«Politicians must avoid pushing prices up even more»
Unfortunately, the current political discussion appears to be moving toward greater state intervention and consumer education. This pushes up prices, writes Babette Sigg Frank in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.
Wednesday, March 1, 2023
Food prices have risen by four percent over the past year. This is the highest increase in a long time. The extent to which these price increases will be felt in everyday life depends, of course, on the financial situation of individual households: Households with fewer financial resources will feel the price increases much more.
Yet it seems that consumers who base their purchase decisions on criteria other than just price are now feeling the pinch as well. The sudden bankruptcy of the Swiss health food group Müller shows that even consumers of health foods see food prices as an important factor when making purchases. There is an economic aspect to sustainability too. Food must be affordable.
Food prices are also the result of political decision-making. Increasing the regulation of producers and consumers, closing off the market and making foreign trade more difficult, and impeding the ability of domestic producers to innovate does little to halt prices from rising.
Unfortunately, it currently looks like the discussion is moving toward greater state intervention and consumer education, which pushes prices up even more. The food “traffic light” labeling system, for example, has already been implemented. Known as the “Nutri-Score,” its goal is to provide information on how healthy or, indeed, unhealthy the food product in question is. Although the participation of suppliers in the system is still voluntary, a federal government report from December 2022 shows that the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office is taking an increasingly active role in this area.
The report says that far more than just state (i.e., taxpayer-financed) “communication measures” are planned for 2023. At the same time, it's still unclear whether these labels actually encourage healthier consumer behavior. This may be a trivial matter, but it shows that consumers are increasingly being guided in their purchasing decisions at their own expense and gradually disenfranchised.
The latest example is from the WHO which, if it gets its way, could see the tiger disappear from Frosted Flakes packaging, the smile disappear from chocolate Santas, and fast food chains disappear altogether. At least, that's the view of two WHO representatives who recently took part at an event organized by the federal government.
It's probably only a matter of time before such proposals find supporters among lawmakers in Switzerland. At the same time, there is a failure to make use of opportunities that arise – for example, the new breeding technologies that Switzerland has been slow to embrace. These new technologies could make plants more resistant to drought or pests, helping Swiss farmers in the medium term to save their crops from increasingly difficult climate conditions and preventing food waste in the fields.
Many of these approaches are nothing more than an improvement on existing breeding methods. Various countries long ago granted their approval for cultivation. Here in Switzerland, the ball is now in the Federal Council's court after parliament's decision in 2022 to finally exempt these new breeding methods from the Gene Technology Act.
It will still take years, however, for a liberal regulation to come into effect. So, farmers still lack a key component in their struggle to save their crops. This, in turn, affects production costs, and we consumers then feel the effects in our wallets.
Disempowered farmers who are prohibited from innovating, and increasingly disenfranchised consumers who are indirectly asked to pay for their own education, create poor conditions for the sustainable supply of high-quality, affordable food products. Neither educational measures fueled by ideology and state interventionism, nor an obstructionist policy are likely to do much to combat the rise in prices.
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Babette Sigg Frank is President of the Swiss Consumer Forum (KF). This guest article was first published in Neue Zürcher Zeitung on February 6, 2023 .
Journalist, publicist, publisher and historian
Head of Knowledge Team Tamedia
Babette Sigg Frank
President of the Swiss Consumer Forum (KF)
Country President Syngenta Switzerland
Journalist at Lebensmittel Zeitung
Development Editor-in-Chief Agrar-Medien
“Ecological methods alone won’t cut it”
Columnist at Genetic Literacy Project and AGDaily
CEO Syngenta Group
President of Syngenta Crop Protection
Editor-in-Chief of «die grüne» magazine
Professor of Crop Science, ETH Zurich
Head of Biotechnology at Scienceindustries
Lecturer in Sustainability, School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences HAFL
Agricultural scientist and president of Agroecology Science
Professor of Consumer Behaviour, ETH Zurich
Head of Nutrition and Agriculture at scienceindustries
Dr. Teresa Koller
Researcher at the Institute of Plant and Microbiology at the University of Zurich
Professor for Molecular Plant Breeding, ETH Zurich
Editor-in-Chief of «die grüne» magazine
Head of Business Sustainability, Syngenta Switzerland
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