Ethical food proposals brushed off the table

Despite initial widespread public support, the two food and agriculture initiatives were clearly rejected in Sunday's votes. Keystone/ Gaetan Bally

Voters have thrown out two proposals aimed at promoting ethical standards in food production and boosting local farming in Switzerland.

This content was published on September 23, 2018 - 17:26

But the government's agriculture policy will continue to be on the political agenda.

Official final results show the 'Food Sovereignty' initiative and the 'Fair Food' initiative winning only about 32% and 39% of the vote respectively.

The initiatives were supported in French-language regions of the country and in urban centres, while the majority in German- and Italian-speaking Switzerland voted against the initiatives. 

The campaigners conceded defeat, saying the "scaremongering" by the government and political parties had had an impact. They argued problems for Swiss farmers would persist, but the public debate had raised public awareness of food and agricultural issues. 

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The two government ministers in charge of food safety and of agriculture, Alain Berset and Johann Schneider-Ammann, welcomed the outcome of Sunday's vote, saying it was a public endorsement of the official govenrnment policy. 

"For a country like Switzerland, which relies on foreign trade, the respect of international accords is crucial," Berset told a news conference.

He said Switzerland already supported efforts for animal-friendly and environmentally sound production methods as well as international quality standards.

For his part, Schneider-Ammann said approval of the food sovereignty initiative would have led to more state interference and higher prices for consumers.

He pledged that the government would not soften its stance on sustainability, taking seriously consumer concerns.   

Quality control and aid for farmers

The 'Food Sovereignty initiative by a farmers' union in western Switzerland wanted the government to encourage small farms and protect them against cheap food imports.

It was supported by leftwing political parties and animal rights groups. They argued that the government’s move towards a more liberal and globally oriented agriculture policy presented a serious threat for Swiss farmers.

However, the government, parliament and parties in the centre and to the right recommended a rejection of the initiative, saying it would make food products more expensive for consumers and endanger international trade accords.

A separate proposal by the Green Party, dubbed the Fair Food initiative, sought to promote sustainable, animal-friendly production methods by imposing Swiss standards on all food imports and imposing tighter food quality control.

The issue essentially pitted the political left against the other parties, government and parliament, who all warned against the excessive bureaucracy that they think the initiative would create.

The main farmers' group and consumer organisations were divided over the initiatives.

More agriculture initiatives

Turnout in Sunday's ballot was at a below-average 37% following relatively short and low-key campaigns during the summer. Public attention focused on other political issues, notably a debate on the future of relations between Switzerland and the European Union.

It’s expected the political climate in Switzerland will become much more heated before the end of the year as the political right tries to convince voters to approve its proposal to give Swiss law priority over international regulations.

The ballot came 12 months after voters approved a constitutional amendment aimed at better securing the provision of the population with foodstuffs.

Several other initiatives on Swiss agriculture are pending.

In November, voters will have the final say on a proposal to encourage cattle farmers not to systematically de-horn their cows.

Two other initiatives, on the use of pesticides in agriculture, will also go to a nationwide vote in the near future. In addition, an initiative against intensive large-scale livestock farming was launched last June.

Results vote September 23, 2018

‘Fair food’ initiative:

38.7% yes           61.3% no

‘Food sovereignty’ initiative:

31.6% yes           68.4% no

Promoting bicycle infrastructure:

73.6% yes           26.4% no

Turnout: 37.1%

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