Study finds traces of pesticide in Swiss beers

According to a study by a German magazine some 40 percent of popular beer brands in Switzerland contain glyphosate, a pesticide considered by the World Health Organization to be “probably” carcinogenic.

Study finds traces of pesticide in Swiss beers
File photo: Danielle Scott

Gesundheitstipp analyzed 30 popular beers in Switzerland from both large and small breweries and found that 12 of them contained residues of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the widely-used weedkiller Monsanto, often used on crops including barley and wheat.

Topping the list was Coop Prix Garantie lager, containing 21 micrograms per litre of glyphosate, far more than the second highest, Guinness draught, which contained 13 micrograms.

Oettinger Export, Calanda (brewed by Heineken), and Einsiedler lager from the Rosengarten brewery in the canton of Schywz all contained traces of the pesticide, as did La Salamandre from popular Jura microbrewery BFM and even an organic beer from the Graubünden brewery Bieraia Tschlin.

Reacting to the study Coop said its beer was brewed in Germany and that the Swiss government considered these “traces” to be harmless, said Swiss daily Blick.

Supermarkets Aldi and Lidl, whose beers were also highlighted by the study, said they would take the issue seriously and “respond immediately to new insights” according to Blick.  

The Gesundheitstipp study followed a similar analysis of German beers by the Environmental Institute in Munich which found that the country’s 14 most popular beers all contained traces of the pesticide.

All 14 exceeded Germany’s legal limit for glyphosate in drinking water, of 0.1 micrograms per litre.

Glyphosate is the most used pesticide by farmers in Switzerland and is approved by the Swiss federal office of agriculture.

However in March last year the WHO’s cancer agency published a report saying the pesticide was “probably carcinogenic to humans”.

Following the report Coop – along with a second Swiss supermarket chain, Migros – removed Monsanto from its shelves.

But the Swiss government refused to ban the sale of products containing glyphosate, saying in a statement in July that the latest studies into the pesticide found no evidence of it being carcinogenic.

Based on current data the Swiss federal health office (BAG) “considers that traces of glyphosate coming from the use of this product as a weedkiller are harmless to the public”, said the statement.

The WHO cancer agency had no new international studies available upon which to base its reclassification of glyphosate, it said.

In September Swiss broadcaster RTS reported that glyphosate was found in the urine of 40 percent of participants in a study carried out in French-speaking Switzerland.

Toxicologist Vincent Perret told the broadcaster at the time that gylphosate doesn’t stay long in the body, so finding it in 40 percent of those tested means “that population is fed glyphosate in a chronic, permanent manner”.

Reacting to that study, BAG said the amount of glyphosate found in the urine was “very small and harmless to health”.

In Switzerland glyphosate is mostly used to promote the fertility of the soil, according to BAG.

“The use of glyphosate just before the harvest, as used by other countries to speed up the maturity of crops, is not authorized in Switzerland,” it added.

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How the Covid crisis led to a boom in Swiss beer production

Switzerland now boasts the highest density of breweries anywhere in Europe, with the Covid crisis a major factor in transforming the country into a beer hub.

How the Covid crisis led to a boom in Swiss beer production
The Feldschlösschen brewery. While Feldschlösschen might be the country's best known beer, there are hundreds of smaller breweries worth checking out. Photo: Wikicommons.

When it comes to food and drink exports, Switzerland is best known for cheese and chocolate. While Swiss wine has carved out a niche on the global stage, it is Swiss beer which has recently started to make its mark on the global stage. 

In 2020, 80 new breweries were established in Switzerland. 

Switzerland now has 1,212 breweries – which gives it a higher ratio of breweries to people than any of the other big brewing nations in Europe, including Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Belgium. 

Just ten years ago, Switzerland had only 246 breweries, while in 1990 there were only 32 breweries in the entire country, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung reports. 

Switzerland is getting thirstier

The explosion in brewery numbers is a consequence of a change in the Swiss appetite for beer. 

Reader question: Can you drink in public in Switzerland?

In recent years, the classic lager variety has gradually fallen out of favour, with the share of craft varieties growing by 43 percent over the past five years. 

The change is a genuine example of quality trumping quality when it comes to beer consumption. 

In 2010, the average amount of beer produced by each brewery in Switzerland was 11,000 hectolitres, while that is now less than 3,000. 

According to Switzerland’s NZZ, only 14 breweries produced more than 10,000 hectolitres of beer last year, while more than 1,000 breweries produced less than 50 hectolitres. 

While the variety of beers being consumed has expanded – particularly those made in Switzerland – the amount of beer each Swiss consumes has fallen slightly in recent years. 

In 2008 the average Swiss consumed 58 litres of beer, with 55 litres being consumed in 2019 – the last year for which figures are available. 

In 1980, the average Swiss consumed around 70 litres of beer per year. 

