Switzerland: intensive livestock farming will not be banned

Animal welfare associations’ collective attempt to ban industrial livestock farming in Switzerland proved unsuccessful. Swiss citizens were invited to vote on a referendum proposing the abolition of so-called “intensive” livestock farms and introduce new animal welfare laws. Instead of ignoring the referendum as something that does not require great attention, the Swiss people came out in force to reject the ban on “intensive farming”, as farming practices in Switzerland already guarantee high levels of welfare, safety and hygiene.

In particular, the proposal required the government to establish more stringent rules for the welfare of animals, such as giving them access to the outdoors and banning certain slaughter practices . According to the animal welfare associations, the prohibition of intensive farming should be included in the Swiss Constitution. Requirements would also be mandatory for animal source foods imported from other countries.

So, on Sunday, September 25th 2022, 62.86% of Swiss voters rejected the proposal. The referendum did not achieve the result hoped for by the animal welfare NGOs. The results confirm that no changes will be made, as largely predicted by the pre-voting polls. Also, the government immediately stated that it was against the proposal, stating that such changes would violate trade agreements, increase the operating and investment costs of farms and raise food prices for consumers.

Those who voted “no” know that farmers following intensive farming practices already respect animal welfare. The so-called industrial livestock farming plays an important role in feeding the increasing population with safe, affordable, sustainable food. Besides, considering the average sizes of farms, the term “intensive” cannot readily apply to farms in Switzerland, much like in the EU. And it would make more sense to refer to these conventional farms with terms other than “intensive” as this denotes negative practices. Conventional livestock farming today is efficient thanks to technology, producing more with fewer resources, thus having a lower environmental impact.

The result of this vote is not only a success for farmers and citizens, but it also reflects a good general understanding of practices. That doesn’t mean no further actions can be taken to further improve the welfare of cattle, chickens and pigs. Farmers are committed to protecting the welfare, reducing antibiotics, increasing efficiency and producing nutritious, affordable food with low environmental impact.

“As there is no existing definition of what is meant by ‘intensive farming’, I feel this is a positive reflection that the majority of citizens aren’t willing to make a judgement on practices of which they have little or no knowledge – says Roxane Feller, Secretary General at AnimalhealthEurope – The outcome shows that people understand larger farms are needed to keep feeding people in both a sustainable and affordable manner, and the Swiss people agree that the majority of farming practices already respect animal welfare.”