NRP 69 recommends that the government develop a Swiss Food Strategy for 2050. This strategy should enable the entire population to eat healthy food sourced from a sustainable production and distribution system.
Is it possible to follow a healthy diet that includes more vegetables, fruit and nuts while still reducing the environmental impact that consumption has both in Switzerland and abroad?
Funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), the National Research Programme "Healthy Eating and Sustainable Food Production" (NRP 69) believes it is.
According to the models developed during the programme, the Swiss food system is capable of delivering healthier nutrition now and in the future.
Furthermore, this nutrition could be obtained from sustainable production, processing and distribution systems, which would simultaneously improve the security of supply in the country.
To achieve this, Switzerland needs a clear strategy for adapting and transforming its food system in the period up to 2050. This strategy must define the targets and instruments that will enable everyone in the country to choose a healthy diet sourced from sustainable systems.
The 2050 Food Strategy could be based on the results of NRP 69. This programme looked at the research and development areas that will be key to developing and implementing the strategy.
Combating food waste and food loss
One element of NRP 69 was food waste. Researchers in various projects developed recommendations for reducing food waste and food loss at all stages of the food chain.
In particular, there is a need to modify the aesthetic quality criteria that result in food loss, adopt new methods of preservation and develop intelligent packaging that indicates the actual condition of the food it contains.
This issue is tremendously important for Switzerland since the country relies on foreign sources for half its food. There is no sense in importing food if it does not ultimately end up on consumers' plates.
As NRP 69 shows, this reliance on other countries is reflected in the fact that two-thirds of the environmental footprint associated with Switzerland's food occurs outside the country's borders.
The most effective way of reducing this footprint is to systematically combat food waste and loss.
Farmers as public health players
Eating less meat both improves the general health of the population and reduces the environmental impact caused by livestock farming. However, efforts to decrease consumption must not ignore the economic significance of meat and milk production to Swiss agriculture.
For this reason, as a second element, the 2050 Food Strategy should identify instruments for transforming agriculture. In particular, subsidies should be available to compensate farming families for the losses caused by reduced meat consumption.
Furthermore, the role of Swiss agriculture as a public health player should be strengthened by intensifying support for domestic fruit, nut, vegetable and pulse production.
Greater consumer involvement
Thirdly, the 2050 Food Strategy should motivate consumers to take part in the political process. It will not be possible to change dietary habits unless the Swiss population consents to do so. To be able to contribute to a transformation in diet, health and the environment, the public will need credible information and recommendations.
It will, therefore, be necessary to take the dissemination of scientifically unfounded dogmas and convictions seriously and adopt appropriate steps to address them.
Consumer associations should be able to contribute to the drafting of guidelines in the same way as associations representing agriculture, industry, the catering sector as well as environmental protection and health promotion organisations.
NRP 69 also recommends that the government explore extending the right of appeal to consumer associations and giving them the right to file class actions.
Addressing all stakeholders along the food chain
A fourth element of the 2050 Food Strategy involves promoting and improving the production, processing and distribution of healthy, sustainable food along the entire food chain.
A number of research groups working on NRP 69 drew up specific recommendations on this issue, covering aspects such as farms, soil contamination and measures in canteens or highly frequented places such as railway stations.
Other research groups developed new tools for measuring the energy balance in the human body and helping people lose weight or devised new approaches to combating deficiency diseases.
Research and development to play a key role
In its recommendations, NRP 69 proposes increasing the level of networking between the different components in the food chain, starting with production and continuing through distribution to consumption.
By pooling resources in agriculture, environmental protection and public health, a Food Strategy for Switzerland through to 2050 is to be drawn up.
This enhanced permeability also extends to the research landscape. NRP 69 is, in fact, the first scientific attempt to collate the reflections of the various stakeholders in the food chain. However, only very few research groups submitted interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary projects.
A series of publicly financed R&D projects that set out to bridge the various perspectives of the food system should, therefore, be vigorously promoted. Moreover, research should contribute to establishing a monitoring system for the Swiss food chain.
It should be noted that Switzerland is lagging behind other countries, having only conducted its first national nutritional study in 2013.
National Research Programme "Healthy Eating and Sustainable Food Production" (NRP 69)
Against the backdrop of climate change and the increasing importance of diet to human health, NRP 69 investigated interactions between diet, health and the environment.
NRP 69 delivers a series of analyses and recommendations that are based on the results of 26 research projects carried out between 2013 and 2019. The budget amounted to 13 million Swiss francs.
The results and recommendations from each project were published in summary sheets. A synthesis report sets out the overarching results of the programme.
With the aid of an online tool, consumers can test how changing their diet in various ways will affect their health and the environment.
Imseng, M., et al. (2020) The Fate of Zn in Agricultural Soils: A Stable Isotope Approach to Anthropogenic Impact, Soil Formation, and Soil–Plant Cycling.Environmental Science Technology. doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.8b03675.