Goodbye, cheap meat

3 June, 2020 · News> Europe> European Union

Germany is getting ready to end off, via taxes, cheap meat. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Under the “green deal” comes an accelerated transformation towards “bio” livestock and agriculture that, at least temporarily, would entail non-tariff barriers to imports from outside the EU and a way to attract capital to the countryside. A trend is beginning that will end the era of cheap meat.

The ideological campaign

At the end of 2018, with the then recent announcement of Merkel’s withdrawal from politics, every historical assessment by the chancellor and every symbolic gesture by the state was interpreted by the German press in terms of the “end of the era” and “legacy”. So it did not go unnoticed that the German mint issued what the American press called an unspeakably ugly coin to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the curry sausage. The sausage and kebab had been the symbols of German low cost, cheap food for workers, partners in celebrations and party nights. But everything pointed to the fact that their era was coming to an end.

In Germany, the “Youth for Climate” campaign, encouraged by the Chancellor herself, soon took on totalitarian overtones. Not only because of its omnipresence, but also because it abused the use of generational confrontation. Within the German petty bourgeoisie, the veganism of the children became the symbol of the “climate guilt” of their parents and was equated to the guilt of the generation within the Nazi party that articulated the cultural debate of the sixties. To get an idea of the media pressure, the debate last Christmas, revolved around a video by the girls of the WDR’s Dortmund choir entitled “my grandmother is an environmental pig” in which German grandmothers were blamed for “going to the doctor in an SUV” and buying “cheap meat” in the supermarket. The unavoidable shock of the well-meaning people and the far-right mobilizations holding sausage-laden flags only served to feed the association between reactionaries and cheap meat.

Vegan demonstration in London.

Of course, nothing in this campaign was gratuitous. The typically German version of blaming workers which in the US had come from the hand of “identity politics”, was accompanied by the proposal of the Greens to increase the value-added tax on meat, which in turn had gained momentum with the IPCC report last summer, which pointed to intensive livestock farming as a CO2 emitter.

But the clincher has come with the Covid. From the first phases of the pandemic, it seems that the origin of the virus lies in the wild livestock industry which had previously been encouraged as a way to alleviate the constant impoverishment of poor farmers. Among the changes that have followed the epidemic in China, the prohibition of this informal industry was expected. What was far from evident was that the media discourse made intensive livestock farming responsible for a new era of pandemics as well.

There is system behind the madness

Depriving a large part of the workers of meat and putting a well-established industry in jeopardy seems crazy. But there is a system behind the madness. Covid has made it clear that, as things stand, the agricultural sector is only profitable on starvation wages. The countryside is unable to attract new capital. For instance, the spanish agricultural income fell in 2019 even though a quarter of it was direct subsidies.

If they want to give this sector a future, that is, the capacity to place new capital, they have to ensure three things: a technological change, captive markets that guarantee the necessary sales for the profitability of invested capital, and public aid so that small capitals can join the change. This is what the “green deal” in general offers to European industries.

Germany and France have already gone a long way in this direction on their own. France is today the second (first per capita) European market for bio products. But under the “green deal “https://en.communia.blog/is-the-green-deal-a-way-out-of-the-crisis/”> the potential dimension is multiplied and the goal aimed at in the medium term is purely and simply the end of intensive livestock farming.

The consequences

Poster in Brazilian supermarket last December. The influx of Chinese demand, the main buyer today, dislocated prices

Legally restricting meat and vegetable consumption to organic production would first and foremost involve the establishment of a strong non-tariff barrier. It would ensure internal markets for the capital invested in the European countryside, but it would also mean a loss of the capacity of influence of the EU imperialisms on the exporting countries. But this “opportunity cost” loses value for months. The tensions with Bolsonaro’s Brazil and the growing weight of China in South America make these considerations less and less relevant for the EU. Just today China already accounts for 84% of Argentina’s beef exports.

The consequences for the working class in Europe are another matter. The calculations made by the British in the framework of the Brexit made it clear that ecological autarchy is possible… if livestock farming goes over to producing meat only for the “wealthy classes” and diets based on vegetable proteins for the rest of the population. If they wanted to maintain the current capitalist ecological production without affecting the diet of the lowest income groups, both prices and CO2 emissions would increase .

That is the reason behind the ideological campaign; that is why – and not only because of the bourgeois morality it exudes – veganism is “cool”. This is all that capitalism knows and can offer today: instead of healthy food and sustainable production for all, meat for the rich and guilt-ridden moralism for others. It may manage to only produce organic meat, yes, but making the workers pay for it and denying us its consumption.

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