Opinions
Babette Sigg Frank

«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.


Disenfranchised consumers

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.


Disempowered farmers

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.



Kindly note:

We, a non-native editorial team value clear and faultless communication. At times we have to prioritize speed over perfection, utilizing tools, that are still learning.

We are deepL sorry for any observed stylistic or spelling errors.

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 .

More pesticides, more genetic engineering: How we are overcoming hunger.

Markus Somm

Markus Somm

Journalist, publicist, publisher and historian

«The fear of genetically modified plants is unwarranted»

Anke Fossgreen

Anke Fossgreen

Head of Knowledge Team Tamedia

«Politicians must avoid pushing prices up even more»

Babette Sigg Frank

Babette Sigg Frank

President of the Swiss Consumer Forum (KF)

Seizing the opportunity of green biotechnology

Roman Mazzotta

Roman Mazzotta

Country President Syngenta Switzerland

«Sustainability means more»

Hendrik Varnholt

Hendrik Varnholt

Journalist at Lebensmittel Zeitung

«One-third organic farming does not solve the problem»

Olaf Deininger

Olaf Deininger

Development Editor-in-Chief Agrar-Medien

«Ecological methods alone won’t cut it»

Saori Dubourg

Saori Dubourg

“Ecological methods alone won’t cut it”

«Most fears about pesticides are misplaced»

Michelle Miller

Michelle Miller

Columnist at Genetic Literacy Project and AGDaily

Agriculture needs new technologies

Erik Fyrwald

Erik Fyrwald

CEO Syngenta Group

«Modern pesticides can help fight climate change»

Jon Parr

Jon Parr

President of Syngenta Crop Protection

«Who is afraid of the evil GMOs?»

Jürg Vollmer

Jürg Vollmer

Editor-in-Chief of «die grüne» magazine

Content in German

«What plant breeding brings us»

Achim Walter

Achim Walter

Professor of Crop Science, ETH Zurich

Content in German

«Research and work place needs impetus»

Jan Lucht

Jan Lucht

Head of Biotechnology at Scienceindustries

Content in German

«Agriculture plays a major role»

Jan Grenz

Jan Grenz

Lecturer in Sustainability, School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences HAFL

«Understanding nature’s mechanisms better»

Urs Niggli

Urs Niggli

Agricultural scientist and president of Agroecology Science

«For food security, we need genuine Swiss production»

Jil Schuller

Jil Schuller

Editor «BauernZeitung»

«Lay people completely disregard the dose»

Michael Siegrist

Michael Siegrist

Professor of Consumer Behaviour, ETH Zurich

Content in German

«Is organic really healthier?»

Anna Bozzi

Anna Bozzi

Head of Nutrition and Agriculture at scienceindustries

Content in German

«Genetic engineering and environmental protection go hand in hand»

Dr. Teresa Koller

Dr. Teresa Koller

Researcher at the Institute of Plant and Microbiology at the University of Zurich

«The «Greta» generation will rigorously dispel paradigms.»

Bruno Studer

Bruno Studer

Professor for Molecular Plant Breeding, ETH Zurich

Content in German

«Overcoming the urban-rural divide with constructive agricultural policy»

Jürg Vollmer

Jürg Vollmer

Editor-in-Chief of «die grüne» magazine

Content in German

«We protect what we use»

Regina Ammann

Regina Ammann

Head of Business Sustainability, Syngenta Switzerland

Content in German

Related articles

Why trust in science is so important
Media

Why trust in science is so important

It is essential that society has confidence in research. Only in this way can it realise its maximum potential and ultimately overcome social challenges such as climate change or a pandemic. But there are also critical voices: Some of the Swiss population has little or no trust in science. Four experts debated how research can gain people's trust at an «NZZ Live» panel discussion.

Crop protection products are in short supply - and soon the first vegetable varieties too
Media

Crop protection products are in short supply - and soon the first vegetable varieties too

Vegetable producers are currently struggling. The reason for this is the lack of crop protection products . It is becoming increasingly difficult to bring saleable products onto the market. Some farmers are even reaching their limits to such an extent that they have had to stop growing certain vegetable varieties.

Pests increasingly threaten fruit, berry and grape harvests
Media

Pests increasingly threaten fruit, berry and grape harvests

Fruit, berry and wine growing is increasingly threatened by pests such as the Japanese beetle, the spotted wing drosophila and the Mediterranean fruit fly. Producers are sounding the alarm – but there is a lack of pesticides that can put an end to the pests.

Organic farmer calls for genome editing for fruit growing
Media

Organic farmer calls for genome editing for fruit growing

The high number of plant protection treatments is a major challenge for organic farmers. One of them is apple grower Marco Messerli from Kirchdorf BE. He has had to treat susceptible apple varieties with organic pesticides a total of 48 times. Too much, he thinks, and is now calling for the authorisation of new breeding methods. Experts agree with him.