“Waiting for a fukushima in agriculture”


It's another food scandal that's rocking the republic. The pesticide fipronil in hens' eggs unsettles consumers. Theologian and animal rights activist Rainer Hagencord reacts with clear words.


Interviewer: Were you surprised by the recent food scandal?

Dr. Rainer Hagencord (director of the Institute for Theological Zoology in Munster): Honestly not. Because it is an experience of the last years that food scandals appear and then mostly the policy acts or reacts in catalogs of measures. But the fundamental problem of how we treat farm animals is not being addressed. This, in my opinion, is the problem.
Interviewer: We already had dioxin in chicken meat, rotten meat and horse meat, Ehec in vegetables or antibiotics in pig fattening. The list of food scandals is seemingly endless. Don't we have to face the fact that it is the rule rather than the exception that there are things in our food that don't really belong there?
Hagencord: That's probably the obvious reaction that consumers would have to display. What has long occurred to me, somewhat cynically put, is that there probably needs to be a Fukushima in agriculture. This means that we also needed this horrific event in Japan with regard to nuclear energy, which is also highly crisis-ridden, in order to then relatively quickly question an entire system that was previously believed to be impossible and that we needed nuclear energy after all.

The cynic in me then says, now we wait for a Fukushima of agriculture, that actually once many people die because of this unspeakable behavior and these unspeakable living conditions of pigs, turkeys, chickens and cattle, which we eat. Probably has to happen first.

Interviewer: Do you also blame politics for having reacted too laxly to such food scandals in the past??
Hagencord: I am thinking of the former Minister of Agriculture, Ms. Aigner, and now Mr. Schmidt, who was and is simultaneously Minister of Agriculture and Consumer Protection and Minister, and who do not do justice to this dual concern.

It seems to me that the two of them are representing the lobby of the farmers' association or, even further, the lobby of the meat industry. That is my perception. When I look at the system of industrial animal husbandry, I discover a system that ultimately produces only losers. That includes the farmers, the people who work in slaughterhouses, the soil, the climate, the dignity of the animals. The winners are the meat industry and also the pharmaceutical industry. They earn themselves silly from this system.

Interviewer: How can the church help to change these conditions??
Hagencord: The Catholic Church initially got enormous tailwind from Pope Francis' encyclical "Laudato si," which came out two years ago. Here there is a clear option for sustainable, ecological agriculture. Theologically interesting is also that the pope speaks of the intrinsic value of the other creatures, which are not there for us. Of course, this also applies to turkeys, pigs, chickens and cattle.

Here a rethinking would have to take place. This would also have consequences for the educational mission of the church and the churches, i.e. to place the topic in the fields of religious education, first communion and confirmation, and also to sharpen the focus on the dignity of animals and to strengthen the mission of creation.

I think the other point is very practical and obvious. If you look in every diocese how many canteens are in church hands – in old people's homes or kindergartens – then the diocese or a parish could tackle this and only offer meat and eggs from ecological, sustainable production. This would not only be a sign, but something could really get moving socially.

Interviewer: And you could always put a little bit of "Laudato si" on the table with it…
Hagencord: That would be wonderful. There are such beautiful prayers in the encyclical. They are also suitable as a table prayer.
Interviewer: After every food scandal, consumers suddenly turn to organic food and eat more consciously. But already after a few weeks the concern about food has faded away. Why does this awareness always last so short?
Hagencord: That is almost circular. This also has to do with a policy that does not act, that after a scandal it is suggested to us that everything is not so bad and that we will get everything under control again.

Then there are usually ten points that are formulated there and it goes on like that, instead of really showing the drama and marking a change of course from the political side, so that consumers slowly get used to it. That's how it seems to me. In addition from consumer side also too little prere on the policy comes.

The interview was conducted by Uta Vorbrodt.

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