Actor and activist Hannes Jaenicke has written a book. In an interview he talks about the horrors of factory farming, the (stem cell) food of the future – and why nobody has to do without the Sunday roast.

Actor Hannes Jaenicke has been campaigning for animal welfare for a long time. Now his new book “The big mess – how the agricultural lobby and the food industry lie to us” has been published. We spoke to him about it.

FOCUS online: Mr. Jaenicke, you have written a book entitled “The big mess – how agricultural lobby and food industry lie to us”. What surprised you during the research?

Hannes Jaenicke: After our film about the pigs, I thought that our poor fattening pigs are the most abused creatures in our meat industry. But while researching this book, I learned a lesson: the dairy cows are just as bad. In industrial factory farming, it’s just torture from day one.

And the second finding was that we have a very good, very clearly formulated animal welfare law. Unfortunately, millions of times this is intentionally and knowingly broken every day. For example, there is the beautiful sentence: “No one may inflict pain, suffering or harm on an animal without a good reason.” Now I ask myself, how can this be reconciled with our factory farming?

Many say they would like to buy meat from better breeders. However, not everyone can afford organic. In any case, inflation and the energy crisis are currently exacerbating the situation in your wallet.

Jaenicke: Yes, that is actually a fact. Savings are being made especially when it comes to food and the sale of organic goods is also declining due to inflation.

There is only my quiet counter-question: Why do we subsidize unhealthy, conventional food, which then comes onto the market cheaply and healthy organic food is expensive? Why isn’t the subsidy policy reversed so that healthy foods are subsidized and toxic foods are taxed? The European subsidy policy always subsidizes size and mass. The small organic farmer has to fight.

“The big mess: How the agricultural lobby and the food industry lie and cheat us – and what that means for our nutrition”

by Hannes Jaenicke and Fred Sellin

Of course, that’s a big thing now, and this is where politics has to start. But what can the individual do?

Jaenicke: I always say the banal sentence: “Switch on your brain before putting your wallet into operation.” Don’t buy blindly, don’t trust what is on the packaging or what is advertised. So in summary: healthy distrust of advertising, the agricultural lobby and above all the food industry.

The German food industry invested 2.6 billion in advertising alone last year. If you were to invest that in healthy food, in more animal welfare, things would look very different…

In addition to the question of price, it is actually not always easy for the consumer to identify the origin and animal welfare based on the packaging. See Nutri-Score or Holding Levels.

Jaenicke: Yes, test marks, awards, medals, seals – it’s a veritable jungle. In fact, that was one of the main reasons for this book. To give the consumer a small navigation system, so to speak, to get through there.

The fact is: most seals or test marks are deliberate consumer deception. So there is knowingly and intentionally lying just as much as when breaking the animal protection law. Let’s take a look at the holding levels: The difference between holding level 1 and holding level 2 is one more DinA4 sheet of space. Level 3 means “with outdoor climate”, but it is enough to open the barn window. And “outdoor exercise” for level 4 does not mean meadow, it can also be concrete ground. Incidentally, organic always means holding level 4 and up.

There are really only three seals to be taken seriously and they are easy to remember: Demeter, Bioland, Naturland. Everything else is window dressing, fooling around, consumer fraud!

My cousin has a small organic farm south of Munich. For example, they have the organic seal “Biokreis”, a small organic association from Passau, mainly for smaller companies and with the same standards as Naturland and Bioland. Now of course it’s difficult when you say only the three big seals are any good…

Jaenicke: Oh god, no, that’s not what I meant. This is more of a guide for people who shop in the supermarket – at Aldi, Lidl, Edeka, Rewe, Penny and so on. No, we’ve already filmed with organic farmers who can’t even afford the certification. The produce totally clean and exemplary, but have no seal at all. And there are dozens of small cooperative organic associations that of course produce at least as cleanly as Demeter or Bioland. It was really explicitly about the jungle in the supermarket.

But it’s a good suggestion. Perhaps one should have written that there are less well-known, regional seals, such as Bio-Kreis, which one can rely on as well.

The organic farmer also criticizes the fact that many farms have been pushed to where they are today – by politicians, the authorities. Key word: mass. Some farms and businesses would not have survived even then. If a radical change is now called for again, some would probably fall by the wayside again. She advocates a gentle transition that gives farmers and businesses time.

Jaenicke: She’s absolutely right about that. I would never blame all the breeders either. Firstly, this is a product of this completely insane subsidy policy, which only subsidizes based on size and mass. It’s all the wrong way around. Who collects these subsidies? These are all large corporations, large entrepreneurs, often multinationals.

