Switzerland is going to the polls on
Sunday, in not one but two votes which campaigners say will promote
ethical and sustainable food.
The votes follow scandals in the
last few years over horse meat in lasagne and the destruction of rain
forests to make way for palm oil and cattle ranching.
reflect growing consumer interest – not just in Switzerland but across
Europe – in where food comes from and how it is produced.
Why two votes, and what’s the difference?
system of direct democracy means campaigners simply have to gather
100,000 signatures to ensure a nationwide vote on a political issue.
first proposal, called “fair food”, wants more government support for
sustainable, animal friendly products – and more detailed labelling so
consumers know what they are getting.
It also calls for a
crackdown on food waste, and for imports to meet Swiss standards on
workers’ conditions, environmental safety, and animal welfare.
This would mean Swiss inspectors checking foreign food producers for compliance.
second, called “food sovereignty” goes even further, calling for much
greater state support for local family farms, for higher tariffs on food
imports, and for foreign produce that does not meet Swiss standards to
What do farmers say?
Many Swiss farmers support the proposals.
price of milk has been falling, and an average of 1,000 Swiss farms a
year are closing, many of them traditional alpine dairy farms.
Baumann, who has switched to organic beef on the farm that has been in
his family for over a century, believes the future of agriculture lies
in local family farming.
“I think things need to change in the
food industry, we are making too many mistakes, in sustainability and
with animal welfare,” he says.
Ulrike Minkner, who has also abandoned dairy for organic beef, agrees. “We’re not against trade,” she says.
“This is about defending good food and good standards in Switzerland and abroad.”
Other farmers are sceptical.
already has high environmental and animal welfare laws. Member of
parliament for the right wing Swiss People’s Party Marcel Dettling – who
is also a farmer – thinks the proposals could actually be damaging.
farmers will lose. These proposals will force Switzerland’s
environmental standards on to foreign producers,” he says. “So in the
long run, we will lose our unique selling point: organic,
environmentally sustainable produce, and we will create more competition
What about consumers?
Again, opinions are divided.
market share for organic “fair” produce is growing in Switzerland,
where around 10% of all farms, or 14% of farmland, is now organic.
consumers say they want more diversity in organic produce, and more
information about the food they buy. And not just in supermarkets – but
in restaurants, where the origin and production conditions of food can
be hard to discover.
Surveys show consumers are prepared to pay up to 20% more for local, organic meat, but that does not mean cost is not a concern.
biggest retailers have warned that approving the measures on fair food
and food sustainability will inevitably lead to higher prices – in a
country where food is already very expensive.
So what is going to happen?
opinion polls gave both proposals support of 70% or more. But advice
from the government is that some of the measures are unnecessary. They
say animal welfare which is already strictly controlled, and other
measures – such as setting Swiss standards for foreign food producers –
Concerns about cost are also a factor, and the latest polls show “yes” and “no” voters are neck-and-neck.
voters do say yes, the government will have to implement measures which
would give Switzerland the most rigorous food standards in Europe and
might, if tariffs on foreign imports are implemented, put it in
violation of its international trade agreements.
If voters say no, there will be relief from retailers and politicians.
But that is likely to be temporary: plans for future votes on food standards are already in the pipeline.
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