Citizens' report on nutrition handed over

20. February 2024

On 20 February 2024, the Citizens' Assembly "Nutrition in Transition" presented its recommendations to Bundestag President Bärbel Bas and the parliamentary groups in the Bundestag. On 14 January 2024, the mini-public adopted nine recommendations for improving food policy.The proposals include free nursery and school meals, healthy food without VAT and better animal welfare labelling. The citizens' assembly was the first mini-public officially appointed by the Bundestag.

The following points are important to the participants for better nutrition

  1. Free lunch for all children: free and healthy lunches should be offered at all kindergartens and schools nationwide.
  2. Conscious shopping made easy with a mandatory government label: There should be a mandatory government label for all products sold in Germany and the European Union. The label should take into account the areas of climate, animal welfare and health individually and should be scientifically based.
  3. Mandatory passing on of edible food by food retailers: Supermarkets and other food shops with a sales area of 400 square metres or more should be obliged to pass on edible food that would otherwise be thrown away to charitable organisations.
  4. Transparent presentation of the living conditions and origin of animals: A mandatory and government-controlled, holistic animal welfare label should map the entire life cycle of farm animals.
  5. New tax rate for food: The definition of basic foodstuffs is to be revised. In future, this should also include products such as plant-based milk substitutes, meat substitutes and all products produced in accordance with organic standards. Sugar, on the other hand, is no longer to be considered a staple food and the VAT levied on it is to be increased to 19 per cent. Products such as unprocessed and frozen organic fruit and vegetables, pulses, nuts and wholegrain cereals as well as mineral and table water will no longer be subject to VAT.
  6. Communal catering in care facilities: Access to a healthy and balanced diet is to be ensured in hospitals, rehabilitation centres, retirement homes and other care facilities.
  7. Consumption tax to promote animal welfare: An earmarked consumption tax on animal products is intended to finance the reorganisation of animal husbandry towards species-appropriate livestock farming. The revenue from the consumption levy is to be used for an animal welfare premium that farms will receive on an ongoing basis if they improve the way they keep their animals. The better the husbandry system, the higher the premium.
  8. Age limit for energy drinks: A minimum age of 16 should be introduced for the purchase of energy drinks and similar products.
  9. More staff for food inspections and better transparency: The professional regulations for food inspectors are to be amended in such a way that the entry barriers for this profession are lowered. Inspection results are to be made easily accessible to the public.

In an overarching recommendation, the citizens' assembly also stated that information and education are the foundation for all other recommendations of the mini-public.

The detailed texts of the recommendations and further details on their development can be found in the citizens' report of the mini-public (PDF, 56 pages)

"Democracy was lived in the Citizens' Assembly"

The President of the Bundestag, Bärbel Bas, had already thanked the members of the Citizens' Assembly on their last weekend session: "Democracy concerns us all. In the Citizens' Assembly 'Nutrition in Transition', democracy was lived out in a climate of openness, curiosity and the courage to engage in objective dialogue. I would like to thank all participants for taking the time to familiarise themselves in depth with the topic of nutrition.

Their recommendations have provided important impetus for our parliamentary work. Very specific recommendations, such as a free lunch for all children or an age limit for energy drinks, are now on the table, which we will now address as MPs. All parliamentary groups in the German Bundestag should take a close look at these recommendations. The first citizens' assembly of the German Bundestag is a successful and innovative example of living democracy."

"It worked really well"

The representatives of the various parliamentary groups present at the handover of the citizens' report expressed their satisfaction with the citizens' assembly process. "It worked really well," said SPD MP Marianne Schieder. The rapporteur group of the parliamentary groups on the Citizens' Assembly had already worked very intensively on how to ensure that the assembly recommendations were dealt with in the Bundestag.

"We are looking forward to commissioning the next Citizens' Assembly," said Schieder. It will be discussed with the evaluation team which observed and analysed the implementation of the mini-public, what can be done better in the next Citizens' Assembly, .

"Putting the instrument on its feet"

On behalf of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, MP Philipp Amthor paid tribute to the Citizens' Assembly participants. In a press release, he announced his intention to "turn the Citizens' Assembly instrument from its head to its feet". "What is needed, for example, are coherent and good procedural regulations and the effective protection of minority rights," said the spokesperson for his parliamentary group for state organisation and modernisation and representative of the parliamentary group in the inter-party "Citizens' Assembly Rapporteur Group".

