Tens of thousands of farmers and food activists gathered in Berlin last Saturday, 17th January, to tell the world: “Wir haben es satt” (“We’re fed up”). What they’re fed up with is industrial farming, genetically modified (GM) seeds and the TTIP’s secretive transatlantic trade talks.
Converging on central Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz, the crowds of good-natured demonstrators represented many walks of life. As well as family farmers, there were beekeepers, seed savers and food activists of every kind, many dressed up as cows, pigs, chickens and even as an outsized jar of marmalade.
The crowd gathered in the vast square – larger than a football pitch – while they waited for the march to start. By midday, people with banners, flags and cow costumes were overflowing into side streets. Once the cavalcade of 80 tractors had set off at the head of the march it took over an hour for the marchers to clear Potsdamer Platz.
Everyone on the demonstration walked tall to the Bundeskanzleramt (the Federal Chancellery building), knowing that they had cornered media coverage of food and farming for the day. Just a bus ride away, at Berlin’s exhibition halls, the German government was hosting the closing day of the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA), attended by more than 60 farm ministers from around the world.
Five years ago, the first “Wir haben es satt” march mustered 10,000 people. This was enough to divert attention from the 75th anniversary celebrations for Germany’s international food and farming exhibition Groene Woche (Green Week), which precedes the GFFA with its high-level food policy discussions. Every year since, the numbers have grown steadily, reaching 30,000 in 2014.
What boosted the turnout this year was the rapidly growing opposition to the EU–US TTIP trade talks. The process threatens to impose a number of lowest common denominator transatlantic food standards, which are widely expected to include GM seed and products, chlorine-washed chickens and the routine use of growth promoters in livestock.
German farm minister Christian Schmidt did his bit to pour petrol on the flames of public indignation earlier this year, when he told journalists that “we can’t protect every sausage and cheese” if the TTIP is adopted. US food and drink manufacturers have constantly chafed over EU geographic indicators, which protect the provenance of high-value food and drink products, as a supposed barrier to trade.
Looking ahead to the eighth round of TTIP talks in February, Schmidt argued that there were inconsistencies in EU geographical protection. These made it “difficult to explain” to US exporters that they cannot sell ham that’s not produced in the Tyrol as ‘Tyrolean’ even if the process is the same, nor Gouda as a Dutch cheese if it is made in the US. After nearly a year as farm minister, it is hard to understand how Schmidt has failed to recognise the importance of geographic indicators to EU producers and indeed citizens. His ignorance sparked a storm of protest that probably added to the number of marchers at Saturday’s demo.
Photographs taken by Mike Herbst
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