By many measures, Ueli Stauffacher’s poultry farm is exemplary. Situated about half-hour southwest of Zurich, the chickens it raises for meat (referred to as broilers in agricultural parlance) are housed in two spacious, well-kept barns. A type of barns is outfitted with heated flooring that maintain the birds’ bedding dry and a state-of-the-art filtering system that strips away the overwhelming scent of ammonia that usually characterizes hen farms, leaving the air inside remarkably candy and clear. Photo voltaic panels on the roof generate sufficient electrical energy to energy the entire farm renewably. Stauffacher and his spouse even host playgroups on the farm, full with a brightly-decorated break room the place kids can watch the chickens via a window as they coloration and luxuriate in snacks.
But the 40-year-old farmer fears he might quickly be compelled to both dramatically change how he raises birds, or shut down his farm altogether. On Sept. 25, the Swiss go to the polls to vote on an addition to the federal structure that might, in a world first, ban intensive, or “manufacturing facility,” farming. If the proposal passes, the 9,000 broilers that Stauffacher raises in every of his two barns shall be diminished to round 2,000 whole , and he’ll both need to construct much more barns or scale back his flock dimension considerably within the subsequent 25 years. Neither of those choices, he says, is economically viable.
“Individuals don’t perceive how agriculture works anymore,” Stauffacher mentioned on one of many first chilly mornings this fall. “Forty or fifty years in the past, virtually everybody had somebody of their household who farmed, however that conduit is gone now. So that you get individuals saying, ‘oh, poor animals.’ However they nonetheless wish to eat meat.”
That conundrum is taking part in out on dinner plates throughout Europe. On the one hand, a rising concern with animal welfare and an consciousness of agriculture’s environmental impression, particularly in relation to local weather change (animal husbandry contributes 14.5% of greenhouse fuel emissions), has translated right into a broad and rising motion to cut back meat consumption and enhance the circumstances beneath which livestock are raised. On the similar time, inflation, rising vitality prices, and market progress for some animal merchandise—just like the chickens Stauffacher raises, for which demand has truly risen as considerations with the environmental and well being impacts of beef have grown—have solely elevated the stress on agriculture to prioritize effectivity and maintain costs accessible.
The Swiss marketing campaign dovetails with—and can maybe present ballast for—animal rights efforts elsewhere within the West. In late August, Spain turned the primary nation in Europe to mandate video surveillance inside slaughterhouses with the intention to guarantee they observe greatest practices. Early in September, the Dutch metropolis of Haarlem turned the primary to ban ads for meat. Within the spring of this yr, Arizona turned the most recent state within the U.S. to ban battery cages for hens, and on the European Union stage, a residents’ petition for the same measure, led by the group Compassionate World Farming, garnered the required 1 million signatures from throughout the 27 member states to set off a proposal from the European Fee (EC) subsequent yr. Actually, notes Alice di Concetto, founding father of the European Institute for Animal Legislation and Coverage, the European Fee is taking the chance of the cage proposal “to revise all EU farm animal welfare laws. So there are different measures that hopefully shall be included,” like chick grinding—a standard egg farm methodology for killing male chicks quickly after they hatch—and new limitations on the transport of livestock to slaughter.
That it’s Switzerland taking the lead in trying to resolve the stress by eradicating intensive farming is both ironic or unsurprising, relying on the way you have a look at it. For anybody who equates the phrase “manufacturing facility farm” with the 32,000-head feedlots that produce over 40% of the meat consumed in the US, Swiss animal husbandry will appear virtually laughably quaint. The common dairy farm has simply 24 cows (versus 300 within the US and 250 in Germany). No farm, no matter its acreage, can have greater than 300 veal calves, 1,500 pigs, or 27,000 broiler chickens.
