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Water pollution Farmers reject political pesticides crackdown

Swiss farmers spray 2,000 tons of pesticides on crops every year


Swiss farmers are highly critical of two proposed referendums to reduce or stop the use of pesticides. The farming lobby group admits there is a problem with chemicals leaching into groundwater, but does not want the issue going to public vote.

Tests of the nation’s water supplies have found that a fifth of samples contained dangerous levels of pesticides. Farmers use more than 2,000 tons of pesticides annually, and the chemicals wind up in streams, lakes and groundwater that serves as the main source of drinking water in Switzerland.

The revelation has spurred the launch of two separate initiatives – both of which need to gather at least 100,000 signatures in the next 18 months to trigger a nationwide vote. One initiative says only organic farmers should receive state subsidies, whilst the other calls for an outright ban of pesticides.

The Swiss Farmers’ Associationexternal link said on Wednesday that agricultural output would shrink between 20% and 40% if pesticides were banned in the country. Association President Markus Ritter acknowledged there is a problem, but insisted that it can only be solved with adequate funding and proper research.

Ritter pointed to an action plan developed by the Federal Office for Agriculture that the government is expected to adopt this summer. Improvements to the drainage of farmland could alone ease 40% of the pollution problem, he said.

However, the plan should be backed by hard scientific research, Ritter added. He complained that government funding cuts at the national agricultural research centre, Agroscopeexternal link, are sending out the wrong signal at the wrong time.

However, the Swiss Fisheries Association rejected Wednesday’s Farmers’ Association comments, accusing the lobby group of trying to downplay the effects of pesticides on the environment.

A survey conducted by Zurich-based GfS research institute on behalf of environmental groups, released on June 1, found that 65% of respondents want the government to enforce a lower usage of pesticides in Switzerland.

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