Berlin is hosting one of the biggest agricultural fairs in the world: Green Week 2002. Discussions and exhibits reflect changes in agricultural policy and a greater focus on consumer interests this year.
European farmers have changed the way they raise animals since BSE and Foot and Mouth Disease struck
Many Berliners have the annual agricultural fair Green Week marked in their calendars. Rumor has it that some of them don't eat for days before they visit the event. They know that they'll be able to sample farm products on an "all-you-can-eat-basis" at the fair.
This year, more exhibitors than ever are displaying everything from fruits and vegetables to meat, poultry and exotic specialties.
Two thirds of the 1,614 exhibitors are from Germany. The others have made the trip to Berlin from 56 different countries. Traditional farming countries like Britain, the Netherlands and the USA are represented at this year's Green Week, as are more exotic countries like Vietnam, Kenya, Latvia and Peru.
The Green Week concept is to address consumer directly. The fair wants to provide a forum for direct dialogue between producers and consumers.
Changes in agricultural policy will be at the heart of many discussions and meetings on the sidelines of the fair.
Europe's farmers still haven't gotten over the food scandals that rocked the continent last year. They were hard hit by the effects of BSE and Foot and Mouth disease.
Consequently, many a national government - included the German one - introduced drastic changes in agricultural policy. Farmers were urged to turn away from cheap mass production and towards sustainable farming methods.
At Green Week 2002, Germany's Agriculture Ministry therefore presents appropriate forms of animal husbandry for different types of livestock and plant cultivation methods that protect the environment. It also examines how farmers can link both of these concepts to promote an economy based on recycling.
New EU member countries
Another central topic at this year's Green Week is the impact of EU expansion. Countries like Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are due to join the European Union within the next couple of years.
In these candidate countries, farming still plays a much bigger role than in Western Europe's highly industrialized nations. When they join the EU, their agricultural products will flood the common European market and have an effect on the farming communities in all other EU countries.
Once it has expanded eastward, the European Union will no longer be able to subsidize the agricultural sector in all of its member countries the way it does now. The EU currently spends 28 percent of its budget on stabilizing the farming sector in its member countries.
At the opening of Green Week 2002, Germany's Agriculture Minister Renate Künast on Thursday addressed this issue. She said in the light of EU expansion, German farmers would only succeed if their products were top quality.