Bird deaths

The mil­li­ons of deaths of hund­reds of song­bird spe­ci­es during the oli­ve har­vest each year is a sub­ject of gro­wing public awa­reness. Like many of you, we were bare­ly awa­re of it. Our distance from such events, both geo­gra­phi­cal­ly and in terms of con­tent, is too great. 

Many cus­to­mers, part­ners, friends, and rela­ti­ves have drawn our atten­ti­on to count­less reports in the past few mon­ths, have asked us for advice or even deman­ded gua­ran­tees from us that we and our OEL are not part of this sub­ject. During our rese­arch on this sub­ject, deli­ber­ate­ly cho­sen as the first chap­ter of this jour­nal, we dis­co­ve­r­ed how com­plex it is – and so how dif­fi­cult it is to ana­ly­ze. But we dare to try: 

The oli­ve tree as habitat 

Oli­ve gro­ves are true oases of bio­di­ver­si­ty in the other­wi­se bar­ren agri­cul­tu­ral mono­cul­tu­re deserts. Lea­ding rese­ar­chers from sou­thern Euro­pean uni­ver­si­ties have been try­ing for deca­des to take a well-foun­ded inven­to­ry in order to achie­ve legal pro­tec­tion for the­se oases and their sus­tainab­le manage­ment. Cer­tain­ly, hund­reds of Euro­pean bird spe­ci­es use oli­ve gro­ves as a retre­at. This is becau­se the ori­gi­nal oli­ve gro­ves are home to thousands of flowe­ring wild herbs and thus attract pol­li­na­ting insects, which in turn are an opti­mal source of food for the bird spe­ci­es. With this chain of con­di­ti­ons, oli­ve gro­ves are among the most important cul­tu­ral land­s­capes for the pro­tec­tion of sou­thern Euro­pean biodiversity. 

Spain – the world’s big­gest producer 

With around 300 mil­li­on oli­ve trees and an annu­al pro­duc­tion of around 1.79 mil­li­on tons of oli­ve oil (as of 2018/19), Spain is the world’s lar­gest pro­du­cer of oli­ve oils and, if you con­si­der the abo­ve-men­tio­ned facts, it should be the purest eco­lo­gi­cal para­di­se. The rea­li­ty, howe­ver, is com­ple­te­ly different. 

In Spain, oli­ve gro­ves have been cul­ti­va­ted in the style of indus­tria­li­zed agri­cul­tu­re for deca­des. This means that oli­ve trees are plan­ted tight­ly in rows for opti­mal use of the limi­ted are­as and redu­ced to bush size through tar­ge­ted regu­lar trim­ming to enab­le a ful­ly auto­ma­ted cost-saving har­vest. Even the most trai­ned eyes have to look several times at the­se gro­ves in order to sen­se in the­se iden­ti­cal ave­nues the begin­nings of the actu­al sple­ndor, power, and strength of the ever-vary­ing oli­ve trees. 

“Bloo­dy oli­ve oil” 

Bet­ween Sep­tem­ber and Novem­ber, mil­li­ons of Euro­pean migra­to­ry birds make a sto­po­ver in sou­thern Euro­pe or even sett­le down to over­win­ter. This is also the time of year for the oli­ve har­vest. Due to the dri­ve for effi­ci­en­cy, com­pe­ti­ti­on, time pres­su­re, fal­ling pri­ces, and immense cos­ts, the decisi­on is often made to ope­ra­te super-inten­si­ve cul­ti­va­ti­on and sub­se­quent­ly a ful­ly auto­ma­ted extrac­tion of the olives. This ful­ly auto­ma­tic extrac­tion is car­ri­ed out by so-cal­led stilt tractors. 

The oli­ve har­vest is all about the olive’s degree of ripeness and so about the oli­ve oil’s opti­mal tas­te. Espe­cial­ly among indus­tri­al Spa­nish far­mers, the view has spread that the com­pa­ra­tively low tem­pe­ra­tures at night favor the oli­ve oil’s opti­mal tas­te. And the huge stilt trac­tors work their way through the alleys of the oli­ve gro­ves at night, with their head­lights catching and para­ly­zing the migra­to­ry birds nes­ting in the trees, befo­re the birds are fatal­ly sucked out of the trees with the olives. 