Switzerland additionally already has a number of the hardest animal welfare laws on the books, lots of which have been launched via the direct democracy software of widespread initiatives. Its lengthy historical past of animal safety legal guidelines dates way back to 1893, when a well-liked initiative made it unlawful to slaughter animals with out first anesthetizing them. In 1978, the nation handed the Animal Welfare Act, which prohibits inflicting ache on animals with out justification. It has banned boiling lobsters alive, decreed that social animals like guinea pigs should be stored in pairs, and in 1996, turned the primary nation on this planet to outlaw battery cages for laying hens. (At the moment 10 states within the U.S. have executed the identical; Denmark introduced its personal plan simply this week.) And whereas a handful of different nations have enshrined the notion of animal dignity of their legal guidelines, solely Switzerland protects it on the constitutional stage.
However none of that, supporters say, means there isn’t extra to be executed. Over the previous 20 years, Swiss farms have, on common, grown in dimension, and a few elements of the welfare regulation have both been watered down or left unenforced. “It’s true that we don’t have a variety of massive farms in Switzerland,” says legislator Martina Munz, whose Social Democratic occasion favors the ban. “However we have now a variety of issues we are able to do higher in relation to animal welfare. It’s not simply the variety of animals within the group, it’s additionally about how they’re stored, it’s about slaughtering and transportation.”
Farmer Kurt Brunner practices the type of animal husbandry that the proposal’s organizers’ wish to see. From his mixed-purpose farm positioned about 40 kilometers west of Zurich, Brunner and his colleagues not solely make cheese from the milk of their 20 cows, increase 8 sheep, and promote eggs from their 300 chickens, but additionally develop the grain that feeds their livestock. Brunner helps the initiative as a result of he has seen what the rising consolidation of farms and the commodification of their merchandise has meant for farmers and the animals they increase. “The larger farms in Switzerland usually are not so sustainable,” he says, neither environmentally nor economically. “They haven’t any assure of excellent costs as a result of the large sellers like Migros and Coop search for most cost-effective merchandise. And there may be additionally the issue of animal welfare. I don’t assume that every one of my farmer colleagues are proud of their methods of manufacturing but when the value is so low, one risk is simply to make extra.”
Drafted by a coalition that features Sentience Politics, the Inexperienced Social gathering, and several other NGOs, the proposed modification, which permits for a 25-year transition interval, requires farms to make sure that livestock have free entry to the outside and species-appropriate housing, and that the complete slaughter course of, together with transport, is humane. It additionally mandates much less dense farms, calling for the adoption of the identical tips employed by the group that regulates natural certification in Switzerland, Bio Suisse. These requirements restrict the variety of pigs in any pen or barn to 1000 and the variety of laying hens to 2,000.
“It’s very a lot not a radical initiative,” says Ryf. “Mainly, it’s just a bit higher welfare, so to us it looks like a no brainer. However clearly, our opponents see it in another way.”
They do certainly. The federal government estimates that solely 3,300 Swiss farms—roughly 6.6%— should both considerably scale back their herds or improve the dimensions of their animal enclosures, however that the price of animal husbandry usually will rise. So too will shopper costs. “We already produce on a excessive stage, they usually wish to put one other load of legal guidelines on our shoulders,” argues Martin Haab of the farmers he represents as president of the Zurich Farmers’ Union (Haab can also be a legislator, and a dairy farmer himself). “However customers usually are not able to pay much more for his or her meals. So it’s type of nuts to say we have now to have a better stage of animal welfare.” However, the marketplace for natural merchandise in Switzerland, in line with Bio Suisse, grew 0.6%, which though slower than the 4% improve the earlier yr, nonetheless makes Switzerland the third largest shopper in Europe.
The proposal features a provision that requires any imported animal merchandise to satisfy the identical requirements as home ones, however critics argue the imports will nonetheless be cheaper, and that the marketplace for meat, eggs and milk will shift towards overseas producers. In a written assertion to TIME, Patrick Stöpper, spokesperson for Switzerland’s largest grocery store chain Migros, mentioned that if Swiss farmers don’t stay aggressive “customers will more and more cowl their wants with animal merchandise from overseas, the place the extent of animal welfare is typically a lot decrease than in Switzerland.”
