GENEVA — Switzerland is debating whether to improve the living conditions of its livestock and whether women should work an extra year before being entitled to full public pension benefits.
Swiss voters voted Sunday in one of their country’s regular referendums on a number of proposals, including one put forward by environmentally-conscious groups that would end “intensive farming” – where animals are often confined to tight spaces – and would require more humane living conditions for them.
Both the Swiss parliament and executive oppose the measure, insisting it will drive up prices and that “production animals” are already well protected and treated in Switzerland.
They also argue that it would cause administrative headaches by prohibiting the import of products that do not meet Swiss standards and require inspections abroad. This could impact any food product – such as famous Swiss cheese and chocolates – that includes animal products.
Proponents insist the measure is necessary to ensure livestock are kept in good living conditions – such as with regular trips outdoors, proper spacing in cages or other confinement spaces – and is subject to humane slaughter methods.
Last year, some 80 million animals were fattened and slaughtered in Switzerland, an increase of almost 50% compared to the previous generation.
Recent polls have shown that a majority of voters initially supported the idea, but they have since begun to oppose it, in part due to resistance from ranchers who argue the measure would be difficult to implement.
Under the plan, if approved, lawmakers would have three years to iron out the rules, and farms would have up to 25 years to adapt, such as building new facilities to meet the new standards. Proponents insist the measure would only affect industrial-sized production facilities
Voters will also consider on Sunday a proposal to reform the Swiss pension system under which women would be required to work an additional year, until the age of 65, before being eligible for full pension benefits. . Men already have to work until they are 65 to get all the benefits.
It is part of a reform already passed by parliament, but requiring voter approval, which would also involve raising the country’s value added tax to help replenish funds in the pension system. Officials say the number of retirees is growing faster than the number of working people.
Such measures are seen as necessary to shore up the state-backed pension fund over the next decade as baby boomers increasingly retire and people live longer, especially women. who have a higher life expectancy than men.
Polls show the issue has driven a gender divide.
The government is in favor of the reform, and polls also show that a majority of voters support it, on the grounds that women – who have long faced inequality in the workplace in Switzerland – have made progress these last years.
Opponents say the reform would fall entirely on the shoulders of women, whose pay through the pension scheme is a third less than men’s – and would deepen the inequalities and injustices they say have long plagued women in Swiss.