The first organic farming to crop up in Switzerland dates from 1940, sparking the movement in neighboring countries. The first organic “co-op” was founded in 1946 which even proposed a mail-order service for fruit and vegetable boxes.
Today, organic farms account for 11.4% of Switzerland’s total farmland (121,000 hectares) and make up 12% of the country’s total farms—a record in Europe second only to Austria. In 1974, the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FIBL) was set up to research and offer advice to farmers and Bio Suisse, the private umbrella organization to which all organic farms belong, created the “Bud” label in 1981.
Some resources to help you get you started on your search for organic goods in Switzerland:
Lots of information (in English) on the labeling process, plus searchable guide to restaurants across the country which meet the Bio Suisse Bud label standards.
You can order the 10th edition of “The World of Organic Agriculture” from the Research Institute for Organic Agriculture’s website. FiBL also offers tours, including its entirely organic vineyards where 40 different kinds of wine are produced.
Find an organic market or farm in your canton (in French, German and Italian).
Find over 200 Swiss farms that welcome you to visit for a hands-on experience.
In 2008, organic food sales totaled CHF 1.44 billion, representing 4.9% of total food sales in the country. Consumer demand is strong and stimulates the offer of organic products across the country. According to socio-economic PhD researcher Helga Willer at the FIBL, “Consumer demand is high since there’s an increase in awareness of food quality and in demand of healthy and sustainable products. In addition to this, there’s an excellent availability of organic food
products provided by the major Swiss food retailers as well as their strong promotion.”
Indeed, the second-largest retail group in Switzerland, Coop, rightly predicted in the early 90s that consumers would become more demanding in terms of information on the provenance of the goods they purchased. It became the first major supermarket chain to carry and market organic products in 1993. Karl Weisskopf of Coop explains: “ Organic products—both food and non-food—are no longer a ‘niche’ market but a real part of the market, with the potential to grow even more.” Migros quickly followed suit with its Fairtrade products and own organic label. Manor consequently launched its in-house organic product line. The extensive advertising campaign budgets of major retails chains attributed significantly to the spread of awareness of organic foods and goods.
Supermarkets account for a very large part of the country’s total sales of organic foods. Coop’s organic food sales reached CHF 772 million in 2008, representing 10% of total food sales and 52% of the market share. Its “Naturaplan” label dons the packaging of 1,600 products, all with the Bio Suisse Bud label as well. Migros stands second in line with 25% of the organic foods market share and sales totaling CHF 344.5 million in 2008. Their in-house label “Bio Migros” counts 1,000 product references.
With a little help from the state
Another reason for the high percentage of organic farms and farmers is that the Swiss government has granted them direct payments since the beginning of the 1990s. Jacqueline Forster of Bio Suisse says: “When organic farming started, farmers didn’t have
any subsidies. They chose to farm this way out of pure conviction. Since then, many farmers have converted from traditional to organic farming thanks to the government’s support.”
Additionally, the FIBL has been Switzerland’s long-standing research and support body to organic agriculture. They have played a major role in helping farms to convert and supporting farmers with advice and research on key issues related to organic farming.
What’s in a label?
Switzerland respects strict guidelines on certifying organic goods, including imports. Bio Suisse requires a farm to produce 100% in organic fashion, using no chemical pesticides or herbicides, no genetic modification and at the processing stage, no additives, aromas, color or preservatives in order to earn the “Bud” label. An import up for the label cannot have traveled to Switzerland by air. The “Swiss Regulation on Organic Farming” established in 1998 by the government following the EEC standards, is less constraining.
Is the future green?
With the organic farming ethic firmly established, Switzerland is looking to export some of its organic goods such as milk products which are well-developed and have a high potential for export, particularly cheese specialties.
However, the number of organic farms seems to have reached a peak. Some farmers lament the many restrictions and high costs in organic farming, despite government subsidies. However, French-speaking Switzerland’s growing demand may help to further increase the number of organic farms. “The potential for conversions is high particularly in the Western part of Switzerland with its huge areas of arable cropland,” says Willer. Jacqueline Forster from Bio Suisse adds: “It’s a slow process but it’s just a question of time. There’s still a capacity to see 100 additional organic farms start in this area.”
While organic farming is coasting, it’s not the only alternative to mass-consumption production. The promotion of local production, which is not necessarily organic, is on the rise. Major supermarkets support and promote local farmers’ products, mainly in the fresh produce and wine sections. Labels are also being developed to associate regional producers. Markets or shops can also be found directly on the farm. Here you can talk directly with the farmers and get their opinions of this year’s crop, their suggestions on cooking this or that vegetable and what to buy when. Many farms also propose pick-your-own, especially fruits. Whether it’s organic, sustainable, environmentally friendly or locally produced, slow food is still on the fast track in Switzerland.