Where will Swiss agriculture go from here?

Where will Swiss agriculture go from here?

by Dr rer publ. Werner Wüthrich

Professor Eberhard Hamer sounds the alarm and speaks of dramatic changes that lie ahead for agriculture in Germany for reasons of international, European and national policies in connection with TTIP. Self-sufficiency is said to be in danger.
The US and the EU have been negotiating TTIP since 2013. This is an unprecedented international treaty which legally and substantially differs from a genuine free trade agreement. It is to newly regulate trade relations between the US and Europe. Switzerland intends to dock on. 800 million consumers and half the global trade would be united here. So, according to the Federal Council, Switzerland cannot stand apart.
Already several stakeholders have spoke out. “Farmers must not be in conflict with the economy,” says Martin Naville, CEO of the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce. The local farmers only accounted for 0.7% of economic output, and it was not acceptable that such a small group stood in the way of the rest of the economy (see interview in Schweizer Bauer from 3 February 2016).
TTIP has a history. Since 2001 the so-called Doha-Round of WTO is negotiating the further liberalization of world trade. Agriculture is and was the focal point of these negotiations. With regard to an alleged imminent conclusion, Switzerland has since liberalized many things – often in tandem with the EU. Notable in this context was the abolition of milk quotas in 2009. At this time, the Federal Council launched negotiations on an agricultural free trade agreement with the EU in order to be prepared for the expected conclusion in the Doha-Round and the consequent new world trade order – as they put it. Pressure was great. Yet the conclusion – although widely forespoken – did not come. As I see it, the reasons are obvious. The differences between the countries in the world are so great and so numerous in the agricultural sector that a global, cross-border liberalization would do more harm than good in many places. The UN World Agriculture Report of 2008 also reached this conclusion.
Renewed paradigm shift
2011 Parliament froze the ongoing negotiations with the EU. The milk price is becoming more and more of a problem in Switzerland, as in Germany. Attempts to support the milk price without introducing a government-set quota are not very effective. There is an oversupply of milk (which squeezes the price), and the butter stores have gone up to over 5,000 tonnes at the beginning of the year – so that we are again speaking about a butter mountain and a milk lake (see Schweizer Bauer from 3 February 2016).
Voices requiring support from the Federal government are growing louder. Basic agricultural issues are being discussed once again. Which are the tasks the government should take over? How much is to be left to the market? How much self-sufficiency do we want? What shall we do so as to continue to protect cultivated land and to secure it for the farmers? What significance should be given to border guards and customs duties in the future? What do we understand by “fair prices”? All these questions are not new and have often been discussed in recent decades – and often been put to the vote.
In addition, the EU has difficulties in many areas today. This is a clear indication that the peoples must increasingly reassume full responsibility within their own borders. This has a long tradition in Switzerland – particularly in the agricultural sector. I think this debate should be conducted – with or without TTIP.
The situation today is similar to that of about twenty years ago, when Switzerland joined the WTO. At that time hree popular initiatives to effect a constitutional amendment were submitted. They were on the table together with two parliamentary counter-proposals. The intensive debate with the people at that time led to several polls, until the present article on agriculture in the Federal Constitution (Article 104) was adopted with 77 percent votes in favour on 9 June 1996. The people were not so easily satisfied at that time and they had previously said no repeatedly to official agricultural policy. Already previously there had been major debates with several popular initiatives and referendums (which set the basic course), both after the First and the Second World War and also after the end of the boom in the seventies. Current Concerns will report in more detail on this later.

Popular initiatives of today

The Doha-Round of WTO has failed and TTIP may be around the corner. In response to this three popular initiatives were submitted, which all aim at changing or adding to Art. 104 of the Federal Constitution. The initiators want to readjust agro-politics because international, European and national politics have changed and there are major upheavals before us. (Professor Hamer describes this for Germany in his article.) All three popular initiatives would be incompatible with TTIP:

  1. With its initiative “For food security” The Swiss Farmers Union SBV wants to induce the government to boost the population’s supply with local food and to take effective measures against the loss of agricultural farmland. This initiative predetermines principles and objectives without stipulating concrete, individual measures. The National Council has already approved the initiative in the 2016 spring session.
  2. Uniterre is a peasant union from French-speaking Switzerland. Its initiative group has filed an initiative “For food sovereignty”. It pursues the same goal as the Farmers’ Union initiative, but goes further and proposes a number of concrete measures such as imports to be regulated quantitatively. The initiators want to prohibit imports of agricultural products that do not meet our high domestic standards. This also includes GM products. In addition, the Federal government is, together with the farmers’ organizations, to tailor the agricultural supply to the needs of the population. They are to work towards ensuring, “that fair prices are set in all branches and chains of production.” Uniform working conditions are to apply for all agricultural workers. The aim is that farmers should increasingly derive their income from prices and that compensation payments should only serve as a comlement.
  3. With its Fair-Food-Initiative, the Green Party targets mainly imported food, which will in future increasingly have to meet higher environmental and social standards. The Federal government would have to favour fair trade imported products and those from smallholdings cultivating the soil. Thus the initiative text says, “The Federal government reinforces the supply of foods that are of good quality and safe and which are produced environment and animal friendly, resource efficient, and under fair working conditions.” Local products should of course also satisfy these requirements. – The Green Party is supported by the Small Farmers Association.

