Risks to Swiss food security
Despite the Covid 19 pandemic, food security in Switzerland was guaranteed at all times. Still, we should not feel a false sense of security. According to a current analysis by Agroscope, even after corona there are still many threats to the food supply. Among the greatest risks to domestic food security are a lack of electricity, dependence on foreign countries and climate change.
Friday, August 13, 2021
- The food system in Switzerland proved to still be robust during the corona pandemic.
- Nevertheless, there are major risks to food security.
- Electricity shortages, dependence on foreign countries and the climate change pose major challenges.
On behalf of the Federal Office for National Economic Supply (BWL) Agroscope annually analyzes threats to the food supply. This is intended to identify possible threats at an early stage and ensure security of supply even in severe shortages. In contrast to global developments, agricultural production in Switzerland cannot keep pace with population growth. It has even been decreasing slightly for a number of years. The demand for food imports is therefore increasing. With this mind, the research center has identified three main risks to food security in Switzerland.
As early as 2020, the Federal Office for Civil Protection in its risk analysis arrived at the conclusion that an electricity shortage represents the greatest risk for Switzerland. Agroscope also estimates that the probability and the extent of damage to the food supply is particularly high. A severe power shortage would have an impact on the entire production chain and would severely impair the supply of the population with essential foods. In addition, it would not be possible to quickly remedy the negative effects. Therefore, keeping an emergency supply of foodstuffs in your home still makes sense.
Dependence on foreign countries
Swiss agriculture is heavily dependent on other countries in many ways. In particular, seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and animal feed are for the most part imported. Some of the research-based agricultural companies have large research and production sites for pesticides in Switzerland, but, for reasons of cost, the so-called “packaging & bottling” does not take place here. Seed production of seeds, in turn, is very time-consuming and dependent on the weather. Despite this, agricultural companies are also allowing varieties to be propagated in Switzerland. However, the majority of breeding is based on global processes that are particularly susceptible to disruptions. Anyone who desires a higher proportion of Switzerland-specific varieties must ensure that new breeding methods are permitted for research and cultivation in Switzerland and that small breeding companies in Switzerland in particular can keep up with those in other countries. As an immediate measure, the federal government is planning new mandatory stocks of rapeseed seeds.
In view of the fact that rapeseed cultivation is becoming more and more difficult due to the elimination of relevant pesticides in Switzerland, it would be justified to ask whether this is not being done half-heartedly. The replenishment of fertilizers in an emergency would also be problematic. Although there are mandatory stocks of nitrogen fertilizers, Switzerland has been completely dependent on other countries since Lonza stopped producing nitrogen fertilizers in 2018. In animal husbandry, there is major dependence on concentrated feed. In pig breeding, the proportion of imported concentrate is 50 percent. For poultry this figure is even 75 percent. What is interesting in this context is that the EU is again allowing the use of animal by-products as feed for pigs and poultry.
There are two reasons for lifting the ban: Firstly, the “European Green Deal” and the “Farm-to-Fork Strategy” promote the use of food industry by-products and the use of sustainable and local feed components. Processed animal proteins could also replace soy meal in significant quantities. Switzerland also has a general ban in place on feeding animal by-products to livestock. Even if preventing a new BSE crisis is important, Switzerland should reconsider this measure in order to prevent feed waste and reduce dependence on foreign countries.
Climate change is creating additional uncertainty. Increasing extreme weather events, as well as changing seasonal precipitation patterns and temperatures, would require adaptations in agriculture. Whether appropriate measures can be taken quickly enough, and to an appropriate extent, remains to be seen. Overall, according to Agroscope, climate change will increase the risk of food shortages in the future. There will be greater volatility in agricultural production. What the Agroscope researchers have concluded: For Switzerland to be able to maintain its food security even in the face of a severe shortage, it will have to become dependent on substantial imports. Maintaining trading and transport systems is key. But the pandemic in particular has shown that this can and will be difficult in an emergency when the borders can close suddenly.
The demand for regional products could hardly be greater. This is shown by a new study by the Zurich School of Business. Consumers even consider regional products to be significantly more sustainable than organic or premium products. To keep up with this trend, it is therefore all the more important to promote modern breeding techniques and plant protection products.
The reduced use of plant protection products is causing much smaller wheat and rapeseed harvests. A study carried out by Swiss Agricultural Research reveals that such crop failures can only be offset by state subsidies. This is neither sustainable nor resource-efficient.
The economic interdependence of the world has increased greatly over the past years and decades. Due to the brisk trade activity between the continents, invasive plant and animal species are also spreading faster and faster. This can lead to serious problems for native vegetation and agriculture. According to the FOEN, the canton of Ticino is particularly affected.