Dominik Waser got straight to the point: “If we keep this up, we’ll soon be finished.” The activist from the recently formed movement ‘Landwirtschaft mit Zukunft’ (agriculture with a future) – which Biovision is also supporting – was not alone: “We can and must act now,” warned Biovision’s Maya Graf, a member of the Council of States; “We have lost too much time already,” commented Hans R. Herren, Biovision President and author of the World Agriculture Report 2009.
At the online podium of Biovision’s ‘forum KURSWECHSEL’ – this year’s online edition of our annual symposium – an illustrious and diverse group made up of activist Dominik Waser, natural chef Rebecca Clopath, member of the Council of States Maya Graf and Director of the Federal Office for Agriculture FOAG Christian Hofer, discussed the future of our food system under the title ‘Sustainable nutrition – with a system?’ Everything came down to the question of what we in Switzerland can do to drive forward the urgently needed change towards a sustainable food system.
Agriculture as a scapegoat
The initial finding was a positive one: the attitudes of young people on the street and of the Federal Office are closer than one might think. This may also be due to the fact that the demands of young people, as put forward by Dominik Waser, do not sound particularly radical: “We want agriculture and a food system that can function within planetary boundaries.”
So where should the transformation towards a sustainable system be tackled? According to Dominik Waser, “In our view, politics is too heavily oriented towards agriculture. We need politics to take into account the whole food system.” Christian Hofer agreed: “I see a huge opportunity to look at the transformation of food systems as a whole. In this way everyone is held responsible – and agriculture is not a scapegoat.”
Christian Hofer stressed consumer responsibility: “If only perfect looking fruit is bought, if animals are not used ‘nose to tail’, and if shopping baskets contain many cheap products from abroad, this has a strong negative impact on agriculture in our country.” Maya Graf also stressed the importance of the role played by each and every one of us: “The way we eat is the way the world looks. We need consumers to use their daily shopping habits to show that they want this transformation towards organic products and regionality, to ask for it in restaurants, and to demand a clearer declaration of origin.”
Cooking in a bubble
When the cooking is being done by Rebecca Clopath, natural chef at Lohn in Graubünden, none of the guests demand regional food or a declaration of origin. This is because her recipes only include ingredients from her own organic farms or from organic farms in the surrounding area. And she is open with her guests about where the food comes from and why she is serving it. When asked whether people are ready for a new, sustainable food system, the top chef replied: “The guests we have at Hof Taratsch definitely are. But I’m aware that I’m in a bubble there.” In her farming apprenticeship, for example, she found that there was still a strong emphasis on ‘conventional’ agriculture. In the cooking scene, however, sustainability is now a major issue.
So is it only us consumers who are to blame if our food system is not more sustainable? It is not quite as simple as that. According to Dominik Waser, “In our view, the main reason why people do not buy more sustainably is that the general conditions are not right. Purchasing sustainable products must be made easier by making information more readily available and offering an appropriate product range.” Dominik Waser believes that politics has a duty here.
There was further agreement around the table that the cost truth approach could be a central lever for more sustainable consumption. If the damage caused were to be included in product prices, there would no longer be any incentive to buy products from environmentally harmful and exploitative forms of production. Or, as Hans R. Herren put it: “Organic is not more expensive, organic is cheaper if you calculate properly! That’s what’s called for.”
Excessive margins on organic products
Maya Graf criticised inadequate declarations of origin, which also counteract more sustainable purchasing decisions: “People cannot even tell in a shop if imported products have been produced using methods that are banned in our country: cruel livestock farming practices such as fattening animals on slatted floors, or inhumane working conditions on vegetable plantations.” The Biovision Foundation Board also complained that the margins on organic products in Switzerland are very high. In other words, it is not primarily the farming families who benefit from the higher prices, but the wholesalers.
How can we achieve more cost truth? Here, too, there was a pleasing consensus on the virtual podium. Maya Graf put up her thumb when FOAG Director Christian Hofer said: “It is my personal opinion that if support and directives don’t work, incentive levies are a valid instrument.” The Federal Council also supported the mention of this measure as part of the parliamentary initiative – although it currently has no majority in parliament.
The young people stay tuned
Hans R. Herren’s demand that Switzerland should switch completely to agroecology is probably not politically viable at present. However, Maya Graf, member of the Council of States and organic farmer, confirms that it would be feasible: “A Switzerland that produces organically is not a pipe dream, but a promising opportunity.” A prerequisite for this is a diet that many young people are already practising today: “More vegetables, fruit and cereals, fewer animal products, and if people do eat meat, then only meat from farm animals that are fed on local crops and that are used from nose to tail.”
Frank Eyhorn, CEO of Biovision, moderated the discussion. He asked Christian Hofer whether the voice of young people is heard at the FOAG. The Director of the Federal Office answered in the affirmative: “The future belongs to young people.” And listening to Dominik Waser that afternoon gave you the impression that these young people can be relied on. If there was any further need for confirmation, it came in the final statement by the activist from ‘Landwirtschaft mit Zukunft’: “The young generation will not leave us as a society alone until we set out on our journey with the necessary speed, seriousness and courage.”