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Swiss to vote on pesticide ban

Public concern about pesticides will now result in a popular vote to ban them throughout Switzerland. Public Eye

A popular initiative aimed at banning pesticides throughout Switzerland was filed on Friday with the Federal Chancellery, obtaining more than 140,000 signatures. Despite the radical nature of the move, those behind it hope to convince a majority of citizens in a popular vote.

Etienne Kuhn, who works in the music business, is the person behind this popular initiative called “For a Switzerland free of synthetic pesticides”. It was officially launched in November 2016 by a group of apolitical citizens from the Neuchâtel region in western Switzerland.

The text seeks a ban on pesticide use in Switzerland, and on the import of food containing pesticides. It has gathered more than 140,000 signatures in 18 months, which is likely to further boost Kuhn’s motivation and hopes in the run-up to a popular vote that will no doubt be watched closely abroad. What kind of reception did your initiative get during the signature gathering phase?

Etienne Kuhn: The enthusiasm was amazing! In the street, we managed to convince close to nine people out of 10 to sign the text. As well as the thousands of pages of signatures returned through the postal service, we also received 20,000 letters of support and thanks from all over Switzerland. We are more convinced than ever that we are carrying the voice of the people. The political and economic elites haven’t realised the strength of feeling against pesticides.

The pesticides issue will be at the centre of the political agenda in the coming years. As well as the Neuchâtel initiative, another initiative was also filed on January 18 with the Federal Chancellery by the “Clean Water for All” association. This demands that in future state subsidies go only to farmers who refrain from using pesticides or antibiotics as a preventive measure. It is likely that both popular initiatives will be put to a vote in the next two years. You nevertheless had to pay students to finish gathering the signatures…

E.K.: Our committee is composed of seven people who are all very busy in their various professional activities and are strangers to politics. We embarked on this without the financial and communication resources that political parties and national NGOs have, by giving up a lot of our weekends and evenings.

It’s mainly thanks to word-of-mouth that our initiative reached places like Uri and Lugano. So it took time, and with the deadline set at 18 months for gathering signatures, external help was indispensable. But we still gathered 70 to 80% of the signatures ourselves. Given our modest funding obtained via the internet, I think that’s a good proportion. You will face opposition from the powerful agriculture and agrochemical lobbies when parliament debates your initiative, as well as during the campaign before the popular vote. Isn’t the fight unbalanced?

E.K.: Of course. We don’t have the colossal budget or the means of communication of our adversaries. But that does not stop me from being very confident about the outcome of the vote. The politicians need voters, and since our initiative has a lot of support among the population, we could get some unexpected backing. With this initiative, we want to transcend the traditional left-right divide and unite as many people as possible around this key issue. The Swiss are nevertheless not known for causing revolution through the ballot box. Isn’t your initiative too radical to convince a majority of voters?

E.K.: Absolutely not. The initiative provides for implementation over 10 years, which will allow farmers to adapt gradually to a new mode of sustainable production. At the moment it takes an average four to five years to move from traditional production to 100% organic. So, it is completely reasonable.

You can contact the author of this article on Twitter: @samueljabergExternal link

Translated from French by Julia Crawford

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR