Coffee beans not vital for human survival, Switzerland decides

Switzerland has announced plans to abolish the emergency stockpiling of coffee, a strategy that has been in place for decades, saying the beans are not vital for human survival – though opposition to the proposal is brewing.

Nestlé, the maker of instant coffee Nescafé, and other importers, roasters and retailers are required by Swiss law to store bags of raw coffee. The country also stockpiles staples such as sugar, rice, edible oils and animal feed.

This system of emergency reserves was established between the first and second world wars as Switzerland prepared for potential shortages in case of war, natural disaster or epidemics.

According to the plan released for public comment, coffee stockpiling obligations will expire by the end of 2022, with companies free to draw down what they have in their warehouses.

“The Federal Office for National Economic Supply has concluded coffee … is not essential for life,” the government said. “Coffee has almost no calories and subsequently does not contribute, from the physiological perspective, to safeguarding nutrition.”

A final decision on scrapping coffee stockpiles is expected in November.

Switzerland’s mandatory coffee reserves are spread between 15 companies, including Nestlé, and amount to about 15,300 tonnes, enough for three months of domestic consumption.

Switzerland’s 8.5 million residents consume around 9kg (20lb) of coffee per person annually, eclipsing Britain’s 3.3kg average and double the 4.5kg consumed in the United States, according to the International Coffee Organization.

However, not everyone wants to see the stockpiles disappear.

Réservesuisse, the Bern-based organisation that oversees Switzerland’s food stockpiles, last year asked the Federal Office to reconsider its recommendation.

Réservesuisse said that, of the 15 companies with mandatory coffee stockpiles, 12 wanted to continue, in part because the system helped buttress the supply chain.

Some also contend that the drink’s health benefits, such as antioxidants and vitamins, have not been fully appreciated.

“Stockpile operators’ concerns clearly show that the one-sided review and weighting of calories as the main criteria for a vital staple did not do justice to coffee,” Réservesuisse wrote in a letter seen by Reuters.

A Nestlé spokeswoman declined to comment on its position.

Switzerland finances its coffee stockpile through a fee of 3.75 Swiss francs on every 100kg of imported beans, raising 2.7m Swiss francs (about £2m) annually to compensate companies for storing beans.

In the event that the mandatory stockpile is eliminated, the government said it expected importers freed from the fee to pass on savings to consumers.

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