Christa Kühn sits in the office with the most beautiful view in all of Germany. At least that's what her predecessor said. "I would certainly not contradict him there," says the newly appointed President of the Friedrich Loeffler Institute (FLI) of the German Press Agency. The windows provide a view of the Greifswalder Bodden and the wide, Western Pomeranian sky. So far, the new boss hasn't brought much decoration into the wood-panelled office. It was only at the beginning of July that the 60-year-old took over the management of the world-renowned Federal Research Institute for Animal Health and its more than 800 employees.
A picture with cows is already hanging - no coincidence. "It doesn't work without cows," says the qualified veterinarian and genetics expert. The cattle is an "incredibly fascinating animal species". With its metabolism, it can make a lot out of almost nothing, and not only that: "The temperament and disposition of the cattle is just great."
Kühn's ancestors had kept cattle for centuries. "At home, the cows kind of sat on the couch with us." For them, the animals radiated a calming effect. If you are familiar with the animals, you can lie down between them on the meadow if you are stressed. "Then there is definitely no more stress."
Focus on animal welfare
In addition to protection against infectious diseases and animal epidemics, which can also be dangerous to humans through zoonoses, the animal welfare of farm animals is a focus of the FLI. Kühn had announced before she took up her post that she wanted to provide scientific support for the transformation of animal husbandry.
From their point of view, it is problematic if animals can no longer reproduce because of their breeding or if their beaks have to be shortened for housing purposes. She speaks of conflicting goals. Do you want to better protect animals from epidemics or allow them to exercise?
It is clear to Kühn that sustainable agriculture is only possible with animals. "In general, we can only consume about 25 percent of what grows on the field ourselves," says Kühn, citing a corresponding study. The rest is wasted biomass unless fed to animals. You can't afford that, even with a view to food security. The aim must be a material cycle. At the same time, animals have to be fed in such a way that they don't eat up what humans can easily consume.
Not necessarily idyllic
According to Kühn, animal husbandry of the future is not necessarily about small-scale farming idyll à la "Bullerbü". Certain technologies are even easier to implement in larger companies. At the same time, Kühn speaks of a return, for example when it comes to relying more on different, regionally adapted breeds. She advocates combining more original concepts with today's technology and knowledge.
Kühn is the first woman to head the FLI in the institute's 111-year history. She comes from Melle in Lower Saxony, but claims to have Western Pomeranian ancestors. Previously, she headed the Institute for Genome Biology at the Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology (FBN) in Dummerstorf near Rostock. Kühn is also Professor of Genetics of Disease Resistance at the University of Rostock. Her predecessor, Thomas Mettenleiter, retired after 27 years as FLI President.
Steffen Maak, head of the Institute for Muscle Biology and Growth at the FBN, has known Kühn for more than twenty years and praises her as an outstanding scientist. He emphasizes her "determination and reliability, willingness to discuss, a very good talent for organization and coordination as well as uncompromising attitude to the observance of the principles of good scientific practice".
As for his own motivation to expose himself to significantly more political work and administration in the future, Kühn says: "Now it's somehow my turn." She wants to pass on what she has learned scientifically, also outside of science for the benefit of the general public.