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Enshrining food security, from the farm to the fork

Three farm hands in Switzerland pick melons from a field and put the fruit in crates
From field to the plate: Swiss voters on September 24 decide what role the government should play in ensuring there is enough agriculture foodstuffs produced in Switzerland Keystone

Voters will have the final say on an integral plan for ensuring Swiss food security on September 24. The content of the text spans the entire agricultural and food-supply chain.

Opposition against the amendment is very limited and seen as merely cementing the existing situation, while supporters argue it is crucial to enshrine food security in the constitution to face up to future challenges.

“Food security means that the population has access to sufficient food of appropriate quality and at an affordable price at all times,” said Swiss Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann, launching the campaign in June.

This is the case in Switzerland today, but it was not always so. Guaranteeing the food security of future generations is therefore a legitimate concern, according to the minister.

Article 104a of the Swiss constitutionExternal link sets out the framework conditions for achieving this goal.

Applying the amendment will not require any changes in legislation, the preparatory committees have assured parliament. But, argue the opponents, surely this just goes to prove that the new constitutional article is unnecessary?


The proposed amendment grew out of the people’s initiative “For Food Security”, which was submitted by the Swiss Farmers’ Association in 2014, after gathering nearly 150,000 signatures in just three months.

The initiative called on the government to enhance the supply of locally grown food via “sustainable and diversified sources”. In particular, it should take action to stem the loss of farming land, reduce the administrative burden on agriculture and guarantee investment in the sector.

The campaign for the forthcoming nationwide ballot has been fairly uncontroversial.

Not only does the text enjoy the support all the political parties and main farmers’ association, but also organisations critical of Article 104a – such as Uniterre – deem that it meets some of their demands and have decided not to oppose it.

Almost all parliamentarians agreed to the need to establish constitutional principles to guarantee food security for subsequent generations and the future of the Swiss agro-food sector, in response to the challenges of globalisation.

But many deemed the initiative too vague, too open to interpretation and too focused on domestic production.

Parliament thus decided to draft a direct counter-proposal to the initiative, more precisely worded and broader in scope. It encompasses the entire agricultural and food-supply chain from production to consumption, via transformation and marketing, and including imports.

The text also won over the proponents of the initiative, who withdrew it. On September 24, Swiss voters will thus have the final say on the counter-proposal.

From the field to the fork

New Article 104a of the Swiss constitution is built on five points. First, it spells out the need to preserve the bases of agricultural production.

“Particularly farmland, but also water and farming techniques, knowledge and know-how,” said Schneider-Ammann.

Second, food production must be adapted to local conditions and make efficient use of resources. “Only if domestic production is based on sustainable development can food security be guaranteed in the long term,” explained committee speaker Christian Lüscher before the House of Representatives.

Third, agriculture and the food-supply chain must be market-oriented. This states clearly that the Swiss farming sector should not rely on a policy of subsidies and government decrees. Implementing this principle will require effort on both sides.

Fourth, cross-border trade relations should contribute to the sustainable development of agriculture and the food-supply chain. Although Switzerland produces much of its own food – today around 60% – it cannot be fully self-sufficient.

External Content

Thus, while upholding domestic production as the main pillar of Swiss food security, the counter-proposal highlights the complementary role of imports and the resulting need for good trade relations with foreign countries.

Lastly, the foodstuffs produced must be used in a way that respects resources. Consumers must be made more aware of the need to reduce food waste, and their responsibility in this respect. An estimated one third of all food in Switzerland ends up in the garbage.

Other initiatives

As well as satisfying most of the demands of the “For Food Security” initiative, the counter-proposal also meets some of the requirements of two other people’s initiatives in the agro-food sector, which will likely be put to the ballot next year: “For Fair Food”, launched by the Greens, and “For Food Sovereignty”, initiated by the association of small-scale farmers, Uniterre.

Both these initiatives call for a linking of the principle of sustainability and imports, while the Greens are pressuring for the need to limit food waste to be enshrined in the constitution.

The counter-proposal has thus more or less satisfied everyone, or almost everyone, in parliament.

Some voices were raised against a “superfluous” counter-proposal on objectives already contained in the constitution, which assigns no new tasks to the federal authorities or the 26 cantons.

Liberal Green parliamentarian Kathrin Bertschy lambasted it as “a bureaucratic exercise unworthy of the constitution”. However, the opponents have remained in the minority.

Parliament’s House of Representatives approved the text with 175 votes in favour, five against and ten abstentions, and the Senate with 36 votes in favour, four against and four abstentions.

Adapted from French by Julia Bassam

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR