I am a walking toxic cocktail! Every morning I shower with formaldeyhd shower gel. This is followed by a spritz of (naturally aluminium-free) deodorant with artificial musk compounds. And during the short lunch break, I have a triple-packed lunch box with an extra portion of microplastics on top. Poison lurks everywhere in everyday life, how can I keep my body healthy? And what are the effects of our consumption on the environment?
Who can we still trust?
It was at the Migros checkout when I realised how little control we have over our food. I had to return a packet of organic Indian sesame because it contained ethylene oxide. Ethylene oxide increases the risk of cancer and is banned in Switzerland and the EU. So have I poisoned myself with my wholemeal sesame breads? And why is there no organic in it where it says “organic”? Since this event, my trust in the food industry has been quite tarnished. I want to know what ends up in my body and how it is produced!
Two groundbreaking initiatives
On 13 June 2021, we will decide how Switzerland will feed itself in the future. It is about the two agricultural initiatives “For a Switzerland without synthetic pesticides” (pesticide-free initiative) and “For clean drinking water and healthy food – no subsidies for the use of pesticides and prophylactic antibiotics” (drinking water initiative).
For this article, I conducted interviews with people directly affected and the president of the Schwyz Organic Farmers. The aim was to find out whether the agricultural initiatives are really as extreme as their opponents claim. All studies/sources cited are listed at the bottom.
The initiatives in brief
The prophylactic use of antibiotics, pesticides and non-native feed are the main concerns of the drinking water initiative. It states that too many antibiotics are given to humans and animals in this country, resulting in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. More and more pesticides are being detected in drinking water. And the import of animal feed pollutes the environment abroad and, according to the initiators, is even responsible for the deforestation of primeval forests. Only food produced without pesticides may be imported. In Switzerland, too, farmers must completely renounce pesticides and the prophylactic treatment of their animals with antibiotics if they want to continue to receive direct payments. In addition, they may only feed their animals with their own feed. A possible reduction in domestic food production is to be compensated for by a change in consumption behaviour (e.g. less food waste).
Organic food prices for everyone
Acceptance of the initiatives weakens food security, endangers jobs and shifts environmental pollution abroad. That is why the Federal Council recommends a 2 x No. But what do organic farmers say?
Mucca.ch spoke to Paul Ebnöther, President of the Schwyz Organic Farmers’ Association. He emphasises: “These initiatives are not free. A Yes vote costs. And it costs all of us. Food prices will rise, that’s for sure. We can no longer choose between the M-budget carrots or the three times more expensive organic carrots. If we force all farmers to convert to organic farming, we will have to reckon with higher crop failures and quality losses. And if less is produced, prices will go up.”
To guarantee our food supply, imports would increase, a move away from regionality and short transport routes! The environmental impact will be higher and shifted abroad. In Switzerland we have the most strictly controlled agricultural production in the whole world. We are controlled a lot and intensively. At the same time, laboratory sample tests keep revealing sensitive substances in foreign food. If we import more, we not only make ourselves more dependent on foreign countries, but we also lose control over how our food is produced and who produces it. In the last twenty years we have lost 30% of all farms. Already, we can only provide about 60% of the population with domestically produced food. If the initiatives are to be adopted, this would likely mean we could feed 1.5 million people less.
At this point I would also like to emphasise that we take the concerns of consumers seriously, for example with the Pesticides Act recently passed by Parliament. But these popular initiatives are coming too quickly and are too extreme. We must not forget that we are deciding the fate of tens of thousands of farming families.
Impact on farmers
In Brunnen on Lake Lucerne, Ursi and Armin von Euw are the third generation to run their farm according to IP-Suisse guidelines. In the past they lived mainly from dairy farming, but today direct marketing is an important mainstay. In their self-service farm shop they sell their own fruit, eggs and chicken as well as many other specialities from farmers in Schwyz.
Who are your customers?
Our customers are families and individuals who consciously eat regionally and seasonally. They want to know what ends up on their plate. They not only want to know the people behind their food, but also how it is produced. Especially with eggs and chicken meat, we notice how important the husbandry of the animals is to them. It is important to us that they can get fresh air at any time and that they have enough space. Our customers trust us and know that we do our best for our animals and plants every day.
We can score with a large selection of apples, pears, plums and cherries. Some of our varieties are no longer even available in the shops and are real taste bombs. In order to preserve this diversity, we would like to keep the old high trunk trees on the farm for as long as possible, even though the care and harvesting of the fruit with the high ladders can be quite time-consuming.
Why haven’t you switched to organic farming?
