Agriculture affects us all because it is about our livelihoods: earth, water, air and food.
What can sustainable agriculture look like? An agriculture that produces healthy food for everyone, but carefully uses our natural resources? Agriculture that takes biodiversity, animal welfare and water protection into account. In which farms get support with the necessary conversion? What sounds utopian is feasible and can be implemented for Germany by 2050. Greenpeace shows how with the “Course book on the agricultural transition 2050”.
A consistent turnaround in agriculture – that not only means a completely different distribution principle for agricultural subsidies and a conversion of farms to an ecological economy. It must also be clear on the part of consumers: Well-produced and environmentally friendly food is not available at low prices, even if supermarkets and discounters suggest this with rock-bottom prices and lure offers. Greenpeace is therefore demanding fair prices and long-term contracts for producers from retailers – and with a view to the climate killer meat, a switch to meat from exclusively species-appropriate and environmentally friendly animal husbandry. Too many animals are kept under conditions that are too poor to meet the demand for meat, dairy products and eggs. The areas in Germany are insufficient to produce enough forage. Instead, soy from overseas often ends up in feed troughs, for the cultivation of which valuable forests such as the Amazon rainforest are destroyed.
Billions of pigs, cows and other so-called farm animals also make a lot of crap. This means huge amounts of nitrate and germ-laden liquid manure from factory farming that is spread on the fields and pollutes the groundwater. The latter brought a lawsuit against the EU in 2018. But it wasn’t until March 2020 – 25 years after the EU Nitrates Directive should have been implemented into national law – that the Federal Council passed a somewhat stricter fertilizer ordinance, some of which will not come into force until 2021.
Agriculture is a key factor in combating the climate crisis and species extinction. On the one hand, it suffers from the consequences of the climate crisis – for example from drought. On the other hand, the industrialization of this branch has been causing massive climate-damaging emissions for decades. It is also accompanied by an excess of pesticides and mineral fertilizers. At the same time, the times of excesses such as patents on certain breeds are not long over, while genetically modified plants are still in use in various countries around the world – even if not in Germany.
Agriculture: Poison kills diversity in the fields
A good half of the area in Germany is used for agriculture. Environmentally friendly agriculture can certainly bind greenhouse gases and provide a habitat for insects. However, species extinction is progressing much faster in industrial agricultural landscapes than in forests or bodies of water. Species-rich meadows, but also strips of field margins or hedgerows with bushes and trees are disappearing in favor of huge monocultures. The fields are getting bigger and bigger and the number of crops grown is decreasing. Diverse crop rotations with oats, lupins, clover or fodder beet have become rare and are often only found on organic farms. With the advent of nitrogen and other mineral fertilizers, chemical insecticides and ever larger agricultural machinery, agricultural productivity has increased, but the development is fatal for biodiversity. The death of insects in particular is dramatic. The use of total herbicides such as glyphosate also indirectly kills insects, as they can no longer find enough food. But when it comes to wild bees, for example, those farms that rely on insects to pollinate their plants also suffer. With the insects, birds and small mammals that they feed on disappear. The ecosystem is out of whack.
Animal husbandry: The future will cost us cheap meat
A decisive driver of the climate crisis is the far too high meat consumption or export and the associated, mostly miserable animal husbandry. Animal husbandry is responsible for 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. We cannot avoid significantly reducing the number of animals. Too many pigs, cattle, chickens, and ducks vegetate agonizingly and crammed together, without running free and fresh air. This means that they cannot pursue their natural needs such as playing, moving, caring for the offspring, body and coat care undisturbed. Cheap meat is a sick system.
With a legal opinion, Greenpeace was able to identify specific illegal practices in pigs in 2017
prove mast. Now, after the judicial review complaint submitted by the Berlin Senate, the constitutional court is supposed to examine whether the usual pig farming in Germany is illegal. That could reform animal fattening, in particular the husbandry regulations of the so-called animal welfare and farm animal husbandry ordinance (TierSchNutztV) could become obsolete.
Politics, trade and agriculture meanwhile shift responsibility to consumers. In fact, when shopping, it is not so easy to recognize meat from species-appropriate husbandry. This is not only due to a jungle of different quality seals, but also to the price policy of the trade, which has almost 90 percent cheap meat on offer. Greenpeace calls for transparency in the form of comprehensive labeling of all meat and sausage products. As a state, mandatory label.
Misguided agricultural policy lets farms die
The role of farms is twofold. On the one hand, they contribute to environmental destruction, especially in the conventional area, on the other hand, they often follow economic constraints. Farmers are also victims of decades of misguided agricultural policy that has pushed them more and more towards mass production and the export of cheap food. The farmer protests in 2019 and 2020 clearly showed the consequences. So it is hardly surprising that the majority of farms, often run by families for generations, had to give up in the past 20 years, while many of the big players were able to expand further. The Federal Ministry of Agriculture played an inglorious role in this. Traditionally under the leadership of the black parties, the responsible ministry bowed to pressure from the agricultural industry and farmers’ association instead of strengthening the interests of small businesses and making agriculture fit for the future.
The opportunity for change offers – at least in theory – the CAP, the EU’s common agricultural policy. In return, however, with the upcoming reform, subsidies may no longer be given preference to the farms with the largest area according to the watering can principle. Rather, they have to be linked to conditions such as ecological management and animal welfare. A rethink in the direction of ecological agriculture is urgently necessary for the climate goals as well as for the protection of water and soil as well as animal welfare – Greenpeace is committed to this.
A contribution from GREENPEACE
Photographer: John Lambeth