Thomas Dosch comes from Hohenlohe, comes from agriculture, studied agriculture, built an organic farm with fattening pigs, mother sows, dairy cows, rabbits and poultry, including a dairy, butchery and bakery and is still active in agriculture. For twelve years he headed the organic farmers’ association Bioland, and in 2014 the then green minister of agriculture brought him to Lower Saxony. Dosch himself is a member of the Greens – and not even a year ago switched to Tönnies, responsible for expanding sustainability in the company. The ex-Bioland boss works for the largest German slaughterhouse for pigs that made so many headlines in the Corona year?
This Friday, the 61-year-old is invited to a public event at the University of Würzburg – and will discuss sustainable nutrition with the former Green Agriculture Minister Renate Künast, among others. Topic of the digital round from 7 to 8 pm: “Veganism vs. meat love?” First a conversation about the agricultural turnaround, the role of companies – and why the consumer is not decisive.
Mr. Dosch, the Paulus-Saul question must be the same. Why does a green organic farmer go into the meat industry?
Thomas Dosch: I’ve been doing more or less the same thing for almost 30 years ?? but in different roles. I count my time at Tönnies as well. For me, nothing has changed in terms of content in any way. The question is still: How do you get the agricultural turnaround, the transformation of agriculture, round.
As Bioland boss, could you have imagined sitting at Tönnies and working as a lobbyist for the group?
Dosch: No, I couldn’t have imagined that in August last year. I worked in the background on a paper by the Greens on the future of the meat industry. The draft of the paper was too bold for me. Then I got in touch with a Tönnies employee who, according to what I hear, has a very good reputation among farmers. He invited me straight away, I went there ?? and then Clemens Tönnies came along. He faced every criticism.
And you came back with an employment contract.
Dosch: No. I met someone who did not correspond to my image at all. More like a person who I perceived as very open, one could also say, insecure. As someone who asked himself a lot of questions. We had further contact and at some point the question arose whether I would support change processes in an advisory role. I didn’t feel like doing that: handing over knowledge, getting money, and not knowing what was going to happen? And so the question remained at all or not at all.
To the horror of your organic farmer colleagues and the Greens?
Dosch: I exchanged ideas with my green networks for a long time. The agrarians have all said: Without Tönnies and the like it won’t work. Do it.
And you haven’t regretted it after a year?
Dosch: For a long time I was head of department and deputy state secretary under a great minister of the Greens in Lower Saxony. In the Ministry, the fences were much, much closer. Today I am doing 99 percent of what I did when I was at Bioland. There was also the question of how we can achieve goals that we have mutually agreed on. Ideological barriers and position boundaries no longer run between parties. The function as Bioland President has opened doors to participate in the discussion. Today it is interesting how it opens doors when you come from Tönnies.
Do you even get doors slammed?
Dosch: In environmental and animal welfare groups, I am more likely to be asked how I get there and what do I expect from it? and then you are in conversation.
How often do you eat meat?
Dosch: I love to cook. At home, organic meat is the only option for me and I know the companies from which I get meat. And I’m a hunter too. In other words, the freezer is full of whatever there is in the field and hallway.
Does that mean that a vegan lifestyle or even just a vegan phase would be a real sacrifice for you?
Dosch: When I was in my early twenties, I didn’t eat meat for three years. I can’t necessarily make my daughter and my wife happy with meat. When I cook on the weekend, we rarely have meat.
That we humans completely forego meat, vegan life for everyone – imaginable? Debatable?
Dosch: Every person should be happy according to their personal form. If someone doesn’t want to eat meat ?? for example for religious reasons ?? then that has to be respected. Period, that’s it. Conversely, if it is linked to a political claim that others are supposed to live up to, then I enter into a discussion, then I argue. When the topic of climate change is about the interlinking of farm animals and their keeping with environmental damage, I feel challenged.
Then your mission is. . .
