Official opening ceremony of the Grüne Woche 2024
Green Week 2024 has begun in Berlin in the wake of the farmers' protests in Germany in recent weeks. Federal Minister of Agriculture Cem Özdemir opened the world's largest industry trade fair at the official opening ceremony in the City Cube on Thursday evening. He called on agricultural associations and the food industry to enter into dialogue with politicians in order to solve the sector's problems together and negotiate the various interests with one another.
Dr Mario Tobias, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Messe Berlin GmbH, explained that the Green Week has never had such high social relevance. The combination of an exhibition of everything that is new and modern on the one hand and political debates in the conferences on the other is unique worldwide - and necessary. "We see in the news every day that we need both - direct contact between exhibitors and their customers and dialogue between producers and politicians." It is about the importance of the industry in the future. "We are delighted that the Green Week has come at just the right time to take these debates off the streets."
Wegner: "Solving challenges together"
In its almost 100-year history, the Green Week has always faced up to new topics and has always acted as a mirror of current society and its debates, said the Governing Mayor of Berlin, Kai Wegner. These are exciting and challenging times, he said. "Where farmers have existential fears, we must enter into dialogue," he emphasised. It is important to listen to each other and approach each other "so that we can solve the challenges together rather than against each other" and all sides can benefit in the end: Farmers, politicians and consumers.
Janusz Wojciechowski, EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, also argued in favour of cooperation between the various interest groups in order to secure the future of agriculture in the EU. The financing of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) should also be continued beyond 2027. Agriculture is currently facing major challenges: Hunger is growing worldwide, food prices in the EU have recently climbed to record levels, while farmers' income fell by almost eight per cent last year. At the same time, climate change is causing problems for agriculture with increasing weather extremes such as floods, droughts and forest fires. It is therefore important to provide financial incentives for methods that benefit the climate and the environment while ensuring agricultural productivity.
Rukwied: "Politics must get closer to the people again"
Joachim Rukwied, President of the German Farmers' Association, and Dr Christian von Boetticher, Chairman of the Board of the Federation of German Food and Drink Industries (BVE), used the stage to make clear attacks on the federal government. Rukwied said that the farmers' protests had received great support from the population - despite the obstacles they had caused. He believes that people have the impression "that the government is ruling over them rather than talking to them", said the farmers' president. "Politics must get closer to the people again." People need prospects and agriculture needs "more entrepreneurial freedom, more room to breathe, better access to innovations", and it needs to be less restricted. Instead, politicians are telling people how many vegetables or fish they should eat via the Food Council. This runs counter to freedom of choice: "Food is pleasure, everyone should eat what they feel like eating."
BVE CEO Christian von Boetticher also called for more freedom and fewer regulations. This is not only a difficult time for agriculture, he said, but also for the food industry, which is suffering the same fate as SMEs: "It's not dying loudly, it's dying quietly". In 2022, there were declines in sales and "a large number of companies" were no longer investing in Germany, but were instead relocating more abroad. He is therefore grateful that the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) at this year's Green Week has "Zero Hunger" as its theme. "In Germany, we have too often talked in a small bubble." In Germany, there is a debate about how much agricultural land is still needed and whether land should be wetted. Instead, the global fight against hunger should be more strongly integrated "into German day-to-day politics"
Özdemir: "We must keep our country together at the centre"
He "very much understands the anger of our farmers", replied Federal Minister of Agriculture Cem Özdemir. The cancellation of the motor vehicle tax exemption and the cancellation of agricultural diesel were "not OK" in their original form and had been corrected. The fact that there are still protests shows that the agricultural diesel has become "a metaphor for a barrel that was already full when I became minister". It was now time to talk about the issues "that have been neglected for years".
Following the proposals of the Borchert Commission, the German government is now introducing a mandatory state animal husbandry label, added Özdemir. In order to strengthen German farmers in the face of foreign competition, the label of origin for unpackaged meat will also be introduced in February, which will later be extended to the catering trade. The government has mobilised one billion euros for more animal welfare in pig farming and he is in favour of the animal welfare cent. If the currywurst then cost a few cents more, it would be money well spent, said Özdemir.
The Minister went on to say that the aim was to make agriculture fit for the future, strengthen rural areas and thus protect democracy. He asked that everyone work together to tackle the outstanding issues and contribute to "keeping our country together at its centre". People in the countryside should not get the feeling that they are being left behind. But the other side should not fuel resentment against people in the city either - "there is no blessing in that". Rural and urban areas needed each other and had more to unite them than to divide them.