True cost of food as a lever to transform the Swiss food system

Food systems have substantial environmental, social, and health impacts that are not reflect- ed in the cost of food. The current political context, both domestically and internationally, have identified True Cost Accounting for Food (TCAF) as a means to drive the transformation of food systems. In this paper, we explore TCAF as a tool to move toward a more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive Swiss food system and answer some of its challenges. First, we identify these challenges and what we know so far regarding TCAF. We subsequently outline the prospects and hurdles of TCAF in Switzerland, as well as the proposed paths forward, as identified by a varied group of stakeholders during an event which took place in October 2022. Finally, we propose several avenues to progress towards a trial implementation of TCAF in Switzerland.

Key takeaways from the report: 

  • It is estimated that CHF 37.4 billion is spent every year on food in Switzerland.  The estimated external costs are at least twice this amount, with health externalities weighing the most. Even if these costs are hidden from the market, they are incurred by our planet and societies, through e.g. public health costs and natural resources depletion.

  • The initial responses from Swiss food system stakeholders gathered during an E4S Action Lab indicated a strong potential and interest in a true cost approach, but also highlighted the challenges, notably the public acceptability of higher food prices.

  • Potential implementation pathways involve providing true cost information throughout food value chains. To start, collective restaurants and farm markets offer the opportunity to assess the impact of this information on the behaviour of market agents.

  • By internalising the external costs into the cost of food (true pricing), TCAF offers the means to achieve a better allocation of resources by reshaping and aligning incentives along food value chains from farmers to consumers.

  • Food systems are facing interrelated challenges that need to be addressed systematically. TCAF allows moving from a sectoral to a more systemic approach to food systems recognising feedback loops and understanding the causal relationships between policy incentives and their impacts.True cost of food as a lever to transform the Swiss food system

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