According to the Constitution, agricultural policy must guarantee food security in Switzerland’s expensive environment by means of income support and border protection. The Federal Council Dispatch* lacks how in the future, these differences in costs and prices will keep on being balanced in favour of agriculture.
Instead, the Federal Council increasingly seeks to shift this task to agriculture itself by demanding:
The main issue of food security mentioned above remains unclear and even turns into the opposite of the constitutional mandate:
Furthermore, it will neither be possible to compensate for the differences in costs and prices compared with imports, nor will it be possible to compensate for additional ‘environmental system services’ and the ‘reduction path’ of production and income with the same amount of money.
AP 22 continues without discussion the change of direction initiated by AP 14–17, which is to extensify agriculture and to push it into the niches of the Swiss City-State. However, in autumn 2017, 80 % of the Swiss electorate voted in favour of the Farmers’ Union food security initiative. The Federal Council tried to ignore this in its then controversial “overall view” of November 2017. This did not succeed. Instead, two initiatives (drinking water and pesticides June 2018) originated from the same groups that supported AP 14–17 and opposed the initiative of the Farmers’ Union. Both of them put the blame of environmental pollution within the intensively used area between Lake Constance and Lake Geneva solely on agriculture. Consequently, agriculture would have to be used as a “space resource” for ecological compensation in the City-State. In the drinking water and plant protection initiatives, direct payments are misused and linked to a zero tolerance requirement. AP 22 rejects these extreme demands of both initiatives. Nevertheless, one has to see the connection: So far, services for landscape conservation provided by agriculture have been an additional argument for the necessary income support in view of WTO-induced reduction in producer prices. In AP 14–17 and now in AP 22, metabolic conflicts2 resulting from adapting production of calories to an explosively growing population in a limited space, are attributed exclusively to agriculture. AP 22 requires agriculture to provide more ecological services and to restrict production, which will finally result in more work and lower yields. The fact that in this situation AP 22+ cuts direct payments by CHF 100 million is a stark reminder of the underlying political intention of AP 22: contrary to the constitutional mandate, direct payments as income support for food production will be abolished and will now only be paid for “environmental system services”. We have already criticised this misappropriation of direct payments in AP 14–17. This also applies to AP 22.
Even though AP 22 doesn’t provide support to these two initiatives, the unconstitutional use of direct payments remains our main criticism of AP 22. Relaxation of land law, softening of the separate land market, increased taxation of farmhouses, spatial planning obstruction of rural settlement sites, sacrifice of crop rotation areas in favour of landscape conservation etc., all this confirms that AP 22 wants to weaken agriculture’s task of limiting the growing City-State and subordinate it to this growth process with the common slogans of more market and more ecology. Subsidies for agricultural and food industry must provide clear incentives to ensure our food security in the Swiss island of high prices while maintaining the desired standards for food and the natural resources necessary to achieve this. This is the only way to ensure that the ecological concerns of the initiatives mentioned above do not lead to a switch to imports.
Hans Bieri, 17 February 2020
For further information please contact Hans Bieri, Tel. +41 79 432 43 52.
1 Profitable niches include, for example, agro-tourism or the processing of own products and the operation of farm shops. This, however, shifts the farmer’s activity away from primary production (farming, cereals, vegetables, fruit, meat and dairy production) and into the service sector.
2 Metabolic conflicts: depletion and exploitation of substances from nature, but also other human activities (large cities, etc.), leads always to substances being introduced into nature. This includes the application of pesticides and fertilisers. Less attention is paid to the problem of increased wastewater in view of growing population figures, including the residues of medicines and hormone preparations, drugs, etc., as well as all that remains on railway lines and roadsides and in water bodies (e.g. plastic), which also leaves traces in the soil.
* “The dispatches that Federal Council submits to the Federal Assembly provide an explanation of the bills it drafts, i.e. draft amendments to the Constitution, new draft acts, draft amendments to the law, draft federal decrees and draft state treaties, which are submitted to the Federal Assembly for approval.” (parlament.ch)
(Translation Current Concerns)
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