Why does the federal government fund a Citizens Council for Nutrition?


No-confidence vote in Parliament: Why is the federal government supporting a citizens’ council on food policy?

For six months, 100 citizens selected by lottery will discuss a sustainable food policy in Switzerland. The result of the discussion should be recommendations for institutional policy. The shadow parliament is financed by federal funds, among other things. The outrage in the federal Bern is great.

Sustainable nutrition: a citizen council must show possible solutions for the policy.

Sustainable nutrition: a citizen council must show possible solutions for the policy.

Image: Roger Grutter

“This procedure is completely incomprehensible, suspicious and illegitimate. It’s not that easy.” National councilor and organic farmer Markus Ritter is angry. The outrage of the president of the farmers’ association applies to the so-called citizen council for food policy, which was presented to the media on Tuesday. 100 Randomly selected people from all over Switzerland will draw up recommendations for a “sustainable Swiss food system” by the autumn. The basis for the discussion is the federal government’s “Sustainable Development Strategy 2030”.

The 2030 Sustainable Development Strategy

In the strategy, the Federal Council shows which priorities it will set between 2021 and 2030 in the area of ​​sustainable development:

1. Sustainable consumption and production
2. Climate, Energy and Biodiversity
3. Equal opportunities and social cohesion

In these three areas, the government sees a great need for action in all departments and offices. For example, the Federal Council aims to reduce the proportion of the population living below the national poverty line by 2030. It also wants to show the negative effects of using fossil fuels and explain how the situation can be improved with economic incentives.

In the discussions, which will take place both online and physically between June and November, the working groups will discover “where the population is willing to adapt their behavior or implement things that contribute to a more sustainable food system”, explains the director of the project Daniel Langmeier. of Biovision, the Foundation for Ecological Development. The focus is on the question of how everyone in Switzerland can be fed sustainable, healthy and animal-friendly food by 2030, taking into account fair production. The results will be presented in November and will be presented to politicians, the administration and associations at a conference in February. The objective is that the recommendations of the citizen council reach institutional politics and, in the best of cases, be implemented there quickly.

Its goal is to make direct democracy even more direct.

But why is such a citizens’ committee needed? Nenad Stojanovic, a political scientist at the University of Geneva, believes that projects like the Citizens’ Council “complement existing institutions”. This could make democracy in Switzerland “even more democratic”. Furthermore, these citizens’ councils are more representative than the parliament, “at least in terms of statistics, because the selection of the 100 people represents the population of Switzerland.” This allows for more open discussions, which is often difficult in Parliament because opinions are usually delivered before debates.

Kilian Baumann sees it similarly. The National Council of the Greens of the Canton of Bern supports the idea of ​​the Citizens’ Council: “In Switzerland we have, especially in the area of ​​nutrition, a big lobbying problem. Politics often do not make decisions in the interest of society.” Baumann is convinced that citizens’ committees can enrich the work of politics, as several examples from other countries would demonstrate, according to the president of the small farmers’ association.

The citizen council costs more than 1 million Swiss francs

Parliamentarians, for their part, can also interpret the creation of citizen councils as a clear vote of no confidence: they are accused of not being able to adapt or draft laws as fast as society would like.

Markus Ritter is “very critical” of the concept of citizen committees, as he says when asked: “Such bodies lack democratic legitimacy, we already have various offices and institutions at all levels of government dealing with these issues.” In addition, the democratic system is open to all, so there is no need for additional projects at the expense of the public purse. The average national councilor for the canton of St. Gallen cannot understand why the federal government financially supports projects such as the citizens’ council on food policy.

In the present example, almost 400,000 Swiss francs in state funds flow into the project, which is supported by the Biovision Foundation, the Agriculture with a Future association and the SDSN network for sustainability solutions. The Federal Office for Agriculture pays the most with CHF 200,000, followed by the Federal Office for Food Safety and Veterinary Affairs with CHF 149,000 and the Federal Office for the Environment with CHF 50,000. Contributions from the federal offices cover around one-third of the total costs of CHF 1.3 million. The rest comes from foundations and support organizations.

project is important for dialogue

The Federal Office of Agriculture justifies its financial participation with the “Sustainable Development Strategy 2030”. On behalf of the Federal Council, the Federal Office is obliged to facilitate the dialogue for a sustainable food system, explains media spokesman Jonathan Fisch when asked. He adds: “The goal of the federal government is to support the transformation of food systems in Switzerland.” In order to make Swiss agriculture more sustainable, “farmers need to know which forms of production, products and cultivation methods will be in demand in the future.” This is where the project makes an important contribution.

At the national level, Parliament has just ruled against a first national citizens’ council. Specifically, in December, the National Council rejected a request by the Greens to nominate 200 people by lottery for a climate council. He should have found solutions to the climate crisis and even decided on them. However, Parliament sees this as its own task.

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