. And I am very pleased that most consumers in Germany seem to support the path I have taken.

Many people — certainly in Germany — remember how fiercely the Germans fought for the German beer purity law when it was threatened some years ago. At that time, consumers, farmers and the breweries formed a united front. We now need a purity law for handling the animals we consume. Calves drink milk, cows need water, beet, grass and cereals — and nothing else. Purity of agriculture, for the benefit of all.

We can do it, and we will.

Renate Kunast’s background is in social work, and from 1977-79 she was employed at the Berlin-Tegel penal institution, working mainly with drug addicts. She went on to study law, becoming a barrister in 1985. She became actively involved in politics in 1979 when she joined the ‘Westberliner Alternative Liste’.

Last year Kunast was elected chair of the German Red/Green coalition and on 24 June was appointed Minister for Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture.

This article is taken from a speech Kunast gave on 8 February 2001.

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