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Does Switzerland produce half of all the food it needs?

Swissinfo EN - Tue, 09/11/2018 - 11:00
So says the country’s home affairs minister, as the government tries to convince voters to reject a popular initiative calling for greater ethical standards in food production. Is he right? The Swiss will decide this month whether to approve changes to the country’s agricultural policy.  On the ballot are the Green Party’s Fair Food initiative calling for food that meets stricter ecological and social standards of production, and a second initiative by a farmer’s union, dubbed Sovereign Food, aimed at boosting the country’s production of foodstuffs. Why Berset’s claim matters In coming out against the Fair Food Initiative, the government says that Switzerland produces half of the food it needs and that these products must meet high standards of safety, quality and sustainability under existing regulations. It also argues that extending the same standards to food imports, as the initiative demands, would put Swiss policy at odds with the terms of its international trade ...
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Sovereign food initiative: a vision with costly consequences

Swissinfo EN - Tue, 09/11/2018 - 11:00
The ‘sovereign food’ initiative proposes limiting cross-border trade in foodstuffs and severely regulating the domestic market. The negative consequences of this would be borne both by consumers and producers, writes Regine Sauter. Why not be sovereign over our own food? The proposal certainly sounds positive. Yet the effects of the initiative “for food sovereignty” would be very hard to digest. The initiative calls for a level of state intervention and control that would lead to an agriculture sector dominated by small farmers and cut off from the outside world. The federal government is being called upon to restrict imports of foodstuffs with duties and limits on quantities, and even to forbid some imports altogether. Genetic technology is also to be banned. Prices for agricultural products would be state-controlled, while new subsidies would also be introduced. Finally, the federal government would be bound to intervene in the labour market, to increase the numbers working ...
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Sovereign food initiative: support your local farmers

Swissinfo EN - Tue, 09/11/2018 - 11:00
The initiative for food sovereignty strengthens direct trade between farmers and consumers as well as regional structures, ensuring jobs for rural areas, write Ulrike Minkner and Mathias Stalder of Uniterre, a western Switzerland farmers’ union. The federal agricultural policy and the framework for direct payments are constantly re-evaluated and determined over a hectic four-year rhythm. Agreements from the last agricultural policy, on which farmers have been relying, are repeatedly called into question. The proposed initiative for food sovereignty aims at a more stable constitutional amendment. It offers durable direction at the political level, as well as a reliable and sustainable regulatory framework for farmers and consumers. Free markets don’t free the farmers. At the start of November 2017, the federal government blind-sided farming organisations and voters with its “overview of further development of the agricultural policy in the mid-term”. This came just two ...
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How Switzerland wants to prevent 300 suicides a year

Swissinfo EN - Mon, 09/10/2018 - 14:30
Switzerland has many resources for suicide prevention, but until now there has been little coordination between them. To mark World Suicide Prevention Day, the government has introduced an online tool to bring the information together.  With the new research platform – launched on Monday, World Suicide Prevention Day – the federal health office wants to make it easier for people to find advice, information and self-help groups related to suicide prevention. The online tool is accessible both to professionals and the general public, and it covers all regions of Switzerland.  Every day, two or three people in Switzerland commit suicide, with men over 75 accounting for the highest rate, according to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).  “Most suicidal people do not want to die. Crises are mostly temporary and can affect anyone,” the FOPH reports, noting that suicide is often attempted in a state of mental stress.  In 2016, the Swiss government launched a suicide ...
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The decade of ballot box upsets is over

Swissinfo EN - Mon, 09/10/2018 - 11:00
Since the last parliamentary elections in Switzerland in 2015, the Swiss people have not adopted one single popular initiative. Considering the Swiss voted in favour of two, three, and even four popular votes in the previous three legislative terms, this is a big change. Is this a coincidence or a turning point? In the Swiss political system, popular votes are a great way for the opposition to have a say. Those who want to change the constitution need to collect at least 100,000 signatures and subsequently win a nationwide vote, usually with the majority of people and cantons defeating government and parliament. Since they were introduced 125 years ago, 330 people's initiatives have been launched, 210 of which were effectively voted on. Proponents were successful in 22 of these vote —  a success rate of 10.5%. For a long time, a ‘yes’ vote was deemed an incredible political success. This, however, changed in 2004, when the Swiss people voted in favour of 11 popular votes in a ...
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Swiss quarrel over prostitution ban

