Desperate farmers driven to suicide: support group

Swiss farmers unable to make ends meet are resorting to suicide, according to a media report on Thursday, a day ahead of a planned demonstration of farming groups in front of the federal parliament in Bern.

Desperate farmers driven to suicide: support group
Swiss farmers at past demonstration in the canton of Vaud calling for "fair" milk prices. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/File

Against a background of declining prices and increased competition from the European Union, farmers are demanding help from the government.

A sign of the desperation emerged last week when the 30-year-old operator of a pig farm killed himself after investing several hundred thousand francs in the operation but finding himself unable to make a profit, the Blick newspaper said in an online report on Thursday.

The incident is a reflection of “catastrophic times for Swiss farmers”, the daily said.

Two weeks ago a 60-year-old sugar beet farmer from Grenchen in the canton of Solothurn hung himself after running up debts and experiencing a marital breakdown, according to the report.

Earlier, a 50-year-old dairy farmer from Schnottwil in the canton of Solothurn also hung himself for similar reasons.

Also this fall, a 51-year-old potato farmer from Moudon in the canton of Vaud hung himself, apparently because he could see no way out of his financial difficulties.

“The mood among farmers is very bad,” Ueli Brauen, founder of the Save Swiss Sugar (Rettet den Schweizer Zucker) group.

“Some are so desperate that they choose to commit suicide.”

An agricultural family counselling and helpline says it annually helps out 130 farmers in difficulty.

“Economic pressure, mechanization and administrative expenses are increasing,” Lukas Schwyn, president of the group running the helpline, told Blick.

“Farming has become a demanding job.”

Swiss farmers are heavily subsidized compared to those in other countries but measures to align policies with those in the European Union are cutting subsidies.

The Swiss Farmers’ Union (SBV), which is organizing the demonstration in Bern on Friday, said prices for milk, sugar and pork are “disastrous” and many farms are teetering on the brink even before planned cuts in government subsidies.

“If conditions do not improve immediately more desperate farmers will commit suicide,” Schwyn told Blick.

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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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