The soaring price of some food staples resulting from the war in Ukraine has stirred concerns in some political corners about Switzerland’s inability to meet its own food requirements. Switzerland imports around half of the food it consumes making it heavily reliant on the rest of the world. Some members of Swiss People’s Party (UDC/SVP) are calling for a number of changes to Switzerland’s farming rules to boost indigenous food production, reported the newspaper Le Matin.
To combat the loss of biodiversity in Switzerland the government has implemented rules that set aside agriculture-free areas of the countryside where plants and insects, protected from agriculture, can thrive. Currently, there are around 3,500 hectares set aside for this purpose. An additional 14,000 hectares are planned. Together these areas would make up roughly two thirds of the surface of the canton of Geneva. However, members of the UDC/SVP would like to see these areas used for food production.
A survey published in 2020, listed loss of biodiversity as the second most widespread environmental concern among residents of Switzerland. 88.2% considered this very (53.8%) or fairly (34.4%) dangerous.
In addition, the UDC/SVP would like to see a loosening of the rules restricting the feeding of meat and bone products left from animal slaughter to other farm animals. During the BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) epidemic in the 1980s and 90s that infected millions of cattle, researchers discovered that feeding animal bone, meat and organs to cattle was a key vector spreading the disease. In response, a ban on feeding animal remains to ruminants was introduced. This led progressively to a total ban on feeding animals to other farm animals.
BSE, also known as mad cows disease, also spread to humans resulting in a disease called Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (vCJD).
Another way to improve Switzerland’s food self-sufficiency would be to alter the menu. Animal products, such as meat and dairy, are generally an inefficient use of agricultural land. On high altitude pastures where little other than grass grows, using cows to effectively turn grass into milk may represent efficient land use. However, on land that can be used to grow crops that humans can eat, grazing cows or growing food to feed to animals is a highly inefficient use of agricultural land. One kilogram of beef requires 25 kilograms of grain.