Swiss vote on banning industrial animal farming

Animal farming: chicken at farm
Chicken at farm, photo: Canva

The Swiss will vote Sunday on whether to ban industrial animal farming in the country. The initiative calls for the end of intensive animal agriculture in which “animal welfare is systematically violated”, animal rights and welfare organisations said.

The initiative received more than 100,000 signatures, which is needed to put any issue to a vote under Switzerland’s direct democracy system.

“We believe animal agriculture is one of the defining problems of our time,” animal welfare group Sentience said on its website. “Large industrial companies are increasingly crowding out traditional farms and systematically disregarding animal welfare.”

The initiative calls for the end of industrial animal production and promotes sustainable agriculture. “As most Swiss farms prove every day, resource-saving and animal-friendly production is possible,” Sentience said.

If the initiative is accepted, it would impose stricter minimum requirements for animal farming, like more space for animals, access to
the outdoors, shorter transport routes to slaughterhouses and gentler slaughtering practices.

It would also significantly reduce the maximum number of animals per enclosure and demand that imported animal products meet the new Swiss standards.

The initiative is supported by liberal political parties, Greenpeace and other environmental organisations but opposed by the government and parliament, who insist that Switzerland already has strict animal welfare laws.

In June, Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset said that the initiative “goes too far,” claiming that the government for the past twenty-five years had been promoting “respectful animal farming”.

According to the existing animal welfare laws, farms cannot keep more than 1,500 fattening pigs, 27,000 broiler chickens or 300 calves, ruling out the kinds of massive factory farms seen in other countries, like the Netherlands, Spain and Germany.

“There is no factory farming in Switzerland,” farmer and parliamentarian Marcel Dettling said, adding that animal farming was worse in neighbouring countries.

Sentience campaign manager Philipp Ryf said that when you have 27,000 chickens crowded into a pen, and only 12 percent of farm animals ever go outside, “we do think that is factory farming”.

He acknowledged to news agency AFP that animal welfare laws in Switzerland are “quite strong compared to other countries” but added: “We don’t necessarily think that’s a good metric. We want to look at what we are doing… We think we could be doing more.”

While Switzerland’s largest farmers association strongly opposes the initiative, many smaller farms support it. David Rotzler, who has a small animal farm in Sonvilier in northern Switzerland, told the newspaper Journal du Jura that “animal welfare does not depend on the size of the farm but on the farmer”.

But, he said, it is definitely “easier to care for animals when you are smaller”.

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