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Cruel products import ban

Updated: Jan 10, 2023

Extensive report detailing the promisingness of a national initiative on a cruel products ban in Switzerland.


This initiative would seek to ban the import of a set of animal products which are considered particularly cruel. This could include (but is not limited to): farmed fur, frogs’ legs, foie gras, caged eggs, live plucked down, exotic leather, and shark fins. Thus far we have included these products as they have been highlighted by past motions, would be illegal to produce with the methods used in Switzerland, and would plausibly have public support behind a ban. It would be useful to establish a coherent legal basis for why the import of these products should be banned (while the import of other animal products that do not meet Swiss standards is not banned). However, it may still be possible to add a clause or article to the constitution that specifies a list of products that are considered cruel, and whose import should therefore be banned, without a coherent framework for which products are and are not excluded.

The exact wording and structure of the change should be determined in collaboration with legal experts. However, to provide a rough example for this report, possible amendments to the constitution could include the following:

  • An addition to the clause in article 80 of the constitution (Confederation, 2021) that states that the confederate should regulate ‘the import of animals and animal products;’ to specify and import ban on certain cruel products include fur, frogs’ legs, foie gras, exotic leather, caged eggs, live plucked down, and shark fins.

  • An additional article 80a or 104b under animal protection or agriculture that stipulates that:

    • The Federal Government protects the dignity of animals. Animal dignity includes the right not to be subjected to particularly cruel methods of animal husbandry, capture, or slaughter.

    • The Confederation shall issue regulations on the import of animals and animal products which violate animal dignity. These products include fur, frogs’ legs, foie gras, exotic leather, caged eggs, live plucked down and shark fins.

  • If the Factory Farming Initiative is successful, an amendment to clause 4 to expand the regulations on imports to include animals used for non-nutritional purposes and to specify a ban.

  • Or on a similar basis to the parliamentary motion in 2015



319,882 kg of fur is imported into Switzerland each year (Swiss Federal Customs Administration FCA, 2021a). Most of this (67%) comes from China and Argentina, with an additional 20% coming from EU countries. A fox pelt has an average weight of 0.5 kg(Rongmei, Songyan and Erman, 1998), although some pelts such as rabbit and mink are lighter than this. We therefore estimate that at least 600,000 animals are farmed for fur and imported each year to meet Swiss demand.

Mink and foxes are the two most commonly farmed animals for fur, although other non-domesticated animals such as raccoon dogs are also farmed(Stone, 2019) As these animals have been selectively bred for their pelt quality rather than their attitudes to humans, they are not domesticated. This means that they are generally more fearful of humans than other types of farmed animal which can add to the stress of the farm environment (Eurogroup for Animals, 2020).

Most animals on fur farms are kept in wire cages with no opportunity to exercise their natural behaviours, such as digging and roaming large territories (Stone, 2019). In some farms, cages may be enriched, such as by providing mink with a nest box (European Commission, 2001). However, these additions are unlikely to prevent most welfare issues. Due to confinement and lack of activity, animals become frustrated and frequently exhibit stereotyped behaviors, like repetitively moving in a certain way for no apparent reason (Hansen, 1998). The proportion of animals that engage in fur-chewing, a behaviour indicative of poor welfare, varies depending on the farm and season. This ranges from less than 5% to more than 60% in a survey of Dutch mink farms,(Harris, 2015) and from less than 20% to more than 60% in a survey of Swedish mink farms(Olofsson and Lidfors, 2012) Confinement in mesh flooring in cages can also lead to sore hocks (ulcerative pododermatitis), which cause infections and abscesses. Research has shown that up to 40% of rabbits in one European country showed discomfort due to paw injuries (Drescher, 1996). Injury and disease can ultimately result in death. Pre-weaning mortality for mink in fur farms in Canada has been reported as around 20%,(Compo et al., 2017) while mortality between weaning and pelting was found to be around 1-2% in a Danish study, though this may not be representative of a typical fur farm since the study was performed on a research farm (De Rond and Van Willigen, 2012).

