The initiative’s core piece is strengthening domestic production

A criticism of the Council of States’ counter draft

Interview with Hansjörg Rüegsegger, President SALS Switzerland1, President of Berne Farmers’ Federation (“Bauernverband”), Riggisberg (BE) and board member of Swiss Farmers’ Union (SFU)

Current Concerns: With interest I read your comments in the “Schweizer Bauer”(Swiss Farmer) of 19 November². There you say that in the counter draft you miss the strengthening of domestic production. Is that not the initiative’s core piece?

Hansjörg Rüegsegger: Yes, this is one of the core points of the initiative. Therefore, SALS is critical against the counter draft.

But the Farmers’ Union board might be willing to withdraw the initiative in favor of the counter draft?

That entirely depends on how the votes of the members of the Council of States will be tomorrow, 29 November 2016. Of course, the SFU has been in contact with members of the Council of States Committee for Economic Affairs and Taxation. We will see which direction the debate will take. From my own experience as President of Berne Farmers’ Federation I know that one should send signals at the right time that one would be ready to negotiate. But for us from SALS, for me it is clear, that strengthening of domestic production must be in the submission.

So, it is up to you and also to the SFU whether tomorrow the Council of States will go even more in the direction of the initiative’s text? [What he did not do on 29 November 2016; Comment Current Concerns]

I agree.

Many open questions in the counter draft

In its report, the Council of States maintains that its counter draft would leave less room for interpretation than the initiative’s text. But in the “Schweizer Bauer” (Swiss farmer) you point out that many formulations do not clarify what is meant by: for example, with the promotion of a “locally-adjusted and resource-efficient food production” or a “market-oriented agriculture and food industry”.

I agree. Where in wide circles one agrees in “Federal Berne” is that food security has to be written into the Federal Constitution. But how is this supposed to happen … both, the counter proposal and the initiative are formulated very openly.
Depending on the interpretation, a “locally-adapted and resource-efficient food production” could be an invitation for more environmental requirements and the shift of certain production branches abroad. Or it could also mean that every Swiss company has to switch to organic production.
The wording “market-oriented agriculture and nutrition” could also open the door to industrial agriculture. Although many Swiss consumers appreciate the smaller family businesses, the basic conditions must also be such that these companies can survive!
A further point in the counter proposal, which we are critical of is the issue of trade relations across the Swiss border. There is a question mark for us. How is this interpreted? Is it what we do imagine or what the advocates of a “border opening” imagine?

Should the door be left open with this for an agricultural agreement with the EU and/or for TTIP?

This is quite possible. On this point I am very critical, because in the Council of States, there are of course, members who want a border opening in this sense. If the Council of States is really going in this direction, which you suspect – one can see that fairly quickly.

Security of supply for the population must be ensured throughout the world

Many people believe that we have no problems with importing the food we need in Switzerland. You and I belong to the post-war generation, but there have been times when this was not so sure. We do not know if it will always be as it is today. Are we not to look for more self-sufficiency?

This is an important question. The global demand for food is increasing. Too much rain – too little rain, irritating factors such as the not infinitely occurring phosphorus, the available fresh water, droughts and lack of water restrict the production in many countries. This will increase. Food production and distribution is becoming an ever more important issue. So this is why I’m really not convinced that it would be the one solution to import more food. Hence, other countries have to watch out already today to be able to feed their population. We in Europe live in luxury – but there are areas, for example in southern Spain, southern Italy, or Greece where not everything is on the shelves like here. Therefore, food production is of great importance. I think food could even be a warfare or reason for war – when it comes to the territory …

… or the water. Actually, the advocates of a market opening would have to take this into consideration as well, or?

They usually do not look this far. Many have only the next five or perhaps ten years on their mind. That makes me start thinking. It is only that we in Switzerland have sixty or eighty thousand more people each year. They need space and need to be nourished. In China or other countries the population grows disproportionately. Something is approaching us, which we have to consider holistically.

Thank you, Mr Rüegsegger, for the illuminating conversation.    •

 (Interview Marianne Wüthrich)

1    The Swiss Association for a Strong Agricultural and Food Sector (SALS Switzerland) is committed to a producing agriculture and a strong food industry in Switzerland. It represents the interests of the agricultural and food sector in the context of increasing opening and internationalisation of the agricultural markets. It is specifically aiming against free trade agreements, which threaten Swiss agriculture. That is why in particular, it rejects an agreement on agricultural free trade with the European Union.
2    “Counter draft should be improved”. Interview with Hansjörg Rüegsegger, President of SALS. In: Schweizer Bauer from 19.11.2016