At the end of June, nearly 20 people from Germany, Austria and Slovakia spent a week together to discuss the Common Agricultural Policy. The topics covered varied widely, starting at the definition of the term ‘agriculture’ itself, a visit to an organic agriculture university, and ending with a statement of the group.
From Sunday we began our seminar with ice-breaker games, and group building activities. First we all had to have a imagination of what we were talking about – so everbody presented their own understanding of the term agriculture, concluding that there were no two people who had the same associations. Alone, the words for agriculture in different languages suggested different kinds of pictures in everyones’ mind, without matching exactly the same.
With an introduction to agricultural politics by an assistant of German MEP, Ska Keller, we could start with the main topics which needed to be discussed. One main problem of the current EU politics are the subsidies that are only given to (of course) European farmers, mostly favoring non-organic, animal-unfriendly large scale farms, giving them the possibility to throw their food rubbish that is not eaten in the EU, to non-EU countries, destroying their markets. This is the reason for our requests for local, organic and small-scale agriculture.
On Wednesday, we visited Witzenhausen, where an off-campus site of Kasseler University is based. It is home to Germany’s only study course for organic agriculture. Attracting huge numbers of students, it is nowadays a paradise for young greens, with a number of wholefood shops and organic farms.
On Thursday we learned about the biological side of agriculture and agricultural policy, including the links between climate change and agriculture. Agriculture increases the problems of climate change, and climate change can harm agriculture. In a few decades a lot of soil will be lost because of drought. In the afternoon we took part in a game created by one of the organisors, Karl Bär, showing us the consequences of the loss of biodiversity. After that he also gave a lecture on biodiversity loss in agriculture.
We visited a small-scale organic farm, run by a Member of the European Parlament, Martin Häußling, to make it clear for us, that the kind of agriculture we are advocating is possible, and not a hippie-fiction.
However, we have to notice that our behaviour as consumers needs to change. We cannot wait for politicians to act. In Germany, people spend only 13% of their income on food, expecting it to be as cheap as possible. In other industrialized countries it is the same. Meat consumption in particular is a serious problem: calories are wasted in the food chain. There is a paradox that the people who want food to be as cheap as possible, throw away the most food. In the EU, 30% of food never gets eaten, in the USA this figure rises to 40%. We have to pay attention to what we eat. It is not longer bearable to have thousands of kilometers between consumers and producers for everyday vegetables, or to have fertilizers and genetically modified food destroying our soil. We cannot have enormous “farms” torturing animals and giant companies ejecting whole villages in land grabs. In 2013, European agricultural policy will be reformed again – let’s do everything feasible to change it in a way we want.