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The U.S. and Europe are moving closer to a free trade deal that would create the world's largest single market. Some European activists are stepping up protests against that agreement. They say it would strip consumers of their rights and workers of their livelihoods.
Farmers and environmental groups used pigs to make their point today in front of the office of the German chancellor in Berlin. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson was there.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Activists sweep hay into a fluffy pile in front of Angela Merkel's office building to welcome more than a dozen squealing protesters.
(SOUNDBITE OF PIGS)
NELSON: Organic farmer Rudolf Buehler hustles the pigs past amused police officers who are here to make sure things don't get out of hand. The pigs appear happy to oblige. They huddle in an orderly group, drinking water and munching on hay.
RUDOLF BUEHLER: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: Buehler tells onlookers that the pigs are from his southern German farm, which his family has worked for nearly seven centuries.
BUEHLER: They are a symbol of free farmers.
NELSON: They also might be seen as a symbol of insult to the chancellor, no?
BUEHLER: Yes. I think she might watch and even NSA will watch us. I'm very sure about that.
NELSON: But he says his trip here with the pigs is no joke. Buehler says he doesn't know how else to convince Merkel that a U.S.-European free trade pact, opening the market to more American meat, could end up wiping out traditional German farms like his. He says it costs a lot more for small farmers to produce pork and other meat products that meet E.U. standards and customers' tastes. And those European tastes are increasingly anti-American when it comes to beef, chicken and pork.
A report released last week by the Green Movement's Heinrich Boll Foundation charge that Europeans do not want U.S. meat pumped full of growth hormones.
BARBARA UNMUESSIG: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: At a Berlin news conference, foundation president Barbara Unmuessig said people need to know what animals eat because what they eat, we eat. These concerns, coupled with the secrecy clouding backroom talks between U.S. and European officials in advance of formal trade negotiations, are fueling unease. And while meat production may not be the biggest issue for the governments, it's one that trade pact opponents are latching on to, says Olaf Boehnke, who heads the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
OLAF BOEHNKE: Even if it's a minor issue or not a major one in the entire agreement, it might be one of the few stakes which the protesters can use, actually, to mobilize against the entire agreement.
NELSON: He adds that rumors on Twitter last week suggested Merkel and President Obama had struck a deal on agricultural matters. Such rumors contributed to the anger at today's protests. Again, farmer Buehler.
BUEHLER: So far, we see the discussion is dominated by the large industrial companies and we farmers are not being asked, you know?
NELSON: Buehler says he prefers that Germany forget about striking an all-encompassing trade deal with the U.S. and instead form a free zone with eastern European countries to strengthen the continent's ties.
Merkel's press office, meanwhile, declined to comment about the pig protest or the trade talks. The farmers and environmental activists outside her building said they will hold a second larger demonstration on Saturday but without the pigs. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin.
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