Swiss reject ban on factory farming to avert price crisis
27 Sep 2022 --- Sixty-three percent of Swiss voters decided to vote against a proposal that would have banned intensive animal farming and imports from countries where this practice is in place. Switzerland has some of the highest grocery prices in the world, with meat prices in the nation being 244.5% of the EU average.
“A yes vote would have meant a sharp increase in the price of animal products by an average of 20% to 40%,” Michel Darbellay, head of production, markets and ecology at the Swiss Farmers Union (SBV), tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
The vote was met with mixed reactions, with farmers slamming the potential move as devastating for their industry while animal welfare and plant-based proponents pushed for the legislation.
The Sunday vote was part of a larger set of direct democracy referendum initiatives, common under the Swiss federal republic governance system.
Near-unanimous vote by region
Twenty-five out of the twenty-six cantons (the regional member states of the Swiss confederacy) voted against the proposal. Only voters from the Basel-Stadt canton urban area, decided to support the initiative with 55% support.
Leading to the vote, initial polls showed that there was a near half and half split divide on the issue. However, the ‘no’ campaign managed to surprise pollsters by over ten percentual points.
“Our arguments of the highest animal protection standards in the world and the wide range of labels available convinced more people than the pre-vote polls,” underscores Darbellay, adding that the agriculture sector was mobilized.
“The result also shows the support, attachment and confidence in Swiss agriculture, despite attacks from various quarters. Even important cities voted for the no vote,” he highlights.
Big cities such as Zurich, Geneva and Berna rejected the initiative.
A paradigm shift
With nearly three million voters going to the polls, the issue of intensive farming was spotlighted, bringing new debates to households about animal welfare, plant-based alternatives and agriculture costs.
“The ‘no’ vote does not change things in terms of prices. On the other hand, given the 37% of people who voted yes and a share of people who voted no, we expect an increase in the share of production sold under labels. We hope that the vote has led to an awareness and that people will buy more consistently with their convictions,” explains Darbellay.
The market of people that supported the initiative is considerable, as 1.06 million Swiss voted in favor of banning intensive animal farming.
Animal welfare concerns
The vote might not be the last initiative on the issue to reach voters; even if the result is “very clear,” according to Darbellay, future popular voting initiatives might be raised.
Switzerland has already elevated animal rights with an existing constitutional provision on animal welfare and dignity, which protects most animals apart from a few exceptions for vertebrates.
“We want to stay ahead of other countries in terms of animal welfare. However, we do not want to achieve this goal by means of obligations, but by means of state incentives and, above all, by market demand,” says Darbellay.
A ban on the initiative could have also led to unintended consequences, such as a sharp increase in imports from countries where animal husbandry conditions are weaker than in Switzerland, as it was not clear how the country could have overruled existing international treaties to ban imports of meat coming from intensive farming facilities.
Together with price stability, compliance with international accords led the domestic government to call citizens to reject the initiative.
“[Citizens] judged that the dignity of animals is respected in our country and that their well-being is sufficiently protected by current legislation,” notes Alain Berset, interior minister of Switzerland.
By Marc Cervera
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