The people of Switzerland will decide on Sunday whether to subsidise farmers who allow their cows to grow horns, after a cattle herder’s eight-year campaign.
The nationwide vote will determine whether the state should financially subsidise farmers who allow their cows to keep their horns, which would make the animals more aggressive and would require more land to roam.
According to local media, the majority of farmers remove their cows’ horns when they are calves, arguing it prevents the animals from injuring each other.
Small-time cattle herder Armin Capaul, from the Bernese regional village of Perrefitte, has been campaigning for the vote since 2010, saying cows deserved the “dignity” of keeping their horns.
But in order to do so, farmers’ costs would rise because horned cows and goats would need more space and would be more labour-intensive.
“If people are going to mutilate it [the horn] then they should do it. But one should support those who leave the horn on, so that they [cows with horns] don’t die out completely.”
Mr Capaul spent years gathering the 100,000 signatures needed to force the Government to hold the vote.
Opponents argue move would cost too much
Opponents fear that such funding would come through regular government budgetary support from the agricultural sector, essentially siphoning off funds that are now distributed elsewhere.
The opponents — including large-scale raisers — also envision high costs of adapting their facilities to allow for their cows to keep their horns so as to benefit from the state handouts.
They argue, for example, that they would be required to expand their stables to widen the space between stalls so that animals do not injure one another with their horns.
The opponents also said it was far from clear how painful de-horning really was.
Gilbert Christen, who raises about 50 dairy and beef cattle in the French-speaking town of Cheseaux-Noreaz, said he planned to vote against the proposed measure, describing it as “asinine”.
Mr Christen would gain financially if he loses the argument — as he chooses not to remove his animals’ horns — but he opposes the measure.
“For this referendum I am against it because I feel like it’s something that doesn’t have a place in the referendum despite the fact that all of my cows have horns,” he said.
The Swiss executive branch and parliament have — braving some potential backlash — come out against the proposal, insisting that it would cost too much. Recent polls have the vote “neck-and-neck”.
The impact of the issue is more spectacle than substance. Three-fourths of cows raised in Switzerland do not have horns, and many are born naturally without them.
Neither the amount of compensation nor the source of funding is mentioned in the petition, which would leave it up to politicians to iron out.
The issue strikes an emblem of Swiss identity. In an Alpine country proud of its cheeses, milk and chocolate, cows are elevated in the public psyche as a symbol of Swiss-ness.
Images of cows are a staple of Swiss souvenirs, and cows regularly feature in cheeky TV ads: one recently showed a doctored image of one of the four-legged beasts kicking a ball with a star of the national soccer team.
Source: AP News