Generally, animals farmed for fur are killed on the farm. In Europe, mink are usually killed using CO or CO2. The minimum concentration of CO2 allowed by EU law for killing mink is 80%. This concentration of gas can take an average of 4-5 minutes to kill mink and there is evidence that mink find high levels of CO2 aversive (Harris, 2015). There are similar concerns about the time to death and aversiveness of CO when killing mink. A 2008 report from the working group to the Scientific Advisory Committee on Animal Health and Welfare in Ireland concluded that the use of CO2, or CO from filtered exhaust gases is not acceptable (Harris, 2015). Meanwhile, foxes are usually killed by electrocution while restrained with neck-tongs. When tested with sedated foxes, this method brought about an immediate and irreversible state of unconsciousness. However, animals are not sedated on fur farms, and there is potential for poor welfare if there is incorrect application of electrodes (Harris, 2015).

In addition to the welfare issues associated with fur farms, it is also important to note that large amounts of animal products have to be fed to animals in fur farms. For instance, mink consume a lot of fish,(Kaplan, no date) while captive foxes are often fed poultry, insects and eggs (Silver Fox Diet & Nutrition, no date). Of course, much of this feed will be byproducts from the production of food for humans. However, if these byproducts are being purchased by the fur industry then this is still providing some support for the farming of other animals.


It is estimated that around 5 million frogs are consumed each year in Switzerland, principally in the French-speaking regions. The majority of these frogs are imported frozen from Indonesia and Turkey (Bradley, 2014; Frog import origin Switzerland 2001-2006, 2021). Beyond the country of origin, an important consideration for the welfare of frogs consumed in Switzerland is the percentage of these that are farmed versus wild-caught. The Federal Council does not track the origin of these frogs (Maya, 2009) so it is necessary to look at broader trends to estimate the farmed frog percentage. The FAO estimated that aquaculture has grown from 3% of the global frog market in 1980 to 15% in 2002, an increase of 500%(FAO, 2005) Given the similar trends we have seen in the broader aquaculture market over between 1990 and 2018 (a growth of 527%)(Food and Agriculture Organization, 2020), we expect that between 20-50% of frogs are now produced in aquaculture. However, these broader trends are not entirely applicable to Swiss frog imports as most Indonesian frogs are wild caught (Kusrini, 2005) and Indonesia alone makes up 88% of Swiss imports (Frog import origin Switzerland 2001-2006, 2021).

Wild-caught frogs are hunted at night with hooks and nets. Once captured, they are put into bags with hundreds of other frogs which is likely to induce great stress. During transport, many frogs die. The ones that remain alive have their necks slashed, insides removed, and are cut in two. The lack of prior stunning means that the frogs are likely to experience intense pain which could last several minutes until death (Bradley, 2014). The Animal Welfare Institute describes a slightly different slaughter process, which appears to be equally cruel: “They are often skinned, and have their snouts and rear legs cut off with scissors or a blade while still alive. Their torsos are then tossed aside in a pile of other bleeding frogs and they endure a slow, agonizing death”(Animal Welfare Institute, 2011).

However, not all imported frogs will be subjected to this treatment. According to a Federal Council Opinion submitted in 2010, around 450,000 live frogs (mainly from Turkey) are imported into Switzerland each year (Maya, 2009). This suggests that about 10% of frogs consumed in Switzerland experience slaughter in-country rather than abroad. Owing to stronger Swiss regulations, this may inflict slightly less pain than slaughter methods abroad, though the welfare issues are still significant. For instance, there are no specific transport regulations for frogs, so they are only covered by general transport regulations. Frogs are usually cooled down before being beheaded, to comply with the Swiss requirement that vertebrates are anaesthetised before slaughter. However, it is not clear to what extent frogs lose consciousness during the cooling process, meaning that they may experience the slaughter process while still fully conscious. Occasionally, frogs are beheaded after an electrical stun. If the electrical stun is performed appropriately and full consciousness is lost, this may be a more humane slaughter method (Maya, 2009).

