The debate over removing environmental measures to produce more food and alleviate the problems caused by the war in Ukraine has divided German policymakers and so far federal and regional governments have been unable to find a middle ground.
At a meeting on Friday April 1, German federal and regional agriculture ministers failed to reach a consensus on whether to temporarily allow the production of animal feed or food in the areas of ecological interest.
Usually, farmers are not allowed to cultivate these areas with the aim of enhancing biodiversity and climate protection. In Germany’s federal system, the federal government and state governments would have to agree to ease restrictions.
After Friday’s meeting ended without agreement on a common position before the formal legislative process, regional representatives are now due to vote on the issue on April 8.
In response to the war in Ukraine, which is a major exporter of essential foodstuffs such as wheat or oilseeds, the European Commission proposed in its recent communication on food safety that Member States allow the production of animal feed and the use of pesticides on fallow land to ensure sufficient national food production.
No pesticides in protected areas
For Germany’s Green-led agriculture ministry, however, the EU executive’s proposals go too far.
In a statement, he said allowing the use of pesticides in protected areas would be counterproductive to achieving the ecological goals set out in the EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy.
Instead, Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir has proposed temporarily allowing fallow land to be used for animal feed while banning the use of pesticides and the cultivation of food crops.
This would help make Germany more self-sufficient in terms of fodder supply while preventing protected areas from being plowed up, he told reporters after last week’s meeting.
Plowing would destroy much of the progress made on biodiversity and release the CO2 stored in the soil, while the gain in terms of food production would be minimal, he added.
Many federal regions, however, take a different view and have called on Germany to fully implement what the Commission has proposed, or even go further and allow all agricultural production on set-aside land.
According to Peter Hauck, the Conservative minister for the southwestern region of Baden-Württemberg, the fallow land “does not make an essential contribution to stopping the climate crisis”.
However, they could be “used to produce food for 10 million people”, he said after the meeting.
Even after the talks were extended for several hours, ministers remained divided and seemed unwilling to budge on the issue.
“I have never experienced such contentious discussions before,” said Social Democrat Minister Till Backhaus of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
When regional governments meet again on Friday to formally vote on the issue in the second chamber of parliament, the Bundesratthey will have the chance to make changes to what the federal government has proposed.
Backhaus was optimistic that regions that want to allow more production would succeed in having the Bundesrat green light to the amendments they are asking for.
“We already have a majority among the federal states,” he said.
Despite all the differences, however, there is still a basic consensus between federal and regional ministers on the EU’s green goals, with Hauck stressing that “absolutely no one among us questions the common agricultural policy, the Green Deal or farm-to-fork strategy. .
The European Commission had recently postponed several legislative proposals, including the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Regulation (SUR) and nature restoration targets, intended to implement the EU’s flagship strategy for sustainable food production in because of the war in Ukraine.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]