Green MP Leon Eckert explained that citizens' assemblies were still at the experimental stage. "The first citizens' assembly must also serve to critically examine the instrument for a continuation as a new element of our democracy," said the deputy member of the Subcommittee on Civic Engagement. His group is entering the second round with an open mind.

"We need new experiments"

Stephan Thomae (FDP) sees the Citizens' Assembly experiment as a success. "Democracy never stands still, we need new experiments," explained the Liberal, who sits on the Citizens' Councils rapporteur group for his parliamentary group.

""The report you have presented convinces me, a lot of time and passion has gone into it"," commented AfD MP Götz Frömming on the Citizens' Assembly recommendations. Nevertheless, his group remains sceptical about the Citizens' Assembly as an instrument. The AfD would like to see more direct democracy through referendums.

Impressed by the Citizens' Assembly

CDU/CSU MP Hermann Färber, Chairman of the Bundestag Committee on Food and Agriculture, said: "I can only describe what I experienced as the great commitment, passion and palpable personal involvement that you all showed". He was very impressed by what he experienced during his visit to the Citizens' Assembly. "I wish you and us that your recommendations are heard to some extent, even if they are uncomfortable, that is not only your wish, that would be my wish too," said Mr Färber.

From the perspective of the Citizens' Assembly's independent scientific advisory board, nutritional psychologist Dr Thomas Ellrott explained that the advisory board had greatly appreciated the collaboration with the mini-public. "A big wow from our side for the level at which the recommendations were discussed." According to advisory board member Prof Melanie Speck, the recommendations reflect the scientific consensus on nutrition.

"Experiencing a cross-section of the population"

Prof Detlef Sack and Nora Freier presented the evaluation report prepared by the Institute for Democracy and Participation Research at the University of Wuppertal together with the Verian opinion research institute. According to the report, the Bundestag did indeed experience a cross-section of the population with the Citizens' Assembly on Nutrition. 84 per cent of participants rated their participation in the Citizens' Assembly as a positive experience. 69 per cent were satisfied with the recommendations. In addition, according to a survey conducted by the evaluation team, 79 per cent of German citizens thought that setting up the Citizens' Assembly on Nutrition was a good idea.

The topic of nutrition was associated with a high level of effort in process management and a high time pressure. Participants criticised the ratio between face-to-face and online meetings. In addition, the Citizens' Assembly was not dovetailed with the development of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture's nutrition strategy. Nevertheless, the Citizens' Assembly fully achieved the original objectives.

Following the statements from parliamentary groups, scientific advisory board and evaluation team, a discussion on individual measures proposed by the Citizens' Assembly ensued between politicians from all parliamentary groups who were also present and participants in the Citizens' Assembly. The recommendation for free lunches for children in daycare centres and schools was discussed particularly intensively.

Topic determined by MPs

The topic of the citizens' assembly was determined by the members of parliament. The Council of Elders of the Bundestag had appointed a Citizens' Assembly Rapporteur Group for this purpose, in which all parliamentary groups of the German Bundestag are represented. The rapporteur group had discussed different proposals for topics and finally agreed on the topic "Nutrition in Transition: Between Private Matters and State Responsibilities". The SPD, the Greens, the FDP and the Left had introduced this topic proposal as a motion in the Bundestag. The majority of the MPs approved the motion on 10 May 2023.

The participants of the Citizens' Assembly were randomly selected nationwide from all residents aged 16 and over. The Citizens' Assembly was intended to represent the diversity of society as well as possible and also to make visible the voices that are otherwise less present in political discussions. For this purpose, the 160 participants were randomly selected in a multi-stage procedure.

In a first step, 19,327 people were randomly selected from the population registers of 82 municipalities drawn by lot throughout Germany and written to. 2,220 of them expressed their interest in participating. From these responses, a computer algorithm was used to compile 1,000 possible citizens' assemblies, each with 160 participants, one of whom was randomly selected by Bundestag President Bärbel Bas on 21 July 2023.

A reflection of the population

In compiling the 1,000 potential citizens' assemblies, care was taken to ensure that the algorithm determined the participants in terms of age, gender, origin (federal state and municipality size) and educational background in such a way that each of the 1,000 citizens' assemblies accurately reflected the proportions of the population in Germany. In addition, it was ensured that the Citizens' Assembly on Nutrition accurately reflects the proportion of the population that eats a vegetarian or vegan diet.

