Nutrition and environment: levers and possible solutions

Nutrition is before housing and mobility the area of consumption and production with the greatest effects on the environment. A variety of levers and approaches can be used to make food healthier and more resource-efficient. There is a great deal of potential to produce food in a more resource-friendly way and to rely on more sustainable and more plant-based products. This also benefits health. Other possibilities include setting the right financial incentives, adapting the range of food on offer in shops and restaurants, and reducing food waste.

Producing food in an environmentally-friendly way

There is a particular need for action in food production. In order to meet the environmental targets in agriculture, substantial progress is still needed so as not to exceed the carrying capacity of ecosystems. This is shown by the agro-environmental indicators, which provide an overview of the environmental development of Swiss agriculture. According to this, nitrogen surpluses, which affect water bodies, soils, air, climate and biodiversity, are still too high and have been stagnating since the late 1990s. Around a quarter of these surpluses can be attributed to imported feed for Swiss animal production. While around 60% of Switzerland’s arable land is used to grow animal feed, of the 15 million livestock in the country, poultry, pigs and dairy cows rely on concentrated feed, half of which comes from abroad. This includes cereals such as wheat, maize, rice, corn and barley, but particularly soya. This feed and the arable land used to cultivate it competes directly with food for humans. If Swiss agriculture only used domestic feed, it could still produce over half the current quantities of meat and would cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40%. More broadly, resources could also be saved in agricultural production by using less mineral fertiliser and plant protection products.

Setting the right financial incentives and true-cost pricing

Key to Switzerland’s food and nutrition system is agricultural policy and the associated support for the agricultural sector, consisting of border protection and direct payments and other subsidies. This can give rise to disincentives, which encourage intensive farming and high livestock numbers. Furthermore, some subsidies can cause direct and severe damage to biodiversity. As also set out in the Federal Constitution, when reviewing the system of direct payments, the conditions should be geared more heavily towards all sustainability goals to ensure food production that is adapted to local conditions and takes place within the carrying capacity of ecosystems. For a sustainable food and nutrition system, crop production needs to be strengthened.

Harness synergies between healthyand resource-efficient diets

Marketing influences consumption decisions, as it predominantly advertises products from the top layer of the food pyramid, such as desserts. It is also important to educate people about eating a diet that is both healthier and more environmentally sustainable. But this also requires a corresponding range to be available in stores and product transparency, for which the food-producing companies are largely responsible.

Promoting resource-efficient offerings in the retail and food service sectors

The range of products available and product placement in grocery stores play a key part in product choices for consumers, as does the time they have available for shopping, cooking and eating. Meanwhile, consumption of highly processed and therefore resource- and energy-intensive foods has been continually rising for a number of years. The same goes for products imported from South America, Africa or other continents, such as tropical and sub-tropical fruits and nuts.

Swiss households spend around 5% of their income on meals in restaurants, cafés, bars, canteens and from takeaways. Corporate and community catering also has a significant influence on healthy and resource-saving menus, for example in schools, care homes and businesses.

Preventing waste from field to fork

Reducing food waste also has great potential as a way of reducing the environmental impact of food. Halving these losses by 2030 would reduce the environmental impact of food by 10% to 15%. This is despite the fact that a large portion of this waste is used as feed or to produce energy. There is significant saving potential from an environmental perspective in particular in animal products and waste at the end of the value chain, so in retail, in food service and in households, as the negative impacts accumulate along the chain.

The Federal Council’s action plan to tackle food waste seeks to halve avoidable food waste in Switzerland by 2030 compared with 2017 levels, and to achieve the greatest possible reduction in environmental impact from avoidable food waste by defining and prioritising measures.

Environment Switzerland 2022


Report of the Federal Council. 2022

Further information



Last modification 16.12.2022

Top of page