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Switzerland Holds Vote to End Factory Farming 

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

Jenny Donath explores the ethical debate over factory farming in Switzerland and Swiss voters' decision to reject the motion to end it.

Man places vote in ballot box for factory farming referendum

On 25th September 2022, polls opened on whether intensive factory farming should be banned forever in Switzerland. The proposal suggested that farmers would have to cut down their livestock size significantly and adjust their farming practices within the next 25 years.

Reasons for the referendum include the growing movement for animal rights across Europe, with calls to reduce meat consumption and improve livestock conditions. In 2019, a coalition of various institutions like Greenpeace, Vier Pfoten, and NGO collected over 106,000 signatures to put forward their proposal to eliminateintensive farming.

Switzerland has historically been forward-thinking and strict when it comes to animal welfare. In 1893, it had become prohibited to slaughter animals without first putting them under anaesthetics. As part of the Animal Welfare Act, it had prohibited any infliction of pain on animals without justification in 1978. Various other animal protections have been passed in recent decades, protecting animals by law.

What is the Swiss Animal Welfare Act?

The new amendment would have become part of the Swiss Animal Welfare Act. The act already states that no-one may subject on animals “pain, suffering, harm or fear, or otherwise violate its dignity”. A few vertebrates, however, are not included in the act. The Swiss Animal Protection Ordinance also lists requirements for housing animals appropriately. Switzerland’s new proposal would mean more necessary steps toward a complete elimination of intensive farming. The proposal includes various things that need to be changed within the next 25 years. Farmers shall ensure that livestock get access to outdoor spaces, that their housing aligns with the necessities for each species, and that the transport of animals all the way up to slaughter is humane.

Is new legislation necessary?

However, Swiss farms already seem relatively small with a limit of 300 veal calves, 1,500 pigs, or 27,000 broiler chickens per farm. For instance, comparing the average Swiss dairy farm of 24 cows with 250 cows in Germany, the number of animals held on one farm does not necessarily mean an issue in Switzerland. Only an estimated 6.6% of all Swiss farms would need to expand their animal houses and reduce their animal herds. This would mean an increase of consumer prices. Martin Haab, dairy farmer and president of the Zurich Farmers’ Union, said:

“We already produce on a high level, and they want to put another load of laws on our shoulders. But consumers are not ready to pay a lot more for their food.”

(Martin Haab, Time)

Despite this, animal rights supporters ask for more. Martina Munz, legislator of the Social Democratic party, said: “It’s true that we don’t have a lot of big farms in Switzerland, but we have a lot of things we can do better when it comes to animal welfare. […] it’s also about how they’re kept, it’s about slaughtering and transportation.” The previous laws don’t mean that those animals are receiving the standards they need. “Pigs are kept in barns too, up to 1,500 per farm, with 10 pigs sharing the space of an average parking spot. It is not possible to treat animals in a dignified way in those conditions,” said Silvano Lieger, who is the managing director of Sentience Politics, an animal protection group. “You can keep 27,000 chickens in one barn and their room to move is about the size of an A4 sheet of paper.” The new amendment would mean that organic standards will be met.

The result

However, after polls closed on 25th September, it was clear that Swiss citizens did not want more rules to improve animal welfare on farms. 63% rejected the ban on intensive farming. Only the state of Basel approved the proposal with 55% of voters saying “yes”. All other 25 areas turned it down. Several opponents, such as director Martin Rufer of the Swiss Farmer’s Federation, argued that the result showed that the Swiss population are confident in their farming systems and rejected the risk of higher prices for buyers and competition issues for farmers.

Supporters of the campaign, like director Philip Ryf, expressed their disappointment. The ban on intensive farming was not only supposed to bring better welfare to animals, but also tackle climate change by reducing meat consumption and shifting land use toward vegetable crops instead of feed for animals. After all, 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions are due to animal husbandry.


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