Security of supply: how to deal with bottlenecks in the future?

supply difficulties of medicines, food, computer chips, plastic, paper, copper an many other products and raw materials

These months, media frequently reported on supply difficulties of medicines, food, computer chips, plastic, paper, copper an many other products and raw materials. The reasons for this are manifold: deindustrialization, transfer to low-wage countries, just-in-time production, minimal warehousing, transition to sustainable resources, the pandemic, political uncertainties and, above all, the exponential growth of the earth's population with rising living standards for all have led to bottlenecks in many areas. To make matters worse, Switzerland is a small country rich in poor raw material deposits and therefore dependent from imported products in almost all sectors [1]. These supply problems will persist and make planning security more difficult.

Drug shortage

 At the SATW retreat on 18 March 2022 in Bern, Enea Martinelli [2], chief pharmacist of the hospitals fmi AG, spoke about drug supply disruption. One issue is that the reporting by the Federal Office for National Economic Care (FONES) is almost exclusively geared to acute care. This has an impact on the care of chronically ill patients who require long-term therapy, but whose therapeutics (e.g. hormone replacement therapies, psychiatric drugs, antiepileptic drugs, Parkinson's drugs and others) are not listed. Further drug shortages are foreseeable if we do not react.

The core problem of the affected drugs and their intermediates is that they are almost exclusively produced in low-wage countries [3]. Therefore, a political initiative demanded that the production of important drugs be repatriated [4]. One recommendation would be to take the urgency of the preparations as a basis for a classification. (a) Medicines that can be produced anywhere. (b) Medicines that must be manufactured in more than one country to mitigate the risk. (c) Medicines that must be manufactured in Switzerland.

The good news is that new process methods and technologies are available that make sustainable repatriation possible. But this requires appropriate planning.

Food supply bottlenecks

Shortages for certain staple foods have now displaced the supply difficulties of medicines from the media headlines. Switzerland's agricultural self-sufficiency rate is currently just over 50 percent. According to the federal government, this percentage could be increased to almost 80 percent, but requires the willingness of the population to radically change their eating habits. Above all, the meat content on the menu would have to be drastically reduced. On top of that, a limitation of the consumption of rice, beer or pasta would also be mandatory. Another important way to increase self-sufficiency is to reduce food waste to a minimum at all levels. In Switzerland, more than 300 kilograms of food are thrown away per year and per person! With the "Action Plan against Food Waste", the Confederation wants to put a stop to this negative trend.

The supply of agricultural products remains one of the biggest challenges for Switzerland. Because there are two other elementary foundations of agriculture, fertile soil and phosphorus, that we deal with too carelessly. According to the Federal Office for the Environment BAFU [5], no more ground is to be lost in Switzerland from 2050. Is this goal sufficient with a current land consumption of around one square meter per second? Another serious bottleneck of the future is the supply of phosphorus, for which there is no alternative in agriculture, and whose price has therefore increased fivefold in recent years [6]. Phosphate mining is expected to peak between 2030 and 2040, and local phosphate recovery will become imperative.

The SATW published a study led by Erich Windhab (Expertinova AG, SATW member) on the identification of relevant, future and technological development areas for the Swiss food system [7], which will serve as a basis for further work within the framework of the Food 4.0 initiative.

Need is the mother of invention

History tells us that the current situation has also positive aspects. We experienced similar supply shortages in the past, which finally accelerated progress in Switzerland. Today, we are again facing important and necessary changes. Agriculture and the economy in general are under great pressure to finally shape themselves in cycles, production is to become sustainable, and many business models must be challenged. Consumers also must make an important contribution. In the future, products should be repaired instead of thrown away. That is why the EU Commission presented corresponding plans for more durable products in March. Above all we need agreed standards and solid criteria to carry out reliable surveys and to avoid "science friction". Finally, a cooperation and coordination with our neighbouring countries and the EU is mandatory for the security of supply in Switzerland.

Do you feel addressed? Do not hesitate to contact us!

Hans‐Peter Meyer, Expertinova AG, SATW Member

[1] «Bioökonomie – welche Optionen hat die Schweiz?» 1. März 2022


[3] «Corona-Pandemie als Auslöser für Veränderungen in der pharmazeutisch chemischen Industrie?» 19. Januar 2021


[5] «Die nationale Bodenstrategie» 8. Mai 2020 BAFU

[6] «Die Kläranlage als Goldgrube?» 2. September 2021

[7] «Projektbericht als Teil der Initiative Food 4.0 der SATW»