Dosch: I come from the country, I have great respect for rural families. What happened there over several generations is priceless. The knowledge, the skill that is in it, the handling of the soil? for me that is agriculture. It is bad how much is lost because businesses stop. If we want a change now, conventional farming does not play against organic farming and vice versa. In my mind, a good conventional business is the one that will be able to operate ecologically tomorrow and live well off it. And I’m glad that a Clemens Tönnies as a butcher doesn’t say: Farms don’t matter, I’m vegan now. Technically, this would be possible to cut vegan products instead of meat sausage. Around 11,000 farms depend on delivering their animals to Tönnies. When Tönnies thinks about something else overnight, what we have experienced due to the corona happens.
The pig jam?
Dosch: The stables were overflowing, the farmers were on the verge of bankruptcy. You can also force that if you say we have too much animal husbandry. The thesis should be discussed. But that is only possible if you offer these families alternative sources of income. Hohenlohe was once the land of pigs and piglets for all of Germany. Today there are twelve world market leaders there who offer jobs and hardly any of them are dependent on agriculture any more. On the one hand a loss of agricultural knowledge, on the other hand no existential catastrophe.
Do you need Tönnies? Agricultural turnaround is only possible with a large corporation?
Dosch: Today Yes. If we grind companies like Bayer, BASF or Tönnies, nothing is gained. The transformation must come from within the company. Bayer’s research budget comes close to China’s. The public sector could not even take over what potential there is.
So what does it take if I want sustainable animal husbandry?
Dosch: First, the farmers must want to. They do. Second, the slaughterhouses have to go along, that’s what we do. Thirdly, we need the grocery retailer, which says I’m tired of insults, I’m going with it. And fourthly, it needs politics. We need framework conditions that make this conversion possible. In concrete terms: If a company wants to convert a barn for more animal welfare today, it cannot do it. The building law has so high hurdles that it spends up to 50,000 euros without even having picked up a stone.
Did you forget the fifth? The consumer?
Dosch: No, it doesn’t matter.
Dosch: Because the consumer buys what is on the shelf and what he can assume is okay. We cannot ask him to see if something is not being produced in an acceptable manner. It is the job of politics? to be controlled by regulatory law, funding and labeling. And it simply has to forbid what is not possible. Example of keeping chickens in cages. I haven’t heard a consumer calling for cage eggs today.
And the price?
Dosch: As for expensive and cheap: When Tönnies buys pigs to be slaughtered, Tönnies pays the farmers the same price as any other butcher. More in the animal welfare level, even more in the case of organic, far too little at the moment with the normal legal standard. Such is the market. The fact that Tönnies is a system supplier for discounters is due to the fact that the slaughter is so efficient that it hardly costs anything. That makes the meat cheaper.
At the expense of the employees.
Dosch: In times when this was possible by law, yes. But one of my first tasks at Tönnies was to work in Berlin for the abolition of work contracts. This is implemented in the meat industry today. People today have permanent positions. That was high time and it is no longer a competitive disadvantage because laws regulate it equally for everyone. And Tönnies got employees out of private, poor living conditions and with subcontractors and created around 4,000 of their own living spaces. Public awareness has set a lot in motion here.
The biggest mistake in the meat industry and what would you like to have changed overnight?
Dosch: This is the attitude still held in parts of the industry to know everything better – the emphasis on “everything”. – and not having to face problems. Social associations, environmental associations and animal welfare associations have legitimate concerns. You have to talk to each other.
Veganism vs. love of meat: panel discussion on sustainable nutrition
This Friday, September 10th, representatives from politics, business and research will be discussing the ecological, economic and social consequences of our diet – digital, from 7pm to 8pm at an event hosted by the University of Würzburg.
Participants are Renate Künast, food policy spokeswoman for the Greens in the Bundestag, Carina Konrad from the FDP, Deputy Chairwoman of the Bundestag Committee on Food and Agriculture, Thomas Dosch, responsible for the sustainable development of the Tönnies food company, and Prof. Dr. Markus Vogt, holder of the Chair of Christian Social Ethics at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich.