27 September 2011
The German equivalent of the USDA is the BMELV: Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Consumer Protection. While agriculture was obviously the main focus of my study in Germany, it was fascinating to learn how much of a role consumer protection plays in the daily functioning of the BMELV -- particularly in regard to the internet. The BMELV serves as the entity that monitors the impact of the internet and questions on privacy. Despite the technological advancements of Germany and its industries, the German people are rather wary of the impact of the internet. During our time in Germany, we heard over and over that people were suspicious of social media. VERY few businesses and individuals (that we met) were embracing social media. Thus, the BMELV has come to the forefront as a monitoring agency for the security of German citizens in the age of the internet, thanks to its role as the consumer protection entity.
At the BMELV office in Berlin, we met with Birgit Risch, who shared with us the organization structure of the BMELV and its functions. The headquarters for this agency remains in Bonn, the old West German capitol. The Federal Minister who leads the department is Ilse Aigner, who recently was in Washington DC for meetings with the USDA. From Frau Risch, we learned that about 5% of arable land and 5% of German farm products are organic. 2/3 of Germany is considered rural, but 70% of its people live in cities. In 1950, the average German farmer fed 10 people; today that number is 150 people! Half of all German land is managed or controlled by farmers, and 94% of German farms are family owned. (Despite the fact that some Europeans view American agriculture as "industrial & corporate", 98% of American farms are family-owned . . . a higher number than in Germany!) Unfortunately, German farmland continues to decrease, an issue that America shares.
The Food Policy for the BMELV focuses on such themes as awareness, quality, research, and prevention. The Agriculture Policy deals with farming, markets & trade, forestry/hunting, fishing, and rural development. Consumer Policy handles food safety and consumer protection, including social security for German farmers (which is 67% of the total budget for BMELV!) Imagine if the USDA handled social security for American farmers! This was a very educational meeting for all of us, and served to provide us important background for our visits to the countryside!