In many ways, especially in milk production and chicken keeping, we already farm very close to organic standards. The main reason why we chose IP-Suisse is because we grow fruit. We live in an area with a lot of rainfall and the associated high humidity and risk of fungal attack. In addition, there are pests such as worms, aphids or the Asian cherry vinegar fly, which can destroy entire harvests. Anyone who has their own garden knows that every head of lettuce is a found food for slugs and aphids. And if you invest hours and days in caring for your plants, it would be infinitely sad to have to watch the many fine fruits fall victim to them without us being able to do anything about it. At the same time, we know that many consumers are not willing to buy wormy and bad fruit.
All of us, including organic farmers, practice plant protection. This is nothing negative, but necessary, because it is about protecting the plants. We spray only as much as necessary, but as little as possible. After all, why should we poison our own soil and plants on it unnecessarily? Our parents and grandparents lived off the yields of this soil. We, too, only use it for a limited time before it becomes the basis of life for our children.
What does a yes vote mean for your business?
No one can tell us how we should maintain hygiene standards in the future. We would not be able to disinfect our hands and boots before and after the stall without disinfectant. And the cleaner for the milking machine is banned, without an alternative having been found so far.
Due to the climate and the soils, it is hardly possible to grow crops here in central Switzerland and in mountainous areas. Therefore, we have to buy in the grain for our animals. The initiative denies us this exchange and cooperation with colleagues if we want to continue to receive direct payments. It only allows us to buy our own feed. This means that we would have to stop producing laying hens, eggs and chicken. Our colleagues, organic or not, would also no longer be able to keep chickens or pigs. So we are turning our backs on regionalism.
It remains to be seen how the growing demand for LIFE foods is to be met. Aren’t we encouraging factory farming? What about spices like paprika for crisps, which are not produced organically abroad in sufficient quantities? What about the 160,000 jobs directly affected in agriculture and the retail trade if higher prices lead to an increase in shopping tourism?
Who will receive how much?
It would be nice if our children and grandchildren continue to run the farm one day. We love working with nature and the animals and are grateful that we can largely feed ourselves. However, we feel that our profession and our work are less and less appreciated. Unfortunately, we have no influence on the price policy of the retailers. We find it absurd that only a fraction of the surcharge that consumers pay for organic food ends up with the organic farmer. Some of them even return to conventional farming. With IP-Suisse we also meet high standards of animal welfare and environmental protection.
Too extreme and counterproductive
Back to the walking poison cocktail. Do you know what flows down the Rhine river in a year? According to the Federal Office for the Environment, 65 tonnes of industrial and household chemicals, another 20 tonnes of pharmaceuticals, 20 tonnes of artificial food additives and 1 tonne of plant protection products. Our medicines, cosmetics, suntan lotions, birth control pills, paints, rust-proofing agents – all of these pollute our water. Plant protection products account for less than 1 per cent! And yet Switzerland is the only country where I drink from the tap without a second thought and fill up my sports bottle at the nearest fountain.
I don’t have a car, my mobile phone is four years old, I am afraid of clothes shops and I have greatly reduced my avocado consumption. All this because I know the damage we do abroad with our consumption. In my opinion, these initiatives are not thought through to the end and are anything but social or ecological. We want to “protect” our health and the environment, cut back on regional food production, accept more imports (=longer transport routes) in return and largely relinquish control over compliance with production and animal husbandry standards. We demand less food waste, but overlook the harvest losses if all farms are forced to convert. We leave the Swiss apple with scab on the shelf and reach for the perfect apple from New Zealand or South Africa.
We have to rethink agricultural policy, that’s true. But we also have to rethink our own consumption. Switzerland will soon have 9 million inhabitants and the most beautiful meadows are being concreted over. More people lead to more traffic, more littering and more pollutants in the water. Should we really blame agriculture for all this? Maybe it soothes the conscience of some, but this black-and-white thinking does not get us anywhere.
I am already looking forward to June, because then we will have fresh cherries at home again. I love climbing the ladders and picking the sweet fruits. Even if I know they are sprayed, I eat them straight from the tree. I grew up like that and I still live like that. I know that my parents only spray as little as possible to prevent there being a worm in every fruit. It might even be healthy, but for meeting my protein needs I still prefer the fresh eggs from the neighbour.
It’s important to me that I know who produces my food. And that we don’t become too dependent on foreign countries. If, in the next crisis, it’s every country for itself again, there shouldn’t be a shortage of basic foodstuffs as well as toilet paper…
2x Nein zu den extremen Agrarinitiativen
- Potenzielle Umweltfolgen einer Umsetzung der Trinkwasserinitiative (Agroscope 2020)
- Folgenabschätzung Trinkwasserinitiative (Agroscope 2019)
- Hier klicken für mehr Agroscope-Studien
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- Deo-Test: Einige Deos ohne Aluminium enthalten bedenkliche Duftstoffe (Öko-Test vom 10.12.2020)
- Rückrufe wegen Ethylenoxid (SRF vom 18.12.2020)
- Agrarpolitik ab 2022 (AP22+)
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