Swiss set to reject synthetic pesticide ban

Switzerland seemed on course Sunday to reject proposals to make it the first European country to ban synthetic pesticides following a campaign that saw the idyllic image of peaceful Swiss Alpine pastures ruptured by fiery debates.

Polling stations closed at midday (1000 GMT) and market researchers GFS Bern projected that 61 percent of voters had followed the government’s advice and said no to the publically-proposed initiatives.

Meanwhile GFS Bern said 61 percent also seem set to have approved a Covid-19 law that would extend government powers to fight the pandemic and mitigate its consequences on society and the economy.

The pollsters predicted that 57 percent had approved controversial sweeping new police powers to combat terrorism, despite warnings from the United Nations and Amnesty International.

The results are expected to be known by the end of day.

No major country has so far banned man-made pesticides. Bhutan announced in 2012 that it wanted to become the first nation in the world to turn its home-grown food and farmers 100 percent organic.

Switzerland’s national vote on two anti-pesticide proposals was the culmination of a campaign marked by heated arguments between farmers.

The campaign boiled over in the western Vaud region when arsonists torched a trailer in a field displaying banners calling for a “No” vote, triggering fury.

Meanwhile farmers in the “Yes” campaign say they have been the victims of insults, threats and intimidation.

The first popular initiative, entitled “For a Switzerland free from synthetic pesticides”, called for a domestic ban within 10 years, and the outlawing of imported foodstuffs produced using such pesticides.

Under the second initiative, “For clean drinking water and healthy food”, only farms that do not use pesticides and use antibiotics only to treat sick animals would be eligible for government subsidies.

The amount of liquid manure being used on fields, and thereby potentially entering the water system, would also be limited.

Environmentalists and the political left backed both initiatives. 

The Swiss government called for a double “No” vote, arguing that the proposals would undermine national food sovereignty.

– Anti-terror laws backed –

Under Switzerland’s direct democracy system, referendums and popular votes occur every few months at national, regional and local levels.

Any idea from the public can be put to a national vote as long as it gathers 100,000 signatures from the 8.6 million population.

Meanwhile, 50,000 signatures are needed to trigger a referendum on new laws agreed by parliament.

The new anti-terror laws saw the UN and Amnesty warning that the extended police powers to prevent future attacks threatened Switzerland’s heritage as a human rights leader.

The laws allow the police to take preventative action more easily when faced with a “potential terrorist”.

If police believe that someone over the age of 12 is contemplating violent actions, the law allows them to conduct greater surveillance, limit their movements and oblige them to face questioning.

And with a court order, they can also place anyone over the age of 15 under house arrest for up to nine months.

The country has so far been spared the large-scale attacks seen in its European neighbours, but the authorities nonetheless insist the threat level is high.

– Covid and CO2 –

The referendum on Covid-19 laws seems set to pass comfortably.

Any emergency measures introduced by the government — as with its moves to combat the pandemic — are time-limited and therefore need firming up if they are to continue.

The Covid laws also regulate financial aid granted to individuals and businesses, including compensation for loss of income, and support for cultural organisations.

Environmental protection was also at stake in a referendum on new carbon dioxide laws.

GFS Bern predicted the outcome was too close to call within the margin of error.

The law would use tax policy to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent of 1990 levels by 2030 — including financial incentives to install charging points for electric vehicles and to market vehicles that consume less fuel.

It would also increase the tax on fuel oil and natural gas, as well as introduce a tax on outbound flight tickets.

Opponents say the measures would be expensive and mainly affect people on low and middle incomes.

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