This Sunday, Swiss voters will decide the fate of a proposed change to the constitution on food security. The text is the government’s response to an earlier proposal by the Swiss Farmers’ Union, which demanded farmers receive greater financial support, and better shielding from foreign food imports.
The proposal now before voters, which was sufficient in scope for the Swiss Farmers’ Union to withdraw its original initiative, is more focused on food security and less on supporting local farmers.
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Many Swiss farmers struggle economically despite some of the world’s highest taxpayer support. The uneconomic size of some holdings is one reason. According to OECD data, Swiss farmers received the world’s biggest subsidies in 2015, amounting to 62.39% of gross farm receipts.
The proposal on the voting table this weekend includes five rather vague and uncontentious elements:
1. Preservation of the agricultural base, in particular farmland.
2. Resource efficient food production adapted to local conditions.
3. An agricultural sector which responds to market demand.
4. Commercial trade that contributes to sustainable development.
5. A system of food use that preserves resources.
A majority of Switzerland’s parliament, or National Council, voted in favour of the plan with 175 for, 5 against, and 10 abstentions. The upper house, or Council of States, voted 36 in favour, 4 against, with 4 abstentions.
Switzerland’s level of food self-sufficiency varies by food category. In 2014, self-sufficiency in animal products: eggs, meat and dairy, was 100%. By contrast. self sufficiency in plant-based foods was only 46%. Overall in 2014, Switzerland produced 63% of the food it consumed.
If concern for the environment and food self-sufficiency are the goals, one way to get there would be to grow more plants and fewer animals. By one measure producing animal protein requires up to 17 times as much land as vegetable protein. And, another study calculates that one kg of beef could generate 70 times the emissions of one kg of grain.