Renato Pichler is President and CEO of Swissveg. He has been working full-time for Swissveg since 1993 and is one of the founding members of the association. He maintains international cooperations and coordinates the V-Label internationally.
With his extensive knowledge accumulated over the years, Renato Pichler is a proven expert in the vegan movement. We spoke with Renato about Swissveg’s successes and goals, as well as the status of the vegan movement in Switzerland.
What is Swissveg and what does the organization stand for?
Since 1993, Swissveg, as a politically and religiously independent organization, has been using positive public relations work to permanently reduce meat consumption and to make a plant-based, responsible lifestyle accessible as well as promote it as an attractive and healthy alternative for everyone.
Who are the members and who can become a member?
Anyone who shares our goals is welcome as a member. We have members from all age categories. We are as broad in our memberships as we are in our causes: From animal rights activists to environmentalists to health-conscious people, we offer a platform for everyone who feels that the vegan movement also needs a strong “lobby” in Switzerland. The vast majority of our members come from Switzerland, as this is where we have our main focus.
What successes do you like to look back on?
Thanks to Swissveg, Switzerland is one of the few countries where the terms “vegetarian” and “vegan” have been legally defined for years. In 2019 and 2020, I was able to contribute to the ISO definition of these terms as well. As a result, there is now also an official, international definition of “vegetarian” and “vegan”.
At the political level, we were able to achieve, among other things, that the upper limit for vitamin B12 products was lifted in Switzerland. This upper limit was medically untenable and made it difficult to import products that were otherwise permitted throughout the EU.
In addition to this background work, we also organized the first vegan street festivals (from 2012) when the vegan lifestyle was not yet so widespread, in order to bring it closer to the population in a positive way. Today we are the main partner at the biggest vegan events in Switzerland (vegan festivals, vegan fairs incl. Veggie-World).
A very successful and important project is still our V-Label. We started this international project in 1996. Today it is present in all European countries – and also outside Europe – and facilitates the vegetarian and vegan lifestyle. In 2021, it was voted one of the trendiest brands in Switzerland (9th out of 489 labels) in a survey conducted by the Havas advertising agency.
“The vast majority of the Swiss population knows this label.”
All major supermarket chains now rely on the clear declaration with our V-label for their food products. The vast majority of the Swiss population knows this label. We have thus brought vegetarian and vegan products from a niche to the mainstream: every major supermarket chain in Switzerland now uses this label to clearly declare their vegetarian and vegan products.
With our V-Label project, we were able to better connect the entire vegan movement internationally and thereby strengthen it. Through the regular exchange with our partner organizations, vegan efforts outside of the V-Label project are also boosted.
What campaigns or projects are you planning in 2023? What are the most important goals of Swissveg?
A lot has happened in the industry in recent years. We were able to accompany the introduction of vegetarian/vegan product lines and see how these are becoming more and more established. Politics, however, is strongly lagging behind.
That is why we ran the campaign “Contradictions of Swiss Politics” last year. In this campaign, we showed how contradictory politics is when it comes to nutrition. For example, meat advertising is co-financed by tax money, although the state itself is of the opinion that three times more meat is eaten than is healthy.
This year we will take up this issue and are substantially involved in the preparation of a federal popular initiative. It is intended to correct at least part of this mismanagement in politics. In addition, we will celebrate our 30th anniversary with a big event about the future of nutrition.
How do you assess the situation of the vegan movement in Switzerland? Which developments speak for a positive change and which challenges have to be overcome?
The last years have brought many changes: Since not only small start-ups are interested in vegan products, but also all larger corporations (Nestlé made a turnover of 800 million EUR with meat alternatives in 2022) and all supermarket chains have their own veggieline, the task of the vegan scene has also changed. Today, even larger companies are very interested in the vegan movement and a cooperation.
And even the environmental and species protection organizations, which used to have a hard time with the topic of meat consumption, have now discovered the topic for themselves.
Nevertheless, there are still some areas where the movement is struggling to gain a foothold. Swiss gastronomy is still far from responding to the trend. It is still difficult in many places – especially in the countryside – to eat well, vegan.
“more and more farmers want to break out of this system and produce only healthy plant-based food”
As mentioned above, there is still a lot to do in terms of politics. More than 80% of agricultural subsidies are still spent on animal-based food production. This has hardly changed since 2007, when we analyzed subsidies for the first time. Therefore, many farmers feel compelled – for financial reasons – to continue producing animal-based food. As Swiss farmers mainly live on tax money (instead of the products they sell), it is difficult to inspire them for the vegan transition as long as politics puts the brakes on it. Nonetheless, more and more farmers want to break out of this system and produce only healthy plant-based food.
It is a great advantage that the vegan movement is now receiving support from a wide variety of sectors. Each organization has its approach and reaches a part of the population. So they complement each other well. At the same time, it is also important to cooperate on certain projects. Here I still see great potential but also a positive tendency.
Switzerland is a very stable, rather conservative country. Changes usually take a little more time here than in other countries. But once they are implemented, the new situation is also very stable again. That’s why patience is needed.
Where can interested people meet you in person in 2023 (trade fairs, congresses, events, roadshows)?
As mentioned above, you can meet us at most major vegan events. In March we can be found at VeggieWorld in Zurich-Oerlikon, after that, we have our annual general meeting in Winterthur and at the beginning of June we have the Vegan Festival directly at the main station in Zurich.
To stay informed about all events and not miss anything, it is easiest to subscribe to our newsletter: www.swissveg.ch/newsletter.