Cem Özdemir: Wants to please everyone – between organic and farmer lobby – politics

Cem Özdemir: Wants to please everyone – between organic and farmer lobby – politics

So first to the pig, it’s next to a few corn plants in Hall 23a. Cem Ozdemir doesn’t want to pet the animal, after all it’s only made of plastic. But then he would like to briefly explain that such a curly tail is related to animal welfare, i.e. to the climate and the big picture. “Solutions for a sustainable transformation don’t just fall out of the sky, they have to be fought for,” he adds. It’s a sentence that probably also applies to the minister himself.

Thursday in the exhibition halls in Berlin, the Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture came to the International Green Week. After a two-year break from the pandemic, the world’s largest food fair is taking place again for the first time, albeit with different signs. War and inflation have pushed up food prices, as well as fertilizer and energy prices. Organic trade is struggling with a drop in sales. Never before has sustainability, climate protection and the conservation of natural resources been talked about so persistently at this rural “performance show”.

Nevertheless, this Green Week is not a home game for the Green Cem Özdemir. Because here there are not only specialties from 60 countries or milk producers who warn of milk prices possibly falling again, “I don’t want to panic”. Lobbyists in the organic industry are also venting their displeasure with Özdemir and his hesitant departure, as they see it. And of course the farmers’ president also rumbles against exaggerated ecological requirements, “we have to get out of the ideology box”.

Producer concerns versus consumer desires

Conventional agriculture versus organic, producers’ concerns versus consumer desires, rural perseverance in the face of change, that’s how it works. And somewhere in between: Cem Özdemir. He may have imagined politics a little differently.

The minister has been in office for one year, a year with a steep learning curve. Özdemir, once the head of the Greens, a contentious Realo and one of the most ambitious speakers in his party, was actually once a proven domestic and, above all, foreign politician. Except for his dislike of meat and a grandfather who was a farmer, he had no connection to agriculture when he became the head of a federal ministry in 2021 – as the first son of Turkish parents in Germany.

As is well known, a lack of specialist knowledge is no reason against a ministerial office. In addition, the post offered Özdemir the chance to advance into a green chamber of the heart. About a quarter of the climate-damaging gases that Germany produces can be traced back to animal husbandry and food production. The industry is responsible for up to 80 percent of species extinction worldwide, also due to pesticides and animal feed cultivation. It’s a field made for a Green.

“It’s seething,” says the farmer’s president

When Özdemir became “minister of agriculture,” as he likes to call it, he announced ambitious innovations. 30 percent of agricultural land in Germany is to be farmed organically by 2030. In Brussels, the minister also wants to ensure that EU direct payments to farmers farmers are no longer measured by the size of their fields, but by whether farms operate sustainably. An animal husbandry label is to come in Germany, more space in pigsties, more organic food in canteens.

But – what actually became of his resolutions?

At the Green Week in Berlin, the answers are not exactly friendly. “It’s seething,” says farmer president Joachim Rukwied. What is meant is Özdemir’s plan to support pig farmers if they keep fewer animals and give them more space. The subsidies for barn conversions are too low, grumbles Rukwied. But there is also mockery in organic associations. “We need a committed, courageous Minister of Agriculture Özdemir,” says Tina Andres from the Federation of Organic Food Sectors. The EU’s common agricultural policy, research into organic farming, increasing the proportion of organic food in day-care centers and canteens – “we don’t see sufficiently ambitious steps for all of this,” she says.

Özdemir talks about world hunger and tanks for Ukraine

No, the minister is not lacking in interest, but rather in a willingness to engage in conflict, says Georg Janßen from the rural agriculture working group. “I have the impression that he wants to please everyone.” Özdemir doesn’t want any rows with conservative agricultural associations and doesn’t put enough pressure on uncomfortable green agricultural issues. The minister spoke all the more passionately about Ukraine in front of associations. Özdemir’s party friends also occasionally say that Cem would have preferred to become foreign minister.

On Thursday, Özdemir will appear in Hall 5.3 of the Green Week for question time with specialist journalists. First of all he talks about hunger in the world and “German big cats”, meaning tanks for the Ukraine. Then he devotes himself to the radius of farrowing pens in sow husbandry and the climate package for forest owners, for which he fought for 900 million euros.

First question from a journalist: whether the minister wants to ban the stunning of pigs and poultry with CO₂ during castration. Özdemir coughs. “We’re looking into that,” he replies. Next question: Does the minister only want to support pig farmers who sell a maximum of 3000 fattening pigs a year? “That will certainly play a role in the parliamentary deliberations,” replies Özdemir. A journalist wants to know why there is so little research on peatland waterlogging. Cem Özdemir is now talking about paludiculture and peat moss, “I find it extremely exciting”. He doesn’t look like an unhappy man.

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