Promotional opportunity passes by

Everyone with an interest in food – be they farmers, processors, retailers or consumers – should visit Berlin Green Week at least once in their lives.

The sheer size of the thing is simply mind-boggling.

From the opening ceremony at Berlin’s International Congress Centre, attended by well over 5000 guests, to the food halls spread over a 140,000sq m site, everything is conducted on a grandiose scale.

During 10 days in January, some 450,000 people will wander the stands, sampling new products, looking for new business and generally soaking up the atmosphere as town meets country in the German capital.

Green Week has its origins in the 1920s, as a farmers’ market attached to the German farm union’s annual winter conference.

Its name comes from the green coats the farmers wore as they set up shop on the streets outside.

The event has survived outbreaks of foot-and-mouth in the 1930s, the Second World War in the 1940s and the subsequent partitioning of the city in the 1950s.

It was the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 that was the catalyst for Green Week to become truly international, as many local exhibitors found themselves cut off by miles of wire and concrete.

Since reunification in 1989, Berlin Green Week has gone from strength to strength, adding a livestock show, a machinery show and a renewable energy exhibition to the traditional food fair.

There is also a pet centre, a health centre and a diverse range of cultural activities.

The whole event highlights the huge affinity that exists in Germany between city dwellers and their country cousins.

But there is also an active political backdrop, with numerous forums, seminars and conferences providing a platform for pronouncements on EU and government policy.

Indeed it was debatable whether the loudest ovation at this year’s opening ceremony was given to EU farm commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel for her attack on the UK’s free trade “vision”, or to new farm minister Horst Seehofer for his pointed dig at his Green predecessor Renate Knast.

Mr Seehofer also wound up the crowd with a hostile attack on Brussels’ red tape and a call for Germany to become more self-sufficient in food.

“My job is to defend the interests of farmers at national level and international level, and I make no apologies for that,” he said, to rapturous applause.

For a man with over 20 years’ experience in the medical sector and just three months in agriculture, it was a remarkable display.

The passion of his performance, and Green Week in general, were really quite invigorating.

The biggest disappointment, therefore, was the almost total lack of a British presence in Berlin.

At the official level there was nothing.

No national stand like the Koreans, the Finns, the Italians and the Austrians, to name but a few, managed.

No government ministers like the Poles, the French, the Canadians, the Ukrainians and many others mustered.

At the commercial level, British food producers were also noticeable by their almost total absence.

What a missed opportunity! With their fantastic array of quality produce, British companies have plenty to be proud of.

And Green Week, with its abundance of wholesalers, importers, retailers and consumers, provides the perfect venue for seeking out new business in Europe.

Food company bosses and their representative bodies will no doubt defend themselves by saying they do not have the budget for such far-off promotion.

The answer to that must be “make the budget available”.

Instead of complaining about the rising tide of imports and the mounting food trade deficit, British food producers should be out there, showing the world what we have to offer.