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Swiss organic associations say "No!" to pesticide ban and restructuring of agricultural subsidies

by Leo Frühschütz (comments: 0)

Pesticide spraying in a field
Pesticide spraying could be banned in Switzerland. © Pixabay / PublicDomainPictures

The initiative for a Switzerland without synthetic pesticides wants to anchor a pesticide ban in the constitution by referendum and also ban the import of food produced with pesticides. Implementation period ten years. The Clean Drinking Water Initiative wants a constitutional amendment to completely redirect the approximately 2.8 billion Swiss francs (2.5 billion euros) in annual agricultural subsidies within eight years to "the preservation of biodiversity, pesticide-free production and an animal population that can be fed with the feed produced on the farm." On June 13, the Swiss will be able to vote on these constitutional amendments, which are supported primarily by the major environmental associations. Not, however, by the organic associations.

Bio Suisse against drinking water initiative

On April 14, Delegates of the major Swiss organic association Bio Suisse rejected the drinking water initiative after an emotional debate by 73 votes to 20 with 5 abstentions. The problems were undisputed. However, the proposed measures were intended to solve the problems solely on the backs of farmers, Bio Suisse President Urs Brändli had argued at the online meeting. One of the Bio Suisse board's arguments was also that if the initiative is approved, "the vast majority of grassland farms will convert to organic. In this case, a massive oversupply of the markets with organic milk and meat would endanger today's fair price structure".

Fear of too much organic, then? Karl Schefer, managing director of the organic wine merchant Delinat, commented on the Bio Suisse decision on the platform as follows: "The delegates are thus not only blindly following the hare-brained bogus arguments of the farmers' association, they are obviously also bowing to the pressure of the large retailers." After all, the two large corporations Coop and Migros are the most important customers of organic farmers - and their conventional colleagues. Both reject the drinking water initiative.

The damage to Bio Suisse's image among convinced organic consumers as a result of the decision is enormous, say industry experts: "It looks as if the farmers' association and the agrochemical lobby have succeeded in taking over and turning Bio Suisse around with an "unfriendly takeover", writes a consumer named Myrtha Schaub in the Tagesanzeiger. Bio Suisse's Facebook page is full of negative comments "Quite sad. Bio Suisse betrays its own values", "Massively disappointed", "Disaster!!!" it says there. Several organic farmers have already left the association and are now considering founding an alternative, industry insiders report.

As recently as November 2020, the delegates of Bio Suisse had clearly positioned their association with a "YES" to the pesticide initiative. But the association itself has been neutral ever since. "Bio Suisse will not make its logo or name available to any of the campaigns. Board members do not get involved in committees. Bio Suisse does not spend any resources for or against any of the initiatives," states an argumentation from Bio Suisse with reference to the two popular initiatives. This not exactly active support.

Organic producers against pesticide ban

The Interest Group Bio Schweiz (IG Bio) published two position papers at the beginning of April in which it rejects both initiatives. In the paper on the pesticide initiative, the organic companies associated in the IG (see box) emphasized that they welcome the basic idea of the initiative and see "an urgent need for action to curb the use of pesticides". They justify their rejection with the fact that the ban would be too comprehensive and after the ten years in Switzerland "only organic would be produced and also only organic would be allowed to be imported". Due to the lower yield per unit area of organic, Switzerland's degree of self-sufficiency would decrease and more imports would be necessary. Production costs would increase further and exports would become even more difficult. Overall, the organic companies conclude, "the effects of the initiative on the overall system seem to be far too little studied due to the very complex interactions and therefore extremely unclear."

Industry insiders were not surprised by IG Bio's stance, as this association is dominated by Migros. The cooperatively organized group processes and sells mainly conventional foodstuffs in addition to organic products. The conventional agricultural cooperative Fenaco, which is worth billions, is also a member of IG Bio. However, it is not known that the purely organic farms in IGBio (see box) have distanced themselves from the decision.



This is how the pesticide ban should be written into the constitution

"The use of synthetic pesticides in agricultural production, in the processing of agricultural products, and in soil and landscape conservation is prohibited. The importation for commercial purposes of foodstuffs containing synthetic pesticides or produced with the help of such pesticides is prohibited."

The IG Bio

The Interest Group Bio Schweiz was founded in 2015 to represent "the interests of entrepreneurs in the Swiss organic value chain across all sectors." Members include well-known Swiss organic processors and traders, including Alnatura Switzerland, the specialist wholesaler Bio Partner Schweiz, Holle Babyfood, the major organic chocolate manufacturers, the fair trade retailer Pronatec and the wine press Biotta.


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