Switzerland’s love of direct democracy is out in force this weekend when millions go to the polls to vote on important and pressing issues – like cow and goat horns.
Sunday’s referendum is part of a decade-long campaign by farmer Armin Capaul, 67, on whether to subsidize farmers who let their cows’ and goats’ horns grow naturally, said Kaspar Schuler, the campaign director of Capaul’s initiative and former head of Greenpeace in Switzerland.
Schuler says around 90% of Swiss cows, which are a national symbol, are de-horned or genetically hornless.
Advocates for de-horning say it reduces injuries to animals, but the farmer wants to change that as he believes “cows and communicate” with each other with their horns, Schuler said.
Capaul wants the government to pay farmers $191 annual subsidy per every horned cow or goat. The government is against the motion, saying it would cost tens of millions to pay farmers that subsidy, Reuters reports.
Capaul’s journey began nine years ago when he gave control of his cow farm to his son in northwestern Switzerland and began lobbying for horns on livestock.
“We must respect cows as they are. Leave them their horns. When you look at them they always hold their head high and are proud. When you remove the horns, they are sad,” Schuler told Reuters this week.
When lobbying failed, Capaul managed to collect the 100,000 signatures needed to trigger a national vote.
Schuler, who decribes his old friend Capaul as a “hippy,” said that no one expected him to collect that many signatures.
Some speculate that the farmer’s campaign will be backed by animal welfare groups against de-horning – which sees a sedated calf’s horn buds burned with a hot iron.
But Capaul is not convinced the “yes” campaign has their vote: “Swiss animal protection organizations said it [the motion] wasn’t radical enough… they wanted a ban on the ironing or cutting of horns.”
Nonetheless, latest polling numbers seen by Reuters say the vote is too close to call and Schuler is uncertain of a win.
Horned cows are used to market Swiss tourism and brands, but Schuler is careful not to say but Schuler insists this is not a nationalist campaign.
“A lot of [our supporters] are simple people from somewhere in the Swiss mountains who are close to nature and animals,” he said.
The benchmark is high, he said, but “since the Swiss cow is a national symbol it could work.”