In February 2019, an initiative to ban the use of synthetic pesticides in Switzerland collected enough signatures to run a referendum entitled: For a Switzerland free of synthetic pesticides.
The initiative would ban the use of all synthetic pesticides in Swiss agriculture and the importation of food or animal feed used commercially that is produced using pesticides. The government would have 10 years to introduce the ban.
As usual, before the referendum goes before Swiss voters, the government looks at the proposal and gives its view on whether it supports it or not. If it is against the proposal it can put forward a compromise or counter proposal. In this case the National Council, Switzerland’s parliament, chose to reject the initiative and all of the suggested counter proposals.
So, the vote will be put to voters in 2020 without the government’s support.
Not everyone is pleased with the government’s stance. WWF Switzerland said that nature, the environment and drinking water must be protected from highly toxic pesticides and that this is the only way to bring an end to the disappearance of insects and avoid continued soil and waterway pollution. It also thinks the government is out of tune with public opinion and overly influenced by the farming lobby, which is supported by numerous members of parliament.
Those in support of the government’s position, such as the Swiss People’s Party (UDC/SVP) and the Swiss Farmers’ Union (USP), argue that the plan is too restrictive and will make some already struggling farms even more economically unviable. They also argue that progress is being made. Sales of Glyphosate in Switzerland fell by 31% between 2014 to 2016. Another case against the ban is that pesticide-based agriculture and the pesticide free sort can coexist, giving people the choice between pesticide and pesticide-free produce.
However, in practice it is difficult to compartmentalize the two. Sprayed chemicals can drift, something that is a challenge for organic farmers near pesticide users. Rivers are also difficult to compartmentalize. They flow from one farm to another, collecting runoff along the way. Recent tests found that more than 90% of soil on Swiss organic farms was contaminated with pesticides. Water tests published in 2017 found unacceptably high levels of pesticides and nitrates in one fifth of Swiss drinking water. In 2018, the Swiss government raised the limits for river pesticide contamination.
- More than 90% of soil on Swiss organic farms contaminated with pesticides (Le News)
- Harmful levels of pesticides found in Switzerland’s small streams (Le News)
Protecting insects is another difficulty. A recent study estimates that 60% of insects in Switzerland are threatened with extinction.
- 60% of insects in Switzerland threatened with extinction (Le News)
- Glyphosate – Swiss government rejects ban plan. Plus how to avoid it. (Le News)
- Switzerland’s organic honey myth – and how bees are paying the price (Le News)
It is so difficult to make organic honey – bees fly where they want – that organic honey regulations have been made so loose that it is unlikely that much of what is labelled organic is actually anywhere near pesticide free. Hoping for pesticide-free honey is like sitting next to a smoker at an al fresco restaurant and hoping for clean air.
Another body of research suggests there could be links with pesticide use and damage to gut bacteria, something that appears to be associated with gluten intolerance, thyroid cancer, ADHD and autism.
One day we might look back and realize that we paid a high price for cheap food and the preservation of struggling farms. And, levels of guilt and the number of lawsuits, such as the ones currently dogging Bayer, the new owner of Monsanto, might grow at faster rates than gluten intolerance and autism have.
Initiative text (in French) – Take a 5 minute French test now
WWF Suisse press release (in French)
USP press release (in French)
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