GENEVA (AP) — Switzerland is considering whether to improve the living conditions of its livestock and whether women should work a year longer before becoming eligible for full benefits under the state pension scheme.
Swiss voters cast ballots on Sunday in one of their country's regular referendums on a number of proposals, including one brought by environmentally minded groups that would put a stop to “intensive breeding” — where animals are often confined in tight spaces — and require more humane living conditions for them.
The Swiss parliament and executive branch both oppose the measure — insisting it will drive up prices and that "animals of production" are already well-protected and well-treated in Switzerland.
They also argue it would cause administrative headaches by banning the importation of products that don't meet Swiss standards and require inspections to take place abroad. It could have impact on any food item — such as Switzerland's famed cheese and chocolates — that includes animal products.
Supporters insist the measure is needed to ensure that livestock are kept in proper living conditions — such as with regular excursions outdoors, proper spacing in cages or other containment spaces — and are subject to humane methods of slaughter.
Last year, some 80 million animals were fattened and slaughtered in Switzerland, an increase of nearly 50 percent from a generation ago.
Recent polls showed a majority of voters initially supported the idea, but they have since begun to sour on it — in part because of resistance from livestock raisers who argue that the measure would be hard to carry out.
Under the plan, if approved, lawmakers would have three years to iron out the rules, and farms would have as many as 25 years to adapt, such as through building new facilities that meet the new norms. Proponents insist the measure would only affect industrial-sized production facilities
Also up for consideration by voters on Sunday is a proposed reform of the Swiss pension system under which women would be required to work an extra year, until they are 65, before becoming eligible for full retirement pay benefits. Men already have to work until 65 to get full benefits.
It's part of a reform already passed by parliament, but requiring voter approval, that also would involve raising the country's value-added tax to help replenish funds in the pension system. Officials say the number of retirees is growing faster than the number of working people.
Such steps are seen as needed to shore up the state-backed pension fund over the next decade, as Baby Boomers increasingly retire and people overall have been living longer, especially women who have a higher life expectancy than men.
Polls show the issue has driven a wedge between the sexes.
The government favors the reform, and polls also show a majority of voters behind it, on the grounds that women — who have long faced inequality in the workplace in Switzerland — have been making some gains in recent years.
Opponents say the reform would rest entirely on the shoulders of women, whose pay through the retirement scheme is one-third less than what men receive — and would accentuate inequalities and unfairness that they say have long bedeviled women in Switzerland.