Random citizens’ panel to advise on German food policy

Random citizens’ panel to advise on German food policy | INFBusiness.com

The German parliament has decided to launch a panel of randomly selected citizens set to advise lawmakers on food and nutrition policies, in an effort to help navigate the thorny issue of the state interfering in dietary choices.

The motion to set up a citizens’ panel on diets and nutrition had been tabled by the three government parties – the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens, and the Liberals (FDP) – and was adopted by the Bundestag on Wednesday evening (10 May).

The first-ever citizens’ council put in place by the German parliament s set to “focus on the radical dietary changes that are already taking place in our day-to-day” and should “bring the citizens’ perspective into the political debate”.

160 panellists, picked randomly but according to specific socio-demographic criteria like region, gender, or educational background, will meet regularly from September and present their recommendations to the parliament by the end of February 2024.

“Our food choices are a powerful lever and can, for example, change entire production and farming systems and protect the environment,”  said Susanne Mittag, the SPD’s food and agriculture spokesperson. “This is why diets are a good topic for the first citizens’ council.”

Defusing an explosive issue

At the same time, the three governing parties seem to hope that a citizens’ panel could help defuse public tensions that have built up around the issue of where and how the government should intervene when it comes to dietary choices.

‘Changing diets: between a private affair and government tasks’ is the official title given to the panel.

Green Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir has made healthier and more sustainable diets a priority ever since he took office, going so far as to change the name of his ministry to include “food” alongside “agriculture.”

But any steps Özdemir has tried to take in this direction, no matter how mild and non-binding, have been met with heavy pushback as many in the country fear consumers’ freedom of choice could be at risk.

Most recently, the Green minister’s push to ban advertisements for unhealthy food targeted at children triggered a severe backlash.

The parties now seem to hope that a citizens’ panel could help mediate between the government and consumers. “Special attention should be paid to the state’s role between the two poles of individual freedom and responsibility for society,” the motion reads.

Random citizens’ panel to advise on German food policy | INFBusiness.com

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Form over function?

But not everybody is convinced by the idea of a randomly selected citizens’ council. According to the leading opposition group, the conservative union of CDU and CSU, the government parties are putting form over function.

“Obviously, the traffic light coalition wants to use the new committee to distract from the fact that it is not getting anything done in terms of food policy,” the group’s vice whip, Steffen Bilger, said in a statement, adding the panel would be “no more than a fig leaf”.

Bilger also said a citizens’ council was unnecessary in a functioning representative democracy. “The best citizens’ councils are the people in the constituency with whom politicians are in direct contact.”

Contention also arose over the socio-demographic criteria that should structure the otherwise randomised selection process.

While the motion adopted by the Bundestag foresees a “veggie quota” in order for the panel to reflect the share of vegetarians in German society, this was slammed by the Farmers’ Association (DBV).

“With this procedure, a ‘random’ selection process is questionable,” the association’s secretary general, Udo Hemmerling, posted on Twitter.

Citizens’ councils have been publicly debated as an instrument of direct democracy.

One recent example is the EU’s Conference on the Future of Europe, in which 800 randomly selected citizens from across the bloc issued a range of recommendations on the EU’s functioning and policies, after a year of deliberations.

However, most observers agree that non-binding citizens’ recommendations are followed up on by policymakers only to a very limited extent.

Random citizens’ panel to advise on German food policy | INFBusiness.com

European politicians want citizen panels to be used at EU level

The Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) ended on Monday (9 May), but a group of politicians want citizens’ forums that were at its heart to become a permanent practice at the EU level. EURACTIV Germany reports.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Zoran Radosavljevic]

Read more with EURACTIV

Random citizens’ panel to advise on German food policy | INFBusiness.com

EU lawmakers call for more inclusive school canteen optionsProducts available in school canteens should take into account children’s dietary restrictions such as food intolerances and allergies, which may include plant-based alternatives, lawmakers said – an issue which has proved divisive among stakeholders. 

Source: euractiv.com

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