Swiss voters reject ethical food proposals

Swiss voters reject ethical food proposals

The Swiss voters have overwhelmingly voted against two proposals on ethical and sustainable food. 

The proposals aimed to boost Switzerland’s agricultural sector and promote sustainable farming. 

Supporters say the idea is partly designed to reduce waste as a third of all food is currently thrown away, mostly due to restrictive expiry dates or because of misshaped produce. 

But business chiefs and the government advised voters to reject the proposals, warning of higher prices and reduced choice while jeopardising Swiss commercial agreements with trading partners.

One proposal, called fair food, wanted more government subsidies for sustainable, animal-friendly produce and more label details so customers know what they were getting.

Switzerland has lost some 100,000 farming jobs over the last 30 years. 

It also called for efforts to address food waste and for imports to match Switzerland’s standards on working conditions, environmental safety and animal welfare.

This would have meant Swiss officials checking foreign farmers for compliance.

The second proposal on “food sovereignty” was more stringent and called for much greater subsidies for family farms, higher tariffs on imports, which would be banned if they did not meet standards. 

The government said that would be counterproductive, giving consumers greater incentive to cross borders into Austria, France, Germany or Italy to do their shopping, even more frequently than they do already. It warned the proposal would drive down demand for Swiss produce, to the detriment of the farmers the proposals hoped to help.

Voters were reportedly sympathetic to the idea of more investment in family farms, thousands of which have had to close in recent decades.

The initiatives were supported in French-speaking cantons and in the urban centres, while the majority in German- and Italian-speakers opposed against the proposals. 

Requirements for importers to abide by Swiss standards on sustainable farming and animal welfare also appeared popular. But warnings from the government that the measures were unenforceable and from retailers claiming prices would rise, appeared to erode support. 

Economy Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann had called the proposals “dangerous” and said they could trigger over tariff increases on Swiss exports and other reprisals from Switzerland’s trading partners.

The campaigners conceded defeat, blaming government “scaremongering”, saying the problems for Swiss farmers would persist, but the debate had raised awareness of food and agricultural issues. 

Further referendums on pesticides and intensive livestock farming are also planned.

 

Swiss farming has struggled with cheap imports. Picture credit: IHA

 

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