According to 20 Minutes, Jacques Bourgeois, the director of the Swiss Farmers’ Union, supports sanctioning farmers who fail to treat their animals properly by cutting the farm subsidies they receive from the Swiss government.
In 2015, producer support in Switzerland amounted to around 57% of farm revenues according to an OECD estimate. Swiss farm subsidies are second to only Norway’s and more than three times the OECD average.
Bourgeois thinks the “black sheep” who disregard animal welfare should be severely sanctioned. In addition, he thinks current animal welfare checks work, citing the 7,230 operations singled out for punishment last year.
But what qualifies as mistreatment?
The most recent accusation of animal mistreatment was reported last week. The Fondation MART, run by film maker Kate Amiguet, took video footage at a pig farm in La Praz in the Swiss canton of Vaud showing pigs in cramped conditions. The video also shows a pig eating the tail of another pig.
The canton’s veterinary authority said the video does not reveal anything illegal. Switzerland’s two largest supermarkets, Migros and Coop, announced they would immediately exclude this producer. In this case public perception seems to have trumped legal definition.
Buried in Switzerland’s constitution is a clause that considers animal dignity. Article 120 of Switzerland’s constitution, which refers to gene technology, says: “The Confederation shall legislate on the use of reproductive and genetic material from animals, plants and other organisms. In doing so, it shall take account of the dignity of living beings as well as the safety of human beings, animals and the environment, and shall protect the genetic diversity of animal and plant species.” While animal dignity is mentioned only in the narrow context of gene technology, it has wider ramifications. The wording refers to animals as beings rather than things, setting a new legal precedent.
Switzerland was the first country to legally refer to animals in this way when this text was added to the constitution in 1992 after a popular vote.
Perhaps one day Switzerland will apply its system of popular voting to the broader issue of animal welfare.