More and more often, the voters are deciding the future of agriculture. Should more cows with horns graze on Swiss meadows again? To what extent can the consumption of regional foods be promoted by the Fair Food Initiative? These and other questions have already led to lively discussions in the past. And now other initiatives are about to be voted on, including those on the use of pesticides or biodiversity. Mucca.ch has compiled the most important facts and figures on agriculture in politics.
And Switzerland is right in the middle
In times of insecurity, marked by hamster purchases for fear of the coronavirus, some people become aware of how dependent Switzerland, as a small country without access to the sea, is on food imports and functioning air traffic: protective mask deliveries are stopped at German customs, the USA imposes an entry ban on Europeans and Italy’s food exports collapse. What now, if all of a sudden there are no more bananas, mangoes and pineapples in the supermarkets? What fate threatens Swiss if every second flight is to be cancelled? And how are we to bridge the forced holidays when swimming pools, bars, cinemas, ski resorts and fitness centres, including schools, remain closed?
At the end of 2018, swiss people deciced about the initiative for food sovereignty with the aim of promoting food production that is as extensive as possible and independent of foreign countries. It called for the protection of domestic farms and the consumption of more regional products. By means of cost-covering producer prices and higher requirements for imported products – they should meet the Swiss standard – the initiative committee wanted to prevent, among other things, the closure of 900 family farms per year for good. Because many considered the proposal to be too radical, it was rejected by 68.4% in the vote of 23 September 2018.
On that day, there was also a “no” vote (61.3%) for the Fair Food Initiative, which called for healthy, environmentally friendly and fairly produced food. It demanded that the Confederation strengthen the supply of sustainably, animal-friendly and fairly produced food and take measures against food wasters. Because the demands of the initiative “in principle” also applied to imports and demanded higher customs duties for products from unsustainable trade or poor animal husbandry, it was in conflict with international trade law. In addition to rising prices as a result of stricter controls, this was also one of the reasons why the Fair Food Initiative was sent down the drain by voters.
Last but not least, a decision was made in 2018 on whether farmers should receive financial incentives if they keep cows and goats with horns. Mucca.ch has already reported extensively on the horncow initiative (click here to see article).
What still awaits us
In February 2020, the Federal Council adopted the Dispatch on Agricultural Policy 2022+ to address the concerns of the population. The objectives include more efficient farms and a reduction in environmental pollution and the consumption of non-renewable resources. Existing measures to promote biodiversity are to be further developed and spouses are to be given better social security cover. The basic idea is promising. However, Markus Ritter, President of the Swiss Farmers’ Association, points out that the numerous tightening up measures are leading to a deterioration in the competitiveness of Swiss agriculture and to problems in the security of supply. Ritter estimates that production (especially arable farming and livestock farming) will fall by 13% by 2025 and the gross self-sufficiency rate will fall by 8% in the same period. The new requirements will lead to considerable additional costs and also lower yields without an equivalent added value being achieved on the market. The planned regionalisation of agricultural policy will create unequal bases for families in the various regions. And despite this additional expenditure, direct payments will be reduced. Ritter assumes that Agricultural Policy 2022+ will further accelerate the closure of farms (currently around 1,000 per year throughout Switzerland), as many farmers already have to take up a second occupation to keep their families afloat.
Ritter considers the upcoming initiatives for clean drinking water and a Switzerland without synthetic pesticides to be too radical and above all not feasible for the small farms with often many high-stem trees of well-tried fruit varieties, which today, due to the many introduced pests, would simply no longer yield an edible harvest without spray agents. These restrictions will lead to a decline in production and ultimately to higher food prices. In the end, it is the consumers who decide.