The government in Germany has banned all meat products from official functions, claiming that eating meat is harmful to the environment.
Barbara Hendricks says that eating meat contributes to global warming, and she has ordered vegetarian-only food to be served at government events for the foreseeable future.
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A rival minister has accused her of “nanny-statism” and trying to force vegetarianism on people “by the back door”.
With elections only months away and Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) lagging behind their junior coalition partner in the polls, it was only a matter of time before tempers started to fray.
But no one expected the first falling-out to be over vegetarian vol-au-vents.
Ms Hendricks is a member of the Social Democrats (SPD), who have surged ahead of Mrs Merkel’s CDU in the polls under their new leader, Martin Schulz, the former European parliament president.
Senior figures in Mrs Merkel’s party have pounced on the vegetarian catering policy as evidence the centre-left SPD will interfere in citizens’ private lives on ideological grounds.
“I’m not having this Veggie Day through the back door,” Christian Schmidt, the food minister, said.
“I believe in diversity and freedom of choice, not nanny-statism and ideology. Instead of paternalism and ideology. Meat and fish are also part of a balanced diet.”
The ban emerged in an email to department heads from a senior civil servant in the environment ministry.
The ministry has a responsibility to combat the “negative effects of meat consumption” and must “set an example”, the email said.
It is claimed meat farming accounts for up to a third of greenhouse gas emissions.
But Ms Hendricks has been accused of hypocrisy after it emerged that the ban only applies to official functions, and that meat and fish are still available to ministry officials in the staff canteen.
“You have to eat what’s on the table according to the will of the ministry. No meat, no fish, and the cover of ‘climate protection’,” Gitta Conneman, a senior MP in the CDU told Bild newspaper.
“They won’t save the climate by branding people who eat meat, and they know this. The ban only applies to a handful of guests, not to 1,200 employees. This is pure ideology, a ‘people’s education’ for the diet.”
“We’re not tell anyone what they should eat,” the environment ministry said in a statement. “But we want to set a good example for climate protection, because vegetarian food is more climate-friendly than meat and fish.”