For whatever proportion of frogs that are farmed, issues around inhumane slaughter are likely to be similar to those of frogs caught in the wild that are not imported live into Switzerland. One source mentions that the techniques for collecting and harvesting frogs are the same as those used in capturing wild frogs. These methods include nets, hand capture, spearing, and fishing with a hook and line (Louis A. Helfrich, Richard J. Neves, James Parkhurst, 2009). However, in addition to these issues, farmed frogs must live in factory farming conditions for up to three years before they are slaughtered(Louis A. Helfrich, Richard J. Neves, James Parkhurst, 2009) Mortality on these farms is incredibly high at almost 50% (FAO, 2005). In an economic analysis, Henriques et al. (2013) found that this broke down into 20% mortality in the spawning phase, 10% as a tadpole, 35% in the imango phase, and 10% in the fattening phase (Moreira et al., 2013). However, it is unclear at what stage of their life cycle frogs gain consciousness, or what intensity of valenced experience is felt (Schukraft, 2020) at different stages of a frog’s life cycle. Broadly speaking, we should expect frogs to suffer from many of the same issues found in other factory aquaculture farms, including overcrowding, disease, poor water quality, and lack of enrichment (Warfield, 2018).

Beyond the effect on the frogs themselves, demand for farmed frogs ultimately leads to greater demand for frog feed. This is generally pellets composed of fly larvae (Musca domestica),(FAO, 2005) although frogs have a preference for live prey (agricfarming, 2020). Frogs given automatic feeders have been found to have feed conversion ratios of between 1.08-1.52 (Castro et al., 2017) and for frog legs 80% of the frog is then thrown away. From our cost-effectiveness analysis, we estimate that this would require about one million kilograms of feed which would use almost six billion fly larvae. Rethink Priorities provide a good overview of farming practices for these insects. In brief, they are typically raised in netted boxes in hot, humid conditions. They are fed food waste which they then burrow into, which can lead to early deaths if the temperature gets too high. They are harvested when fully grown and then shredded or freeze-dried for slaughter (Rowe, 2020).


Foie gras is a food product made of the liver of a duck or goose that has been fattened by force-feeding (a small amount of foie gras is made without force-feeding in some countries). An average of about 210,000 kg of foie gras has been imported into Switzerland over the past three years. This requires the death of 600,000 ducks and geese each year to meet demand. Roughly half of these are males who are stuffed before being slaughtered (so their livers can be sold for foie gras) and the other half are female chicks who are shredded or gassed shortly after hatching because their livers are not suitable for foie gras (Four Paws, 2020b). 85% of this is imported from France, with the rest coming from other EU countries including Hungary, Bulgaria, Belgium, Germany, and Italy.

Ducks are typically force-fed twice a day for 12 to 15 days, while for geese three times a day for 15 to 21 days is typical. This usually begins at the age of eight to ten weeks. The process involves giving ducks or geese a large quantity of feed through a tube that is put down the animal’s throat two to three times a day, for around 10 seconds each time (CIFOG, 2015). The amount of feed in each meal is considerably greater than any normal intake and is increased over the force-feeding period. Mortality during the force-feeding period is typically over 4% in geese and over 3% in ducks. This compares to a mortality rate of just 0.2% for age-matched, non-force-fed drakes (male ducks) (Skippon, 2013). The birds experience fear and distress during catching, restraint, and force-feeding. The swelling of the liver caused by the force-feeding also causes discomfort, more frequent injuries, and severely impaired movement (Compassion in World Farming, 2010).

Rearing conditions will vary across farms and countries, but birds are usually kept in barns and may have access to the outdoors for part of the rearing period. However, generally they do not have access to a sufficient quantity of open water to allow them to perform much of their natural behaviour. During the force-feeding period, the birds are confined in pens or group cages. Ducks may be kept in individual cages that are so small that the birds cannot turn around, stand erect, or stretch their wings. The slatted or wire mesh floors of the cages can cause foot injuries, while the birds may be kept in near darkness during the force-feeding period, except when being fed (Compassion in World Farming, 2010). Once sufficiently fattened, ducks and geese are then slaughtered according to the country’s laws. In the EU, this usually involves stunning then bleeding, or neck dislocation with no stunning (Clarke, 2011).


