On a glorious spring day in the rural suburb of Reinach, north west Switzerland, throngs of people of all ages flocked to a farm event.
They tasted delicious Swiss food, met Swiss farmers and learned how their taxes made a difference for animal welfare and the environment on farms in Switzerland.
The event, Tierschau, was a celebration of Swiss farming and takes place every five years in the Swiss canton of Basel Landschaft.
Organised by the regional office of the Swiss Farming Association, it is aimed at the general public and this year it took place in April and attracted about 30,000 people over two days.
Franziska Hochstrasser, secretary of Bauernverband beider Basel, the regional branch of the Swiss Farming Association, said events such as this were increasingly important as the Swiss consumer became increasingly disconnected from where their food comes from.
Ms Hochstrasser said: “People tend to buy processed products now so they are less aware of the animals farmed to produce their food.
“They see pictures of livestock on social media and think this is how we farm in Switzerland when in fact, many of the procedures or methods of housing animals depicted are now banned here.
“We organise many events for the public including National Swiss Day on August 1 when farms in the region open up and people can enjoy a Swiss breakfast. Every fourth year we have the ‘Day of the Farm’ where abut 40 farms welcome the public across the region.”
Although Swiss farmers were not facing a challenge like Brexit, she said their payments from Government were regularly centre stage in the political debate.
“Every four years the Swiss population is polled specifically on agricultural policy and the next agricultural plan. Farmers never have complete security as they never know what changes will be made to payments in the future,” added Ms Hochstrasser.
“Now the farmers are receiving more of their payments for environmental work and, where in the past farmers received money to produce food, now they are paid to keep the landscape the way the public want to see it.”
Tierschau is the culmination of two years’ work.
The last three months have involved promotion through schools, sponsors – including the big agricultural co-operative Landi and a local agricultural bank – and via a campaign of leaflets, banners, press articles and social media.
Susanna Schrurch hosted the event with her husband, Christian, at their farm, Neuhof, close to the northern edge of the Jura mountains. She said events such as Tierschau were vital to promote their message to consumers.
“We have spent months preparing for the event and many of our neighbours have helped,” she said.
“We had 12 meetings and everyone had their own list of jobs to do. We have had several schools looking around and the feedback from the teachers was fantastic.
“Generally the Swiss are prepared to pay a little more for Swiss products as they understand the high welfare and environmental standards we produce to. Some people will drive into Germany where they can buy more cheaply but most value the Swiss brand.”
Ms Hochstrasser agreed and said improving this understanding among consumers was the main aim of events such as Tierschau.
She added: “Lots of children in Switzerland have never touched a piglet or a calf. I think the easiest way of connecting people is to allow them to touch, smell and see animals first-hand.
“You can tell people a thousand times how farmers are keeping animals and the care we take of them but it is only when they can see for themselves it makes a real impression.”
THE Swiss brand is universally synonymous with quality and several Swiss food brands have capitalised on this association.
By adhering to and promoting specific environmental or animal welfare criteria, brands such as IP Suisse and Natura Beef benefit from the loyalty shown by Swiss consumers.
There are 18,500 IP Suisse farmers who are accredited to use its ladybird logo. They produce products in accordance with the four main requirements of the association:
Origin: 100 per cent Swiss origin
Biodiversity: 15 per cent of the farm area must be managed for biodiversity
Plant protection: Products must be GMO free and no fungicides, insecticides or growth regulators should be used, with only limited herbicide
Animal welfare: Specific rules on numbers of animals kept per hectare or sq.m of housing and all animals must spend a minimum amount of time outside every day all year
Emissions: IP Suisse’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 per cent without reducing productivity
Christian and Susanna Schrurch are members of IP Suisse and keen supporters of the brand.
Mrs Schrurch said: “IP Suisse demonstrates we are farming sustainably and using our resources responsibly. Since adopting the measures required we have seen more birds, hares, bees, butterflies and rare flowers on-farm.
“In return, we receive more for our products and generally we find the Swiss are willing to pay as they recognise our animals have a better quality of life and spend more time outside. The two big Swiss supermarkets, Migros and the Coop, both sell our label and as we are not as expensive as organic, it is affordable for more people.”
Natura Beef is the brand of Beef Cattle Switzerland and it describes the standard as obligatory ‘free-range husbandry with summer pasture, winter outdoor runs and straw bedding’.
The animals must graze extensively on pasture and calves remain with their mother until slaughter at the age of about 10 months.
Edith Noti, Natura Beef communications manager, said this label was strongly associated with Switzerland and the consumer trusts what it stands for.
“We have more than 5,000 members in the Natura Beef association and they have to comply with strict rules relating to feeding. In particular, calves must be with their dam from birth to slaughter and in return they receive a higher price for their animals. There is growing demand for our beef,” said Ms Noti.
“All meat sold under the Natura Beef or Natura Veal label will be from cows which are pasture fed over spring and summer and fed hay over winter. Feeding soya is prohibited and the cows and calves must have access to a turnout area every day even in winter.
“I speak to some vegetarians who admit they would eat beef if they knew it was reared this way. I think it is important to transfer this knowledge to consumers as otherwise they will have no contact with farmers and farming.
“We need to make our customers aware of the amount of work farmers do to look after their animals and the landscape. It is so important politically as, if they do not understand farming, how can we expect them to support us?”
Switzerland is not in the European Union and therefore has designed its own system of payments for its farmers.
It spends 3.5 billion Swiss francs (CHF) (£2.5bn) on its agriculture policy and more than 80 per cent of this is in the form of direct payments to farmers.
Swiss policy consists of six main elements: