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Explained: Why Germany is in a bitter row over meat

A meaty debate over the price of groceries is raging in Germany amid protests by farmers. What’s going on?

Explained: Why Germany is in a bitter row over meat
Should there be cheap offers on food? Photo: DPA

What's the problem?

Supermarkets regularly try to tempt customers with cheap offers. But this is fuelling anger among farmers who say they are already struggling to make ends meet in the face of new climate protection regulations. 

Now German ministers want to find a solution to help farmers.

Food and Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) said it was like “David and Goliath when farmers negotiate with retailers”.

On Monday Chancellor Angela Merkel met with representatives of the retail and food industry to discuss cheap offers on food in Germany, as well as other topics concerning producers and consumers.

The table below shows how much Germans spend on groceries compared to other countries.

Compared to other European countries, Germans spend a small percentage of their income on groceries. Graph prepared for The Local by Statista. Photo: DPA

Why are farmers protesting?

Over the past months, farmers across Germany have been causing huge disruption by getting on their tractors and travelling into city centres.

They're protesting government plans for new environmental protection regulations as well as pricing policies at German supermarkets that see the price of meat and other groceries heavily reduced.

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Farmers' President Joachim Rukwied recently told the newspaper Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung that food should not be sold at bargain prices.

“The retail sector must also do its part to make it clear to consumers that higher standards in the stable or on the field require a higher price,” he said. However, advertising low prices in supermarkets has the opposite effect.

“In order to put an end to unfair trading conditions, we will also take regulatory action,” Food Minister Klöckner said on Sunday without going into detail on what the government plans to do.

Klöckner warned that consumers “get used to” low prices, and that results in farmers at the bottom of the chain suffering. They face lower profits even if they have to supply food at higher standards.

To break it down: out of one euro that consumers pay for food, an average of just under 21 cents reaches the producer, according to data for 2018 from the federally owned Thünen Institute. Twenty years ago it was more than 25 cents. For fair prices, trade also needs to be ethical, Klöckner said.

On average a person in Germany eats about 60 kg of meat per year.

A few weeks ago Klöckner told German daily the Tagesspiegel that “chicken legs for 20 cents per 100 grams” was “obscene”. She asked how a farmer could live on these profits and maintain the highest animal welfare standards.

Photo: DPA

How expensive is food in Germany?

Germany's food prices are around two percentage points above the average of the other EU states, according to reports.

Lionel Souque, boss of supermarket Rewe, pointed out that there needed to be price reductions to help people on low incomes.

“In Germany around 13 million people live in poverty or on the poverty line,” he said. “Cheap food prices enable these people to eat healthy and safe food.”

He said the retail sector wanted to ensure this continued.

Why do supermarkets rely on promotions with low prices?

Despite all the debates, it is clear that many customers love bargains. For almost two thirds (65 percent) of Germans, special offers are important when shopping, the market research company Nielsen found in its study “Consumers 2019”.

In the face of tough competition, retailers feel they have to offer good discounts. 

Just a few months ago, discount supermarket Lidl found out how sensitive many consumers are to price. The supermarket only wanted to sell bananas with the Fairtrade seal, which should cost 10 to 20 cents per kilo more. But consumers did not play along and instead bought bananas from the competition. In the end Lidl reversed the move.

QUIZ: How well do you know German food culture

What do consumer groups and politicians think about it?

The Association of Consumer Advice Centres says there needs to be a fair negotiation for producers.

The head of the association, Klaus Müller, told DPA: “Price pressure from the trade at the expense of animal welfare and environmental standards is not in the interest of consumers.”

Many customers would like to see high standards of animal welfare, for example, and would be prepared to pay more for this. “At present, however, they are unable to recognize the quality of a product, let alone its price,” he said.

Müller said better conditions and labelling systems for food was needed.

Lower Saxony premier, Stephan Weil, of the Social Democrats, took the side of the farmers in the discussion.

“Lots of foodstuff in Germany is surprisingly cheap compared to neighbouring countries,” he told the Funke Media Group on Sunday.

With the increasing demands on farmers, the prices for food in supermarkets would also have to rise, he said.

Meanwhile, German Retail Association (HDE) President Josef Sanktjohanser slammed the government, saying politicians were “crossing a red line” for trying to dictate prices.

