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Results show gap between city and countryside

Swiss vote down ban on chemical crop protection

Chemical crop protection products will not be banned in Switzerland, nor for consumers nor for growers. Neither will it be prohibited to import produce and products made using them. That's the result from yesterday's referendum. Also the drinking water initiative, which wouldn't totally ban chemical crop protection, but would stop growers who use them from claiming government subsidies, was rejected by the majority of the voters. 

The popular initiative had called for a ban on weed killers within ten years. In addition, food produced with the help of synthetic pesticides should also no longer be imported. The plan would have required approval from a majority of voters as well as the cantons. However, nearly 61 percent of citizens and 25 of 26 cantons voted against. This was "a reasonable and pragmatic decision," Swiss President Guy Parmelin expressed relief. The Swiss are thus ensuring "the future of our agriculture and the country's food safety. The agricultural sector now has the chance to initiate "reforms towards more sustainable production," he said.

Urban areas
The majority of the 40 percent in favor of the measure originates from urban areas: in capital Zurich almost 48 percent of the voters voted in favor of the measure, in Geneve more than 49 percent and in Basel-Stadt, the third city of the country and hometown of agriculture giant Syngenta, even 57 per cent of the voters did so. These three Kantons represent the highest percentages of yes-voters in the referenda.

The debate on banning synthetic pesticides had been acrimonious. Some farmers who supported the plan said they were victims of insults, threats and intimidation.

Swiss growers said the initiatives hang over the horticultural industry like a sword of Damocles. "We understand the concerns of the initiators," grower Moser said earlier. "As taxpayers, people have the right to exert influence." And the concern for nature is also plausible for him. "But the path via the referenda is the wrong one and would shift the problems abroad.

Happy initiators
The initiative was launched by a citizens: inside committee from the canton of Neuchâtel, sparking a nationwide debate. "40 percent of voters approved the initiative in the face of opposition from the Federal Council, Parliament, the farmers' association and agricultural corporations. This is a remarkable result," Antoinette Gilson, biologist and co-initiator of the pesticide initiative, is pleased to say.

"The high level of support, especially in urban areas, shows the concern of citizens about the harmful effects of synthetic pesticides on the health of all of us and on the environment. It is a clear indication that policy makers need to do much more to protect our health and our environment."

On the political level, the ball is now in the Federal Council's court. It has received a mandate from Parliament to reduce the risks of pesticide use by half. "The Federal Council must now show that it is serious and that it really wants to significantly reduce the use of synthetic pesticides," warns Stéphanie Hüsler, lawyer and co-initiator.