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Agriculture

Green Week in full swing in Berlin

The world's biggest agricultural fair has kicked off in Berlin. With live animals and exotic food, it is set to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors. But Germany's food industry may not be as green as it seems.

Berlin's "Green Week" can be a real challenge. Visitors need comfortable shoes to make it through a total of 26 exhibition halls. And they'd probably need more than just one stomach to digest the 100,000 or so different food specialties on offer.

In one hall, pedigree horses, cows and sheep mingle with the odd alpaca from the German state of Brandenburg.

Once again, this year's Green Week has put on a show of superlatives. It boats a record number of exhibitors, 1630 to be precise from 67 countries. Kosovo and Sudan are this year's newcomers.

The continued growth of the agricultural fair is in some way also the result of a robust food industry. Despite the ongoing eurozone debt crisis, the German food industry logged a healthy 4.1-percent growth last year.

Indian specialties offered at a stand at the Green Week

Specialties from all over the world attract thousands of visistors every year

German foodstuffs a hit abroad

Agricultural produce from Germany is being sold at a premium abroad. Increasingly, German products are exported to non-European countries, including the US and Russia. The president of the German Farmers' Association, Joachim Rukwied, said the label "Made in Germany" also applied to food items and not just industry products.

"Using this label, we can really do well, considering that food products from Germany mean quality, food safety and sustainable production."

Last year, the agricultural sector created some 6,500 new jobs. But there is a growing concern within Germany's fourth largest sector. "Profit margins in the agricultural business have come under enormous pressure," said the chairman of the Federal Association of the Food Industry, Jürgen Abraham.

He attributed the pressures to higher raw material and energy costs which could only partly be passed on to consumers. Food is relativley cheap in Germany. The average household spends about 11 percent of its income on groceries. "Not much will change in this respect," Joachim Rukwied said.

Customers want transparency

The president of the German Farmers' Association, Joachim Rudwiek

Joachim Rudwiek is glad this year's show is not overshadowed by any foood scandals

But while prices are moderate and the quality of food high, transparency continues to be an issue. There are some 160,000 different food items on sale across Germany - but their exact ingredients are often murky.

In many cases, the information on food labels can be deceptive, according to Gerd Billen from a federal consumer protection watchdog. "Consumers want the labeling to be clear, understandable and honest," Billing said.

Milk which claims to be "produced in the Germans state of Brandenburg", may have been bottled some 600 kilometers (373 miles) away in Cologne and contain milk from other regions. Other products show fruits on their packaging, while they are solely made up of artificial flavors.

Faced with massive criticism from consumers, however, many producers have made the information on their packaging more transparent. Others have completely withdrawn some items from the market.

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