Falling Meat Prices: The Uncertain Future of Schnitzel


Status: 01/13/2022 6:00 a.m.

The demand for pork is falling, the prices are low. How should farmers improve their animal husbandry in this situation? Will Agriculture Minister Özdemir support the pig farmers?

The breaded pork schnitzel has long been a classic in German food culture. But the image of the industry has suffered due to animal protection scandals, environmental problems and the climate crisis. The demand for pork fell steadily.

Farmers are also struggling with the spread of African swine fever with low pig prices because sales markets in Asia have collapsed. According to the Federal Statistical Office, the number of pig farms has fallen by around 40 percent over the past ten years.

“Situation only produces losers”

The new Federal Minister of Agriculture, Cem Özdemir (Alliance 90 / The Greens), describes the situation as gloomy. The current situation only produces losers, he told im ARD magazine Panorama – with the farmers, with the consumers, but above all with the animals. He wants to ensure that fewer animals are kept better and with more space.

This is exactly what scientists have been asking for for a long time. The environmental protection organization Greenpeace considers the currently lowest forms of housing – the conventional stalls customary up to now – to be “contrary to animal welfare”. But where should the money come from so that companies convert their stables – for example for an outdoor run?

Researcher calls for state animal welfare funding

The agricultural scientist and chairman of the scientific advisory board of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Achim Spiller, says that the farmers are “extremely insecure” whether they should risk investments worth millions. The expert from the University of Göttingen calls for state protection for additional animal welfare costs. “That would be the clearest way,” says Spiller. Financing could come from a new levy or a reduction in the previously reduced VAT on meat, according to the researcher, but of course also from the federal budget if a tax increase is not wanted.

Minister Özdemir promises in panorama-Interview public money and says that the funding structure must be rebuilt so that, for example, more space for animals is rewarded. How exactly, and whether he would like to abolish the reduced VAT rate on meat in order to have more money available for the required changes, the Green politician left open. As a first concrete step, he announced that he would be introducing mandatory husbandry labeling this year.

Özdemir wants higher prices for pork

At the same time, the new minister calls for people to pay more for meat. A system that ensures that there is more climate protection and more animal welfare, and at the same time ensures that the farmers earn better and that does not cost anything – that will not work, said Özdemir.

Of course, meat shouldn’t become a luxury product. But nobody is interested in prices that do not cover the farmers’ costs. And the question of social justice cannot only be solved with the Agriculture Minister, said Özdemir, there are a few other departments that have made a contribution.

Aldi conversion for fresh meat

The debate about changes in agriculture recently fueled Aldi, of all people. In the summer, the discounter surprisingly announced that by 2030 it would only offer fresh meat from animals that were kept better – from open stalls with fresh air or even from stalls with a run.

It is also true that the fresh meat from the refrigerated counter at Aldi only accounts for around 40 percent; Sausage, frozen goods and canned meat, for example, can still come from conventional stalls. Nevertheless, if this development continues, it will mean a huge upheaval for agriculture – also because other retail chains have already announced that they will be converting their meat ranges.

Like turning away from the internal combustion engine

The interest group of pig farmers in Germany (ISN) points to the enormous challenge and writes that the conversion to stables with an outside climate or exercise area has “similar significance for the pig farmers as the abandonment of the combustion engine for the automotive industry”.

“Because well over 90 percent of the pigs in Germany are kept in closed stables,” the association said. For the individual pig farmer, this means that he has to convert his pigsty with high investment costs. In the end, the decisive factor is who pays the bill, explains the ISN. The German Farmers’ Association (DBV) is also calling for extensive state financial aid.

No animal welfare surcharge for paws and tails

The desired changes are also so challenging for farmers because a premium for better husbandry is not paid for the entire pig. Fillet, schnitzel, chops and neck are particularly popular in Germany, writes the export organization of the German meat industry, German Meat. Paws, snouts and tails, on the other hand, would hardly be eaten at all here; buyers in other countries such as Asia are being sought for this. Compensation for higher production costs is only possible – if at all – within very narrow limits.

In addition, according to estimates by the Thünen Institute, people buy around two thirds of the pork they eat in stores – i.e. in supermarkets, discounters and butchers – but around a third also in restaurants, canteens or at the shooting festival. When eating away from home, however, consumers have seldom been able to see how and where the animals from which the meat originates were kept.

Farming identification and more effective controls

That is why Greenpeace calls for legally binding husbandry labeling not only for fresh meat in the supermarket, but for all meat products in retail, wholesale and catering. But the planned husbandry labeling is apparently initially only to come in retail and not in the catering trade. First of all, that applies to what can be bought in the store, to fresh and processed meat, according to Federal Minister of Agriculture Özdemir.

Greenpeace does not want to leave improvements in animal husbandry to the industry and consumers alone. The organization calls for a tightening of the animal husbandry ordinance so that the animals have significantly more space, and effective controls that make it impossible to keep animals contrary to animal welfare.

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