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Country Report Switzerland 2008

Helga Willer and Urs Niggli

History and development of organic farming in Switzerland

Switzerland is a pioneering country in organic farming and has remained so until today in several areas.

Bio-dynamic farming

Bio-dynamic agriculture has a long history in Switzerland. The Section for Agriculture at the Goetheanum (formerly a unit of the Section of Natural Sciences) has a history going back to the 1930s. A detailed description is available at its homepage.

Research work was done here by Ehrenfried Pfeiffer and Lilli Kolisko in the 1940s and 1950s, and until today research activities are taking place. Annually the international agricultural conference is held at the Goetheanum in Dornach.

Until today there is a very active bio-dynamic farmers’ and consumers’ movement which started in the 1930s. The Demeter label was registered in 1954. 

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Organic farming

The farmers’ movement initiated by Hans Müller became the nucleus of the organic farming movement in the 1940s. Together with his wife Maria Müller and his friend Hans Peter Rusch, a microbiologist, he became the founder of organic farming in the German-speaking countries. In 1949, he used the term 'organisch-biologischer Landbau' ('organic-biological farming') for the first time.

Although very impressed by what Sir Albert Howard wrote, Müller never met Albert Howard or Lady Eve Balfour. Until his death in 1988, the Möschberg near Bern was the main training centre for organic farmers from Switzerland, Austria and Germany.

In 1946 Müller founded the AVG Galmiz (today Bio Gemüse AV-AG), the first co-operative to commercialise organic products. He set up a delivery / mail-order service for organic vegetable and fruit boxes.

In 1972 Otto Buess, director of the state agricultural school at Sissach, converted the school’s training farm into an organic holding.

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Further milestones of organic farming in Switzerland

  • There were already 500 to 1000 organic farms in the 1960s and 1970s.
  • In 1973 the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture / Forschungsinstitut für biologischen Landbau FiBL was founded, which has since become one of a major organic farming research centres worldwide.
  • In 1977 FiBL organised the 1st International Scientific Conference "Towards Sustainable Agriculture" of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM).  
  • FiBL hosted the General Secretariat of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements IFOAM, from 1977 to 1980.
  • In 1980 Swiss organic farmers’ associations founded the umbrella organisation "Vereinigung Schweizer Biologischer Landbau-Organisationen" (VSBLO), now Bio Suisse and national private standards were established. Farms and products were labelled with the common "Bio Suisse Bud" seal. Hartmut Vogtmann and Otto Schmid, who were involved in that work in Switzerland, later influenced the standard setting process within IFOAM.
  • In 2000 FiBL organized the 13th IFOAM conference. It took place in Basel and had around 1500 participants.

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Growth and distribution of organic farms in Switzerland

Until 1990, the rate of conversions to organic farming had remained very steady for forty years, with annual growth rates of less than ten percent. During the boom years between 1990 and now, the number of organic farms increased from 800 to 6'111 (2008).

According to Bio Suisse currently (2008) 121'000 hectares are managed organically, constituting 11.4 percent of the agricultural area.

Several factors have driven this growth:

  • the consumers’ concern about healthy food;
  • the agri–environmental policy of the state government, which supports organic farms with annual subsidies;
  • the appearance the availability of organic foods in the two dominant supermarket chains, Coop and Migros;
  • The work of the organic actors like Bio Suisse, who unites the organic sector and of FiBL, who provides research and practical advice for farmers.  

Most farms in Switzerland work organic-biologically. Although very well known to the public, bio-dynamic farms compose only a small niche within the organic sector. The number of bio-dynamic farms has changed little during the fast expansion of organic farming.

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Note on Swiss organic farming statistics

 In Switzerland there are two major collection systems for organic production data in place.

  • Bio Suisse provides detailed statistics on the Bio Suisse certified farms (regional breakdown). Since 2005 it also provides the total number of farms and the land under organic management, based on the data of the certifiers.
  • The Federal Agency for Statistics BFS provides very detailed organic farming statistics, but it only includes farms which are eligible for direct payments. Not all organic farms receive such payments.

A detailed report on 'Data collection and processing systems for organic markets' , including a description of the Swiss situation, was produced within the framework of the EISfOM project (European Information System for Organic Market Data).


Bio Suisse: Organic farming statistics

Federal Agency for Statistics BfS: Organic farming statistics: Land use and development

Federal Agency for Statistics BfS: Key figures on agriculture in Switzerland (German)

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Regional distribution of organic farms

The distribution of organic farms in Switzerland is very uneven. In mountain regions the shares of organic land are very high; in the canton of Graubünden for instance more than 50 percent of the agricultural land is organic (2005).

The fact that a lot of the organic land is located in the Alpine regions is also reflected in the land use in Swiss organic farming, which has a higher percentage of grassland than Swiss farming in general.

In the western part of Switzerland, where stockless arable farms and horticultural crops dominate, the share of organically farmed land is low.

