The world’s most important agriculture and food trade fair opened on Friday, amid talk of genetically altered foods, European expansion and nutrition education.
Polish hostesses promote local specialties
This week, Berlin is the showplace for the world food industry. The huge “Green Week” trade fair features nearly 1,600 exhibitors from 56 countries, all of them there to promote their own food and agricultural products.
Accompanying the schmoozing, buying and selling are conferences and talks on hot topics in the food industry. Of particular interest this year: genetically altered foods, the planned expansion of the EU, dealing with the BSE crisis, and the health of Germany’s youth.
“Frankenfoods”: not whether, but when
Renate Künast, Gerd Sonnleitner
In Germany, the question is no longer whether to allow the cultivation of genetically altered foods cultivation, but how. Starting in April, genetically modified produce, and foodstuffs containing them, will need to be labelled as such across the European Union.
German Consumer Protection Minister Renate Künast, who opened the fair on Friday, supports legislation that would allow genetically modified and non-genetically modified foods to sit side by side on German supermarket shelves -- labelled accordingly, of course.
Critics of the policy complain that Künast has bent too far to accommodate agribusiness. Künast has denied the charge. Rather, she said, the new policy would give individual consumers the freedom to decide whether or not they want to buy genetically modified foods.
A field is not a sweater
“They know for a fact that in the area of genetic technology we have a world wide cultivation area of 60 million hectares (148 million acres) – and the tendency is toward growth,” Künast told Deutsche Welle.
Dried meats at Green Week
“There is the danger that genetic technology will creep into our agriculture,” she added. “Or there is the opportunity to establish rules.”
But Felix Prinz zu Löwenstein, chairman of the Organic Growers’ Association, said he doubts that a law allowing the side-by-side practice of both genetically altered and non-genetically altered cultivation can function.
"Unfortunately, the simultaneous cultivation of genetically altered plants and non-genetically altered plants doesn’t work,” Löwenstein said. “It’s not like laying two different colored sweaters side by side. Through cross breeding of various types of plants and the mixture during food production, these two types of foods will come together.”
Fear of flooding
Another key topic at the trade fair will likely be the integration of the 10 new EU member states into the inter-European agriculture market. The countries, mostly from Eastern Europe, are set to join the EU on May 1. Some of the states, such as Poland, are agriculture heavyweights.
Cows at Green Week
Gerd Sonnleitner of the German Farmers’ Association said that German farmers fear a sudden flooding of Europe’s agriculture market.
Rather than worry, Sonnleitner put a positive spin on the issue. “I see the eastward expansion of Europe as more of an opportunity,” he said. “Poland, but also the Czech Republic and Hungary have strong economic growth that will continue over many years. That means per person income is growing, and with it the demand for high-quality foods.”
Promoting good nutrition
One of Künast’s aims is to use Green Week as a platform for promoting better nutrition among German consumers.
“In actuality, every fifth child and teenager in Germany is overweight, with the numbers on the rise,” Künast said. “That leaves children with a physical and psychological handicap. It weighs heavily on the health care system as well.” Germany’s response to this problem? “We started a campaign with the motto ‘Any child can do it: eat better, get more exercise,’” Künast said. In addition, she said, the state is offering advice to schools that are planning to offer lunch programs, as part of a much-debated expansion of all-day schooling.