Agroscope Publishes Study on Environmental Impacts of Drinking-Water Initiative

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In an in-depth study, Agroscope analysed the possible environmental impacts of implementing the Drinking-Water Initiative. The life-cycle assessment shows that pesticide and nutrient pollution of Swiss water bodies and groundwater could be reduced. In addition, inland biodiversity could be improved slightly. Overall, however, rising food imports would lead to increased environmental pollution.

The Popular InitiativeFor Clean Drinking Water and Healthy Food - No Subsidies for Pesticide and Prophylactic Antibiotic Use aims to significantly tighten Proof of Ecological Performance (PEP) requirements. It is expected that the electorate will vote on this Drinking-Water Initiative (DWI) in 2021. Adoption of the initiative would lead to fairly major changes in the Swiss agricultural sector. In an in-depth study, Agroscope explored possible environmental impacts of implementing the DWI, based on 18 scenarios.

The life-cycle assessment method

The results of the investigations are summarised in the study ’Potential Environmental Impacts of Implementing the Drinking-Water Initiative’. The researchers used life-cycle assessment to investigate possible environmental impacts. Life-cycle assessment is a recognised environmental assessment method. It gives indications of the extent to which certain measures will impact the environment and with what overall consequences, and highlights potential trade-offs.

Focus on two measures

In their calculations, the researchers focused on two measures of the Drinking-Water Initiative: firstly, forgoing the use of pesticides; and secondly, farms keeping only as many animals as could be fed with forage that could be produced on-farm. A Swiss ’basket of agricultural raw products’, consisting of domestic products and imports, served as a basis of comparison for the impact assessments. The same scenarios as in the predecessor study ’Drinking-Water Initiative Impact Assessment: Economic and Agricultural Structural Effects’, published by Agroscope around a year ago, were investigated.

Increasing environmental impact of Swiss basket of products

The life-cycle assessment shows that the investigated measures of the Drinking-Water Initiative can reduce pesticide and nutrient pollution in Swiss water bodies and groundwater and slightly improve inland biodiversity. The overall result, however, would be increased environmental pollution due to rising food imports, with meat imports contributing more heavily to this than imports of plant-based foods. Hence, the improvement in water quality in Switzerland would necessarily come at the expense of sometimes significant environmental pollution in the countries of origin of the imported products.