In the wake of World War I, Switzerland’s government decided to stockpile enough essential items to sustain the country’s citizens for three months. If the landlocked country faced severe shortages, the plan’s creators reasoned, its residents would be able to survive on the rations. Today, writes BBC News’ Imogen Foulkes, the list of staples earmarked for stockpiling includes fuel, fresh water, animal feed, medicine, sugar, flour, cooking oil, rice and—to the great satisfaction of Switzerland’s caffeine-loving population—15,000 tons of coffee.
This April, however, the Swiss government announced plans to stop stockpiling coffee beans. Clearly not subscribing to author Laurell K. Hamilton’s suggestion that “caffeine and sugar [are] the two basic food groups,” the country’s Federal Office for National Economic Supply argued that because coffee is low in calories and has little nutritional value, it is not essential to survival.
The public strongly disagreed. Now, Reuters’ John Miller reports, outcry over the announcement has led the Swiss government to reconsider its controversial plan and delay a final decision on the matter until at least January.
Switzerland’s 8.5 million inhabitants don’t drink as much coffee as the Finns, Norwegians, Icelanders, Danes, Dutch and Swedes, but a 2017 survey by the International Coffee Organization (ICO) suggests the Swiss still consume their fair share of the beloved beverage: specifically, some 7.9 kilograms per capita annually, or roughly 17.4 pounds per person every year.
The country’s many coffee lovers objected to the government’s decision to kick the precious beans out of its emergency stash, and soon enough, trouble began brewing. As Thomas Stephens and Samuel Jaberg report for Swissinfo.ch, the uproar started—like many modern protests—on Twitter, where one person declared the proposed change “blasphemy.” Another user groused, “Truly, the fall of the West proceeds faster than I’d ever anticipated.”
Still, the public doesn’t hold as much sway over the government as the multi-national corporations that supply Switzerland with its coffee. According to a separate article by Reuters’ Miller, “Switzerland’s mandatory coffee reserves are now spread over 15 companies, including Nestle.” All 15 of these companies are in favor of keeping the country well-stocked with coffee, Reservesuisse—the organization responsible for managing the nation’s strategic food reserves—tells Reuters.
An official at Reservesuisse said the newly announced delay “suggests the administration is planning a change of direction.” But an official with the Swiss Economy Ministry told Miller they had “no new information regarding the lifting of the coffee reserve.”
The individual added, “We still expect that the proposition will be presented to the government early next year.”
While the emergency storage plan was originally put in place between the two world wars, these days, the back-up supplies also help the country manage supply disruptions from a different threat: global warming. As BBC News’ Foulkes notes, the Rhine River’s water level fell so low last year that ships could no longer safely navigate it. The country had to dip into its stockpiles for mineral oils and fertilizer until supplies could be delivered.