In referendum vote, Swiss reject banning experimentation on animals

By Antonio Broto

Geneva, Feb 13 (EFE).- Swiss voters on Sunday rejected an initiative by environmentalist groups to ban experimentation with animals in referendums in which they also said “no” to a package of state aid to communications media but approved increasing restrictions on tobacco advertising.

An overwhelming majority of those voting – 79 percent, an even higher percentage than recent surveys had forecast – rejected prohibiting experimentation with animals and humans, thus aligning themselves with the stance of the pharmaceutical industry, the federal government and Parliament, which earlier had unanimously rejected the initiative.

Swiss authorities and pharmaceutical firms argued that experimentation with animals is vital for the progress of medical science, as has been demonstrated in the current coronavirus pandemic, during which many vaccines first had to be tested in animals to ensure they were safe for use in humans.

But these sectors also feared that a potential “yes” vote to ban animal experimentation would deal a hard blow to the national economy given that the pharmaceutical sector, with local multinationals such as Roche and Novartis in the lead, amounts to 9 percent of Switzerland’s GDP and almost half of its exports.

Critics had feared that transforming Switzerland into the first country to ban animal experimentation could have spurred many researchers to depart for other countries and bring about the end of development of new drugs in the Central European nation.

The promoters of the ban argued that alternatives to animal experimentation already exist, including the use of biochips, computer simulations and tests with small doses of new drugs on humans.

In 2020, some 560,000 animals were sacrificed in experiments in Switzerland, most of them (400,000) being mice, rats and other small rodents, although the tally also included some 4,600 dogs, 1,500 cats, 1,600 horses and smaller numbers of primates, cows, pigs, fish and birds, according to government statistics.

Swiss authorities emphasize that the number of animals used in experiments has been enormously reduced compared to earlier decades – and in the 1980s the figures were four times larger – noting that some 40 percent of the animals suffered no physical pain or psychological harm when they were sacrificed.

In approximately 20,000 cases, however, the animals were subjected to experiments that significantly harmed their health, including having tumors implanted in them as a necessary part of cancer research.

On referendum day, the first so far in 2022 in a country that holds national and local consultations four times per year, the Swiss – by a narrower margin of 56 percent – approved increasing restrictions on tobacco advertising, a move that will also affect electronic cigarettes.

This type of advertising is already prohibited on radio and television, although now the ban will be extended to print ads, along with advertising in theaters and at big public events.

The Swiss government had recommended that the public not approve this initiative, contending that “it goes too far” in a country that is the center of operations for one of the world’s main tobacco firms, Philip Morris, although in this case the voters decided not to follow the government line.

But Swiss voters also cast their ballots against two federal laws approved last year that were put to referendums on Sunday: one that includes new aid for media outlets and another that abolished the right to stamp duties, a 1 percent tax on big companies for issuing bonds or taking other measures to collect new funding.

The aid to media outlets, which critics say have sought to increase state influence on the press, was rejected by 54 percent of the voters, while the stamp tax will be maintained after being supported by 62 percent of the voters.

Some 44 percent of the Swiss voting public, who generally prefer to cast their ballots by mail, participated in the referendums, a percentage lower than is normal in a country where this kind of direct democracy is more highly developed than in many other nations around the world.

EFE abc/psh/bp

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