Note: we are unclear whether the production of exotic leather is banned in Switzerland, or whether it just doesn’t happen for practical reasons.

Approximately 40,000 import consignments of ‘exotic’ leather (typically leather from animal species which are subject to the Federal Act on the Trade in Animals and Plants of Protected Species) arrive in Switzerland each year (Martina, 2018). It is unclear how many animals were killed in order to fill these consignments as the average size and weight is not provided. Our estimate shows that about 14,000kg of reptile leather is imported per year. This would require about 900 crocodiles to be farmed or over three times the number of snakes (Swiss Federal Customs Administration FCA, 2021b). Imported exotic leather is mainly used to produce luxury products such as watch straps from alligator skin, and shoes and bags from snake skin (Vanessa Gerritsen, 2019).

According to a report from Tier im Recht, a Swiss animal welfare organisation, 80% of the reptile skins imported into Switzerland are from alligator farms in the USA. Monitor lizard leather and snakeskin are also imported, mostly from South East Asia.(Vanessa Gerritsen, 2019) According to one expert, 90% of injuries that crocodiles suffer on a crocodile farm are directly related to the farm environment. Farmed crocodiles develop wounds from fighting and develop abnormalities and deformities because they cannot walk or swim.(O’Connell, 2011) The slaughter of crocodiles and alligators is also a serious animal welfare issue, largely due to their thick skulls. A PETA investigation of an alligator farm in Texas found “alligators kept in fetid water and dank, dark sheds without sunshine, fresh air, clean water, or even basic medical care.” The investigator also witnessed some alligators being shot several times during slaughter and cut while still conscious (PETA, 2014).

Conditions for animals farmed for leather in Asia may be even worse. Footage of welfare issues in Indonesia was broadcast on Swiss television in 2010. This showed skin being peeled off snakes while they were still alive and lizards stuffed into plastic bags with their legs tied together (Franziska, 2010). This filming influenced a motion a few months later by Franziska Teuscher of the Green Party that urged the government to stop the import of reptile hides from Indonesia and to examine a ban on the import of all reptile hides from cruel production (Franziska, 2010). The motion was narrowly defeated in the Council of States.

A further way in which alligator/crocodile farming impacts animal welfare is through the huge quantities of meat that the carnivorous animals consume in order to grow. A crocodile consumes about 130kg of food in two years (FAO, no date). The type and source of meat in the diets of these animals will vary between farms. However, they are likely to consume a lot of poultry offal and fish (FAO, no date). Although these products are likely to be low-value and possibly not suitable for human consumption anyway, the food demands of farmed reptiles are likely to contribute to the factory farming of other animals.

For a very comprehensive overview of the animal welfare issues associated with reptile leather, consult this report by Swiss Animal Protection (STS).


Whilst Switzerland banned cages for egg-laying hens in 1992, it is still legal to import caged eggs as long as they are labelled as ‘produced in caged systems prohibited in Switzerland’ (Teuling, 2020). Around 572 million eggs (37% of the total egg supply) are imported into Switzerland each year. We have been unable to find data on the number of caged eggs imported into Switzerland each year. However, 49% of hens are still caged in the EU.(BBC, 2021) If we assume that a similar proportion of imported eggs come from caged hens, this suggests that around 280 million eggs from caged hens are imported into Switzerland each year. So with the average yield of 300 eggs per hen per year,(RSPCA, 2020) this amounts to around 1 million caged hens each year to supply Switzerland.

In short, keeping hens in cages restricts their movement to a very small space within the cage (750 cm2 per hen in ‘enriched cages’ - about the size of a couple of postcards) (Pickett, 2007). This imposes large behavioural restrictions on the hens, as they are unable to perform many natural behaviours such as dustbathing, wing stretching, and perching. There may also be strong competition for the limited nesting area which is provided, leading to frustration (RSPCA, no date). Caged hens prior to egg-laying are restless and show stereotypic pacing and escape behaviour (Shields, 2009).