All three popular initiatives have much to recommend them. It would be a good thing if the initiators would bear in mind their common direction and not fight each other.
Martin Naville (Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce) said in an interview with the Bauernzeitung from 3 February 2016 that the farmers should not obstruct economic access to TTIP, because they accomplish only just under one percent of our economic output. Naville does not seem to know that in the last hundred years the Swiss people voted nationally next to thirty times on agricultural issues. Many popular initiatives were submitted and numerous referenda taken – more than in any other area of politics. Then there are the countless votes in municipalities and cantons and in the many agricultural corporations. This shows clearly that not only the interests of a small minority is involved (which might take second place), but that the interests of the whole population and the country are concerned. “The economy”and “the agriculture” may not be played off against each other in this way. We are all sitting in the same boat together.
Current Concerns has started a series of articles describing the role of direct democracy for agriculture and for Switzerland in the course of history to supply background information for the coming discussion (see part 1 in Current Concerns from 14 June 2016).     •

The Swiss Farmers Union’s Initiative for “Food Security“

The Federal Constitution shall be amended as follows:

Art. BV 104a (amended) Food Security
1    The Confederation shall encourage the supply of the population with foodstuffs grown by diversified and sustainable domestic sources; in particular, it shall take effective measures against the loss of productive land, including summering grazing areas, and for the implementation of a strategy of quality.
2    It shall ensure low administrative expense and adequate security of investment and legal certainty in agriculture.
Transitional provisions
No later than two years after the adoption of Article 104a by the People and the Cantons, the Federal Council shall request the Federal Assembly to submit the implementing legislation.
(The initiative of the Swiss Farmers Union was approved by the National Council in March 2016)
(Translation Current Concerns)

The Green Party’s “Fair-Food-Initiative“

The Federal Constitution shall be amended as follows:

Art. 104a Foodstuffs
1    The Confederation shall strengthen the availability of secure high quality foodstuffs produced in a resource-saving and environmentally and animal-friendly manner and under fair working conditions. It shall specify production and processing requirements.
2    It shall ensure that imported agricultural products to be used for human consumption satisfy at least and in principle the requirements under para. 1; with respect to more processed and composite foodstuffs and animal feeds it shall be working towards this goal. It shall promote fair trade products and products from farms that cultivate the land.
3    It shall ensure that the adverse effects of the transportation and storage of foodstuffs and animal feed on the environment and the climate will be reduced.
4    The Confederation has in particular the following powers and duties:
a    It shall legislate on the authorisation of foodstuffs and animal feeds and on declarations of production methods and processing procedures.
b    It may regulate the awarding of tariff quotas and adjust import duties.
c    It may draw up compulsory target agreements with the food industry, and in particular with importers and retailers.
d    It shall encourage the processing and marketing of regionally and seasonally produced foodstuffs.
e    It shall take measures to curb food waste.
5    The Federal Council shall define medium and long-term goals and report regularly on the degree to which targets are achieved. If targets are not met, it shall take additional measures or strengthen the existing ones.

Art. 197 para. 11
Transitional provision to Art. 104a (foodstuffs)
    If the implementing legislation for Article 104a does not come into force within three years of its adoption by the People and the Cantons, the Federal Council shall issue temporary implementing provisions in the form of an ordinance.
(Translation Current Concerns)

Uniterre Initiative “For food sovereignty”

The Federal Constitution shall be amended as follows:

Art. 104c Food sovereignty
1    For the implementation of food sovereignty, the Swiss Confederation shall promote a domestic peasant agriculture that is profitable and diverse, producing healthy food, and that meets the social and environmental expectations of the people.
2    It shall ensure a supply of mainly domestic food and foodstuff and the preservation of natural resources in their production.
3    It shall take effective measures with the aim of:
a    promoting an increase in the number of people working in agriculture as well as in structural diversity;
b    preserving cultivated areas, especially crop rotation areas, both in terms of scope and quality;
c    ensuring farmers’ rights to use, reproduce, exchange and market seeds.
4    It shall prohibit agricultural use of genetically modified organisms and of plants and animals that have come about with the help of new technologies by means of which the genome is altered or recomposed in a way that is not natural.
5    It shall undertake the following tasks, namely:
a    It supports the creation of farmers’ organizations that are geared to ensure that the supply offered by farmers and the needs of the population are coordinated.
b    It ensures transparency in the market and works towards fair prices being set in all branches and chains of production.
c    It reinforces direct trade between the farmers and the consumers as well as the regional processing, storage and marketing structures.
6    It shall pay special attention to the working conditions of agricultural workers and shall ensure that these conditions are kept uniformly throughout Switzerland.
7    To maintain and promote domestic production it shall raise tariffs on imports of agricultural and food products and regulate the volume of imports.
8    To promote production under social and environmental conditions that meet Swiss standards, it shall raise tariffs on imports of agricultural and food products that do not meet those standards; it may ban their import.
9    It shall pay no subsidies for the export of agricultural products and foodstuffs.
10    It shall ensure information on the conditions for the production and processing of domestic and imported foods and the awareness thereof. It may set its own quality standards regardless of international norms.

Art. 197 paragraph 12
Transitional provision for Art. 104c
(Food sovereignty)
    The Federal Council will submit the statutory provisions necessary for the implementation of Article 104c to the Federal Assembly within two years after its adoption by the people and the states.
(Translation Current Concerns)

Our website uses cookies so that we can continually improve the page and provide you with an optimized visitor experience. If you continue reading this website, you agree to the use of cookies. Further information regarding cookies can be found in the data protection note.

If you want to prevent the setting of cookies (for example, Google Analytics), you can set this up by using this browser add-on.​​​​​​​