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Ask Hans-Torsten: Ethical eating

Hans-Torsten Richter answers your questions about surviving and thriving in Berlin. Write to [email protected].

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Hans-Torsten Richter answers your questions about surviving and thriving in Berlin. Write to [email protected].

Q Dear Hans-Torsten: I’m no vegan, but I’d still like to make sure I’m eating ethically. So please help me out: what’s the difference between Neuland, Freiland and bio meat? And what’s up with all those different codes on German eggs? —Mary

A Dear Mary: Let’s tackle the eggs first. Virtually all eggs in Germany are stamped with a Erzeugercode (producer code) that allows you to trace the egg to the farm from which it came. If you’re curious, you can type in the code at www.was-steht-auf-dem-ei.de to find out your eggs’ exact origins.

But the most important part of the code is the first digit. A “0” means bio, and organic hens are surely the happiest of the bunch. According to the certification rules, they have the most barn space each (1.66sqm) and at least 4sqm of outdoor space to run around in, and are fed only certified organic feed. Even within the bio classification, though, welfare varies wildly. Read the box carefully for the details: some premium organic producers guarantee, for example, that male chicks are not shredded and turned into pet food, but not all.

A step below bio is Freilandhaltung (code “1”), meaning the hens had the same amount of outdoor space, slightly less barn space (1.1sqm) and non-organic feed. Code “2” is Bodenhaltung, meaning cage-free hens who are raised indoors and never see the light of day. Finally, “3” means “caged”, or it did until caging hens became illegal in Germany in 2009. Now it refers to Kleingruppenhaltung, in which 40-60 hens are kept in tight enclosures (just 0.8sqm per animal). These are the cheapest and least ethical eggs you’ll find, and they’re set to be phased out by 2025.

Now to the meat. Bio means the animals are fed mostly organic food and minimal antibiotics, and are given more space than their conventionally raised counterparts. Freiland is a generic term for “free-range”, while Neuland is a specific free-range certification which doesn’t necessarily mean organic, but ensures a relatively high level of animal welfare, GMO-free feed and restrained use of antibiotics. The highest animal welfare and quality regulations are set by traditional organic certifiers such as Bioland and Demeter, though activists and journalists have uncovered plenty of scandals, finding that conditions on farms where supposedly strict organic standards are upheld are often little better than those in factory farms.

If you really want to be sure about how the animals you’re eating were treated, check out the farm yourself. A few years ago I visited farmer Bernd Schulz’s hog farm (www.meinekleinefarm.org) in Brandenburg and found surely the happiest pigs I’ve ever seen – until they were made into Wurst, of course.

Q Dear Hans-Torsten: I’m a new Berliner and a new mother, and I don’t speak a word of German! Can you recommend some English-language resources to help me cope? —Martha

A Dear Martha: If you haven’t yet come across it, www.berlinforallthefamily.com covers pretty much every aspect of parental life in Berlin in English. Especially helpful are the exhaustive, clear explanations of your bureaucratic rights and duties as parents.

Becoming a mother for the first time (especially in a foreign country) can be an emotional challenge, too. You might want to visit the English-language “Psychology of Motherhood” meet up at the pyschoanalysis lab Stillpoint Spaces in Neukölln. It’s free for all, and you can leave a donation if you like.

If all you’re looking for is commiseration, the Prenzlauer Berg-based “pregnancy concierge” company Maternita offers a monthly English “breastfeeding meet-up” in Pankow as well as “Having a Baby in Berlin” workshops for pregnant woman (€15).