The German federal Minister of Food and Agriculture said in an interview with the German news website “Der Spiegel”, that eating less meat would be a contribution against Putin. According to our research, it turns out that this statement is mostly false.
In the Spiegel interview from 18th March 2022, Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir addresses the grain shortage in connection with the war between Russia and Ukraine. He assumes that Putin is using food as a weapon in the war. Since the EU’s World Food Program sources 50% of its wheat from Ukraine, Özdemir believes it is his duty as a Western nation to ensure the world’s supply. The question is asked if something needs to be changed in the animal feed industry, since most of the grain ends up as animal feed. His response: “Even though I’m a vegetarian, I’m not going to preach that everyone needs to convert to vegetarianism. But let’s put it this way: eating less meat would be a contribution against Mr. Putin. […] And fundamentally, a system is not sustainable in which 60 percent of the grain ends up in the feed troughs, as in Germany. That’s not sustainable and it doesn’t work in a global context.”
Russia grows about 29 million hectares of wheat, which is larger than the area available to the entire EU (24 million hectares). However, in terms of export share, the figures for Russia and the EU are similar.
Current situation of wheat in the world
Currently, the situation in the grain market looks different due to the war between Russia and Ukraine. Especially MENA countries like Libya, Lebanon or Somalia are heavily dependent on Ukrainian and Russian grain. The dependence of developing countries is particularly problematic because they have few trading partners to fall back on. In these countries, wheat represents a staple food that cannot be replaced by anything else in the short term. With the loss of Ukrainian wheat, many countries around the world are falling into famine. Russia’s troops blockade the Black Sea ports and Ukraine mines the ports and waters as protection from Russian ships. This also exacerbates the supply situation around the world. The wheat shares could be used to counteract hunger in the world.
In 2022, farmers also used less fertilizer – one reason is the shortage of gas and the resulting high gas prices. Gas is needed to produce mineral fertilizers. Russia also imposed an export ban on fertilizers. But it is not only the war that is triggering the fertilizer shortage, environmental disasters are also having their impact on the market – fertilizer prices were already high before, but the war has now driven them even higher.
Currently, there is a grain agreement between Russia and Ukraine in which it was settled that Ukraine may transport grain, other foodstuffs, fertilizer and ammonia across the Black Sea through Bosporus to the world’s oceans. This is done through Ukrainian ports in Odessa, Tschornomorsk and Juschnyj. It is supervised by a joint coordination center with representatives from the United Nations, Russia, Ukraine and Istanbul (where the agreement was concluded). According to the latest information, this agreement will be extended, it was initially valid for four months and was adopted in July.
Current situation in Germany
Pork continues to be the most frequently consumed meat in Germany. Together with other animal meat, such as beef and poultry, this amounted to 55 kilograms per person per year. This corresponds to more than one kilogram of meat per week.
This consumption is accordingly taken into account in the meat industry and in the feed volume of slaughtered animals. According to preliminary results, the feed volume in the 2020/21 marketing year was 195.1 million tons. Of this, 95 percent, or 187.3 million tons, was domestically produced feed. The main components of the feed are grass silage, cereals, silage corn and soybeans. Germany was able to provide 62 million tons of this through national supply, as well as 58.5 million tons of silage corn and 23.8 million tons of grain.
However, bottlenecks arise in feeds with digestible protein. Around 28 percent of the feed supply of digestible protein comes from imported feedstuffs. Almost half of this is soybeans and soybean meal (48.8%). For example, according to preliminary results of foreign trade statistics, 3.9 million tons of soybeans were imported into Germany in 2020, mainly from the United States with 1.9 million and Brazil with 1.4 million tons. Thus, the remaining 5% not covered by domestic products are mainly covered by imports of soybean meal and beans.
Wheat is classified according to protein content, protein quality and the dough properties of the respective flour. The better the individual qualities, the more suitable the wheat is for the production of bread, cookies or pastries. If it does not meet these properties, it is marketed as feed wheat. In 2018, around 7 million tons of wheat ended up in the troughs of livestock.
Germany’s dependence on Russian wheat imports
The German Minister of Food and Agriculture, Cem Özdemir, creates the impression with his statement that the feed grain used in this country increases the dependence on grain from Russia and thus gives Putin a means of exerting pressure on the world community. However, if one looks at the wheat imports from Germany, it becomes apparent that only a very small part of the imports come from Russia and Ukraine. In the 2021 marketing year, more than 11 million tons of grain were imported into Germany, only 2% of which came from Ukraine and Russia. Although Russia is one of the largest exporters of wheat and flour in the world, imports play a very minor role in Germany.
The situation is different in the countries of Africa and Asia. The leading buyer of Russian grain in recent years has been Egypt. Egypt purchased around 8.3 million tons of wheat from Russia in 2020. Countries such as the Seychelles and Mongolia are more than 90% dependent on grain imports from Ukraine and Russia.
However, as Russia has temporarily blocked Ukrainian exports across the Black Sea, wheat exports have been severely restricted. The leading consumer countries were thus undersupplied.
Financing the Ukraine War
Accordingly, there is no dependence of Germany on Russian wheat. Rather, Germany relies on Russia’s fossil fuel imports. In 2021, mineral fuels were traded, among others, with a share of 75%. Thanks to its supplies of crude oil and oil products, Russia generated revenues of about $180 billion last 2021. In addition, there was about $64 billion from natural gas. Germany alone imported 2.6 billion euros worth of crude oil and natural gas from Russia in January, according to the Federal Statistical Office. Putin is thus financing the war not mainly through wheat imports, but mainly through revenues from the energy sectors.
The grain market in Germany and, above all, the world market are extremely complex. The complexity of the various quality specifications and the different sub-types do not allow a simple statement such as the one made by Cem Özdemir. The statement of the Federal Minister of Agriculture on the renunciation of meat against Putin is therefore highly generalized and simplified.
It can be said that in Germany most of the grain is fed to animals. However, this is grain that cannot meet the necessary quality standards for food production, or can only meet them to a limited extent. If Germany were to reduce meat consumption, the surplus grain could be exported to countries suffering the consequences of restricted wheat imports. The grain shortage in the affected countries could thus be compensated to some extent.
As the facts presented clearly show, Putin’s war is mainly financed by revenues from the energy sector. Instead of animals in meat production, it would be possible to use wheat to provide food to people suffering from famine in the world. Thus, abandoning meat could lead to a distribution of the surplus grain, but this would be only a small contribution against Putin, as he continues to benefit from the revenues of the energy sectors.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE: Vanessa Fass & Sina Peller, Hochschule der Medien, Stuttgart (Germany)
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