Federal Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir (Greens) wants to implement stricter rules for turkey fattening in Germany. This puts domestic turkey farmers under pressure. The additional requirements would not only make animal welfare meat from Germany a luxury good, but also mean the end for German turkey farming, fears the Central Association of the German Poultry Industry.

Anne Kokenbrink

Editor in Business

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In December, the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) presented a key issues paper for turkey farming. Among other things, it is planned that fewer animals may be kept per square meter of stable space than is currently the case. Depending on gender, 35 to 40 kilograms of live weight per square meter are proposed. The changes would be tantamount to a "professional ban", rants Christoph Kalvelage, managing partner of the turkey meat marketer Heidemark.

The higher standards would make turkey farming significantly more expensive. Since price compensation for German producers in an EU internal market is very difficult to secure via market mechanisms, this is a disadvantage for domestic farmers. Instead of Germany going it alone, the turkey industry is therefore calling for EU-wide standards.

Competition from Poland, Italy and Spain

So far, there are neither national nor international legal minimum standards for fattening turkeys. The companies in Germany have therefore made voluntary agreements in the so-called Federal Key Values Paper. Currently, around 90 percent of turkeys are kept according to the specifications of the private-sector initiative animal welfare, said the Society for the Promotion of Animal Welfare in Livestock Husbandry. There is more space for the animals – 48 kilograms per square meter are allowed for hens, 53 kilograms for roosters. In return, participating companies receive financial compensation of 3 to 4 cents per kilogram of meat.

If the key points from the Ministry of Agriculture were implemented, the industry fears the end of the Animal Welfare Initiative for Turkeys. "In this way, politicians are jeopardising what our producers have achieved for animal welfare and sustainability," says Bettina Gräfin von Spee, Chairwoman of the Association of German Turkey Producers. In neighbouring countries such as Poland, Italy and Spain, production is significantly cheaper, but animal welfare standards are sometimes lower. Von Spee refers to calculations by the Lower Saxony Chamber of Agriculture. Accordingly, the new husbandry requirements would lead to a loss of around 61,000 euros per fattening cycle for turkeys and 35,000 euros for turkeys.

The situation is fueled by the food retailers, who would place cheap imported goods next to the domestic meat. According to a Civey survey from January 2023, three out of four consumers are sceptical about meat imports from abroad.

2.40 per kilogram more for turkey schnitzel

Consumers would feel the changes in turkey farming in their wallets. According to calculations by the Chamber of Agriculture of Lower Saxony, turkey schnitzel could become 2.40 euros more expensive per kilogram. Turkey schnitzel has been one of the high-priced meat dishes for quite some time. With the changes, consumer prices in Germany would possibly rise further.

The poultry industry criticizes that the ministry has published a paper with drastic changes without first having exchanged information with the industry about the current situation. According to the ministry, the proposals are to be understood as a basis for discussion. "The comments received from experts and the industry will be appropriately incorporated into the draft regulation amending the Animal Welfare and Farm Animal Husbandry Ordinance," says a spokeswoman for the BMEL.

She emphasizes that in the current attitude health problems and animal welfare-related behavioral disorders would continue to occur in the animals. The German Animal Welfare Association also supports the project and points out that voluntary agreements that the poultry industry imposes on itself cannot replace legal regulations.

With its demands, the Federal Government is orienting itself towards the pioneer Austria. Stricter space requirements for turkeys already apply here, but not without consequences. Austria's Chancellor Karl Neuhammer described it as an "aberration" that the majority of turkey production takes place abroad. Substantial parts of turkey meat would be imported.

However, the Central Association of the Austrian Poultry Industry (ZAG) is generally satisfied with the development. Since the stricter husbandry regulations came into force, turkey farming has developed slowly but steadily. By reducing the stocking density, animal health has demonstrably improved. A "study on animal welfare-compliant turkey farming" by the universities of Leipzig and Vienna from 2021 comes to similar results. Austria is also calling for uniform minimum standards throughout the EU that offer customers clear orientation and guarantee fair market conditions.