Strawberries in the sun: A German call for a boycott triggers a drama. © Malte Krudewig / dpa
Actually, the protest movement Campact wanted to protect the environment of Andalusia with a petition. But it sparked resentment, protests and even diplomatic tensions.
Berlin – "No drought strawberries from Spain!" This petition by the protest movement Campact calls on the major German supermarket chains to stop selling the red fruits from Huelva in southwestern Spain – for environmental reasons, as the Andalusian region is struggling with extreme drought. However, the call enrages farmers and conservatives in Andalusia – and has now also led to the cancellation of a trip by members of the Bundestag to the region.
In Huelva, 300,000 tons of strawberries are grown annually, which corresponds to over 90 percent of Spain's total strawberry production, according to figures from the industry association Interfresa. 100,000 jobs depend on the sector in the region. Germany, on the other hand, is the largest export market for the fruit, with annual purchases of 186 million euros.
"Water theft" threatens Spanish ecosystem
"Even in winter" Spanish strawberries are on German supermarket shelves, Campact complains. To meet this demand, the Spanish agricultural industry is pumping vast amounts of water, including from the Doñana National Park in Huelva, which is a World Heritage Site. This "illegal water theft" threatens to destroy the fragile ecosystem. Campact is specifically aimed at the chains Edeka, Lidl, Rewe and Aldi and demands: "Stop the sale of drought strawberries."
By Tuesday afternoon, the petition had around 165,000 signatories. It is specifically directed against legislative plans by the right-wing regional government in Andalusia to regulate illegally operated berry farms near the national park, the largest wetland in Europe. According to environmentalists, if the plans go through, 1500 hectares of cultivated land could be legitimized, most of which will be irrigated via illegal wells.
Farmers call petition "attack"
The petition is a "harsh and unjustified attack on our agricultural sector," says the Spanish farmers' union Asaja. She considers the call for a boycott to be an "attack on thousands of producers and their families who work hard all year round."
The industry association Interfresa also sees red and describes the Campact campaign as "sneaky and harmful" for the entire strawberry and other berry industry and its employees. The campaign also spreads misinformation and accuses the sector of "serious misconduct and illegal actions".
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The conservative People's Party (PP), which governs Andalusia, is stepping in to help farmers. The strawberry from Huelva is subject to "unfair attacks for ideological reasons", says the region's Minister of Agriculture, Carmen Crespo. She accuses Pedro Sánchez's social democratic national government of supporting Campact. The PP defends the planned regional law by saying that a law from 2014 that regulates 9000,<> hectares of illegal cultivation land, but has forgotten hundreds of farmers, must be reformed.
On Monday, the dispute in the region came to a head. A group of nine deputies from all parties of the German Bundestag arrived in Spain - the delegation of the Environment Committee will spend several days in different parts of the country dealing with the issues of "water scarcity and consumer protection". Actually, the "illegal water extraction" at the Doñana National Park was also the focus of the trip and a visit to Andalusia was also planned.
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This visit by MPs who "want to inspect the production of our farmers, especially Spanish strawberries, is completely unacceptable," the far-right Vox party rumbled. This is an "interference that no decent government should tolerate." The People's Party and Vox are repeatedly accused of denying climate change.
In the midst of these tensions, the German delegation finally canceled its planned trip to Andalusia - also "in view of the high political importance that the topics of the trip have gained in recent days in the upcoming Spanish national elections," as the group announced. Early parliamentary elections will be held in Spain at the end of July.
As a substitute, the Environment Committee had decided on a "different, environmentally similarly relevant program item," it said from the office of one of the accompanying deputies. The delegation had complied with a "request from the regional government not to visit Andalusia," another said. There are currently no plans to make up for the trip. Campact considers the cancellation of the trip to Andalusia to be a "fatal sign for environmental protection". To cite the Spanish election campaign as a reason is "very irritating" - because saving the national park is "more important than election campaigning". (AFP, LF)