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Swiss vote on bids to improve food quality, protect farmers

Supporters say the idea is partly designed to help reduce waste, but critics fear detrimental effect to farmers

Gulf News

Geneva: Swiss voters on Sunday were deciding on two separate proposals aimed at protecting Swiss farmers more and ensuring that food from both domestic and foreign farmers and producers is healthier, more environmentally sound and animal-friendly.

Yet polls show costs concerns, government opposition and other factors have dented public support for the proposals, the latest referendum in Switzerland’s form of direct democracy that gives voters a say on matters of high public interest.

Another proposal, which polls have shown to be popular, would require the government to do more to improve bicycle lanes and other infrastructure across the Alpine country.

The “Fair-Food Initiative” would require the Swiss government to promote environmentally sound, animal-friendly and fairly produced food, and could require Swiss inspectors to travel abroad to conduct compliance checks. It would seek to ban from import livestock and animal products that come from large, industrial-size facilities. It promotes seasonal and locally-grown produce and requires an even more detailed listing of ingredients on food packaging, among other things.

Supporters say the idea is partly designed to help reduce waste: One-third of all food ends up being thrown away, mostly due to expiry of freshness or to elimination of badly-shaped produce.

The Swiss executive branch, the Federal Council, and parliament support the concept, but say existing legislation already heads in the right direction. They say the proposal Sunday could limit choices, raise prices and jeopardise Swiss commercial agreements with trading partners.

Proponents of a separate, though somewhat similar, “Food Sovereignty” initiative lament the drop in the number of Swiss farms in recent decades — the country has some 100,000 fewer farming jobs over the last 30 years. It wants to underpin farmers’ salaries and ensure that imported foodstuffs meet Swiss standards.

It would ensure “fair” prices for Swiss produce and require that imported food respect Swiss regulations, and if not, face possible import bans or levies.

The Swiss government says that would be counterproductive, giving Swiss consumers greater incentive to cross borders to neighbouring Austria, France, Germany or Italy to do their shopping. It says the proposal would ultimately drive down demand for domestic produce, to the detriment of the very farmers the measure aimed to help.

The Swiss government also argues that the initiative could also run afoul of international trade laws and regulations and drive trading partners to retaliate.

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