“We must drastically reduce our consumption of animal products”


The initiative is an opportunity for farmers, as the market will no longer be flooded with cheap competing products, argues Meret Schneider. © Keystone / Gaetan Bally

Fewer animals but more respectfully maintained: National Green Councilor Meret Schneider helped establish the initiative against intensive livestock farming. In an interview, she tells us about her motivations.

This content was posted on August 23, 2022 – 08:30

The Swiss vote on the so-called initiative “against intensive agriculture” on September 25. The text targets industrial animal production in Switzerland and calls for better conditions of detention for the animals. It also provides import requirements for animal products.

Meret Schneider is a national adviser to the Greens in the canton of Zurich. An agricultural contributor and eminent supporter of the vegan cause, she is one of the authors of the initiative against intensive agriculture.

swissinfo.ch: Switzerland has one of the strictest animal protection laws, and the farms are relatively small. Do we really need more regulation?

Meret Schneider: Of course, Switzerland is already relatively well positioned when it comes to animal protection laws. And we certainly have fewer animals than abroad. Despite this, it is possible in Switzerland to keep 27,000 broilers in one shed, with 14 animals per square meter. It’s quite mass reproduction.

Furthermore, we should not ask ourselves where conditions are worse or what is being done abroad. The question to ask is: is what we are doing here compatible with the animals’ needs? Is it respectful to them? And here we have to say that there is still a lot of potential for improvement.

So animal welfare is not sufficiently protected in Switzerland today?

I leave it to the readers to judge. In Switzerland, a conventional chicken lives for 30 days. During this period, he is so fat that he cannot stand. He is then shot to pieces. Laying hens are gassed after ten months because they are no longer productive enough – although they can reach the age of 14 years. They suffer from sternum fractures because of their intensive rearing. The pigs live on a square meter of concrete floor with no bedding, which causes them joint pain. In my opinion, this is by no means a creation adapted to these species.

Opponents argue that acceptance of the initiative would lead to a massive reduction in the volume of Swiss animal products and that these would become 20-40% more expensive. Doesn’t that bother you?

These numbers are exaggerated as they are based on current organic prices. And that’s not true, because we don’t want to impose the organic standards in question on agriculture, but use them as a guideline for animal welfare. There will be a reduction in animal products, but this is also going in the direction of consumers: meat consumption is constantly falling.

In any case, we have to drastically reduce our overall consumption of animal products, mainly for reasons of climate and resource protection. So it’s actually going to cost a little more, but not as much as the initiative’s opponents claim. And finally, it is reasonable, because animal products are luxury products. Its production consumes a lot of resources. And while we throw away a third of the food we buy, as is currently the case in Switzerland, it’s hard to understand how this can be too expensive.

It will certainly also cost more to farmers if, for example, granaries have to be enlarged. Does the initiative take this into account?

Absolutely. According to our plans, the farmers will be supported by the Confederation. It is something we ask for and emphasize over and over again. And let’s not forget that there is a transition period of 25 years, which represents an entire generation. There would therefore be plenty of time for the necessary adaptations.

Opponents of the initiative say that, with it, we would in fact assume the guidelines of organic certification. This would limit the consumer’s free choice. Do you understand this censorship?

As I said, we’re not just going to impose these standards on agriculture. In addition, we already have some barriers to consumption today. For example, there is no breeding of cages in Switzerland. It is a political decision that the people have approved. We don’t want to raise chickens this way, it goes against animal welfare, animal dignity is enshrined in the Constitution. And the same goes for other animal products.

Switzerland cannot feed all its inhabitants. Wouldn’t the initiative further reduce the country’s degree of self-sufficiency?

In any case, we cannot speak of self-sufficiency. Currently, Swiss farms mainly keep laying hens for eggs or broilers for meat. These hybrid animals are not bred in Switzerland, all parents are imported. When talking about supply rates, it should also be remembered that we import on the one hand the parents of the chickens and on the other hand more than one million tons of animal feed per year.

If we reduce the herd and go back to having more grazing animals adapted to pastures – oxen, cows, sheep and goats – we increase the rate of self-sufficiency itself, as this is what is needed in Switzerland with the topography of the country. We would not only have fodder, but animals for humans.

Would there not be a risk of seeing an increase in imports, precisely from countries where animals are treated less well than in Switzerland?

With the initiative, it would be justifiably prohibited. Imports must comply with Swiss regulations. For peasants, it is even a great chance, as the market would no longer be flooded as it is today with cheap competing products, such as Brazilian chicken or Argentine beef, raised under conditions that would be prohibited by our initiative.

Critics say that if Switzerland accepts the initiative, Switzerland will violate its WTO obligations. How do you respond to this?

It’s not a problem. Today, WTO clauses already exist according to which import restrictions are justified and possible when products do not correspond to the public morality of the society in question. This is already the case today with the ban on imports of products derived from seals or eggs from caged hens. Accepting the initiative would send a very strong signal here. She said: we don’t want that as a society. And that would also be consistent with WTO rules.

>> National Councilor of the Democratic Union of the Center (UDC) Marcel Dettling opposes the initiative against intensive agriculture. He explains why in an interview:

Translated from German by Marc-André Miserez

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