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Thousands protest in Berlin against industrialized farming

Thousands of people have demonstrated in the German capital, protesting against factory farming and genetic engineering of crops. A planned free-trade agreement between the EU and the US also roused protesters' ire.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of the German capital, Berlin, on Saturday, calling on the government to change course with its farming policies and protesting against an increasing industrialization of agriculture.

Organizers said some 50,000 people attended the rally, which took place during the International Green Week, an agricultural trade fair held annually in Berlin. Police were more sober with their estimate of 25,000 participants, saying that the protest remained peaceful.

Under the motto "We are sick of agribusiness," protesters called for a worldwide right to food, legal restrictions to protect food and agriculture from genetic manipulation and a stop to the building of mega-factory farms.

TTIP under fire

Protesters, who marched from Potsdam Square to the Federal Chancellery, also demanded the rejection of the planned TTIP free-trade agreement between the European Union and the USA.

The spokesman for the alliance of more than 120 environmental, consumer and development organizations behind the protest, Jochen Fritz, said TTIP would ruin the livelihood of many farmers.

"The EU-USA trade agreement TTIP only serves global concerns, and will take away the means of existence from many farms here and across the world," he said, adding that the agreement would also jeopardize consumer standards.

The EU and US have been holding negotiations on the TTIP since July 2013. Its advocates say a free-trade zone would give an enormous boost to economies on both sides of the Atlantic, but critics in Europe fear a drop in consumer protection and food safety standards.

'Protests having effect'

Fritz also criticized agricultural policies in Germany, saying that they had forced more than three quarters of German pig farmers to give up their businesses since 2000, with large meat companies increasingly taking over livestock farming. He called for agriculture on the basis of regional markets.

In a concluding speech, the chairman of the conservation organization BUND (Friends of the Earth Germany), Hubert Weiger, said years of protest against current agricultural policy were gradually having an effect.

"Thanks to some 250 citizens' initiatives across the country, more than 100 giant stalls have not been built," he said.

tj/gsw (epd, AFP, dpa)

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