In mid-January, the players in the agricultural industry gathered in Berlin and one thing became clear: eating is political. The main topics centered on agricultural policy and social issues surrounding agriculture and nutrition, two subjects that are hotly debated socially. Supporters and detractors, politics and organizations, citizens and industry representatives converged onto one another.
The formation of opinions and agricultural policy perspectives
For the fourth year in a row, I drove to Berlin on this special weekend in January to represent my personal view of agricultural policies and to hear the arguments of others.
Eating is political, agriculture is political, and what is often underestimated: wholesale and retail trade are political. Because the structures that have been established by trade, the dependencies that have been created, have a great impact on agriculture on the one hand, and on our behavior in terms of consumption and nutrition on the other.
Politics, industry, and society
My weekend in Berlin for nutritional politics began with a reception hosted by BÖLW close to Green Week. The Bund Ökologische Lebensmittelwirtschaft (federation for the organic food economy), BÖLW, is the umbrella organization for the organic food industry and represents agricultural producers, processors, and merchants. The BÖLW aims to bundle the interests of the organic food industry and represents the shared values and interests with respect to politics and society.
Approx. 600 guests attended the reception hosted by BÖLW this year. At the reception, the BÖLW brought together politicians, representatives of the agricultural industry, and members of society: ministers, representatives of federal parliament, state parliaments and the European Parliament; representatives of civic organizations, research, and the press; farmers, traders, and food producers were among the guests and used the opportunity to talk about the future of agriculture and nutrition.
How to move forward with increasing demand for organic food
In his speech, BÖLW Chairman Felix Prinz zu Löwenstein challenged politicians to use strong consumer demand for organic food and interest by farmers in ecological agriculture to attain social sustainability goals.
Federal Minister of Agriculture Schmidt stressed that the organic industry needs a clear signal for greater change from policies and the ongoing negotiations for new EU organic regulations. Per the minister, agriculture also has an important responsibility in climate protection. It can and must determine atmospheric carbon through humus formation in the soil.
Effects of conventional agriculture
EU representative Martin Häusling challenged Minister Schmidt to support a significant reduction in the use of pesticides so that the unfortunate discussion regarding the specific contamination limits for ecological products could finally come to an end.
However, the speeches did not bring any surprises or new standpoints. The topics for the evening were determined by the speeches. Guests continued their conversations over a good organic meal and discussed nutrition, agriculture, and the role of policies. And here, too, it has caught on: eating is political.
Schnippeldisko (vegetable chopping event) with harvested leftovers from the region
The mood was louder, more colorful, happier, and more practical at the Schnippeldisko, which took place the same evening as the BÖLW reception. The biggest chopping event in the world took place for the fifth year in a row and was organized by Slow-Food-Youth at the ZK/U – Zentrum für Kunst und Urbanistik (Center for Art and Urbanism).
The soup that was cooked in the evening warmed the cold and hungry participants of the “We’re fed up!” demonstration the following noon. In typical Slow Food Youth manner, participants used leftovers from the harvest of local farms that would have been thrown out otherwise. At the chopping event, practicality showed that: eating is political!
Vegan soup for “We’re fed up!” demonstration
Two thousand kilograms of knobby and undesirable vegetables – too small, too big, too thick, too thin – were peeled and chopped, and converted to a vegan soup together with the help of the Fläming Kitchen. DJs Decent, Romino Power, and Caballero de Algomas from the Green Music Initiative fired up the helpers with great tunes.
In the lower floor of the Zk/U, there were discussions and presentations on subjects such as land grabbing, waste of food, working requirements in agriculture, democratization of our nutritional systems, nutritional independence in wartorn areas, and agriculture to the north and south.
Highlight “We’re fed up!” demonstration
The “We’re fed-up! demonstration” on Saturday was the undisputed highlight of the weekend in Berlin. Through the protest march in front of the chancellor’s office as well as the other activities organized around the demonstration, the event showed that: eating is political! Politics have to meet this responsibility towards the citizens. Agriculture and nutrition are more than a branch of the economy.