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Organic farming organisations & labels

Bio Suisse

90 to 95 % of the Swiss organic farmers belong to the umbrella organisation Bio Suisse (association of Swiss organic farming movements). Bio Suisse consists of more than 30 member organisations. A bud farm is thoroughly organically operated. Some hundred licencees process organic raw materials according to the standards of Bio Suisse. Each bud product is labelled with the name of the licensee and the certification body. This guarantees that all bud products are controlled and the rigorous quality requirements are met.  Independent inspection services as e.g. bio.inspecta in Frick, regularly inspect the farms and the trade and processing companies.

The bud seal may be used by certified producers for domestic and imported products which meet the Bio Suisse requirements. Domestic products carry the name Bio Suisse, imported products are labelled as 'Bio' (see info on the label as well as on export/import requirements at the Bio Suisse homepage). 


Bio Suisse: About the bud

Bio Suisse: Import documents

Bio Suisse: Exports from Switzerland

Bio Suisse: Standards


Another producer organisation with about 200 members is the association for bio-dynamic agriculture (Demeter Schweiz / Demeter Suisse), a branch of Bio Suisse. Important distribution channels for Demeter Suisse products are: direct marketing at local markets and on the farms, natural food shops and small retailers. Producers belonging to the bio-dynamic association use the bud seal as well, because certification for the Demeter label includes the Bio Suisse standards.

The Migros supermarket chain has introduced its own Migros Bio label: Migros is not a producer organisation, but a retailer. Products marketed with the Migros "Bio" label are distributed mainly through Migros stores.

The Migros supermarket chain has introduced its own Migros Bio label: Migros is not a producer organisation, but a retailer. Products marketed with the Migros "Bio" label are distributed mainly through Migros stores.

Standards and state regulations

The Swiss Organic Farming Ordinance was put into force in 1998, following the legislation in the European Union. Both Switzerland and the EU mutually recognise each other’s certification schemes. Imports from EU countries or countries on the third country list of the Swiss regulation must be accompanied by a certificate from an inspection body from the respective country. An individual import licence is required for imports from other countries.

At the internet site of the Federal Office of Agriculture BLW all documents related to the Swiss Organic Farming Ordinance are available.

When the Swiss Ordinance on organic farming came into force in 1998, organic farming had already developed considerably on the basis of purely private certification. As early as 1980, all Swiss organic farming organisations had agreed on common standards for organic farming, on the use of the common Bio Suisse Bud seal and on a common certification scheme.


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Certification scheme

The Swiss Organic Farming Ordinance delegates the inspection of organic farms and processors to private organisations, but requires a certification and inspection scheme in compliance with EN 45011. The Swiss Federal Office of Metrology and Accreditation (METAS) is responsible for the accreditation of inspection and certification bodies.

In Switzerland the main certifiers for farms are bio.inspecta and BioTest Agro. For processors, the main certifiers are: bio.inspecta, IMO (Institut für Marktökologie and SQS (Swiss Association for Quality and Management Systems). A regularly updated list of the Swiss certification bodies is available from the FiBL homepage.

Bio.inspecta was established in 1998 in order to set up a neutral, independent and credible auditing and certification procedure for organic products. Today, bio.inspecta inspects and certifies more than 80% of all organic farms across Switzerland and as well as retailers/traders and processors of organic products.

Bio Test Agro was founded in 1998. It has its seat in the canton of Berne.

IMO, the Institut für Marktökologie / Institute for Market Ecology inspects and certifies farms and processors in Switzerland and worldwide. For more than 20 years, IMO has been active in the field of organic certification but it is also an expert in the sectors of natural textiles, sustainable forestry, and social accountability monitoring.

SGS (Société Générale de Surveillance) mainly inspects and certifies processors and traders in Switzerland.

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State support

The Swiss law requires all agricultural subsidies to be contingent on minimum ecological standards. This agro-environmental policy is based on a referendum from 1996.

The minimum ecological standards (Ökologischer Leistungsnachweis ÖLN / prestations écologiques requises (PER) require:

  • Crop rotations with at least four crops;
  • Measures against soil erosion;
  • Equilibrium in the nutritional balance; and
  • High biodiversity on seven per cent of the agricultural area.

In addition, Swiss farmers can choose from different special programmes, e.g. for the maintenance of extensive areas such as hedges and fallow land, and programmes for animal welfare.

For the organic farming payments both the requirements of the ÖLN / PER and those of the Swiss organic law must be met.


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The market

The Swiss organic market is now 1.4 billion Swiss francs or 0.9 billion Euros (2008). The sales of organic products have been continually growing in the past years, and the market share of organic products is now 4.9 percent (2008). Growth during 2008 was 11.4 percent.

About 75 percent of sales pass through two major retailers and 15 percent through specialist organic shops, with the remainder retailing either direct from the producers or through family butchers and bakery shops.

