Swiss voters will vote on Sunday on whether to ban factory farming as unconstitutional and end imports of intensively farmed meat.
The latest polls show 52% of voters oppose it a ban, and 47% support one. Whether ballot initiative for factory farming is voted, the Swiss constitution, which already protects “animal welfare and dignity”would be amended to include an animal’s right “not to be intensively raised”, and new laws would reduce animal stocking rates to meet organic standards.
Under current Swiss law, “you can keep 27,000 chickens in a barn and their moving space is about the size of an A4 sheet of paper,” said Silvano Lieger, chief executive of animal welfare group Sentience. Politics, which proposed the vote in 2018.
“Pigs are also kept in barns, up to 1,500 per farm, with 10 pigs sharing the space of an average parking space. It is not possible to treat animals with dignity in these conditions,” he said.
Groups supporting the ban include Switzerland Association of Small Farmers, Greenpeace, Les Vertes and animal protection associations. The only political party to the government to support the ban is the Swiss Socialist Party (Social Democratic Party).
A ban would protect the environment by reducing reliance on soy-based animal feed linked to deforestation, said Lieger, who also stressed the need to reduce animal protein consumption.
His team calculates that only 5% of farms would be affected by the possible ban. Although there are no exact figures on the proportion of small farms in the country, the the number of Swiss farms is decreasing while the size of farms increases, according to the national statistics office.
Swiss breeders can raise up to 18,000 laying hens and 27,000 broilers, said SBV production, market and ecology manager Michel Darbellay. If the ban is approved, the maximum number would be 4,000 laying hens and 500 broilers, while changes to pig standards would lead to a 50% drop in pig production, he said.
For pigs and cows, Lieger said, the ban would have no maximum limits. Instead, the animals would be kept in small groups, given indoor and outdoor space and the opportunity to play, he said.
Opponents of the ban say it will not prevent cheaper imports of factory-farmed meat.
Swiss welfare laws were already “among the strictest in the world,” said Darbellay, who pointed to existing bans on caged hens and time limits for which pigs can be kept in pens ( Where cubicles, as the Swiss call them), 10 days compared to several weeks in other countries.
However, only 3% of Swiss consumers wanted organic poultry and pork with a higher level of well-being, Darbellay asserted. Although a ban would drastically reduce Swiss production of chicken, eggs and pork, it would not prevent imports or reduce consumption, he said.
About 80% Swiss meat is produced locally, but Darbellay expects imports to “increase massively” if the ballot initiative passes, while any attempt to impose a ban would be negated by existing trade agreements.
In 2020, the Swiss ate less meat than the EU average, almost 51kg per capita, while the consumption of milk and dairy products was higher at 301kg. The latest data available shows that the average meat consumption in the EU in 2018 was 69.8kg per capita, while the consumption of milk and dairy products was 600g per day in 2019, i.e. 219 kg per year.
The decline in meat consumption is largely explained by the fact that it is comparatively much more expensive in Switzerland than in the rest of Europe. Import rules make it prohibitively expensive to import large quantities of meat, but consumers can buy smaller quantities of cheaper meat from neighboring Germany.
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