With the “We’re fed up!” demonstration, the organizers and participants showed that there is more at stake in globally-connected agriculture than one economic process. It is also about the right to nourishment, fair trade, species-appropriate livestock farming, healthy food, environmentally-friendly production, conservation of diversity, dangers of the monopolization of natural resources, access to agricultural spaces, climate protection, and clean drinking water.
Broad alliance for change to ecological agriculture
This year as well, more than 20,000 participants and 130 tractors arrived at the Potsdamer Platz (city square) and made their way through the center of Berlin to the chancellor’s office. Participants showed their support for agricultural change and demanded that the government set the rails for a more farm-oriented and more ecological agriculture in the future. Farmers, beekeepers, animal rights activists, environmentalists, those active in development cooperation, food workers, and cooks demonstrated for farms that operate environmentally and climate friendly, practice species-appropriate livestock farming, grow genetically unmodified food, and follow fair trade practices.
Agricultural policies from Berlin and Brussels are responsible for the conditions that have led to overproduction and low producer prices over the last decades. The agricultural mega structures that we have created here in Germany and Europe, and the export of agricultural products have destroyed regional markets and farm production infrastructures.
In my opinion, the biggest winners of the current agricultural policy direction are the organized retail sector and international food corporations, as these were ultimately able to build their current structures only through the mega production structures and low production prices. Isn’t it true that many of the agricultural promotions ultimately land at Lidl, Aldi, Metro, Edeka, Rewe, and others, or companies like Nestlé, Unilever, or Bonduelle?
“Staying the course” destroys livelihoods
The agricultural policy parameters in Europe and corporate policy decisions in the retail sector have substantially led to the change in agriculture towards megastructures and to the internationalization of agricultural markets. The participants of the “We’re fed up!” demonstration demand a change in course and the promotion of ecological/organic agriculture in Europe.
Christina Henatsch, Demeter farmer on Gut Wulfsdorf (farm), got to the heart of the matter with the following words: “A stay-the-course strategy will destroy our livelihoods. We have to change direction and make our agriculture fit for the future. Millions of organic farmers throughout the world are already showing us today how to produce healthy food while protecting the climate and drinking water, maintaining soil fertility, holding livestock appropriate to each species, and fighting hunger.”
Farmer’s breakfast for starters followed by Soup & Talk
In tandem with the “We’re fed up!” demonstration, a farmer’s breakfast was held in market hall nine, followed by Soup & Talk after the demonstration at the nearby Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (foundation) of the Green Party, with a street fair in front of the building and a world café parallel to the short presentations. You can find the brief presentations of Soup & Talk documented as YouTube videos here: Program Soup & Talk.
Counterdemonstration against radicalization
Not all farmers are supportive of the “We’re fed up!” movement and the ideas of agricultural change towards ecological/organic farming. Therefore, the morning of the “We’re fed up!” demonstration, farmers held a counter demonstration for the second time. With the slogan “We feed you!” farmers gathered in front of the main train station in Berlin to demonstrate against the scadanlization and vilification of agriculture. Marcus Holtkötter spoke with me just prior to the “We feed you!” announcement and explained the concerns of the demonstrators.
Standing up for change in agriculture socially
Eating is political, I already knew that before the agricultural policy weekend in Berlin. But it has become apparent to me that our global nutritional system is already running at full capacity; that we are decreasing the prospects for healthy and sustainable nutrition for future generations with our current form of agriculture; and that more and more people are grappling with the consequences of their nutrition and the agricultural approaches that produce their food. We need adaptations. Up to now, no policies have set the course for a sustainable agricultural turnaround. The inaction of policymakers has contributed to bringing the discussion to a head over the last few years.
Citizens can play their part by changing their buying habits so that organic and local products become more important. But adapting the agricultural policy framework cannot be omitted. The next big milestone is the renegotiation of the EU organic regulation, which is currently under hot debate on the EU level. Everyone can help shape their world, either personally or politically.
Additional links for eating is political
Eating is political – Deutschlandradia Kultur (radio program) speaks with food activist Hendrik Haase and farmer Christian Heymann