In Olten, the launch of the first Swiss Citizens' Assembly

The food system is a battleground. At the crossroads of many issues, health, environment or even economics, it summarizes a multitude of debates. But what does the Swiss population really want? To answer this question, several organizations have set up the Citizens’ Assembly for Food Policy. The idea: let the population itself define the contours of the food system of tomorrow. This Saturday, the participants met for the first time in Olten, in a conference room of the Hotel Arte.

The project, which germinated in the wake of the Citizens’ Climate Convention in France, is first and foremost a pioneering experience of participatory democracy. The recruitment process was entrusted to the Demoscope Institute, which ensured the representativeness of the Swiss population. To do this, the institute launched a first call for candidates, which attracted 300 people. Within this group, he selected one hundred (Swiss nationals or not) according to their age, gender and place of residence. About fifteen of them gave up at the last minute.

Myriad of interest groups

When welcoming participants, a moderator insisted, “No need to be an expert to attend this meeting!” The important thing is to come with an open mind, each with their own perspectives and life experiences ”. In front of him, the citizens are grouped in tables of about ten people. Two groups are French-speaking, one is Italian-speaking, and all have an assigned theme: environment, social, health, economy or production. The moderator, from the Collaboratio Helvetica company, which specializes in this type of moderation, warns participants, who are almost a one-semester politician: “Make sure that information does not leak to journalists or groups ‘interests, which could use them to influence your decision’.

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Over the next six months, many of them will present their views on the food system to members of the Citizens’ Assembly: the Swiss Farmers’ Union (USP), environmental organizations and the French Consumers’ Federation (FRC). But also representatives of the food processing industry, the chemical industry and retail. And especially the three federal offices involved in food policy: the Federal Office of Agriculture (OFAG), the Federal Office for the Environment (OFEV) and the Federal Office of Food Safety and Veterinary Affairs (OSAV ).

Seeds to sow

Each participant received a notebook and a pen, which they are asked to take with them during the next eight work sessions, which will take place remotely. He will also have to take it on learning excursions, which will take participants to visit conventional and organic farms, large and small. The process will end this autumn, with two face-to-face meetings in Lausanne and Zurich. The conclusions of the Citizens’ Assembly will then be presented under the Dome. At the risk of being sweetened, as in France? “I don’t think so,” said Daniel Langmaier, one of the initiators of the Biovision Foundation. In Switzerland, the system is very different, with more horizontality. In addition, we have been in contact with various parliamentary groups since the beginning, who are enthusiastic about the project ”. Needless to say, the participants came from all walks of life, Demoscope verified.

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Jürg Furrer, a 65-year-old from Lausanne, is one of the participants in the Assembly. This chemical engineer, who calls himself “neither left nor right,” has worked for 25 years for multinationals, including pharma. A follower of the “small steps”, he hopes to be able to “give my contribution as a citizen, but also learn”. As for Christine Mayer, a 54-year-old Morgienne, she already has strong convictions: she has been fighting for years to reduce the share of meat in mass catering.

Like all participants, Jürg and Christine received small bags of seeds this Saturday. Small seeds that they are invited to plant in the fields, in the spirits, and soon under the Dome.

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