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Coop and Migros

Coop Naturaplan sells a very wide range of organic products (more than 1600) in its supermarkets. Organic products are additionally labelled with the Bio Suisse bud. Recently Coop launched a new design for the organic products. Information is available at the Coop homepage.

Migros is selling its organic products under the Migros Bio Engagement label.


Coop: Organic product range (German, French, Italian)

Coop: Information about the Naturaplan programme (German, French, Italian)

Migros: Bio Engagement (German, French, Italian)


All cantons offer an introductory course for farmers converting to organic agriculture. These courses in compliance with the private Bio Suisse standards, which require a minimum of two days of training for the initial certification. In addition to the courses offered by the official advisory services, the private Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL and the different regional organic farmers’ associations offer many courses and hold meetings.

Modules on organic farming for apprentices are offered by many agricultural schools to meet the rising demand for apprenticeships in organic farming, FiBL and a group of teachers and trainers developed a curriculum for the profession ('organic farmer'), and in 2004 an organic school, the Bioschule, was set up (with funding from Coop).

FiBL provides a list of farms that offer apprenticeships.

A very innovative four-year apprenticeship programme for bio-dynamic farmers has been in existence for many years. The courses and practical training take place on bio-dynamic farms.

The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETH offers a specialised agro-ecology programme which comprises organic farming methods. A similar programme is offered by the Swiss College of Agriculture (SHL) at Zollikofen.



The state advisory services of each canton offer technical advice for farmers. A list of all organic advisors is available at the FiBL website. The state advisory services focus on technical support during the conversion period as well as on micro-economics (subsidies etc.).

Complementing the state services, FiBL offers a wide range of specialised technical support in areas such as: animal health, horticultural crops, viticulture and wine making, poultry production and free-range cattle fattening.

The monthly journal bioaktuell is published by FiBL and Bio Suisse.

In 2008, the first internet platform with technical information for Swiss organic farmers - www.bioaktuell.ch went online. It is available in German and French. The platform is maintained by the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL and Bio Suisse, the Swiss organic producers' organisation, in cooperation with the Swiss cantons. Subject areas covered are: news, animal husbandry, crop production, market, training and advice, contacts.

Many technical leaflets (both black and white and in colour) covering all aspects of organic production are issued regularly by FiBL in German and French. All material is available at the FiBL shop.

An advisory service for organic gardeners is available from the bioterra association. They also offer many courses in gardening and horticulture.



The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL

Since 1973, the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL at Frick has been the centre of competence in organic farming in Switzerland. FiBL employs a staff of 120 scientists and technicians in the areas of research and advice.

FiBL is a leading information and documentation centre for organic agriculture. The close links between different fields of research and the rapid transfer of knowledge from research to advisory work and agricultural practice are FiBL’s strengths. FiBL is also active in the field of international cooperation. It supports, for instance, the setting up of organic certification bodies (e.g. Indocert in India).

The German sister-institute FiBL Germany was founded in 2001, FiBL Austria in 2004. For more information on FiBL's activities and research programmes see the FiBL homepage.

FiBL is actively supporting the development of international organic farming. It organised the 13th IFOAM International Scientific Conference, which took place in Basel in August 2000. FiBL had also organised the first IFOAM scientific conference in 1977 in Sissach.

Organic farming research activities at other institutions


Applied agricultural research is also carried out by the federal research stations (Agroscope). Some of their research activities involve organic farming, especially the research programme of the, Swiss Federal Research Station for Agroecology and Agriculture Agroscope (FAL) in Zurich-Reckenholz.


The foremost bio-dynamic research and training institution is the Agricultural Scientific Section of at the Goetheanum at in Dornach.


The Arbeitsgruppe Forschung (AGF) co-ordinates all the individual bio-dynamic researchers in Switzerland. The cereal breeder Peter Kunz belongs to both AGF and Sativa.


Scientific Conference 2009

The 10th Scientific Conference on Organic Agriculture ‘Wissenschaftstagung’ took place February 11-13, 2009, at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETH, Zürich. It was organised by the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL, the Federal Research Station Agroscope Reckenholz-Tänikon ART, the ETH and Foundation Ecology & Agriculture (Germany).

It was substantially funded by the Swiss Agencies for Agriculture and the Environment and the COOP sustainability fund as well as numerous other sponsors.


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Challenges and outlook

The development of organic farming has been fast but very sustainable in Switzerland. Three factors support this optimism:

  • The current agri-environmental policy with its ecological payments has encouraged farmers to convert.
  • The state support has led to minor premiums for organic food, which is a very consumer-friendly situation.
  • The wide-spread use of the organic "Bio Suisse Bud" seal in supermarkets, specialised food shops and at local and farmers’ markets has strengthened the confidence of consumers in the quality and reliability of organic food.  



Dr. Helga Willer
Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL
Ackerstrasse 113
5070 Frick
Tel.+41 62 865 7207
Fax +41 62 865 7273
Personal webpage