Swissinfo EN - Mon, 09/10/2018 - 11:00
A small Zurich non-governmental organisation has whipped up a storm with its demand for a ban on prostitution along the lines of the Swedish model. In Switzerland, sex work counts as a “real job”. “Switzerland and Sweden are constantly confused with each other. Perhaps you Swiss don’t have a problem with this. But we do.” So say Swedish men and women in a campaign video by the Zurich Women’s Centre. In June, this small NGO launched its campaign for a ban on prostitution based on the Swedish model. In Sweden, the use of sex services is banned and customers can be charged. Switzerland, on the other hand, is among the most permissive countries in the world as far as the sex trade goes: Both the supply and the consumption of sexual services is legal, as are street-walking, sex saunas and brothels. In Switzerland prostitution is a career; prostitutes pay taxes and most are registered as self-employed. “How can this be legal?” ask an actor in the video. “Well obviously everything that ...
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The life of a Swiss children’s doctor in Cambodia

Swissinfo EN - Mon, 09/10/2018 - 09:47
Beat Richner, a Swiss paediatric doctor who died at the age of 71, gave his all for sick children in Cambodia.  Zurich-born Richner, also well known in Switzerland by his nickname of Beatocello, moved to Phnom Penh in 1992, where he rebuilt the Kantha Bopha children’s hospital at the request of Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk after the civil war. He was honoured in Cambodia last year for his work treating sick children for free. Beat Richner regularly gave concerts in Switzerland to present his work in Cambodia and raise money for it.  His illness had however obliged him to hand over the management of the children’s hospitals to his deputy Peter Studer. His death was announced by his foundation on Sunday.
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New Swiss budget airline launches fundraising

Swissinfo EN - Mon, 09/10/2018 - 09:27
A Ryanair pilot and three other industry veterans hope to raise at least $100 million (CHF96.9 million) in Switzerland this week to launch a low-cost, long-haul airline that defies the economic forces which have grounded some small European carriers in recent months. The new airline — as yet unnamed — will focus initially on serving North America, and expects to undercut larger, established carriers with a cut-price service from Basel airport, on Switzerland’s border with France and Germany. The founders believe their business model will avoid the problems which hit other carriers. Their move comes just weeks after the collapse of SkyWork airline, which served European destinations from Bern airport, Switzerland. The past 18 months have also seen Air Berlin file for insolvency, the collapse of UK budget airline Monarch and of Belgium’s VLM. The Basel project — which has yet to decide on its branding but is using the working title “Swiss Skies” — could launch in mid-2019 if ...
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Large Hadron Collider blows out ten candles

Swissinfo EN - Mon, 09/10/2018 - 08:03
Protons and champagne corks were exploding just outside Geneva ten years ago as scientists celebrated a new era of particle physics. We look back at the successful launch of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and key milestones of the biggest scientific experiment in human history.  On September 10, 2008, the LHC, the world’s most powerful particle accelerator at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), was started up and an inaugural beam of protons was successfully guided around the 27-kilometre (16.7-mile) ring of superconducting magnets, deep beneath the Swiss-French border.  It was a landmark achievement for the thousands of scientists, engineers and technicians who had spent decades planning and building the colossal underground machine, which seeks to unlock the secrets of modern physics and answer questions about the universe and its origins, recreating conditions just after the so-called Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago. The $10 billion (CHF9.6 billion) ...
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Swiss-based traders scramble to adapt to sulphur shipping cap

Swissinfo EN - Sun, 09/09/2018 - 17:00
It may not have a maritime coastline, but in the coming years, Switzerland will be on the front line regarding measures intended to make sea-bound transport greener.  After the signing in 2015 of the Paris climate agreement, shipping, together with aviation, was largely left out of pledges set by the United Nations members. The argument was that its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions could not be attributed to any specific nation. “The view was that the sea is large and one could go on polluting. This view is very clearly coming to an end,” explains Giacomo Luciani, a professor specialising in commodities trading at the Graduate Institute in Geneva. Maritime transport is expected to see emissions increase by as much as 250% by 2050, with the greatest rise in consumption in emerging markets, according to the International Maritime Organization (IMO). That would considerably grow shipping’s share of total GHG emissions from the current 3%. In April, the IMO – a specialised agency of ...
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Sex trade, climbing cows and teaching the deaf

