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Annemieke Hendriks wrote a German book on tomatoes
"Misconceptions on fresh produce industry remain stubborn”"
With the publication of her book, Annemieke received a lot of media attention in Germany and Austria. She just returned from a ten-day trip in Austria where she spoke in front of a diverse audience in various bookstores, a large garden complex at the Dutch embassy, in her favorite Viennese pub and in five other locations.
Annemieke recently appeared in several places with her book, including here in the Viennese bookshop Thalia.
Together with ecologist Michaela Theurl at the European scientific institute IWM in Vienna.
"People are often amazed when they hear my story, that Dutch tomatoes come from heated greenhouses. They believe that part, but find it hard to accept that the cultivation method is almost the same as for German tomatoes.
A meeting with Marco Hennis, the Dutch ambassador in Austria, in the garden of his Viennese residence, the former villa of composer Richard Strauss, where Annemieke spoke later that evening.
That the misconceptions were deep, Annemieke noticed when she asked people on a Berlin market questions about tomatoes for her own radio documentary. "Give me tomatoes from German soil," they answered. Annemieke: "They seem to think that the tomatoes grow in the Brandenburger clay, but I helped them out of this illusion. They ought to be happy that the tomatoes grow in a protected greenhouse and not in the toxic, Brandenburg soil where pests are hard to control. I asked them, "Why do you trust German growers who you do not know but not Dutch growers with all their expertise?"
With her book and all the media attention Annemieke hopes to educate German and Austrian consumers. ‘It is very difficult to dissuade people from preconceived ideas, even if you are telling the truth.’ She finds the title of an interview with her that appeared in a large German daily newspaper rather unfortunate: “Wasserbombe aus Amsterdam”. That title had nothing to do with the content of the article. You can write what you want, the misconceptions remain stubborn. You can also see that in the reactions to such an article where people say tomatoes of Dutch origin are not to be trusted and prefer tomatoes from Brandenburg. But those also come from Dutch seeds, and the technology usually comes from the Netherlands as well. "
Lack of openness
Annemieke understands where this comes from. "Consumers receive a stream of information from all directions. The packaging of German tomatoes states that they are guaranteed not genetically modified, which is a misleading statement and therefore nonsense." People then draw the conclusion that Dutch tomatoes are genetically modified, and people are also frightened by all kinds of food websites.
An event like Kom in de kas doesn’t exist in Germany. "You don’t see that openness that we have in the Netherlands, because the greenhouse is kept out of the picture for the consumer." With images on the packaging that suggest that the tomatoes grow on the field, the trade likes to keep the myth alive. There is a lot of technology anxiety when it comes to nutrition."
Accuracy in information about the food industry remains challenging. Not only for Germans and Austrians, but also Dutch media sometimes have difficulty understanding the subtle nuances. "In January I was interviewed by De Telegraaf because of the book and the Grüne Woche, and I said that it is quite possible that German tomatoes are grown with Dutch seed. Afterwards the article suggested that Dutch tomatoes are sold as German tomatoes in Germany, which was the wrong conclusion."
Despite her extensive research, Annemieke does not see herself as the tomato expert of the Netherlands, like De Telegraaf called her. "As an outsider of the sector, I know a lot about it, in terms of knowledge, but the Dutch growers, scientists and tradespeople are of course the real experts. I am not an ambassador for the Dutch tomato, but I do my best to get the truth out." The book is certainly not a promotion for the Dutch tomato, Annemieke emphasizes. There just happens to be a lot of misconceptions about Dutch products, so it often works out in the benefit of the Dutch.
Annemieke likes to talk about her findings. More lectures are planned in Germany in the coming months. "It keeps me sharp to keep track of the new developments. That the natural gas exploitation in Groningen is coming to an end and that the focus is increasingly shifting to geothermal heat, for example, I follow with great interest."
She won’t be writing anymore books on fruit and vegetables. The investigative journalist will dive into other subjects. "I was never a food freak", she explains. "The tomato was a reason to conduct research into the food industry, which is a wonderful symbol for the world that was unknown to me." I am very grateful to the Dutch horticulture industry. "I have spoken extensively with seed companies, breeders, growers, tradespeople and scientists. I asked them many critical questions and they gave me very honest and open answers that allowed me to paint a picture of the truth."
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