Research suggests that some welfare indicators such as mortality and disease rates are broadly similar between caged and uncaged hens. However, there is evidence that hens show a preference for cage-free systems, likely because of the increased space and opportunities for the expression of natural behaviours that they offer (Bridgwater, 2021). Alternative housing systems, such as barn systems or free-range systems provide more space for hens to perform their natural behaviours and therefore represent a welfare improvement over cages (Pickett, 2007).

Given the relatively smaller number of animals affected by Swiss imports of live-plucked down and shark fins, the following two sections are shallower in depth.


Live-plucked down consists of feathers plucked from geese while they are still alive, to be used as insulation in products such as jackets and duvets. According to Four Paws, live-plucking is stressful for geese. Injuries from plucking include skin tearing and flesh wounds, as well as wing and leg fractures. The animal’s bleeding wounds are then roughly sewn shut without anaesthetic. Live-plucking can be repeated every five weeks, when new down and feathers are torn out and existing wounds are ripped open (Four Paws, 2020a)

80% of down is produced in China. Some investigations and documentaries have claimed that 50-80% of the world's down comes from live-plucked animals (Villalobos, 2011). However, industry bodies claim a much lower figure of 0.1-0.3% of down produced in China is live-plucked, and only for the Japanese market (Xinhua News Agency, 2009). However, an investigation by PETA found that the production of live-plucked down may be more prevalent than suggested in China. This production is generally done secretively and may end up in the supply chain without retail buyers knowing the origin.(PETA, 2016) The RSPCA estimated that about 1 to 2% of down feathers are collected by ‘harvesting’ at the time of moulting or by ‘live plucking’(RSPCA, 2019). Given the discrepancy in figures provided by different groups it is difficult to estimate exactly what proportion of down is live-plucked, though the RSPCAs figures are most reliable.


In 2020, 2227 kg of frozen shark fins were imported into Switzerland, significantly up from the 585 kg imported in 2019 (Swiss Federal Customs Administration FCA, 2021a). Fins weigh around 2kg, meaning that around 1100 sharks were killed to produce the fins imported into Switzerland in 2020 (Shark Alliance, no date). This is a very small number of animals compared to other asks in this report. However, shark finning is an emotive subject, as it often involves fins being cut off sharks while they are still alive and then those sharks being thrown back into the water (Keegan, 2020). This certainly causes severe pain during and after the cutting, as well as prolonged suffering until the shark dies in the water. There are also strong conservation reasons for protecting sharks, and shark finning has already been banned in many countries (Keegan, 2020). The UK recently announced that it would ban the import of shark fins (DEFRA, 2021b).




The impact of an initiative depends entirely on whether it is voted for by the public. To this end, it is essential that we have a clear picture of public opinion on an issue to gather some sense of what voting intentions would be.

For this initiative, the level of public support will vary between each cruel product and thus will depend on which items are included. The item likely to have the strongest support for an import ban is fur as ‘83% of Swiss consider it unjustifiable to keep and kill animals for fur for the fashion industry(Fur free alliance, 2016) and a further ‘90% are in favor of an import ban for fur items, which are not produced according to the Swiss animal welfare standard(Fur Free Alliance, 2016). Other controversial products such as foie gras also have majority public support for an import ban with 60% in favour of an import ban and 76% viewing it as cruelty to animals.(CDE, no date) This lower figure is likely due to a higher percentage of the population who consume foie gras (30%)(‘La réalité du foie gras en Suisse’, 2019) compared to fur. However, as expected, the level of support for a ban and consumption levels varied between language regions of the country. Fortunately, the consumption of foie gras, and therefore likely opposition to a ban on the product, is low in the majority of cantons.

We are more skeptical of the support for other products, such as a ban on frogs’ legs. Some sources show that a slight majority (56%) of the Swiss population surveyed do not view it as cruel to kill frogs to eat them (Bradley, 2014). For other cruel products in Switzerland, a similar proportion of the public tends to view the product as cruel to the proportion in favour of a ban or import ban. This suggests support for a ban would be around 44%. However, we are unable to gain access to the original survey so it is not clear if explanations were presented that could raise this number in a campaign, such as the legs being cut off while alive. The survey was also conducted prior to 2009 so public opinion may have changed since then. Another consideration is that we expect consumption and therefore support for a ban to differ between language regions. This means that a cantonal majority may be an additional barrier to success. Overall, a frog legs ban seems less likely to succeed on its own and will likely be the weakest element from a campaigns perspective.

