The FDP criticizes the proposal to pay for more animal welfare through a state levy on meat. Government party relies on private funds.
Looks nicer, but is more expensive: free-range pig farming Photo: Rupert Oberhauser/imago
BERLIN taz | State animal welfare levy on meat desired by many farmers increasingly unlikely. "We liberals are very skeptical about a levy or tax on meat for more animal welfare in agriculture," Carina Konrad, vice chairwoman of the FDP parliamentary group in the Bundestag, who is responsible for the issue, told the newspaper taz. Their party, which repeatedly spoke out against tax increases during the election campaign, has a veto right in the traffic light coalition.
"Already, farm incomes consist of more than half government subsidies in some cases. But we just want to achieve more independence," said Konrad, explaining her rejection. "That’s why we are basically looking for the market participants to find private-sector solutions themselves. That can be a contract system, that can be a fund, which already exists in a similar way through the Animal Welfare Initiative."
Through this company, Lidl, Edeka and other retail groups pay farmers to keep their pigs, chickens and turkeys more species-appropriate, usually with a little more space in the barn, but rarely with outdoor run. "Perhaps we need to think further about such approaches: for all animal species, for periods that improve the ability to plan for the necessary investments," says Konrad.
Agriculture ministers open to proposals
The FDP politician thus contradicts the commission under former CDU Federal Minister of Agriculture Jochen Borchert on the restructuring of animal husbandry. The bipartisan panel had recommended a state levy or tax to raise the 3.6 billion euros it estimates is needed annually. Both the German Farmers’ Association and the ecologically oriented Arbeitsgemeinschaft bauerliche Landwirtschaft (AbL) support the. The new Federal Minister of Agriculture, Cem ozdemir (Greens), has shown himself open to the proposals, but has not yet taken a clear position on how he intends to support farmers financially in the restructuring of livestock farming. Even the SPD has not yet made up its mind.
Farmers’ representatives doubt that private programs would provide enough money
Asked by the taz about the animal welfare levy, FDP politician Konrad admittedly answered that all options still remained. But the Rhineland-Palatinate woman mainly cited arguments against this solution: "With an animal welfare levy that provides flat-rate, long-term support for production, regardless of demand, we would create a kind of direct livestock payment," she said, alluding to the most important type of agricultural subsidy. This is controversial because it is paid primarily per hectare, largely regardless of how environmentally friendly the land is farmed. "We run the risk of creating false incentives and making false promises to farmers. Then we won’t have mountains of butter, but mountains of meat," warned Konrad.
Labeling for animal husbandry
The coalition agreement only provides for a "financial system supported by market participants" "without imposing a bureaucratic burden on the trade". This wording alone should make a levy unlikely, which would probably have to be accounted for by anyone who trades in meat.
The FDP politician also rejected calls for government incentives to keep fewer animals for climate protection reasons. "We are currently experiencing that animal numbers are falling and many farms are having to give up due to the difficult situation caused by swine fever and export markets that are falling away. We therefore no longer need any government reduction measures at all."
Konrad only wants to commit himself to a governmental, binding animal husbandry label, which would show on meat labels, for example, how the livestock has been kept. The labeling should first be introduced on a national level "and perspectively apply EU-wide". Then consumers would be able to avoid products with less animal welfare more easily. ozdemir wants to introduce the label as early as this year.
No lump-sum bonuses, but targeted rewards
AbL chairman Martin Schulz criticized that it was "very unlikely" that sufficient money could be raised via private solutions for the restructuring of animal husbandry. The Animal Welfare Initiative had paid only 130 million euros per year; 4 billion euros were needed.
"Private-sector components absolutely have to be part of the solution, but that alone makes it very difficult," Bernhard Krusken, secretary general of the German Farmers’ Association, told the taz newspaper. "It would have to pull all market participants". The Animal Welfare Initiative so far only covers food retailers, which only sell one-third of pork from Germany. The catering industry, for example, and processors such as sausage manufacturers are not involved.
A spokesman for agriculture minister ozdemir wrote to the taz that the authority is examining various financing models. "Flat-rate bonuses such as direct payments are not planned, however; instead, measures for better animal husbandry are to be specifically rewarded."