Dr. Will Tuttle

Dr. Will Tuttle

Posted July 30, 2010

Published in Animals, International

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Switzerland - The Dark Side of Small Farms

Read More: veganism

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Lessons From Switzerland

    As the chorus of anti-factory farming voices grows, many people are calling for a return to the "good old days" of small family farms to provide our meat, dairy products, and eggs. Having just returned from three weeks in the small alpine country of Switzerland, where family farms still prevail, I am more convinced than ever that the way forward is the complete elimination of all animal agriculture, whether small-scale or large-scale.

    Switzerland, in addition to its powerful banking, pharmaceutical, and food industries (UBS, Novartis, Nestlé) has a deeply rooted small-scale farming tradition. House gardens and community gardens proliferate, and fields of grain are interspersed with forest throughout the country. Cows with clanging bells around their necks wander the summer highlands, and small-scale animal farms dotting the landscape provide the cheese for which Switzerland is famous.

    Generally speaking, I found there are both positive and negative lessons we can learn from Swiss agriculture. The positive ones are the beneficent effects of hundreds of thousands of small, organic vegetable gardens and orchards. Every house seems to have a garden and fruit trees, and this strengthens the Swiss sense of caring for their land, fostering a healthy community spirit that propels Swiss people to cooperate to protect their lives and resources from pollution and exploitation. All GMOs are banned, virtually everything is recycled, and land, water, and air are safeguarded from pollution by stringent laws. Candy, soda, and junk foods are banned from schools.  Fast food is minimized to just one chain: McDonalds (which advertises that it gets its potatoes--but not its meat--from Swiss sources).

    But there is also a dark side. On the surface, the small Swiss farms all look so idyllic. Hiking the wanderwegs through the mountains, hills, and dales of Switzerland, though, provided me the opportunity to look behind the curtain of the Swiss "happy cow" image. It was revolting to suddenly come upon small, dark, stinking barns where goats were haplessly confined on the hillsides, the land around cut down and barren from grazing. These unfortunate females were the source of the "gourmet delight" goat cheeses in posh stores and restaurants. Kept almost continuously pregnant, their male babies had all been killed at birth for kid gloves and other upscale leather products. I also walked by young heifers imprisoned in pens, waiting for the sperm gun that would impregnate them, and cows separated from their calves, waiting for the next milking. The calves, both male and female, are mostly sold for slaughter for the veal that is omnipresent on the menus in Swiss restaurants, or they are killed at birth for the rennet in their stomach lining that is traditionally used to coagulate cheese. I also saw deer imprisoned in pens for the venison that is similarly popular on restaurant menus.

    There is virtually no true wilderness left in Switzerland. Even in the high and remote mountains there are wandering goats and cows who are someone's property, and who will be duly slaughtered while still quite young when their production declines and it doesn't pay to feed them the expensive hay they need in the barn in winter. Most of the Swiss forests have been cut down to grow feed-grains for livestock, and this has led to a loss of habitat for wildlife.

    The metaphor of hidden exploitation echoes in eerie ways. UBS finances mountaintop removal coal mining in West Virginia, Novartis promotes the spread of toxic chemicals and GMO agriculture in other countries, and Nestlé is well-known to be one of the largest purveyors of junk food in the world. Swiss companies do in other countries what they would never dare attempt in Switzerland. Additionally, while Switzerland produces expensive cheese and meats that have the aura of being sustainable and "humane" for its wealthy class and for export, it imports huge amounts of inexpensive factory-farmed meat from Germany, France, eastern Europe, Africa, and South America. Because Swiss animal foods are viewed as humanely produced (there are laws banning battery cages, for example), animal food consumption is among the highest in the world. And dairy in particular is sacrosanct. There is not one vegan restaurant in the entire country. The inherent cruelty in the dairy/veal industry is well hidden, and rivers of blood and misery flow behind the clean curtain of Swiss tidiness. The Swiss have, not surprisingly, among the highest rates of osteoporosis, heart disease, and diabetes in the world, and obesity rates are climbing quickly. Veganism is still in its infancy in Switzerland because of the monolithic power of the dairy industry and its ubiquitous advertising, as well as the generous subsidies dairy and animal farmers receive from the government.

