A few months have passed since the presentation of the coalition agreement. The new federal government is in office, the ministries have been reorganized and the course for the new legislative period is set. Still, decisions have to be made as to which policy fields from the coalition agreement will be treated with priority in the legislature. In the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA), the focus clearly lays on agricultural policy.
A focus on food?
At first glance, the coalition agreement seems to have taken up some ambitious topics regarding food policy. The ban on the advertisement of products heavy in sugar, salt and fat for children under the age of 14, planned for 2023, has already been taken up extensively in the media. This is noteworthy, as the previous government could not bring itself to similar legislation. Moreover, planned programmes to increase the consumption of organic foods in public institutions or the further development of an EU-wide “Nutriscore” (depicting the health value of food products) seem to convey a prioritisation of food policy – at least apparently.
While these issues may be of special interest to the media and the public, as they directly affect all citizens, a closer look reveals a picture that puts the focus on agricultural rather than food policy. The coalition agreement underscores this analysis: in the according chapter – which is appropriately called “Agriculture and Food”, contrary to the conventional word order – there are two sections on food, but seven dealing with agriculture. Namely: 230 words for food policy, just under 1200 for agriculture.
What is the reason for this clear weighting? The answer is found in climate and environmental protection: the German government, and above all The Greens, see considerable potential for such protection in the agricultural industry. In their view, that must be exploited: be it regarding livestock, the transport of agricultural products or pesticide consumption. The federal government has set itself many goals in this policy field.
A strategic alliance?
In addition, there are various overlaps between traditional agricultural policy and environmental and climate policy. Naturally, many climate protection projects also have a direct impact on agriculture. Therefore, there will be a great need for coordination between the MOFA and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (MOECP) throughout the entire legislative period. Fittingly,
the two ministers, Cem Özdemir (MOFA) and Steffi Lemke (MOECP), have announced a “strategic alliance” for their ministries on these issues.
This is a stark contrast to the last legislative period, in which Minister for Food and Agriculture Julia Klöckner (CDU) and Minister for the Environment Svenja Schulze (SPD) were involved in regular disputes. In contrast, the work of the two ministries led by The Greens is to be explicitly characterised by partnership, supplemented by regular coordination with Dr Robert Habeck as Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Protection. Thereby, a coordinated “green” position is to be brought about in these thematic areas. In parliament, the work of the MOFA is accompanied, among others, by the green responsible policy spokesperson of the parliamentary group, Renate Künast, who priorly served as Minister of Food and Agriculture. This attitude of partnership was reiterated by Lemke at the 2022 Agricultural Conference in January, which, although centring around agriculture, was organised by the MOECP.
To summarize: agriculture is the focus of the MOFA because the environment and climate are the focus of the entire federal government. Food is to follow as the third step; the coalition agreement sees “sustainable agriculture” as the “basis of a healthy diet”.
Next, the MOECP is to be involved in the work of the MOFA. One example is the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the EU, which regulates essential areas of agricultural policy in Germany and supports farmers with more than 30 billion euros from 2023 to 2027. The architecture of the plan is to be evaluated by the MOFA in 2024, but minister Özdemir is already planning to involve the MOECP in the evaluation. Too, the abolition of glyphosate planned for 2023 or the specification of non-productive areas for the establishment of flowered strips and hedges are further examples of topics that are by the MOFA and yet have environmental policy relevance.
What other agricultural policy issues are on the federal government’s agenda?
In addition to the topics already mentioned, the Federal Government has plans for various other agricultural policy projects. For instance, the possibility of prohibiting the sale of agricultural products below their production value is to be examined in order to support farmers. Also, when converting their farms in favour of more animal welfare, farmers are to be supported by the federal government both administratively and financially. By 2030, 30% of the land in Germany is to be farmed organically, and more alternatives to synthetic chemical pesticides are to be strengthened. Furthermore, digital instruments are also to be used to enable tailored plant protection and thus promote biodiversity.
In terms of personnel, too, the ministry is equipped to legislate in the agricultural sector. With Secretary of State Silvia Bender, Minister Özdemir has brought an agricultural scientist into the ministry, who, in addition to working in the ministries of agriculture in Rhineland-Palatinate and Brandenburg, has also been the head of the biodiversity department at BUND, a major NGO in the field of nature conservation. Dr. Ophelia Nick (The Greens), an expert on animal husbandry, can support the agricultural transition as Parliamentary Secretary of State, especially with regard to livestock farming. The leadership team is completed by the Parliamentary Secretary of State Dr. Manuela Rottmann (The Greens) as an expert in law policy who will shape the various changes in soil, water and building law that will be required by the Ministry’s plans.
In conclusion, many agricultural issues will be on the table in this legislature; there is a clear need for technical expertise by the concerned industries: various agricultural policy issues are so complex that the consequences of policy decisions cannot be fully grasped by stakeholders in parliament and government. There will therefore be ample opportunity for political advocacy and the placement of good arguments.
Finally, food policy issues will be dealt with primarily at a technical level. Public policy experts on these issues should therefore promptly introduce themselves to the relevant contacts and introduce their topics and arguments to build sustainable contacts for the entire legislative period.