“We have to fundamentally change the food system”

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Of: Andrew Schmid

Pull apart

Renate Künast (Greens) calls for a VAT reduction on vegetables, fruits and legumes and talks about the world hunger situation. “We promote overexploitation” © Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa (Montage)

In an interview, Renate Künast talks about global hunger and the “consequences of our diet”. VAT on vegetables and fruit should “lower”.

Munich – The world’s population is starving more and more. According to the United Nations, at least 1.6 billion people are currently suffering from a complex crisis of war, coronavirus and climate change. According to the policy of the Green Party Renate Künast, this is also due to an “absurd” global food system promoted by the West. “We promote overexploitation,” says the former federal minister of agriculture (2001 to 2005) in an interview Merkur.de by IPPEN.MEDIA.

At the same time, Künast speaks of the “consequences of our own diet” and calls for “fundamental changes to our entire food system.” This is also right with political decisions: “lower VAT on vegetables, fruits and legumes.”

Mrs. Künast, with regard to grain export problems, you recently said that one has to ask whether the world food system is not out of balance. How do you answer this question?

Of course, it is in a tilted position. The Ukraine war has shown relentlessly that we need to talk about the connections between the global supply situation. Countries in East Africa, where chickpeas used to be grown, for example, now depend on the wheat harvest in the Ukraine and Russia. It’s downright absurd. And then there are other problems at the same time.

Which one specifically?

The climate crisis has been a reality for a long time, we are right in the middle of it. We also use some regions for our nutrition. For having strawberries or tulips in stores all year round. We live in an unfair international division of labour: we have paid very little attention to the effects of the climate crisis and our way of doing business in other regions. We have not helped countries to set up their own agriculture, but we have encouraged the over-exploitation of people and nature. But the war in Ukraine also shows us bluntly the consequences of our own diet.

Which way?

Most of the fruits and vegetables in our supermarkets are imported, for example, from Spain. At the same time, 60 percent of the grain we grow is fed to animals to produce meat and milk. Additional animal feed is imported from Argentina or southern Brazil, for example. Also, with all the excess, we throw away about a third of all the food. That is wrong. We also need a crop production strategy for animal nutrition, but we have to ask ourselves how many animals we want to keep. Especially when we want to use space efficiently. Because the competition for space will continue to intensify in the coming years. And we can’t afford to let people starve. Our individual health also depends on food production.

Renate Künast: “We have to radically change our entire food system”

You recently said, “Right now we are producing and consuming a lot of the wrong things.” What are we doing wrong exactly?

More than 50 percent of older men are overweight. Mandatory health insurance companies spend tens of billions on nutrition-related illnesses. Something is wrong. Nutritionally, meat consumption needs to go down, especially red meat. Because he is not healthy, which can be seen, for example, with the risk of colon cancer. We also consume too many highly processed foods that contain too much salt, fat, and sugar. Behind this are sugar cane monocultures and oil palm plantations. The problem: many developing countries are imitating the course of Western diet. Europe has a responsibility here. We have to fundamentally change our entire food system. If we do that, it will affect other countries.

Does that mean that the individual customer in the supermarket influences the global food situation?

It is a mistake to reduce this to the individual consumer. We have allowed a false food and agricultural industry. The problem is not the individual consumer, but the entire chain. We have oversupply in the supermarket until closing time. Consumers are encouraged to buy as much as possible. We have very little transparency in the market, for example when it comes to pesticides. So the question is much more: What is offered to consumers in the market? A decisive factor here is the out-of-home catering from the fair to the canteen. More regional and seasonal supply is needed, more vegetables.

In 2013 they called Veggie Day. Meatless day in canteens should become standard once a week. Nine years later, how do you see this idea?

A lot has happened since then. Berlin has a nutrition strategy, Bremen is also a long way off. Munich or Nuremberg also have an eye on nutrition. Andernach has long been an Edible City. Student unions are changing their canteens so that there is a lot of vegetarian or vegan food. There is a will to improve catering outside the home. Even with the cooks in the canteen.

Künast asks for a VAT reduction on vegetables and fruit: “Everything speaks in favor”

Let’s stay with the consumer: rising food prices are also causing problems in Germany. What speaks against reducing VAT on fruits and vegetables?

Any. Everything speaks for it.

So it fails due to FDP?

Let me put it this way: We still need a majority. However, as part of a comprehensive dietary change, not for acute relief.

Critics argue that the shower system doesn’t work. Since the wealthy would also benefit, the state lost significant revenue. Which in turn is necessary to support the financially weak.

A “perfect storm” is currently brewing. A variety of crises, such as the increase in greenhouse gases or the extinction of species. We must be prepared to use all the tools to improve the situation. We can change something through taxes: what has the least negative impact on the environment, produces the least amount of greenhouse gases and is also the healthiest should have the best conditions. That means: reduced VAT on vegetables, fruits and legumes. This applies to everyone in the country, of course we also have an eye on the financially weak, especially as we are launching comprehensive change through a food strategy by the federal government.

Corona, war and inflation factors are also mentioned in the “perfect storm”. Doesn’t another point have a far greater influence on the world supply situation: ever-increasing population growth?

There is enough food for everyone. It is a question of distribution. Unfortunately, we have been hungry on earth for a long time. But that is the result of the past and has nothing to do with population growth. It is due to deficits throughout the global food system. In the not too distant future, when women historians study our times, they will throw up their hands and wonder why humanity has done it all so unintelligently. Although in reality she knew how to produce more fairly and sustainably.

Interview: Andreas Schmid

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