Swissinfo EN - Sun, 09/09/2018 - 12:00
Here are some of the stories we'll be following the week of September 10: Monday Prostitution is a legal business in Switzerland, but not everybody agrees with this. The NGO Women’s Centre, has raised the issue with a novel video shot in Sweden, using Swedish actors to point out that the sex trade has been forbidden in the Scandinavian country for 20 years. Tuesday The government is urging voters to reject an initiative calling for stricter ecological and social standards for food production. But is it right when it says that Switzerland already produces half of all the food it needs? We crunch the numbers in a fact check of the government’s claim. Tuesday We’re going big on the food initiatives this week with a couple of unusual angles on the issue. We take a look at how Swiss cheese is sold in the United States and the udderly spectacular tale of a quarter of a million cows that take an annual hike of up to 2,000 metres up Swiss mountains in order to produce ...
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Welcome to the Drone Valley

Swissinfo EN - Sun, 09/09/2018 - 11:00
Switzerland has emerged as a leader in the research and development of drones. Insiders talk about a "Drone Valley" between the Federal Institutes of Technology in Lausanne and Zurich, which is home to 80 startups in the field. What are the factors driving their success? And how are we going to avoid chaos in the skies? "This is the best place in Europe to be working on robotics and making your ideas a reality," says Przemyslaw Kornatowski. "In this area, we are really good; so much so that there are firms leaving the USA to join us here in what we call 'Drone Valley'," says Maximilian Boosfeld. Both men are the founders and heads of startups in Switzerland. Kornatowski is producing a drone surrounded by a protective cage for transporting small parcels. Boosfeld heads Wingtra, a company of 45 staff members that in 2017 produced a specialised drone for cartography and surveying. Innovation conquers the market Wingtra’s drone was developed as part of a research project at the ...
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Emergency room visits and a sexual health survey

Swissinfo EN - Sat, 09/08/2018 - 17:00
Almost every article published by swissinfo.ch contains a percentage, an age, an amount of money or some other figure. Here’s a round-up of the most interesting statistics to appear in the past week’s stories. Monday 54 The percentage of leading Swiss newspaper articles on Muslims since 2015 that have been about terrorism and radicalisation. The figure comes from a University of Zurich study, which also found that just 2% of articles about Muslims dealt with “positive” topics like successful integration and everyday life. Tuesday 1,700,000 The number of emergency hospital admissions in Switzerland in 2016, according to a survey by the Swiss Health Observatory (OBSAN). That means that 14% of the population visited the emergency room at least once during the year – but rates of admission varied widely between cantons. Wednesday 300 The number of victims in Switzerland who have come forward to report sexual abuse within the Catholic Church since 2010. On Wednesday, the Swiss ...
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Helping Swiss adults who are illiterate

Swissinfo EN - Sat, 09/08/2018 - 14:00
Events are being held around Switzerland on Saturday to mark the 30th anniversary of the 'Read and Write' association, whose courses have helped 25,000 adults. September 8 is also International Literacy Day. According to UNESCO, International Literacy Day celebrations have taken place annually around the world since 1967 "to remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights".  The Swiss Reading and Writing Association says that despite Switzerland's advanced education system, 800,000 people still struggle to read and write and around 400,000 have problems with simple calculations. The small Alpine nation has a population of around 8.5 million.  Most illiterate people in Switzerland have completed compulsory education but have missed numerous classes. Others have simply lost the basic skills through lack of practice over the years. Some 30,000 of those with difficulties live in canton Valais, southwest Switzerland, where the department of ...
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Switzerland's legendary horse racing track - in pictures

Swissinfo EN - Sat, 09/08/2018 - 11:00
The "Schachen" is considered the most beautiful horse racing venue in Switzerland, attracting some 7,000 spectators a day in summer. There are four race days per season at the Schachen, located in the northern Swiss city of Aarau - two in early summer, two in late summer. The "Trotter Championship", endowed with prize money of CHF40,000, is the main event on the third day at the Schachen. In total around CHF105,000 is paid out per day, spread over seven races. The Schachen club needs sponsors to cover the prize money and maintenance of the track and infrastructure. The club also generates income from other events, such as an open-air cinema. An automated irrigation system keeps the track green, even during hot, dry summers like this past one. The afternoon begins with two pony races jockeyed by young riders. Young spectators are particularly keen on betting, alongside the older regulars. Whether they bet on "Chérie", "Mai Thai", "Sing-Sing" or "Les Sables Blancs" is of ...
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Is part-time work viable while studying at a Swiss university?

