11 January 2001
German farming to go natural

By FWi staff

NEW German agriculture minister Renate Künast is to oversee fundamental reform, bringing the consumer to the fore and taking farming back to nature.

The Green Party co-leaders new ministry combines agricultural responsibilities and consumer protection departments taken from other ministries.

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder gave Ms Künast a powerful endorsement to make major changes to calm the near-hysteria over BSE.

He said the BSE crisis demanded consumer protection, improved food safety and “natural environmental-friendly farming” being given priority.

The farming lobby must accept that their influence will wane, said Mr Schröder.

Pointedly, in her first ministerial press conference Ms Künast repeatedly referred to the “ministry for consumer safety” rather than the “ministry of agriculture”.

Ms Künast grew up in the old West Berlin on the student protest scene, and has no experience of agriculture.

The Guardian describes her as “a lean-faced city-dweller with a punk-style haircut and a passion for rollerblading”.

The Financial Times says the appointment could herald a conflict with Germanys farming lobby, and possibly with European partners.

But it adds that the division of responsibilities between federal government and the regional Lander administrations may limit her influence.

Previous farm minister Karl-Heinz Funke, himself a farmer, resigned over his handling of the BSE crisis.

Germany had claimed to be BSE-free, but 10 cases have been discovered since testing started last autumn sending beef sales plummeting.