The following chart from Statista shows these trends. 

Beer consumption over time in Switzerland (per capita). Image: Statista

This pales in comparison with serious beer drinking countries, with the average yearly consumption in Germany being 140 litres. 

Wine still leads the way however in Switzerland. Of those who consume alcohol in Switzerland, 32 percent drink beer while just under half (49.4 percent) drink wine). 

While anyone bragging of cheap beer in Switzerland might have had a few too many, for people living in Switzerland the costs are relatively affordable. 

In addition to the high wages paid in Switzerland, the Swiss VAT rate of 7.7 percent is the lowest in the OECD, a 2021 study found. 

Statistics show that Switzerland has an above average consumption of beer per capita when compared to OECD countries. 

Just one in five Swiss abstain from alcohol completely, which is low by OECD standards. 

Why now? 

The proliferation of new breweries is obviously welcome for the nation’s beer drinkers, but it seems that Switzerland is coming late to the party. 

According to the NZZ, a major reason is Switzerland’s alcoholic drinks ‘cartel’, which meant that all alcohol was sold in standardised form nationwide. 

The cartel “regulated sales, prices, quality, recipe and range of products for which the whole country was advertised collectively and uniformly,” with the result being bland, mass market beers in each of Switzerland’s 26 cantons. 

The rules were so pervasive that even pub owners were in many cases restricted from choosing which beers they wanted to have on tap. 

Created in the early 1900s, this cartel survived until 1991, when it finally fell. In typical Swiss fashion, it was even kept in power by a referendum which took place in 1958. 

As a consequence of the change, it is now easier than ever to start smaller breweries – which in turn influenced the Swiss palette to move away from the standardised cartel lager and to more adventurous brews. 

Seven beers to try in Switzerland

Whether you’re a beer enthusiast or a sometime sipper, you’ve probably heard of the big market brands like Feldschlösschen, Haldengut and Gurten. 

Here are some lesser known brands which will tickle your fancy. 


While most of the beers on this list are relatively unique, Quöllfrisch is a standard lager type beer with which most people will be familiar. 

However, it’s anything but standard and represents perhaps the best a blonde lager can be. From Appenzell, this beer is relatively easy to find no matter where you are in Switzerland. 

In fact, it’s served on Swiss airlines. 

De Saint Bon Chien

The L’Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien is a truly unique beer. With a strength of 11 percent, the sour beer is aged in wooden barrels that previously contained red wine. 

Highly sought after, the beer comes from Saignelégier in the canton of Jura close to the French border. It is the highest ranked Swiss beer on the beer ranking site ‘Untappd’, with several discontinued beers from the same brewery sitting alongside it. 

Relatively difficult to get, it is available in small bottles or 20 litre kegs. 


Zurich’s Brüll!Bier is one of the city’s best microbreweries.

Unlike many other Swiss breweries which tend to focus their efforts on only a few beers, Brüll!Bier brew several varieties touching on traditional styles, contemporary classics and experimental offerings. 

While the red ale and the helles are excellent session beers, one speciality is the Prince of Ales Yorkshire Pale Ale, which can only be found at the British Beer Corner in Zurich. 

Brewed to resemble a Yorkshire Pale Ale, it’s tasty and delicious – and will go down well even if you’ve never had a YPA before. 


Another beer that can be found in most parts of the country, Calvinus has several different traditional beer styles including a wheat beer, a thick dark ale and a Belgian pale ale. 

Originally from Geneva, it is now brewed in the mountains of Appenzell using only organic ingredients. 

According to legend, it is based on a recipe handed down in Geneva by Calvin the Reformer. 

Ittinger Klosterbräu

An amber ale with a relatively standard alcohol content (5.6 percent), Ittinger Klosterbräu is bitter but fruity. 

The beer is brewed in a former Carthusian monastery on the banks of the Thur river. 

It’s also one of the rare Swiss beers to be made with local hops – which are actually grown by the brewery itself – with more than 90 percent of beers made with hops exported from elsewhere in Switzerland. 

Bier Factory Rapperswil

Rapperswil, on the outskirts of Zurich, is not only a great place to live if you work in the city – but also a great place to have a few beers. 

The brewery has a taproom where you can try many of the beers they brew, including some staples and some experimental favourites. 

One of the best is the Wanderlust Pale Ale, a hoppy pale ale which can easily be a session beer. 

Appenzeller Castégna

Another beer from the beautiful Appenzeller region, Appenzeller Castégna is brewed with chestnuts grown in the southern canton of Ticino which give it a “sweet, chestnutty aroma” according to a rather uninventive online review. 

Brewed by Brauerei Locher, the Castégna is relatively difficult to find throughout the country other than in Ticino. 

It’s a proud vegan friendly beer, whatever that means, and is often served with desert due to its sweet taste.