Citizens do food policy

07. November 2022
Nico Kaiser / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

In Switzerland, the "Citizens' Assembly on Food Policy" presented its 126 recommendations for a more sustainable food policy on 7 November 2022. The aim is to include the voice of the population in the debate.

In addition to a general education and sensitisation of the population, the randomly selected citizens recommend better consumer information on products. The countries of origin and the countries where products are processed should be just as recognisable as the use of fertilisers and animal feed and the nutritional value of food.

Less sugar

The sugar content of foods is to be reduced by 20 percent by 2035 and the sugar content of sweetened beverages by 50 percent by then. The use of sugar is to be banned in products for which no added sugar is necessary. Products that are particularly harmful to health should no longer be allowed to be advertised. The same applies to maxi-packs.

Furthermore, the citizens' assembly proposes to make healthy basic foods available at a low price through state financial support. The health insurance companies should develop a model that rewards a healthy lifestyle of members. By 2030, the assembly wants to see the land used for animal feed production reduced by 30 per cent. The proportion of land used for growing plant-based food is to be expanded accordingly. Animal husbandry is also to be reduced. Farmers are to receive advice and financial support for the conversion of their farms.

Carbon tax

The citizens' assembly proposes to impose a carbon tax on climate-damaging products. A tax should also be levied on processed products that are harmful to health or cause high environmental costs. Rules on the diameter of plums or the length of cucumbers, for example, are to be relaxed in order to curb food waste. The sale of unpackaged food should also be promoted, as should the use of reusable packaging.

The recommendations reflect "the concerns and concerns from the middle of society", said project leader Daniel Langmeier at a press conference in Bern on 8 November 2022. They reflect the attitude of the citizens to the topic of nutrition. The recommendations are differentiated and do not only focus on production - everyone is called upon if the transformation to more sustainability is to succeed, said Langmeier.

100 assembly participants

From 12 June to 6 November 2022, 100 randomly selected citizens had discussed a more sustainable and crisis-resistant food policy. The question was: "What should a comprehensive food policy for Switzerland look like that makes sustainable, healthy and animal-friendly food available to all people by 2030, produced under fair conditions for all stakeholders in the food system?"

The assembly participants came from different localities in Switzerland and were a reflection of the Swiss population in terms of age, gender, language and political views. The market research institute Demoscope was entrusted with the random selection of the participants. It ensured that the 100 citizens represented the Swiss population.

Compensation for expenses, meals and accommodation

As compensation for the time spent on eleven physical and virtual meetings, the participants received 500 Swiss francs. Meals and accommodation were also organised by the organisers.

The citizens' assembly kicked off with a weekend in Olten on 11-12 June 2022. Here, all 100 participants had met for the first time, got to know each other and familiarised themselves with the further procedure. At the same time, there was an overall scientific overview of the topic as well as input from stakeholders. This was followed by five online working meetings, with thematic inputs and dialogues in small groups.

Experts inform participants

30 experts from various institutions and representatives of various interest groups provided the assembly participants with the necessary knowledge, including the Swiss Farmers' Union, the Agricultural Alliance, the Foundation for Consumer Protection, the Environmental Alliance, IG Retail Trade, Fial, Allianz Sud, the Agenda 2030 platform and Scienceindustries. Three federal offices are also involved in the overall process: the Federal Office for Agriculture (FOAG), jthe Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO) and the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN).

The central element of the citizens' assembly was the opinion-forming process. At its heart were professionally moderated dialogues in which all participants had an equal say. They received information from experts and were given a space to exchange ideas, weigh up points of view and form an opinion. At the heart of these dialogues were small groups of ten people each, in which the participants brought their perspectives together and worked out recommendations together.

Involving the population is important

Involving the population is important in a democracy, said Johanna Jacobi, professor at ETH Zurich and member of the assembly's scientific board of trustees. Nutrition is currently being discussed in a very polarised way, especially with regard to agriculture and consumption. When citizens join in the discussion, the voice comes from the population and not from interest groups.

"We are currently experiencing several crises that are coming together," Jacobi explained. "The extinction of species, the energy crisis, the health crisis," she listed, for example. These crises are interrelated and intensify at the same time. Food and agriculture are both triggers and victims of these crises. "It is clear that a paradigm shift is needed in the entire food system," she said.

"Nutrition concerns us all"

Angela Meier is a curative teacher and was a participant in the citizens' assembly: "I am a mother myself and think nutrition is a topic that concerns us all," says the 42-year-old. Philippe Gacond, a retired business economist, is concerned about the world: "I took part because I seize every opportunity to make a difference. The state of the world is serious."

As a participant, 33-year-old farmer Martina Stettler wanted to bring in the farmers' point of view: "The prejudice that farmers are to blame depresses me." 24-year-old Janina Inauen has just written her Bachelor's thesis. She says: "I would like to live on an earth that is still reasonably habitable and beautiful."

Learning excursions for participants

Parallel to the assembly meetings, the participants had the opportunity to visit one or two projects each in the form of a learning excursion, which are currently helping to shape a sustainable food system, are successful in application and are thus setting a good example. Through personal exchange with the respective project leaders, the participants of the citizens' assembly learned first-hand about the opportunities and obstacles that these projects encounter.

The learning excursions were intended to impart knowledge and to inspire and motivate the participants of the assembly to include these sustainable approaches and the associated opportunities and risks in their dialogues and in the formation of recommendations. To this end, the participants took what they had learned to their working groups. Since the members of the working groups each attended different learning excursions, different impressions and insights flowed into the working process.

Organisation by "Ernährungszukunft Schweiz"

The first national citizens' assembly in Switzerland was organised by the organisation "Ernährungszukunft Schweiz" (Food Future Switzerland). It was financially supported by the Federal Office for Agriculture, the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office and the Federal Office for the Environment. The citizens' assembly is part of the "Food Future Switzerland" project, which is supported by the Biovision Foundation, the Sustainable Development Solution Network (SDSN) and Agriculture with a Future.

On 2 February 2023, the Citizens' Assembly's recommendations on nutrition policy were officially handed over to the politicians.

Read more: Citizens' Assembly on Food Policy

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