Swiss farmers milk world’s highest subsidies

Swiss farmers continue to benefit from one of the most generous subsidy programmes in the world, second only to Norway, with almost 60 percent of their income raked in from government handouts, a new report from the OECD says.

Swiss farmers milk world’s highest subsidies
Photo: Brendan Gogerty

Government agricultural subsidies in Switzerland accounted for 57 percent of farm income in 2012, up from around 55 percent in the previous year, said the report released this week.

That was topped only by Norway, where farmers raked in subsidies worth 63 percent of their income, an increase from 59 percent in 2011, the survey of 47 countries said.

The governments of both Switzerland and Norway sought to offset the impact of strong currencies but they were not alone in boosting support for farmers.

After bottoming out in 2011, the OECD said support for agriculture in the world’s leading farming nations rose last year, bucking a long-term downward trend.

The Swiss subsidies were well above the OECD average of 17 percent in 2012, up from 15 percent the previous year.

Ken Ash, the Trade and Agriculture Director of the OECD, which groups together 34  of the world's richest countries, called for a reduction in subsidies worldwide. 
"The time is ripe for governments to credibly commit to wide-ranging farm support reform," he said in a news release.

"Meeting the needs of a growing and richer world population requires a shift away from the distorting and wasteful policies of the past."
The report, which was published on Wednesday, said that countries such as Switzerland, which already heavily subsidise farmers, had generally increased subsidies over the last year, while countries with lower ones had not. 

Switzerland ranked ahead of Japan (56 percent) and Korea (54 percent).

The report highlights sharp divergences in support levels, with subsidies as low as seven percent in the US, three percent in Australia and Chile, and one percent in New Zealand.

Swiss policy-makers say subsidies guarantee an income for Swiss farmers that is comparable to other sectors, although critics say this policy stifles innovation.

Defenders of the subsidies say that they serve other purposes, such as ensuring maintenance of the countryside, an important factor for a country with a major tourism sector.

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Shredding of live chicks to be banned in Switzerland from January 2020

The crushing of live male chicks is at the centrepiece of a number of new animal protection regulations to be passed in the new year.

Shredding of live chicks to be banned in Switzerland from January 2020
Photo: Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP

A number of other changes to mass agriculture will also come into effect in January, including tracking sheep and goats, as well as greater restrictions on pesticides and more assistance available to farmers in the instance of drought. 

In industrial farming across the globe, male chicks are typically shredded a day after birth as they do not lay eggs and are of little value in factory farms. 

Although the practice is relatively rare in Switzerland, it will be formally forbidden from January 2020. 

READ: Germany allows the shredding of live chicks to continue

The law does include some exceptions for smaller egg producers, however if male chicks are to be put to death, this must now be done with CO2 gas. 

The Swiss House of Representatives, when passing the law, called the practice “absurd”. 

Technology exists which can determine a chick’s sex just nine days into incubation. Although this is used in the United States, Germany and elsewhere, it is as yet not widespread in Switzerland. 

Pesticide restrictions, helicopters for thirsty cows

The Swiss government has made army helicopters available to transport water for cattle in the instance of drought. 

Switzerland’s central animal trafficking database will now also track sheep and goats, with the animals to be given tracking ear tags. 

Furthermore, there will be restrictions on certain pesticides, with the carcinogenic Chlorothalonil banned from January onwards. 

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