Any animal raised and slaughtered in Switzerland can be labelled Swiss. However, what the animal has been fed could be from anywhere. If animals are what they eat then much of the meat and eggs labelled Swiss aren’t very Swiss.
A key challenge for meat, dairy and egg consumers is the absence of information on labels, which is limited to provenance. Information about what an animal has been fed is not contained on the labels of meat, eggs or dairy products. Animals could in extreme cases be fed things that are not fit for human consumption that go on to contaminate the end product without consumers ever knowing.
One example of this is some farmed fish. To stop the oils in fish pellets going rancid some producers add Ethoxyquin, a chemical banned for use as a pesticide in agriculture. This contamination, found also in some organically farmed salmon, was discovered in samples of farmed salmon analysed by scientists in Geneva, reported SRF. In addition, Jérôme Ruzzin, a toxicology researcher based in Norway, has done studies that link the toxins stored in the fat of farmed fish to increased obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Other examples of contaminants being transferred to consumers via animal feed include the Belgian dioxin scandal in 1999, mad cow disease in 2001 and the adulteration of wheat with melamine in China.
Swiss law requires no link be made between the source of animal feed and the stated origin of meat or eggs. And there is also no requirement to include information on animal feed on meat, egg or dairy labels.
According to the organisers of a recent initiative to protect drinking water, 1.2 million tonnes of animal feed is imported into Switzerland annually. Without these imports the production of Swiss meat would fall by 50% and Swiss egg production by 70%.
In addition to misleading consumers, the additional manure produced by imported feed is negatively impacting water quality and the health of Swiss rivers and lakes.
Researchers working for RTS recently asked Swiss food retailers to provide information on the origins of what the animals producing the meat and eggs they sold had been fed. The Swiss supermarkets approached provided only limited information. Based on data provided by Migros, the researchers calculated that around 50% of the food fed to Swiss organic hens was imported. The information supplied by Lidl on laying hens was similar.
The brand with the strictest limitations on the origin of animal feed was Bio Suisse, according to the information provided. However, their rules apply only to cows, sheep and goats. For these animals the feed must be 90% Swiss, shifting to 100% Swiss from January 2022. But these rules do not apply to Bio Suisse pork or poultry. Modern chickens, pigs and laying hens are fed soja, which doesn’t grow well in Switzerland and is therefore imported.
The eggs, pork and chicken on Swiss dinner tables might trace part of their origin back to soya bean farms in the Amazon. Ultimately, it may be Amazonian tropical forest that is on the menu.
As scientific research progresses and consumers gain deeper insights into modern farming, calls may increase for more informative labelling and more widespread testing of meat, egg and dairy products.
In the end the old adage of you are what you eat applies not only to humans but also to the animals they eat.