Vocabulary

Meat – (das) Fleisch

Customers – (die) Kunden

Bargain – (das) Schnäppchen

Cheap offer – (das) Billigangebot

Animal welfare – (das) Tierwohl

Consumer advice centre (die) Verbraucherzentrale

We're aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

Member comments

  1. There is nothing any citizen or group of citizens can do to change things in Germany. Maybe you don’t realize that you live under a socialist government. Whatever the government decides to do it will do. As has been said before, you can vote yourself into socialism/communism but you have to shoot yourself out. All of you people in the EU have been disarmed. You are at the mercy of the government. America will never become socialist because we, the people are armed and have to ability to resist a tyrannical government. That is why the democrats are trying so hard to do away with the second amendment and the whole American Constitution. It will not happen. The American people will rise up and defend themselves and their rights.

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FOOD & DRINK

Five of France’s new Michelin foodie hotspots

As Michelin publishes its 2022 guide, here are five of the most exciting new entries into the hallowed 'bible' of French gastronomy.

Five of France's new Michelin foodie hotspots

Here are five must-visit venues of gastronomic delight for food lovers.

READ ALSO New Michelin guide celebrates ‘resilient’ French cuisine

Plénitude – Paris

It’s only been open seven months, but the Paris restaurant – on the first floor of Cheval Blanc Paris – now has three stars, awarded to chef Arnaud Donckele in Cognac on Tuesday. Picking up three stars all at once is almost unheard of – only Yannick Alléno achieved the same feat in 2015 with the Pavillon Ledoyen in the 8th arrondissement.

Broths, vinaigrettes, creams, veloutés, juices are at the heart of the cuisine at Plénitude. A seasonal six-course Symphony Menu costs €395, while the Sail Away Together menu of three savoury dishes and one sweet is €320.

La Villa Madie – Cassis, Bouches-du-Rhône

Another new three-star venue listed in this year’s guide came as something of a surprise, by all accounts. Dimitri and Marielle Droisneau’s restaurant in the south of France overlooks the Mediterranean.

“We took this house nine years ago. We had a baby, we have a second one now. We live in the villa. We work in a paradise,” chef Dimitri said at the ceremony in Cognac.

The cuisine follows the seasons, and uses carefully selected local produce. As such, the menu changes daily according to what’s available. The Menu Anse de Corton – a starter, a fish course, a meat course, and a sweet treat – costs €130, while the six-course Menu Espasado “Cap Canaille” is €180.

Plaza Athénée – Paris

Top Chef series three winner Jean Imbert was one of a number of former contestants on the show to win a star for his restaurant in the palace le Plaza Athénée – with the jury praising his “impressive revival of the greatest classics of French gastronomy”.

Guillaume Pape – a finalist in series 10, also picked up his first star for  L’Ebrum, in Brest; as did series nine finalist Victor Mercier, for FIEF in the ninth arrondissement, honoured for producing “empowering cuisine, made exclusively using French produce”. Mercier was also named Young Chef of the Year.

The self-titled Menu de Jean at Plaza Athénée costs €296

Villa La Coste – Bouches-du-Rhône

Continuing the Top Chef theme, judge Hélène Darroze – who already runs the three-star Hélène Darroze at The Connaught in London – was awarded a star for her restaurant in the south of France, as was fellow-judge Philippe Etchebest for his latest venture in Bordeaux.

Local vegetables and fruit are the stars of the dining show at Villa La Coste, with meat and fish playing an accompanying role. A three-course lunch menu is €75, while a full dinner menu is €155.

Domaine Riberach: La Coopérative – Bélesta, Ariège 

One of six new restaurants to be awarded a Green Star for its seasonal food and it’s determined approach to ‘sustainable gastronomy’. This year’s six Green Star winners join 81 establishments which received the award last year in France.

“Slow food” is the order of the day, with menus created based – as is often the case – on the seasons, the market and chef Julien Montassié’s instinct. The chief rule is that food must be local – “0 km is our motto”, boasts the website.

The six-course Menu Latitude is €85 without wine. A three-course Menu Km0 is €49 – and a children’s two-course menu is €18.

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