When Christoph Gerber from bio.inspecta takes a close look at an organic farm, he does it with a trained eye, open ears, and respect.
The journey from Zollbrück to Ober-Lehn is steep and narrow. The road up to 900 metres is winding. Christoph Gerber (60) is on his way to the organic farmer Beat Gerber (46). The inspector from bio.inspecta has scheduled a farm inspection. No Swiss farm that has received the Bio Bud label is considered certified organic forever. Every farm is inspected at least once a year on behalf of Bio Suisse. This also applies to any farm that supplies Coop with Naturaplan organic products – like the one owned by Beat Gerber. He, his wife Barbara and their four children keep suckler and dairy cows, calves, goats, horses, chickens, sheep, dogs and cats. For Coop, the Gerbers produce organic meat from calves and suckler cows as well as goat's milk for cheese production.
Two days ago, Christoph Gerber has announced his visit on Beat Gerber's farm. "I want to be sure that the farmer is in the field and not in the forest cutting wood," says the inspector. In addition, he sets the time frame for the inspection with the farm manager in advance. This way, the manager knows when he can go back to his daily business. Isn't there a danger with announced inspections that the company being inspected will cover up irregularities? "No," says Christoph Gerber, "the organic regulations are very strict. No one can hide anything." In addition to the annual main inspections, unannounced inspections are carried out.
Well-nourished and full of confidence
The inspection begins at the goat stalls. The goats are clean, well-fed with organic hay from their own fields and some of them are pregnant. Christoph Gerber climbs into one of the three enclosures and assesses the space conditions. Calmly, the goats continue to nibble at the hay supply. "If an animal shows trust instead of fear of strangers, it is an indication that it is being treated well," says the inspector and gently strokes a goat's head.
In addition to his work as regional manager for Espace Mittelland and Central Switzerland at bio.inspecta, Christoph Gerber runs an organic farm in Aeschlen. "Practitioner checks practitioner" is how he describes the system, "and that's a good thing". Because expertise is required for the inspections. The Bio-Suisse guidelines extend over 287 pages. The checklist includes 2500 points that are ticked off directly on the laptop. In addition, there are federal animal welfare regulations.
Expertise and "es Gspüri" (a feel for things)
Christoph Gerber's gaze falls on a kneeling goat - an unnatural posture. "We are nursing her claws back to health," says Beat Gerber. "With what?" asks the inspector. They check the treatment methods and the soil conditions in the winter quarters. "Respect and decency is central. I am a guesthere, not a policeman," emphasises Christoph Gerber. In addition to specialist knowledge, he needs to have a "feel" for people and animals. His 17 years of experience help him here. He records deficiencies with his camera.
The camera is not used in Ober-Lehn. After inspecting the exercise areas for goats and horses, the Gerbers get into the car. 100 metres higher up is the cowshed. The inspector pats the breeding bull: "Such clean and healthy animals, there is hard work and heart and soul behind it."
The office must also be right
The administration of an organic farm is also part of the hard work. In the parlour, Beat Gerber hands the inspector the daily run and pasture log, treatment journals, receipts and delivery notes. Stock lists testify to births and prove that all the animals the Gerbers have bought since the last inspection come from organic farms. After two hours, the inspector writes: "Intensive, cleanly run mountain farm." He and the farmer sign the comprehensive inspection report directly on the screen.
"We have to take care of the earth," says Beat Gerber, explaining why he is convinced of organic and brands like Coop Naturaplan. "We have a responsibility towards future generations," adds Christoph Gerber, "and should think about resources." That is also why he looks very closely at farm inspections.
This article was published in the Coop Zeitung Region Bern on 28 February 2023.