Although it is not the purpose of the initiative, there are some additional environmental arguments that could be made to gather support. A 2011 report ‘Canapés to Extinction’ laid out details about the world trade in frogs’ legs and the ecological impacts it has.(Sandra Altherr, Alejandra Goyenechea, D.J. Schubert, 2011) One obvious impact is a decline in the populations of certain species of frogs. One recent study found that the population of the Anatolian water frog was declining by 20% each year, warning that over-harvesting could wipe out frogs in parts of Turkey if capture is not reduced (Clare, 2020). Decline in frog populations also has knock-on effects on populations of insects, as they are able to multiply more easily. This can cause issues for farmers due to crop destruction and lead to the use of more pesticides (Osterath, 2017). The collapse of frog populations and a subsequent increase in agriculturally disruptive animal populations led India and Bangladesh to ban the export of frogs in the 1980s (Sandra Altherr, Alejandra Goyenechea, D.J. Schubert, 2011). A further issue is the potential for the spread of disease among frogs that are kept in cramped and unsanitary conditions after capture (Dalton, 2020).

Unfortunately, there is no polling available for opinion on cruelty or support for a ban on exotic leathers and live-plucked down. However, we can make some weak inferences from their farming alongside products such as fur and the actions of big retail brands. Here we can see various luxury brands have already dropped exotic leathers and down from their supply chains after pressure from PETA (Chua, 2020; Uk, 2020). These commitments tend to be framed alongside fur or as a logical next step to removing fur (BBC, 2019; The New York Times, 2020; Conti, 2021). Though we can be far less confident in the level of public support than for other products, the broad impression from retailers and the media suggests public opposition to exotic leather and down is likely somewhere between the opposition to fur and frogs.

The same is true for caged eggs where we must make inferences from other contexts or from information other than polling. The caged egg ban has been in place in Switzerland since 1992 but this has only ever applied to domestic production. More generally, we see the same trends as other cruel products. For instance, 88% of the British public view cages as cruel to farm animals,(Compassion in World Farming, 2020) a finding we expect to generalise to the Swiss context. There is also the widely successful End the Cage Age campaign which successfully acquired around 1.4 million signatures, resulting in the European Commission agreeing to phase out cages for farmed animals across Europe (CIWF, 2021).

Previous petitions and campaigns also provide some indication of the level of public support, as well as the number of activists and volunteers that might be willing to work on a campaign. To this end, there have been several petitions and campaigns for a ban on fur. These have achieved 30,000(SwissInfo, 2015) and 36,500 (Campax, 2020) signatures for petitions launched in 2014 and 2019 respectively. Cruel product bans also tend to be a priority issue for other animal advocacy organisations,(Pelz in der Schweiz: Importierte Tierquälerei, 2020; Recht, 2020). For example, the Swiss Animal Alliance announced plans to run a similar initiative in 2017 with signature collection taking place in 2018(SwissInfo, 2017), though nothing further emerged from this.


There have been many motions submitted to the Federal Council on either individual products or attempting to get something closer to a full cruel products ban. Some of these have been successful and the products are now banned, such as with seal products, even if there may still be some exemptions. Other bans meanwhile, such as for fur, have been proposed and rejected multiple times, in some cases succeeding in one chamber but not the other.

Motion Number

Year Submitted


Outcome (as of September 2021)


Import ban on fur products manufactured in a manner that is cruel to animals.

National Council:

For: 87 votes

Against: 64 votes

Council of States:

For: 12 votes

Against: 22 votes


Immediately stop imports of reptile leather from Indonesia. Work out the legal basis for an import ban on reptile leather products from cruel production.