Opponents additionally suspect that for all of its emphasis on bettering animal welfare, the initiative is absolutely supposed to curb animal husbandry. “That is about meat; they don’t like individuals consuming meat,” says Haab. “They don’t like the thought of killing an animal. That’s the purpose.”
Not precisely, says Sentience Politics’ Ryf. He factors out that though some members of the initiative coalition are certainly against consuming meat, others, just like the Small Farmers’ Affiliation, rely upon producing it for his or her livelihoods. However he agrees that the affiliation as a complete wish to see a discount in total consumption. “One of many questions that’s very closely debated is whether or not we could have the identical output after [the initiative passes], and simply want much more farms, extra slaughterhouses, extra every part, or whether or not it’s going to necessitate shifting consumption patterns,” he says. “Which we truly could be in favor of.”
The newest polls—and up to date historical past—counsel that the initiative faces an uphill climb; earlier within the yr, Swiss voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal that might outlaw animal testing, partially because of lobbying kind the nation’s highly effective pharmaceutical business. However even when it doesn’t go, Ryf says, the farming initiative has already achieved quite a bit. “Every single day, there are articles within the newspaper about it,” he says. “Individuals who have by no means heard concerning the circumstances in Swiss farms at the moment are enthusiastic about them. All of the politicians have heard the specifics, all of the journalists, they usually in all probability will carry on speaking about it. So this, for us, is already success.”
On the coronary heart of all this debate lie shifting views on the connection between people and the animals they eat, a debate formed by know-how, local weather change, and evolving ethics. For all the care and innovation evident at Ueli Stauffacher’s farm, for instance, it’s additionally plain to see why some is likely to be troubled by the efficiencies constructed into his type of elevating animals for meat. Stauffacher’s 18,000 chickens are all bought on to the grocery store chain Migros, which provides the farm with day-old chicks to boost, and collects the grown chickens 36 days later when they’re taken to slaughter. Though they’ve entry to an outside pen in the course of the remaining 15 days of their lives, it’s coated for his or her safety, which suggests the birds spend their 5 weeks on earth with out ever seeing open sky.
Maybe nowhere have been these altering views clearer than on legislator Haab’s personal farm. Situated in Mettmenstetten, not removed from Ulie Stauffacher’s poultry operation, it’s house to 75 milking cows and one other 70 younger inventory, which, in Switzerland, counts as a big dairy farm. In an idyll that might not look misplaced in Heidi, the animals spend the summer time on pasture within the hills about 10 kilometers away. However in winter, they return to a barn and paddock the place they’re milked by a robotic that, after cleansing the cow’s underside with tiny variations of the curler brushes used at automotive washes, locates the cows teats, attaches itself to the udder, and begins sucking.
In some ways, Haab’s farm embodies the dilemma that farmers–and the individuals they feed—face as they try to navigate the difficult waters between welfare and effectivity, between the general public’s unease with treating animals as, basically, food-producing widgets, and its urge for food for meat and cheese. On the one hand, it’s laborious to get extra industrialized than a robotic. However in line with Haab, if know-how has made issues simpler, it hasn’t modified how a lot they care about their animals. Haab nonetheless is aware of the names of all his cows, even when maintaining monitor of when Cranberry was final milked now entails nothing greater than opening the app on his telephone to take a look at the most recent knowledge despatched by the automated system. As a result of the machine disinfects her teats earlier than it begins milking she and the milk itself are at decrease threat for pathogens. And since the cows can freely entry the robotic, which runs 24 hours a day, they are often milked as typically as they need somewhat than having to regulate to the farmer’s schedule–a measure that may make the cows extra snug. “It’s lower than me anymore; they get to determine for themselves,” he says with a smile. “Now that’s animal welfare.”