EUR 3.1 million awarded to research the meat industry and sustainability

Photo: Private Dr. Christin Bernhold heads the new junior research group, which
Photo: Private Dr. Christin Bernhold heads the new junior research group, which has been granted EUR 3.1 million in funding.
What role does the meat industry play in social debates on sustainable modes of production? Dr. Christin Bernhold of the Department of Earth System Sciences at Universität Hamburg and her junior research group will examine precisely this over the next 5 years. Bernhold has been awarded EUR 3.1 million by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) to carry out this research.

Generally, research in the field of bioeconomy has focused on technological innovations and on ways to reduce unsustainable forms of consumption and production capacities. However, the extent to which corporate strategies influence the scope and quality of the necessary change toward more sustainable production remains unclear. This question will be explored by Dr. Christin Bernhold and her junior research group in the project Die Fleischindustrie als Teil der Bioökonomie-Internationalisierung, Arbeitsgeographien und hegemoniale Strategien (The meat industry as part of the bioeconomy-internationalization, labor geographies and hegemonic strategies).

-We have taken the meat industry as a highly topical example and will examine various corporate strategies in the areas of internationalization, labor, politics, and culture,- says Bernhold. -My team will also examine what implications these strategies have for the implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how they relate to state and civil society actors.- In doing this, the research project will also contribute to concretizing the conditions for implementing the SDGs in the field of bioeconomy and to deriving political options for action.

The junior research group’s agenda will be based on 3 pillars:
  • an economic-geographic perspective, from which the group will investigate the extent to which, for example, exports and other internationalization strategies impact sustainability
  • a labor-geographic and sociological perspective, from which the group will explore the strategies used by companies in the German meat industry to respond to the new occupational health and safety control act (Arbeitsschutzkontrollgesetz) and the extent to which working conditions and exploitative relationships are changing in the industry
  • a hegemonic-theoretical perspective, from which the group examine how companies and trade associations influence politics and civil society

-Exploring these strategies is therefore also necessary, because-from a global perspective-the meat industry is expected to continue to record strong growth despite the rapid advancement of plant-based foods, thus potentially jeopardizing the implementation of the SDGs,- says Bernhold. -Furthermore, the industry-intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic-has become a focal point for societal debates about how to organize food production and distribution.-

Health effects, greenhouse gases and other pollutant emissions from industrial meat production, the treatment of animals, and the working conditions of migrant workers in particular have increasingly become conflict issues in recent years.

The junior research group will consist of the junior research group leader, 3 postdoctoral researchers, 2 doctoral researchers, and 3 undergraduate research/teaching assistants.

Dr. Christin Bernhold studied geography, political science, and Latin American studies at Universität Hamburg and was a research assistant in the Department of Geography at the University of Zurich between 2013 and 2019, where she also obtained her doctorate. Since 2019, she has worked research associate at the Institute of Geography, Universität Hamburg. On 1 May 2023, Bernhold will become a junior professor for economic and political geography, in particular bioeconomics and sustainable change, in the Department of Earth System Sciences in the Faculty of Mathematics, Informatics and Natural Sciences at Universität Hamburg.