Food: Good for the climate, bad for farmers - meat exports are falling

Also due to African swine fever, producers from Germany exported significantly less meat abroad last year.

Food: Good for the climate, bad for farmers - meat exports are falling

Also due to African swine fever, producers from Germany exported significantly less meat abroad last year. Compared to 2021, exports have shrunk by 6.9 percent, as reported by the Federal Statistical Office. It also confirmed earlier information on the fall in domestic production, which at 7.0 million tons was a good 8 percent below the value from 2021.

The declining production is likely to have something to do with the above-average increase in prices (plus 14.5 percent in 2022) as well as the Germans’ decreasing appetite for meat. Consumers have been consuming less and less meat for years. According to figures from the Federal Agency for Agriculture and Food, per capita consumption was 55 kilograms per year in 2021. That was 12.4 percent less than in 2011.

These figures are good news for the climate. "Less meat production is good for the climate, good for the environment and good for the animals that are systematically made ill in industrial factory farming," said Annemarie Botzki from the consumer organization Foodwatch. "Livestock farming causes enormous damage to the climate and the environment."

Clearing for forage production

On the one hand, this is due to the animal husbandry itself, but also to the production of feed, for which large areas of forest are often cleared. According to a 2021 study in the journal Nature Sustainability, the area under soybean cultivation in the Brazilian Amazon has increased more than tenfold since 2000, from 4,000 to 46,000 square kilometers. Much of the soy imported from outside the EU is used to make livestock feed.

The environmental protection organization Greenpeace gives a positive assessment of the fact that the quantities of meat imported into Germany also fell last year - by 4.5 percent compared to the previous year, as the Federal Statistical Office further announced. "Otherwise there would only be displacement effects," said Greenpeace agricultural expert Christiane Huxdorff. Meat would only be produced abroad instead of in Germany, "which would not really help the climate".

But from the point of view of the industry, imports of some products are still going up - especially so-called parts, i.e. certain parts of the animal that are particularly popular in Germany. There is an undersupply in this country, says Steffen Reiter, managing director of the meat export association German Meat. Partial imports have already increased for some products.

From his point of view, the drop in production has less to do with the dwindling meat consumption of Germans than with the political framework conditions for farmers. Farms stopped production because of the uncertainty about the framework conditions," he says.

Greenpeace also recognizes the problem. Farmers "should be better supported when converting and reducing their stocks," says expert Huxdorff.

Chinese market shrunk

In the meantime, Reiter from the German Meat Association is calling on the federal government to support the import of German meat products into China. In 2017, China accounted for almost a tenth of meat exports. In 2022, the Chinese share was only 0.1 percent. "Other European countries have expanded their production in the same period and have also been able to stabilize their foreign trade," said the Secretary General of the German Farmers' Association, Bernhard Krüsken, on request.

Since 2017, the amount of exported pork, which still accounts for a good half of meat exports, has fallen by more than a fifth (20.4 percent). German beef was also less in demand abroad, down 11.4 percent. The volume of exported poultry meat, however, remained relatively constant. Imports fell by 15.9 percent over the same period. Here, too, significantly less pork was in demand.