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Canadian Food Inspection Agency peer review report on Switzerland's organic system – 2017
5. Overview of the Swiss organic sector

The Swiss organic industry is well-established. Valued at more than 2.25 million Swiss Francs (CHF)Footnote 1, it consists of 7,050 organic farms representing 13.8% of agricultural land use, and 1,936 organic processors, importers and traders. Swiss consumers spend more on organic products per capita than any other country (299 CHF). This, in addition to various government initiatives (subsidies, etc.) drives the growth rate of more than 10% per annum. Although Switzerland is a net importer of organic products (cereals, fruits and vegetables, processed foods), some value-added organic products such as coffee, chocolate, muesli, milk and cheese products are exported to Canada.

5.1 National legislation and national standards

Switzerland's organic control system is based on the following pieces of legislation:

  1. Ordinance 910.18 (SR 910.18) on Organic Farming and the Labelling of Organically Produced Products and Foodstuff (OFO)
  2. Ordinance 910.181 SR 910.181) on Organic Farming of the Federal Department of Economy, Education and Research

In 2015, Switzerland revised their Swiss Organic Farming Regulations 910.18 and 918.181, taking into account the provisions of the European Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 392/2013. The revisions entered into force on January 1, 2015, making clear distinction between supervision and accreditation tasks conducted on the CBs to ensure independent supervision of the CBs.

5.2 Structure of the Swiss Organic Program

The Swiss organic control system covers the activities performed by operators at all stages of the production, preparation and distribution chain from farm to fork. Operators are free to choose any of the four CBs offering certification services in Switzerland. The CBs are accredited by the SAS and, supervised by the FOAG. The CBs charge operators with a fee for their control and certification services. Fees are not regulated.

5.2.1 The Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO)

The FSVO is responsible for the production of safe food and protection of consumer health in Switzerland. They have offices in each canton which enforce the federal food law including storage and labelling of organic products. At a high level, the FSVO is responsible for:

  • preparing national acts and ordinances pertaining to food safety and quality
  • implementing national regulations (border inspections, export)
  • coordinating and supporting uniform implementation in the cantons
  • organising training and further education programmes
  • managing information and communication
  • conducting research
  • cooperating with national and international organisations

5.2.2 The FOAG

The Swiss Organic Program is administered by the Quality and Sales Promotion Unit of the FOAG's Markets and Added Value Directorate. Their main organic-associated tasks are to:

  • draft legislation which aligns with the European Union (EU) provisions for organic production
  • enforce/implement the OFOs and binding instructions
  • recognize collaboration bodies (as of January 1, 2018)
  • supervise the authorized CBs operating in the area of organic farming
  • grant authorizations re. derogations/exceptional production rules
  • coordinate communication between regulatory authorities and CBs
  • chair the Organic Enforcement Working Group (OEWG)
  • manage international affairs
  • inform trading partners of any infringements and irregularities

These activities are conducted by 5 persons representing 2.5 full-time equivalents (FTE) who are located at the FOAG headquarters in Bern.

5.2.3 The CAs

The CAs are responsible for:

  • enforcement of the OFO at the cantonal (local) level
  • inspecting premises (environment, buildings, equipment, devices) to verify the implementation of the OFO
  • inspecting production processes (handling, processing, storage, traceability and recall procedures) to verify the implementation of the OFO
  • taking samples to confirm compliance
  • following up on complaints and notifications from other jurisdictions and consumers
  • taking appropriate enforcement actions when warranted

Cooperation between cantons is facilitated through quarterly meetings of the Swiss Association of Cantonal Chemists which are conducted jointly with the FSVO.

The CAs work in collaboration with the FOAG, notifying them when the presence of chemical residues is detected in organic products.

Each of Switzerland's 26 cantons typically has both a food authority and, a veterinary office which conduct approximately 3,400 inspections per year. Depending on the size of the canton, some offices are shared between two or more cantons.

5.2.4 The SAS

Created in 1991, the SAS is a government organization which is affiliated with the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs. Its responsibilities are defined in the Federal Law on Technical Barriers to Trade (SR 946.51) and, the Ordinance on Accreditation and Notification (SR 946.512).

As a member of several international accreditation fora and committees the SAS is subject to peer reviews by various organizations such as the European Co-operation for Accreditation, the International Accreditation Forum, and the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation.

The SAS currently employs 40 permanent staff (35.4 FTEs) and engages 478 external experts. They have an operating budget of 10 million CHF.Footnote 2

Their main activities include:

  • granting and withdrawing accreditation of laboratories (testing and calibration, medical)
  • granting and withdrawing accreditation of inspection bodies
  • granting and withdrawing accreditation of certification bodies (for management systems, persons, and products)
  • providing both proficiency tests and reference materials

As per the provisions of Swiss/EU regulation 834/2007, the SAS accredits both inspection bodies and product certification bodies to International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard 17065.

5.2.5 The CBs

Switzerland's four CBs are designated with inspection and certification tasks which include:

  • conducting both annual and risk-based inspections
  • verifying ingredients meet the OFO
  • issuing organic certificates for processes
  • issuing sanctions in accordance with the sanction catalogue which is agreed to by all Swiss CBs
  • following up on complaints and notifications from CAs
  • monitoring and assessing the work of the CB's inspectors

The size of each CB varies depending on the number of clients. While some CBs work only within Switzerland, others conduct activities internationally.

Representatives from each CB participate in the OEWG which is chaired by the FOAG. The mandate of the group is to discuss certification issues related to implementation of the ordinance. The group has agreed on a catalogue of enforcement measures and sanctions. They share relevant information related to their inspections to ensure good communication and consistency between CBs.

5.2.6 Certified organic operators

The Swiss organic community consists of approximately 7,050 organic farms and, 2,000 organic processors and trading companies. They vary in size, complexity, and market scope, for example import and/or export.

In 2016, 88% of all organic farms were under the direct payment scheme administered by the FOAG which was designed to support the development of the organic sector.

All farmers must have a minimum of 3 years of experience (2 years on the farm and 1 year in agricultural school) in order to manage their own farm and, to be eligible for subsidies.

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