The first meeting of the citizens' assembly took place on the last weekend of September 2023. This was followed by two further weekends in Berlin and a total of six online meetings for in-depth discussion and compilation of the recommendations in a citizens' report.

Participating citizens received 50 euros for each digital session and 200 euros for attending the face-to-face sessions in Berlin (each from Friday afternoon to Sunday noon), for a total of up to 900 euros. In addition, they were provided with hotel rooms and meals free of charge and their travel expenses were reimbursed.

"A great honour for me"

The participants expressed their delight at their random selection. "Of course it was a great honour for me. I didn't expect it because it's really very, very unlikely that you'll get in. And when I was selected anyway, it was a very nice surprise," says 16-year-old student Hengwin Chammo from Bad Salzuflen. "You don't often get so lucky in life. If it's always like this now, I'll play the lottery too," joked Hudson Luis (32) from Cologne.

Nicola Wilkeit, an IT administrator from Bremen, thinks it's "a good thing that it's not always just about thinking what could be good for the citizens, but the citizens are asked, what do you want?" 20-year-old Andreas Dirr from Pfaffenhofen an der Roth said: "If people have opportunities like this more often, it can go a long way towards restoring normal discourse." Kilian Busche from Barntrup explains the special quality of the citizens' assembly: "Of course, you don't agree with everyone. But that's exactly what it's all about: engaging with different points of view and broadening your own horizons."

The first assembly weekend left an impression. "We were totally different people. Everyone is listened to, I think that's very important," said pensioner Ute Hilbert from Burscheid in an interview with WDR. "This background knowledge was very interesting and that has already brought me further," said Magdalena Putze-Heinrich from Rehlingen-Siersburg. Susanne Keßler (55) from Hanover raved about how good it feels to get so much information in the citizens' assembly, to be heard and to be able to participate in such a process.

Questions for the participants

In the decision to set up the Citizens' Assembly, the MPs had given the participants a number of questions to answer, such as: "What do citizens expect from the state in terms of food policy?", "What is part of transparent labelling of social conditions, environmental and climate compatibility and animal welfare standards?", "How can citizens be better supported in making purchasing decisions with regard to a healthy diet?" or "What fiscal framework should the state set for food pricing?"

The participants themselves decided on the concrete focal points of the Citizens' Assembly in this area of tension between individual freedom and responsibility for society. The focus was on measures that the German Bundestag can influence, as it is the recipient of the recommendations.

Information by experts

Experts ensured that all members of the Citizens' Assembly had approximately the same level of knowledge on the topic of the assembly. To this end, they gave short lectures and presentations to the participants. They were also available to answer questions. The discussion with the experts took place in the large round. The actual debates, however, were held by the participants in small groups to which the experts were not admitted. This ensured that the discussion was fair and open-ended.

The Scientific Advisory Board assisted in deciding which experts should give presentations. It consisted of eleven scientists from universities or state-recognised institutions who have been nominated by the parliamentary groups in the German Bundestag. The Scientific Advisory Board also supported citizens by examining their proposals for measures and providing an assessment of what effects they would have. This allowed participants to make an informed decision on what to recommend to MPs at their final meeting.

Treatment in Parliament

Following the handover of the Citizens' Assembly's Citizens' Report to the President of the Bundestag and the parliamentary groups on February 20, 2024, the document was submitted for parliamentary deliberation. On March 14, 2024, there was a first debate in the plenary session of the German Bundestag. Following the conclusion of the plenary debate, the Citizens' Report was referred to the Committee on Food and Agriculture and, in a consultative capacity, to the Committee on Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, the Committee on Health and the Committee on Climate Action and Energy.

On 24 April 2024, the Committee on Food and Agriculture held an initial discussion with some participants of the Citizens' Assembly on their Citizens' Report. The Bundestag reports on this here. On 13 May 2024, the committee held a public expert discussion on the Citizens' Assembly recommendation on free lunches in nurseries and schools. Expert discussions on further recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly have been announced.

Participants and public to be informed

Once the parliamentary deliberations have been completed, the Bundestag will decide how to proceed with the results. The participants of the Citizens' Assembly and the public will be informed about the course of the parliamentary deliberations. In this way, they also learn whether results are rejected, adopted in part or in full.

Read more