Switzerland votes in national poll on banning factory farming | animal welfare

Swiss voters will vote on Sunday on whether to ban factory farming as unconstitutional and end imports of heavily grown meat.

The latest poll shows that 52% of voters oppose a ban and 47% support a ban. If the factory farming ballot initiative is passed, the Swiss constitution, which already protects “the welfare and dignity of animals,” will be amended to include the animal’s right “not to be intensively cultured,” and new laws will lower animal husbandry rates to meet organic standards.

Under current Swiss law, “You can keep 27,000 chickens in one coop and have room to move about the size of an A4 sheet,” said Silvano Leger, managing director of animal protection group Sentience Politics, which proposed the vote in 2018.

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“Pigs are raised in barns too, up to 1,500 per farm, with 10 pigs sharing an average parking space. Animals cannot be treated dignified in such conditions.”

Groups supporting the ban include the Small Farmers Association of Switzerland, Greenpeace, Les Vertes (the Green Party), and animal protection groups. The only political party in the government that supports the ban is the Swiss Socialist Party (SPD).

Leger said the ban would protect the environment by reducing reliance on soybean animal feed linked to deforestation, also noting the need to reduce consumption of animal proteins.

His team estimates that only 5% of farms will be affected by the potential ban. Although there are no exact figures for the proportion of small farms in the country, the total number of Swiss farms is declining while farm size is increasing, according to the Office for National Statistics.

A campaign against the ban, led by the Swiss Farmers’ Federation (SBV), claims that current laws limiting farm animal numbers mean that there is no intensive farming in Switzerland.

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Swiss farmers can raise up to 18,000 laying hens and 27,000 broiler chickens, said Michel Darpley, head of production, market and environment at SBV. He said that if the ban was approved, the limit would be 4,000 laying hens and 500 hens for meat, while changes in pig standards would mean a 50% reduction in pork production.

For pigs and cows, Leger said, maximum limits have yet to be established, but the animals will be kept in small groups, have indoor and outdoor space, and the opportunity to play.

Opponents of the ban say it will not prevent cheaper imports of factory-grown meat.

Darbelle said Swiss welfare laws were already “among the strictest in the world,” noting the current ban on caged chickens and restrictions on when pigs can be kept in sheds (or logos, as the Swiss call them), for 10 days compared to several weeks in other countries.

However, only 3% of consumers in Switzerland want higher quality organic poultry and pork, Darbeli claimed. He said that although the ban would significantly reduce Swiss chicken, egg and pork production, it would neither prevent imports nor reduce consumption.

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About 80% of Swiss meat is produced domestically, but Darbeli expects imports to increase “significantly” if the ballot initiative is passed, while any attempt to impose a ban would be scrapped under existing trade agreements.

In 2020, the Swiss ate less meat than the EU average, at about 51 kg per head, while consumption of milk and dairy products was higher at 301 kg. The latest available data shows that the average consumption of meat in the European Union in 2018 was 69.8 kg per capita, while the consumption of milk and dairy products was 600 g per day in 2019, or 219 kg per year.

The reason for the low consumption of meat is largely because it is relatively much more expensive in Switzerland than in the rest of Europe. Import rules make importing large quantities of meat prohibitively expensive, but consumers can buy small quantities of cheap meat from neighboring Germany.

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