    From the Swiss example, it's clear that the "good old days" were filled with routine cruelty and other problems. I hope that those who advocate for humane animal foods are able to look behind the curtain and see the suffering of confined sheep, goats, cows, chickens, and other animals on small farms, whose babies, freedom, lives, and inherent purposes are systematically stolen by farmers who profit from providing foods of questionable benefit. The beckoning path to health, sustainability, compassion for animals, and world peace is through persistent grassroots vegan education and the consequent abolition of animal agriculture. Cruelty and environmental damage is endemic to imprisoning animals for food, and global markets always undermine local efforts by providing mass-produced animal foods to meet the demand for inexpensive meat and dairy products. It should be more clear than ever: reducing demand for all animal-sourced foods--whether small-scale or factory-farmed--is the key to attaining environmental, social, physical, and spiritual health.


6 Comments | Leave a comment


dear Will,

i agree that switzerland is not a paradise in matters of vegan living (and onther things), but the (small) amount of vegans is slowly increasing. the country and its dairy and meat industry, is comparable to the situation in all other surrounding countries, not better and not worse. In fact the laws here in switzerland protecting animals are more severe than in all of europe. Still not enough, not satisfactory and only veganism will free the animals (and people). Being in the hart of europe and having the highest mountains, we do have large forests and they are protected, also many rivers and lakes.
One thing i wanted to say : besides various vegetarian restaurants with a good vegan offer we have one of the world wide VERY BEST hotel/restaurant : the SWISS VEGAN HOTEL on the lake of constanz. here the weblink :
The best vegan webpage is :
but only in german with the exception of two or three PODCASTS in english !
I have read your book and noted, that your lady is from switzerland, so next time you will be in switzerland let the vegan community know so that some personal contacts could be arranged. The most vegans you will find in the centers, e.g. zürich. In europe its vienna, munich and berlin which have the strongest vegan communities, and of all europe england has the most vegans. California has about 45 million people and we here only 7 million in switzerland.
best regards to you and wife Madeleine and see you next time in switzerland


Thanks Oram! I agree with you, and am looking forward to seeing you the next time I come to Switzerland -- will be in touch. The more we spread the vegan message, the easier it will be to find vegan foods in restaurants and stores. A few months ago when we were in Basel, Madeleine and I absolutely could NOT find any vegan chocolate bars -- not even in the health food stores! - They all had dairy in them. Only one didn't - and it was carob, not chocolate. The dairy industry really OWNS the Swiss, it seems! I'm sure it's getting better though as people learn more.


Thank you Will for this interesting article. It's very refreshing to read about Switzerland's animal/vegan situation from an outside perspective. As a grassroots vegan activist in this country I completely concur with your assessment. (A small factual error is that we indeed do have a vegan restaurant/hotel as pointed out by the previous commenter). Switzerland's agriculture certainly has many positive aspects, but unfortunately that's also what keeps most people from being receptive to a vegan world view. Especially when it comes to the topic of dairy. As you so aptly remarked, dairy products truly are sacrosanct to the Swiss people.

For anyone wanting to learn more about vegan issues in Switzerland is a great resource (grassroots and non-profit blog/podcast/link list/vegan cooking classes). Our content is in German, but we (the producers Rafi & Rafael) both speak English and can be reached at

So far we've done two podcast episodes in English specifically for international listeners interested in the vegan situation in Switzerland. They can be found at: and


Thanks Rafael for helping to spread the vegan message in Switzerland! Actually the "vegan" restaurant in question (Swiss Vegan Hotel) only serves dinner 2 days a week (Fri & Sat), and serves no lunches, so I don't consider it a proper vegan restaurant because of this. It's good, though, to see some progress, but letting go of dairy will be the challenge!
Let me know if you'd like to do another English podcast; Madeleine goes back & forth to Switzerland every summer, and I am visiting as well, besides the World Peace Diet tour here in North America.


I am very disappointed about the quality of this article. It is very poorly researched.

I read the book "eating animals" about factory farming in the US and set out to know more about meat in Switzerland, this is how I found your article.
I do agree that swiss farming has lots of room for improvement. But so many things you write in your article are wrong that let me doubt what you write in the rest:

- there is wilderness in switzerland, lots
(but consider the population/area ratio before you compare to other countries)

- forrest are not being cut down. laws over 100 years old make sure that every sqm which is cut, is planted somewhere else in CH. the forrest area actualy grew by 9-18% in the last years. and it covers 30% of all the area of Switzerland.

- mc donalds is not the only one. theres burgerking, subway and other shitty "restaurants"
they do have swiss meat choices though.

- fastfood is not forbidden at schools

I do appreciate your work towards better animal lifes, but please do so by adequate research and not through hear-say.


Very good post , so clear and very informative thanks for your sharing.

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