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The Initiative to abolish factory farming was a nationwide ballot in Switzerland, instigated by Sentience Politics.

The contents of the postmortem below were written by Philipp Ryf, then co-president at Sentience Politics and co-lead of the campaign, for the 2022 annual report of Sentience Politics. The author of this post is Naoki Peter, co-president at Sentience Politics.

The initiative at a glance

  • The initiative demanded the abolition of factory farming in Switzerland, granting a maximum transitional period of 25 years.
  • It aimed at anchoring stricter animal welfare guidelines as a new minimum standard in the Swiss constitution. These standards would have granted cows, pigs and chickens regular access to the outdoors and considerably more space.
  • On behalf of Swiss farmers the initiative included import regulations that take account of the new Swiss standards.
  • The central point of contention in the public debate was whether Switzerland's existing animal welfare law was sufficiently strict.
  •  The initiative was rejected by a 62.9% majority of the voters in September 2022.

For more information see the initiative text (in German, French and Italian) and the ballot results.


  • The living conditions of animals in agriculture have never been discussed so widely and publicly. Hundreds of thousands of people have engaged with the initiative beyond their usual scope, asking themselves the question: "What does my consumption mean for animals, people, and the environment?" The voting result has proven that the vision of a dignified, location-appropriate agriculture mobilises and moves people far beyond the base of the supporting parties.
  • For the first time a broad alliance of Swiss animal protection, agricultural, and environmental organisations joined forces and stood up to the agricultural lobby to advocate for an animal welfare cause.
  • Considering the high cost and resources required to launch an initiative, we aimed at including as many demands as possible. However, we now question whether a shorter, more targeted package of demands would have garnered more support. We will consider this for any future initiatives. 
  • In 2018 Sentience Politics launched the Initiative to abolish factory farming single-handedly. We should have prioritised alliance-building earlier. This would have enabled us to tap into the resources of more organisations. 
  • The opposition commanded resources which significantly exceeded our own. In order to have a realistic chance at the ballot box, any future initiative would likely require a substantially larger budget and campaign team.
  • In order to inspire the majority of the population for a cause, it is essential to highlight the urgency of the matter and exclude any room for doubt. We could have done this better. For future campaigns, we must ensure that the actual conditions in animal farming are made transparent sooner. Possibilities include a greater focus on highlighting scandals, publishing our own investigations, and doing more to attract media exposure. 
  • Regional volunteer networks are very challenging to build. Here, we could have involved organisations that already have structures in place to manage regional leafleting, stand campaigns and billboards more effectively and at an earlier stage. 
  • We built up a large network of influential personalities from society. However, we lacked credible ambassadors from agriculture who could more readily be trusted as experts in their field until a late stage in the campaign. The clearest take-home message from the follow-up surveys was that policy change in agriculture does not work without the producers. In the future, we need to involve stakeholders within agriculture in our campaigns at an earlier stage.

Alliance against factory farming

The initiative to abolish factory farming was not successful at the ballot box in September 2022, but many questions about our nutrition and Swiss agriculture remain unresolved and highly topical. This is where the planned “Alliance against factory farming” comes in. The Alliance aims to ensure that the coordination and flow of information achieved between our initiative partners are maintained in the long term and that future political projects have as broad a foundation as possible through early visibility. The lessons learned from the ballot initiative show that political change is only possible through broad-based stakeholder representation. It is important that the animal-focused political forces in Switzerland work more closely together. Even if the “end goal” is not the same in all cases, the path to that goal is mostly compatible.





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Thanks for sharing your thoughts Naoki and Philipp - and while I'm sad it didn't pass, I think getting 37% to vote 'Yes' to Factory Farming Abolition is actually really promising, probably more than my expectation would be. And as you point out, this was with the ballot asking for 'as many demands as possible', which suggests that there may be winning coalitions for subsets of the ballot along with some compromises.

Two quick questions:

  1. Do you have any more detailed demographic data on the results? My expectation is that % in favour is correlated with younger and urban areas, which might suggest which locations further initiatives would be successful in.
  2. Do you think there are any other countries that might be amenable to a similar campaign - or is Switzerland unique given that referenda can be raised via popular initative instead of through the Legislature?

Just want to say again I think this is inspiring work (even if it was unsuccessful this time), and a example of how EA can engage with democratic processes.

Thank you for your comment.

  1. Absolutely. Broken down by age, the percentage of "yes" votes varies around 40%, with younger individuals tending to vote "yes" more than older ones (18-29-year-olds with a 43% "yes" rate and 70 years and older with a 27% "yes" rate). We had majorities in favour of our initiatives in basically all urban centres. Generally speaking, the more rural an area was, the higher was the rejection rate. Also, women (44%) were significantly more likely to vote for the initiative than men (30%).
  2. Many states in the U.S. allow for referendums and initiatives at both the state and local levels. For example, California is particularly known for its use of ballot propositions. In Europe, some German Länder (states) also allow for forms of direct democracy. The specifics vary from state to state, including the number of signatures required to initiate a referendum, the topics that can be covered, and the binding nature of the referendum, but we definitely think it's one of the most promising avenues for systemic change.
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