Feb 232019
Newsletter from FoodWatch

By Martin Rücker

When a few weeks ago it looked as if the anaesthetised castration of small piglets would finally be banned, farmer and meat lobbyists were in a furious riot. The federations used every lever to allow the cruel method, which had been practiced for years, to continue for at least another two years. Johannes Röring, for example, President of the Farmers‘ Union in Westphalia, addressed the members of the Bundestag and demanded an „extension of the deadline“. How practical that the road was not too far – after all, Mr. Röring is not only a lobbyist, but also a member of the Bundestag himself. As a part-time job, my main job – yeah, what is it?

Most people have ONE job and are filled with it. Others need two to make ends meet somehow. But Johannes Röring, one of the most influential politicians when it comes to our food, must be a real jack-of-all-trades. He sits on the Agriculture Committee of the Bundestag and is the head of an agricultural lobby association in NRW and a member of the presidium of the powerful farmers‘ association GLEICHZEITG – but not only: Altogether, the MEP lists 21 (!) functions „on the side“, believe it or not. And to crown it all, he himself is active as a farmer with a pig fattening farm. There one lobbies for the own interests – and can in the committee and in the Bundestag in own thing immediately co-decide…

It must not be the case that lobbyists in the Bundestag make their own laws.

With the piglets we have lost: The majority of the Bundestag voted in the end to allow the anaesthetised castration for another two years – a real scandal. But we must not give up our fight against the harmful influence of the agricultural and food lobby! We must disclose the interdependence between business and politics and make it an issue. I am sure that consumer, environmental or animal protection will only not get under the wheels if WE exert pressure outside the Bundestag.

How is it possible for a Member of Parliament to be precisely responsible for this area by working as an entrepreneur and lobbyist on his own account? The interdependence between business and politics is becoming to an extent that is highly problematic for our democracy! Unfortunately, it is not about individual cases! For example, Peter Bleser: For years the highest consumer protector of his parliamentary group, „alongside“ the head of the supervisory board of an agricultural trader with a turnover of billions, in 2006 „godfather“ (!) for fields with genetically modified Monsanto maize – at the end of 2017, as state secretary on behalf of the federal government, he campaigned for the continued use of the agricultural poison glyphosate, with which above all Monsanto makes profit.

Is there no shame line? There is simply no such amalgamation of interests DARF! When lobbyists in the Bundestag and the Federal Government build their own laws and decide on their own subsidies, only one thing helps: WE consumers have to hold against it!

The worst part is: In the food and agriculture sectors, there is an almost endless number of overlaps between companies, lobbying associations and politicians. It is teeming with conflicts of interest, the roles are lively changed and mixed:

Friederich-Otto-Ripke: first State Secretary in Lower Saxony, then lobbyist for the poultry industry.

Günther Tissen: for years government director in the Federal Ministry of Food, today head lobbyist of the German sugar industry.

Karl-Heinz-Funke: former Federal Minister of Agriculture, now on the board of trustees of the Wiesenhof Foundation.

Christian von Boetticher: first environment and agriculture minister in Schleswig-Holstein, today food producer and vice-chairman of the lobby association of the food industry and still head of the influential CDU economic council.

Franz-Josef Holzenkamp: for a long time „consumer policy spokesman“ of his parliamentary group in the Bundestag, now (and already alongside the mandate) head of the powerful Raiffeisenverband.

Silvia Breher: Holzenkamp’s successor in the Bundestag, first managing director of a farmers‘ lobby association, now in the Bundestag’s agricultural committee.

Gert Lindemann: first State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture (this is the Ministry that is also there for consumer protection!), then Supervisory Board Member at Nordzucker, a company that is one of the top beneficiaries of agricultural subsidies. And then, as if nothing had happened, suddenly appointed Minister of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs in Lower Saxony…

Matthias Berninger: first Secretary of State for Consumer Protection, then corporate lobbyist for Mars and co-preventor of traffic light labelling, now lobbyist for Bayer-Monsanto – allegedly because he wants to campaign for world nutrition there.

This list is by no means exhaustive. And now I ask you: How can agriculture be made more consumer and environmentally friendly, animal welfare improved, the use of pesticides reduced, the fight against food waste successfully fought when politicians sitting in the Bundestag and the Federal Government are so closely linked to the industry? When deputies and secretaries of state go through the revolving door to the lobby job? There’s only one way to counter them: We have to do it ourselves! We need to research interdependencies and make influences public. We must make it an issue when economic interests are simply served – to the detriment of all of us. With your membership you help us to strengthen the voice of consumers and to build up a counter lobby. Thank you. Thank you.

This combination of interests leads our democracy ad absurdum. The Süddeutsche Zeitung recently quoted a politician who had been approached by an agriculture minister after a critical speech: „If at some point you’re on track, we’ll take care of you too“. – „Lucrative items“ in return for line loyalty? It’s killing the barrel! There are deputies sitting with part-time jobs lobbying on their own behalf and then voting on their own interests. Associations and companies buy ex-politicians who use their wires in politics to push through economic interests. And if someone is still not on line, you can discreetly show them where to go. We can’t put up with this any longer!

Translation: DeepL