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Empty shelves and 40 percent more expensive? Manufacturers warn of the meat crisis

The meat industry in Germany warns of supply bottlenecks, especially for pork.

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Empty shelves and 40 percent more expensive? Manufacturers warn of the meat crisis

The meat industry in Germany warns of supply bottlenecks, especially for pork. "In four, five, six months we will have gaps on the shelves," predicts Hubert Kelliger, Head of Group Sales at the large butcher Westfleisch and also a member of the board of the German Meat Industry Association (VDF).

His explanation: Due to the poor general conditions, a large number of animal owners are currently giving up or reducing the number of fattening pigs. "This inevitably means that there will be fewer goods in the coming months." And that prices will rise sharply again. "It's impossible to say today whether that will be 20, 30 or 40 percent - but it will increase significantly again."

The industry sees the responsibility primarily as being in the hands of politics. "The current federal government would like to abolish animal husbandry and switch the diet in Germany to vegetables and oatmeal," says Kelliger, alluding to statements by Federal Minister of Agriculture Cem Özdemir (Greens). According to his idea, animal husbandry in this country should be reduced by 50 percent in order to advance topics such as animal welfare and climate protection.

This means that the animal owners lack the necessary support and, above all, the perspective. Especially since there is no progress with building rights for new and improved stables. "Party programs are being processed in a blunt manner," criticizes Kelliger. The social reality is completely different.

The meat industry does not dispute that a vegetarian or vegan diet has become more popular in recent years. "But it's also a fact that over 90 percent of people in Germany still buy and eat meat," says Kelliger, referring to receipt analyzes by GfK consumer researchers.

Domestic production is correspondingly important. But Germany is currently moving in the completely different direction. And Kelliger considers that to be dangerous – because new dependencies arise.

"We are now at a point where we can calculate when we will no longer be able to supply ourselves with meat." But Germany is making the same mistakes as with the energy supply.

And in fact, an increasing proportion of meat and sausages now comes from abroad. "Germany is now the largest meat importer in Europe," says Gereon Schulze-Althoff, VDF board member and senior sustainability and quality manager at the slaughterhouse Tönnies.

He therefore sees the industry at a tipping point: "There is a great danger that we will rush straight into a food crisis parallel to the energy crisis." In view of the current geopolitical situation, politicians should actually understand how important the topic of self-sufficiency is. “Nevertheless, we carelessly give up our market position when it comes to meat and meat products,” criticizes Schulze-Althoff.

He considers the animal welfare and climate protection justification of Agriculture Minister Özdemir to be completely wrong. “These are ideological concepts from the past. The present and the future look very different.”

The conditions in Germany have long since improved significantly, says Schulz-Althoff, referring to figures from the Federal Environment Agency, according to which agriculture emitted two percent fewer greenhouse gases in 2021 and was ultimately even the biggest national climate improver.

Other experts have also calculated that Germany is one of the most efficient production locations for animal products in the world. "The consequence of a further reduction in animal stocks in Germany is the relocation of meat production to places with less climate protection," says Schulze-Althoff. But that would help the climate significantly less.

At the same time, the manager points out the necessary circular economy in the agricultural sector. "You need fertilizer to grow vegetables in Germany."

And there are two options for this: on the one hand artificial fertilizer, which is produced on the basis of gas and oil and was recently scarce and expensive - and on the other hand natural fertilizer from animal husbandry.

"But if manure and liquid manure are missing, agriculture based on fossil fuels will emerge in Germany," explains Schulze-Althoff. No meat, no vegetables: this is the equation of the meat industry.

Foreign providers are already positioning themselves. "The European market participants look in disbelief at the goals of German agricultural policy," says the industry. In Spain, for example, pig production has long been noticeably expanded, partly with state support for piglet breeders.

And the industry is also supported by the respective governments in some other countries, reports the meat industry association. Especially since the competition considers the recent weakness in demand in this country to be temporary.

Just like the VDF. "Consumers keep an eye on their money," says industry representative Kelliger, explaining the decline of at least ten percent, or the equivalent of 80,000 animals per week between January and August.

The shifts within the sector would also show this. "In the case of sausage, for example, we see growth rates of 20 to 30 percent for types in the entry-level price range." Conversely, the premium cuts of pork sell much poorer, but especially beef.

This price fixing also confirms the "industry echo meat industry" of the management consultancy Ebner Stolz and the dfv media group, a survey of the 100 top-selling companies in the German meat and sausage industry.

89 percent of the participants alone report a change in demand towards cheaper products. "Yellow sausage, boiled sausage and liver sausage replace the specialties or goods from higher forms of husbandry in many shopping trolleys," says the study, which is available to WELT.

At the same time, only 33 percent of those surveyed see the consumer desire for products from better animal husbandry. This requirement is not only behind the customer's desire for regionality, but also behind the topic of sustainable packaging.

Meat and sausage suppliers are currently seeing inflation and the resulting reluctance to consume as the greatest challenge for the coming months. The main negative factors are the high energy costs, but also the increased prices for raw materials, logistics costs - and the dwindling availability.

And according to Westfleisch representative Kelliger, this will continue to increase in the coming months. "Meat will then not be as available as it used to be."

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