Swiss animal welfare, women’s pensions in weekend votes

GENEVA (AP) — Switzerland is considering whether to improve the living conditions of its animals and whether women will have to work a year longer before becoming eligible for full benefits under the state pension system.

Swiss voters voted on Sunday in one of their country’s regular referendums on a series of proposals, including one put forward by environmental groups that would end “intensive breeding” – where animals are often confined to cramped spaces – and require more humane living conditions for them.

The Swiss parliament and executive oppose the measure, insisting it will raise prices and that “production animals” are already well protected and treated well in Switzerland.

They also argue that it would cause administrative headaches by banning the import of products that do not meet Swiss standards and require inspections abroad. It could have an impact on any type of food – such as Switzerland’s famous cheese and chocolates – that includes animal products.

Proponents insist the measure is necessary to ensure animals are kept in appropriate living conditions — such as with regular outdoor excursions, proper spacing in cages or other confinement areas — and are subject to humane slaughter methods.

Last year, some 80 million animals were fattened and slaughtered in Switzerland, an increase of almost 50 percent from a generation ago.

Recent polls have shown that a majority of voters initially supported the idea, but have since turned away – in part due to resistance from ranchers who argue the measure would be difficult to implement.

Under the plan, if approved, lawmakers would have three years to fine-tune the rules and farms would have up to 25 years to adapt, such as by building new facilities that meet the new rules. Supporters 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 that would require women to work an extra year, until age 65, before becoming eligible for full retirement benefits. Men already have to work until 65 to receive full benefits.

It is part of a reform already approved by parliament but requiring voter approval, which would also include 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 workers.

Such steps are seen as necessary to shore up the state’s pension fund over the next decade as more Baby Boomers retire and people overall live longer, especially women who have higher life expectancies than men.

Polls show the issue has created a gender wedge.

The government favors the reform, and opinion 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 made some gains in recent years.

Opponents say the reform will rest squarely on the shoulders of women, whose pay through the pension system is a third less than what men receive – and will highlight the inequalities and injustice they say plague here and long the women in Switzerland.

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