BERN (AFP) -- Switzerland rejected proposals that would have made it the first European country to ban synthetic pesticides following a bitterly fought campaign.
Voters backed the government’s call and rejected the two publicly proposed initiatives that would have changed the landscape for Swiss farming.
A majority of both voters and cantons is required to push through popular initiatives, but the two proposals failed on both counts, as 61 percent of voters and all but one of 26 cantons snubbed the initiatives.
“This is a reasonable and pragmatic decision which guarantees the future of our agriculture and the country’s food security,” Swiss President Guy Parmelin told journalists.
The result “gives the agricultural sector the chance to pursue transitional reforms towards more sustainable production”, he said.
Meanwhile controversial sweeping new police powers to combat terrorism passed with 57 percent backing, to the dismay of international rights campaigners such as Amnesty International.
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 if it gathers 100,000 signatures from the 8.6 million population, but these so-called popular initiatives require the double majority to pass.
To trigger a referendum on new laws agreed by parliament, you first need 50,000 signatures and then a simple majority of votes to pass.
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.
The Swiss debate on pesticides was a bitter one. Arsonists torched a trailer displaying “No” banners in the western Vaud canton, while “Yes”-backing farmers said they had been the victims of insults, threats and intimidation.
A 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 a second initiative, only farms not using pesticides, and only using antibiotics to treat sick animals, would have been eligible for government subsidies.
The amount of liquid manure being used on fields, and thereby potentially entering the water system, would also have been limited.
The Pesticides Initiative coalition behind the first proposal said the government should now “regularly test the population for pesticide residues”.
It was unacceptable to approve synthetic pesticides then “turn a blind eye to their effects”, it argued.