Swiss voters to decide on pesticides ban, terrorism law and Covid-19 aid

An electoral poster surrounded by cows seen in Ollon, western Switzerland, ahead of a vote of two people's initiatives trying to ban the use of pesticides for the Swiss agriculture.
An electoral poster surrounded by cows seen in Ollon, western Switzerland, ahead of a vote of two people's initiatives trying to ban the use of pesticides for the Swiss agriculture.PHOTO: AFP

ZURICH (REUTERS) - Switzerland heads to the polls on Sunday (June 13) in a batch of referendums which could see the country become only the second in the world to ban artificial pesticides.

Laws to combat terrorism, cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and provide emergency Covid-19 funding also face binding votes under the Swiss system of direct democracy.

One initiative aims to prohibit the use of artificial pesticides within 10 years. Globally, only Bhutan bans the chemicals.

Supporters say products made by agrochemical giants such as Switzerland's Syngenta and Germany's Bayer and BASF endanger health and the environment.

"It's vital that we stop the use of pesticides which are causing serious health problems for people today and storing up problems for the future," said co-author Antoinette Gilson of the Pesticides Initiative.

Manufacturers say their pesticides are rigorously tested and regulated, and crop yields would slump without them.

Many farmers say a ban would boost food prices, cost jobs and increase food imports.

Voters also decide on a separate Drinking Water initiative, which says artificial pesticides are polluting Switzerland's water. It wants to redirect subsidies to farmers who do without them.

In an unusually heated campaign, supporters received death threats, while farmers complained they feel under siege from city dwellers who do not understand their way of life.

If approved, the proposals would amend the constitution while the government drafts implementation laws for parliament to address.

Voters will decide on a new law which aims to further cut CO2 emissions via measures like increasing the surcharge on car fuel and putting a levy on flight tickets.

Opponents say the law will increase business costs and not help the environment as the country is responsible for only 0.1 per cent of global carbon emissions.

A law giving police new powers to fight terrorism faces a vote. The legislation makes it easier for police to monitor and restrict the movement of potential offenders, with restraining orders and travel bans possible for suspects as young as 12 years old.

The government says the measures will prevent terrorist attacks, but opponents say they risk harming children and exposing people to torture abroad.

A temporary Covid-19 law, which opponents say did not have enough public consultation before its introduction last year, needs voter endorsement.

The law allocates 35 billion Swiss francs (S$52 billion) to support short-time working schemes; hard-hit industries like restaurants and hotels; and culture, sport and media.