Thanks to the stilt trac­tors, the­re is no need for cost-inten­si­ve human labor, and an eco­no­mi­c­al­ly via­ble oli­ve oil can be pro­du­ced. To the chag­rin of the mil­li­ons of migra­to­ry birds. 


Who is respon­si­ble for this pro­blem? Is it the far­mers with their machi­nes? Is it pri­ma­ri­ly the Ger­man dis­coun­ter super­mar­kets who are pla­cing the bur­dern of their com­pe­ti­ti­on on the shoul­ders of the pro­du­cers? Is it the laws? Or is it the migra­to­ry birds them­sel­ves? After all, they could just sit in ano­t­her tree. 

We belie­ve that the migra­to­ry birds are defi­ni­te­ly not to bla­me. The laws of the Euro­pean Uni­on allow too much scope for inter­pre­ta­ti­on, so that machi­nes such as the stilt trac­tor are per­mit­ted even in orga­ni­cal­ly cer­ti­fied pro­ces­sing. The main­ly Ger­man dis­coun­ter super­mar­kets put the bur­den of their feuds on the shoul­ders of the pro­du­cers and spoil people’s sen­se for rea­listic pro­duct pri­ces with pri­ces of less than 1 euro. In addi­ti­on, the ongo­ing “orga­nic boom” means that that collec­ti­ve pri­ce pres­su­re is beco­m­ing com­mon prac­ti­ce even in orga­nic retail. > ORGA­NIC< was crea­ted several deca­des ago to allow a life in har­mo­ny with natu­re, to gua­ran­tee the pre­ser­va­ti­on of small-sca­le agri­cul­tu­re, and to ensu­re a balan­ced and trus­ting rela­ti­ons­hip bet­ween pro­du­cer and con­su­mer with fair pro­duc­tion conditions. 

But we dig­ress: for we are all respon­si­ble for what hap­pens to the migra­to­ry birds in sou­thern Euro­pe every year. With our buy­ing beha­vi­or, we deci­de how we respond to such problems. 

Con­clu­si­on: Don’t just talk, take action. To save hund­reds of song­bird popu­la­ti­ons, this means:ür-den-millionenfachen-vogelmord-durch-die-olivenernte

Becau­se only a law that for­bids har­ve­s­ting at night will help! The birds could reco­gni­ze the dan­ger ear­ly on and would flee and thus survive. 


I. https://​www​.arte​fakt​.eu/​w​i​s​s​e​n​/​o​l​i​v​e​n​o​e​l​b​e​t​r​u​g​-​v​o​g​e​l​s​t​e​r​b​e​n​-​u​n​d​-​d​a​s​-​v​o​r​h​a​b​e​n​-​v​o​n​-aldi/
II. https://​www​.focus​.de/​w​i​s​s​e​n​/​e​r​n​t​e​-​i​n​-​d​e​r​-​n​a​c​h​t​-​m​i​l​l​i​o​n​e​n​-​v​o​e​g​e​l​-​s​t​e​r​b​e​n​-​d​a​m​i​t​-​u​n​s​e​r​e​-​o​liven- besonders-gut-schmecken_id_10781569.html
III. https://​www​.bau​ern​zei​tung​.ch/​a​r​t​i​k​e​l​/​v​o​g​e​l​s​t​e​r​b​e​n​-​f​u​e​r​-​oliven
IV. https://​www​.oelea​.de/​b​l​o​g​/​s​t​o​p​p​t​-​d​i​e​-​o​l​i​v​e​n​e​r​n​t​e​-​b​e​i​-nacht
V.ür-den-millionenfachen-vogelmord-durch-die- oli­ven­ern­te
VI.—warum-millionen-singvoegel-fuer-unser- oel-sterben-muessen-8735660.html
VII. https://​ethik​gui​de​.org/​b​l​o​g​/​d​e​r​-​b​e​i​g​e​s​c​h​m​a​c​k​-​d​e​s​-​t​o​d​e​s​-​v​o​g​e​l​s​t​e​r​b​e​n​-​f​u​e​r​-​d​i​e​-​o​l​i​v​e​n​ernte/
VIII. https://​www​.tr​-ada​.ch/​k​a​t​e​g​o​r​i​e​n​/​k​o​n​s​u​m​/​1​8​7​-​a​m​-​o​l​i​v​e​n​o​e​l​-​k​l​e​b​t​-​v​o​g​elblut 

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