Pesticides, antibiotics and imported feed: Switzerland set to vote on measures that could transform the local agriculture sector

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Andrew_Mayovskyy
© GettyImages/Andrew_Mayovskyy

Related tags: Antibiotics, imported feed, Switzerland, pesticides

Switzerland is gearing up to vote on a set of proposals on Sunday, June 13 that could have serious implications for the country’s agriculture sector, if passed.

The first initiative, if backed, would see the use of synthetic pesticides banned in the country.

Proponents seek to prohibit the use of pesticides with non-naturally occurring chemicals for farming as well as their use in public green spaces, and private gardens. The campaign is also calling for a ban on the import of foodstuffs produced with synthetic pesticides, so as not to put Swiss farmers at a disadvantage.

A second initiative would see Swiss government subsidies to farms limited to those that do not use pesticides, and to those that do not use antibiotics prophylactically, but only to treat sick animals. It also proposes restricting payments to farms that can feed animals with the fodder they produce themselves, not imported feed. 

The campaigners behind that proposal say 50% of Swiss meat and 70% of Swiss eggs and chicken could not be produced without imported feed. "This imported forage with its high nutrient content leads to enormous fertilizer surpluses in Switzerland in the form of liquid manure and ammonia. These cause immense environmental damage, polluting our drinking water and damaging our health. 

"The drinking water initiative makes subsidies conditional on the livestock being fed with Swiss fodder and thus the nutrient cycles being closed. The farms can either produce the fodder for their animals themselves or in joint ventures, or exchange fodder and farm manure regionally."

The proposals were launched by separate civil society committees without ties to a specific political party. They handed in their initiatives in 2018 with 113,979 and 121,307 signatures respectively.

Referendums and popular votes are very common in Switzerland, occurring every few months at national, regional and local levels. Any topic can be put to a national vote as long as it meets the minimum criteria of 100,000 signatures.

Public urged to reject proposals 

In the run-up to the vote, agrochemical giants, Syngenta and Bayer, have been campaigning hard to encourage a No vote, while the Swiss government is also urging the public to reject both proposals, as is the Swiss Farmers' Union: “Both would have serious consequences for local farming families, but also for domestic processing and consumers. Domestic production would decrease, imports would increase in return, food waste would increase, the prices for local food - or food in general - would increase massively.”

A poll published last week by the Tamedia press group said the pesticides initiative had 42% support, while the drinking water initiative was running at 41% backing, according to a France 24 story.

Previous proposals 

The measures are the latest in a series of proposals over the past few years to reform Switzerland's agriculture policy, including initiatives to boost ethical food production and local farming, a constitutional article aimed at achieving national self-sufficiency in food production as well as a ban on financial speculation on the trading on agricultural commodities, noted local media outlet, SwissInfo.

A proposal to pay extra subsidies to farmers who don’t dehorn their livestock garnered international attention. However, only the constitutional amendment on food security won approval from voters, in September 2017.

But several other proposals are also still waiting in the wings, notably an initiative aimed at banning large-scale livestock production in Switzerland, it added.

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