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Green Week in Berlin

Sabine Kinkartz / rg, hgJanuary 17, 2014

As the world’s largest fair for agricultural products and horticulture gets underway in Berlin, German farmers are putting on a show of confidence - despite the many recent food scandals.

Plate full of vegetables
Image: Getty Images

Kangaroo steak, African fruit beer and a desert made of dates from the Saudi Arabian desert: When everyone in Berlin talks about nothing but food, then you know the Green Week is underway. It has a long history: The first fair took place in 1926 and was a local commodity market and a culinary attraction for local consumers. Since then the Green Week has come a long way.

"It is a big agriculture show and hosts the biggest international meeting of agriculture politicians, it offers a unique experience and it is a huge media event, with 5.000 journalists from 70 countries reporting on the fair," said Green Week organizer Christian Göke. With 1,650 exhibitors from 70 countries the fair is booked out.

Some 400,000 visitors from around the world are expected, including 100,000 industry experts and 70 agriculture ministers. They see the fair as an opportunity to discuss political strategies, said Joachim Rukwied, president of the German Farmers' Association.

Food damples handed out to visitors of the fair
The Green Week offers a culinary trip around the worldImage: imago/Schöning

Food security in focus

"How can we ensure food security for a global population? How can we combine that task with climate protection and sustainability?" those are the questions Rukwied sees at the center of the political discussions this year, as well as establishing a framework for fair trade in today's globalized agriculture market.

There are 290,000 farms in Germany, last year they generated an output worth 56 billion euros ($79 billion) - that was an increase of 0.5 percent compared to the year before. Rukwied told DW that German farmers were "cautiously upbeat" about future developments.

Livestock farmers may beg to differ. They have been severely criticized for the use of antibiotics and hormones in animal feed.

Rukwied rejected the criticism, claiming that there was no evidence of such practices in industrial livestock farming in Germany.

Hens in industrial production unit
Factory farming at its worst, but where's the way out?Image: picture alliance/Walter G. Allgöwer/JOKER

"There is no factory livestock farming, such terminology is used by campaigners who oppose modern large-scale livestock farming," he said.

He said he saw the debate as no more than a show-fight and political posturing dominated by "an ideological view of agriculture that is unrealistic and cannot be implemented, unless you want to rob farmers of their livelihood."

Animal welfare an issue

Rukwied referred to demands for an ecological livestock farming dominated by animal welfare considerations. Ahead of the Green Week, several German environmentalist groups called a large demonstration in Berlin to protest the agriculture industry.

That has upset the president of the German Farmers' Association, who called for an unemotional and pragmatic debate. "We are no longer prepared to talk to groups who are only interested in attacking the farming sector, who defame our farmers and misinform consumers," he said.

The German Environment Ministry, meanwhile, is warning of the environmental impact of industrial livestock farming, blaming it for air- and ground water pollution in Germany.

Farmer with his cow
Joachim Rukwied does some planting to impress guestsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Thomas Holzmann, head of the German environmental agency "Umweltbundesamt," which is separate from the federal Environment Ministry, blamed livestock farming for high nitrogen levels in the ground water in those regions, where livestock farms are situated.

"The bad situation in northern and western Germany is indisputably linked to the high number of livestock in those regions," Holzmann said. "It cannot be scientifically disputed that this poses a threat to the drinking water there."

Organic food too expensive?

But breeders are supported by the food industry, which has been under increasing pressure following the recent horsemeat scandal and other irregularities. According to the head of the German Food Industry Association, Christoph Minhoff, consumers want to have more detailed information about the production chain before buying food.

Horse meat
The horsemeat scandal will not be forgotten any time soonImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The majority of people, however, still went for the cheapest products, meaning that some processing procedures seemed without an alternative as higher-quality methods would cause higher costs, Minhoff argued.

"There's less financial leeway when it comes to important innovations and investments in sustainable food production," he said.

The food industry is the fourth-largest industry in Germany, logging an annual turnover of 175 billion euros and employing more than half a million people. Food prices are expected to rise by some 4 percent in the current year.