The organic association Bio Suisse has come out against an upcoming referendum in June 2021 that aims to restrict Swiss farm income support payments to those who renounce the use of pesticide and the non-medical use of antibiotics on livestock.
A popular reason for buying organic food is the concerns around the negative effects of pesticides on human health and the environment. The June 2021 initiative is focused is on cutting pesticide and antibiotic use to reduce water pollution and the damage done to soil by the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilisers and antibiotics. If it passed it would lead to an explosion of organic farming in Switzerland.
In a statement Bio Suisse said that a majority of its 73 representatives are against the initiative. But why? Surely an organisation promoting farm products grown without pesticides would be in favour of a proposal aimed at reducing pesticide use.
Bio Suisse says that over the last 40 years organic production has grown in line with consumer demand for it. In an interview with RTS, Pascal Olivier of Bio Suisse said that it is important to listen to consumers and move at the same pace as the market to ensure the coherent development of organic products, which are not as easy to produce. If organic production were to rise faster than demand it could undermine the higher prices demanded for organic produce.
Not everyone in the organic industry agrees with Bio Suisse’s stance. Bernhard Hänni, an organic farmer in the canton of Bern, told RTS that Bio Suisse’s position makes no sense. It is saying consumers want more organic produce but we can’t produce more because we need to protect the market. This makes no sense, says Hänni.
If organic produce was produced at scale, its production would become more efficient, prices would have room to fall and consumers would buy more of it. But some existing smaller less efficient organic farms might feel the squeeze.
In addition, if the whole nation switched to organic farming, today’s organic producers would have no point of distinction. They would lose their unique selling proposition and probably their margins with it.
As Bio Suisse has demonstrated with its recent decision, promoting organic farming and the health of the environment and people is not the same as protecting the interests of organic farmers.