23/02/2017 01:59 GMT

German Environment Minister Bans Meat At Official Functions

The decision, prompted by climate concerns, unleashed a beefy backlash.

Daniel Petty/Getty Images
Currywurst, a German dish of fried pork and sauce, won't be served at functions hosted by Germany's environment ministry. The ministry recently announced a ban on all meat and fish products at official events. 

Animal agriculture is a leading cause of climate change and environmental degradation, which is why a German ministry says it’s taking a stand for vegetarianism in a new — and controversial — ban.

Barbara Hendricks, Germany’s environment minister, announced that her ministry would no longer be serving meat, fish or meat-derived products at official functions. Hendricks said her ministry must serve as a “role model” on environmental and sustainability issues. 

We want to set a good example for climate protection, because vegetarian food is more climate-friendly than meat and fish,” the ministry said in a statement this week, according to The Daily Telegraph. The ban reportedly took effect at the end of January. 

The ministry mandate also states that meals served at official functions should be organically sourced, with a preference for seasonal, local and fair-trade products, reported German newspaper Bild. Ingredients should only be transported a short distance, the mandate said.

German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks (right) talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (left). Hendrick's party, the Social Democrats (SPD), are challenging Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) in the upcoming election. 

In a land known for schnitzel and currywurst, it perhaps comes as little surprise that the meat ban has been met with controversy.

Some members of the German government have accused Hendricks, a member of the Social Democratic Party, of overreaching.

“I’m not having this Veggie Day through the back door. Instead of nanny-stateism and ideology, I believe in diversity and freedom of choice,” said Christian Schmidt, minister of food and agriculture and a Christian Democrat.

The environment ministry defended its no-meat edict. The ministry said in a statement that it wasn’t “telling anyone what they should eat,” but rather was promoting sustainable food choices.

Tensions have been running high between the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats in the lead-up to this year’s German election, which promises to be a close fight between the two parties. The clash over the meat ban shows rising tempers, the Telegraph said this week.

TOBIAS SCHWARZ via Getty Images
Protesters hold a sign reading "Eat less meat" while taking part in a demonstration during International Green Week in Berlin, Germany, January 16, 2016. Vegetarianism is reportedly on the rise in the country.

Research is divided on the issue of vegetarianism’s environmental benefits. Some studies suggest the climate impact of certain fruits and vegetables may be as great as some meat products. Still, the evidence in favor of a reduced-meat diet — specifically with less beef and some kinds of seafood — remains compelling from a sustainability perspective.

Animal agriculture has been linked to climate change, fisheries depletion, species extinction, deforestation, soil degradation and other environmental impacts. Livestock production alone accounts for almost 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. That’s more than the emissions from the entire transportation sector, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

A 2015 study suggested that meat eaters may be the top cause of worldwide species extinction, due to livestock production’s detrimental land impacts. Animal agriculture is also the world’s leading consumer of freshwater, requiring an average of 55 trillion gallons annually, according to a 2015 report in the Stanford Environmental Law Journal.

Beef in particular has been pinpointed as particularly costly to the environment. According to Global Footprint Network, it takes 14 times as much biologically productive land to produce 1 ton of beef as it takes to produce 1 ton of grain.

Some types of seafood also are environmentally problematic. According to the U.N., about 75 percent of the world’s fisheries are either exploited or depleted from overfishing. Greenhouse gas emissions associated with fresh and frozen shellfish production are the highest per calorie, compared with other common foods, Carnegie Mellon University researchers found in a 2015 study. 

Despite Germany’s fame for bratwursts and other meat dishes, vegetarianism is reportedly on the rise. According to the nonprofit European Vegetarian Union, almost 10 percent of Germany’s population chooses to go meatless, making it one of the most vegetarian countries in Europe.