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Swiss snub synthetic pesticide ban plan

·4-min read

Switzerland on Sunday rejected proposals that would have made it the first European country to ban synthetic pesticides following a divisive campaign that shattered the idyllic image of peaceful Swiss Alpine pastures.

Voters heeded the government's advice and rejected the two publically-proposed initiatives that would have changed the landscape for Swiss farming.

A double majority of voters and cantons is required to push through popular initiatives and with results declared so far in 22 of the 23 full cantons, a majority in 21 have said no to the plans. The percentage of votes against the proposals was running at 62 percent.

Meanwhile controversial sweeping new police powers to combat terrorism seem set to pass -- despite warnings from the United Nations and Amnesty International -- with around 57 percent of the votes so far approving the new laws.

Under Switzerland's direct democracy system, referendums and popular votes occur every few months at national, regional and local levels.

Any idea from the public can be put to a national vote as long as it gathers 100,000 signatures from the 8.6 million population.

So-called popular initiatives need a double majority to pass.

Meanwhile, 50,000 signatures are needed to trigger a referendum on new laws agreed by parliament. They need a simple majority of votes to pass.

- Poisonous pesticide debate -

No major country has so far banned man-made pesticides. Bhutan announced in 2012 that it wanted to become the first nation in the world to turn its home-grown food and farmers 100 percent organic.

Switzerland's national vote on two anti-pesticide proposals was the culmination of a campaign marked by heated arguments.

Arsonists torched a trailer in the western Vaud canton displaying "No" banners, while "Yes"-backing farmers said they had been the victims of insults, threats and intimidation.

The first popular initiative, entitled "For a Switzerland free from synthetic pesticides", called for a domestic ban within 10 years, and the outlawing of imported foodstuffs produced using such pesticides.

Under the second initiative, "For clean drinking water and healthy food", only farms that do not use pesticides and use antibiotics only to treat sick animals would be eligible for government subsidies.

The amount of liquid manure being used on fields, and thereby potentially entering the water system, would also be limited.

The Swiss government called for a double "No" vote, arguing that the proposals would undermine national food sovereignty.

- Anti-terror laws backed -

The new anti-terror laws extend police powers to prevent future attacks, allowing them to take preventative action more easily when faced with a "potential terrorist".

If police believe someone over the age of 12 is contemplating violent actions, the law allows them to conduct greater surveillance, limit their movements and oblige them to face questioning.

And with a court order, they can also place anyone over the age of 15 under house arrest for up to nine months.

The wealthy nation has not seen the large-scale attacks witnessed in its European neighbours, though the authorities insist the threat level is high.

Nils Melzer, the UN special rapporteur on torture, told AFP the government had "clearly misled the Swiss people" as to who the law could be applied to and their likely effectiveness.

"Switzerland will now have the world's most unprofessional, ineffective and dangerous anti-terrorism law -- a major embarrassment for Switzerland as a modern democracy," said the expert, who does not speak for the UN but reports his findings to the global body.

Amnesty Switzerland's campaign director Patrick Walder said: "Switzerland is giving itself an imprecise definition of terrorism which opens the door to arbitrary police action."

- Covid and CO2 -

Some 59 percent of the votes in so far have backed a Covid-19 law that will extend government emergency powers to fight the pandemic and mitigate its consequences on society and the economy.

The laws regulate financial aid granted to individuals and businesses, including compensation for loss of income, and support for cultural organisations.

Besides the pesticide initiatives, environmental protection was also at stake in a tightly-contested referendum on new carbon dioxide laws.

Fifty-three percent of the votes counted so far have gone against the laws.

The law would use tax policy to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent of 1990 levels by 2030 -- including financial incentives to install charging points for electric vehicles and to market vehicles that consume less fuel.

It would also increase the tax on fuel oil and natural gas, as well as introduce a tax on outbound flight tickets.

rjm-apo/bp

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