And secondly, the pressure on prices is not caused by politicians, nor by us as end consumers. The food companies do that. They’re the ones who drive around and say: “But I can get it 0.8 percent cheaper from the neighbors.” Or: “Oh, your bottle of wine costs 1.28 euros? I can get them from the neighbors for 1.27 euros.” They push until they can’t anymore. That applies to meat producers, to winegrowers. That is the omnipotence of these food companies, which simply push the price down like gangs of smugglers. In the end, the victims are the small farmers.

So I want to emphasize again: the whole subsidy policy must be turned completely upside down. Only large farmers and large corporations benefit from this. And it is only through the subsidies that unhealthy, conventional, sometimes toxic food becomes cheaper than healthy organic food. That’s perverted.

You yourself have been a vegetarian for 40 years. But write: “No one has to do without the Sunday roast.”

Jaenicke: I actually see it that way. As an example: If a cow has had a nice life on a pasture in the Allgäu and when it is ready for slaughter, the professional hunter comes and kills this cow with a pasture shot. Then please, enjoy this animal! It had a beautiful life. It wasn’t stressed out on a packed factory floor, pumped full of antibiotics and hormones.

That’s also one of the reasons why we made the book. Because I think every consumer has the right to know what the food industry is feeding them. And that is largely a highly toxic, actually illegal product.

What do you mean by highly toxic?

Jaenicke: Definitely unhealthy or harmful to health. In the case of all the food scandals, it’s actually toxic. If we look at the salmonella scandals or at wild salmon that are fed with ethoxyquin. A crop protection product that has been banned in Europe for years because it is suspected of being carcinogenic. However, it is still allowed in animal feed.

And of course, fundamentally, antibiotic abuse. Rumor has it that three times as many antibiotics are used in factory farming as in human medicine. Of course, this number cannot be verified. But the worst thing is, even the reserve antibiotics, which are only used in human medicine when the normal antibiotic is no longer effective, even that is used in factory farming. And every medical association warns of antibiotic resistance. They also come from the fact that factory farming in incomprehensible amounts of antibiotics wasted or the drinking water of poultry is prophylactically mixed with antibiotics. It all ends up on the plates and thus in the stomachs.

What about illegal?

Jaenicke: The box stand has been illegal since the 90s. Tail docking is prohibited. Dehorning is forbidden [permitted during the first six weeks of life, even without anesthesia, ed. Red.]. Beak trimming as well. All this is continued in Germany. It is also officially forbidden in Germany to bring genetically modified food onto the market. What is fed to our livestock? With genetically modified soy. The stuff is already on the plate.

You don’t have to think hard now, at whose instigation this is going on. The agricultural lobby, especially the farmers’ association, is so powerful and so closely intertwined with politics that it all goes on. illegally.

How could that change?

Jaenicke: A proper review of the breeders would be important here. A conventional operation – i.e. not organic – is examined every 14 to 17 years and the inspection comes with an announcement. The executive or the veterinary authorities simply don’t seem to be interested. Or the lobby is so powerful again and says: “Stay in your offices, we’ll check ourselves.”

The voluntary approach, which Ms. Klöckner pursued very strongly, is always interesting. But as you can see, nothing happens voluntarily. A wise person once said about Ms. Klöckner: “The greatest progress towards more animal welfare and less poison in fields and in food must have happened on the day when she had to vacate her Berlin office at the end of 2021.” I would subscribe to that.

The last chapter of your book deals with the food of the future and the “ghost” of genetic engineering. How do you think we will eat in the future?

Jaenicke: I think conventional meat will eventually become superfluous for purely economic reasons, because it will simply be cheaper to produce it in Petri dishes, i.e. in stem cells. The world always changes from an economic point of view.

It started about ten years ago when the Dutch developed a burger that cost $250,000 to develop. Then, about five or six years ago, the first Petri dish steak was sold for $50,000. We are now at a $25 burger price.

It’s a matter of time before stem cell meat will be cheaper than conventional. And with that we would have solved several problems – the clearing of the rain forest for fodder, the cruelty to animals, we would have solved the space problem, the stall problem. So my guess is that stem cell meat will take off relatively quickly – for purely economic reasons.

When do you think it will be?

So Singapore is the pioneer. Stem cell chicken and steak are already approved there. The USA will follow, I think there’s now the first steak house in New York where it’s already being offered. As always, we Germans will do it as big skeptics as the very last. But I would say it’s a matter of about ten years for us too.