Swissinfo EN - Fri, 09/07/2018 - 17:00
With one of the highest living expenses in the world, Switzerland can be a drain on the finances of international students. We compare the potential for part-time work with the US and UK. In our previous article we compared the cost of living for university students in Switzerland, UK and US and offered a few money-saving tips. However, it is not always possible to cut corners. Expenses like accommodation, food and transport can be minimised but not eliminated. What is a student to do?  Part time work is one option to tilt the financial balance in your favour. However, there are several things to consider: whether international students are allowed to work, class schedule, coursework and assignment load, flexible working hours, and minimum wage. Some institutions like the Federal Institute of technology in Lausanne (EPFL) counsel against taking up a job as it could interfere with studies. “With a weekly schedule of 50-60 hours, it is difficult to reconcile studying and ...
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What is federalism?

Swissinfo EN - Fri, 09/07/2018 - 11:00
In Switzerland, state power is spread over three levels: the federal government, the 26 cantons and the 2,222 municipalities. This system of federalism guarantees Swiss diversity. Political scientist Sean Müller researches this lifeline of democracy in a small but heterogeneous country. What does someone from Appenzell have in common with someone in Geneva? What connects the people of Ticino with those from Thurgau? Little more than the red Swiss passport. Switzerland is a country of many languages and cultures. Federalism allows the cantons and communities to maintain their diverse identities while ensuring that Switzerland as a country does not fall apart. In Democracy Lab, #DearDemocracy’s video series, political scientist Sean Müller from the University of Bern explains how the interplay of the three levels of government works, and highlights some of the sticking points. He also compares Swiss practice with federalism in other countries.
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Uncensored report on arms exports reveals shortcomings

Swissinfo EN - Thu, 09/06/2018 - 17:00
Regulations for exporting weapons are easy to exploit and the Swiss authorities approve almost all export requests for war materiel. These are some of the findings of an unredacted report by the Federal Audit Office (FAO) obtained by Swiss public television, SRF.  The report, carried out by the FAO on behalf of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) and the economics ministry, shows that almost 99% of export applications were granted in 2016. In addition, when it came to checks in critical countries, only a few of the weapons delivered could be verified.  The fact that SRF’s Rundschau news programme received the document in its entirety and unredacted was “regrettable”, FAO director Michel Huissoud told the Swiss News Agency. He said leaking the confidential report was a criminal act and those responsible could be prosecuted.  According to the report, in 2016 the Swiss government rejected only 29 applications with a value of CHF17 million ($17.5 million). This ...
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A cancer diagnosis a long way from home

Swissinfo EN - Thu, 09/06/2018 - 17:00
What happens when a foreigner in Switzerland is diagnosed with a serious illness, a long from home and the normal support network of friends and family? More than 40% of Geneva's residents are non-Swiss and many of them speak English. Those who are diagnosed with cancer can find it hard to understand their treatment options when dealing with French-speaking healthcare professionals. Set up in Geneva in 2000, ESCA CancerSupport aimed to help cancer sufferers who are struggling with language issues. Raynelle Arcaini, one of the organisation's three counsellors, stresses that there is no overlap with the work of the local authorities, "We don’t have to take over things such as house cleaning and meal preparation because social services provide excellent services to in-home patients." ESCA's trained volunteers accompany medical visits to help people stay focused when important things are being said, or to translate and clarify medical details. Often the volunteers just sit and chat ...
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How expensive is Switzerland for a student on a budget?

Swissinfo EN - Thu, 09/06/2018 - 11:00
While Switzerland may have relatively low university fees, living expenses can take a toll on a student’s budget. But is it pricey when compared to the US or UK?  A common question for most international students is “How much should I budget for my studies?” It is relatively straightforward to get an idea of tuition fees by contacting universities but living expenses are trickier to pin down. The reason being there are so many variables involved.  In Switzerland, prospective international students applying for a visa or permit must give authorities guarantees that they can cover the financial costs associated with their studies. To help students estimate what these costs might be, several universities provide a breakdown of average living expenses in their region. A quick scan of select schools across the country suggests budgeting between CHF1,500 and CHF2,800 (($1,535 and $2,866) a month.  As far as the UK is concerned university websites are a good guide to local living costs.
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