National Council:

For: 91 votes

Against: 73 votes

Council of States: For: 18 votes

Against: 18 votes

(rejected by casting vote of the President)


Import ban on seal products.

For: 132 votes

Against: 28 votes



Ban import of shark fins.

National Council:

For: 160 votes

Against: 19 votes

Council of States: For: 15 votes

Against: 22 votes


Prohibit the importation of products from animals that have been subjected to ill-treatment.

National Council:

For: 4 votes

Against: 37 votes


Issue an import ban for fur products produced with cruelty to animals.

Not yet dealt with in the Council, but The Federal Council requests the rejection of the motion.


Establish import bans for animal products, the production of which are prohibited in Switzerland.

Not yet dealt with in the Council, but The Federal Council requests the rejection of the motion.


Issue an import ban for foie gras produced in a manner that is cruel to animals.

Not yet dealt with in the Council, but The Federal Council requests the rejection of the motion.

Interpellations of note:

Political positions (according to the paper ‘Farm Animal Welfare Policy in Comparative Perspective: Determinants of Cross-national Differences in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland’, published in 2017):(Vogeler, 2017)

  • The Evangelical Peoples Party has a policy in favour of ‘charges on imported products with low animal welfare standards’.

  • The Green Party has a policy in favour of ‘prohibition of imports from cage-rearing or animal factories’.

  • The Liberal Party has a policy in favour of ‘equal animal welfare standards for imported and for Swiss products’.


One barrier has been raised by the Federal Council numerous times in response to previous motions for import bans: the potential clash with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. The Council has previously stated that a ban on the import of certain products for animal welfare reasons could prove incompatible with international law (Matthias, 2015). They typically suggest that product declaration and proper labelling should be used instead (Lukas, 2019). Indeed, a paper published in 2006 states that import tariffs or bans for animal welfare reasons conflict with WTO rules (principally because trade law considers two animal products which are identical in their finished form to be ‘like products’, even if they were made using different production methods) (Grethe, 2007). However, this paper is now 15 years old and since its publication there has been case law which suggests that animal welfare-motivated import restrictions can work.

WTO case law indicates that countries can require imports to meet welfare standards equivalent to their own, as long as there is no discrimination in favour of domestic producers and no discrimination between different exporting countries. WTO Article XX sets out exceptions to the WTO’s prohibition on trade restrictions. One of these exceptions relates to public morals, and another to the conservation of natural resources (Coz, 2020). Both of these exemptions have implications for the legality of animal welfare-motivated import bans.

In 2009 the EU banned the import of seal products,with two exceptions for the sustainable management of marine resources and hunts conducted by Inuit or other indigenous communities (Council of the EU, 2015). Canada (WTO, 2014a) and Norway (WTO, 2014b) challenged the EU ban but the Appellate Body ruled that in the EU, animal welfare comes within the field of public morals (WTO, 2014a). Other import bans have been upheld by the WTO for animal products that have been produced at lower standards than is legal in the importing country. This includes a case where the US banned the import of shrimp and shrimp products from countries that used a type of trawling net that puts sea turtles at risk (WTO, 2001).

In addition to the cases that have been dealt with by the WTO, there are also examples of import restrictions which have not been legally challenged. For example, the EU requires imported meat to come from animals slaughtered to welfare standards at least equivalent to its own (Broom, 2017). Recently, an anonymous EU official was reported as saying that expanding these requirements from just slaughter to all EU animal welfare standards for meat imports would be WTO-compliant as long as it was on ethical grounds (Foote, 2021).

The precedent for import bans seems especially strong in the case of fur. Switzerland itself has banned the import of cat fur since 2006 ‘largely because of concern over cruel methods of slaughter in exporting countries’(Info, 2014). Meanwhile, the UK Government is currently considering a ban on fur imports (DEFRA, 2021a). A survey showed that 72% of the public are in favour of a ban (with only 12% opposed)(Humane Society International UK, 2021), while the idea has also received widespread support from MPs .(Forrest, 2021) In 2017, India introduced an import ban on mink, fox, and chinchilla fur skins, and this year (2021) Israel became the first country in the world to ban fur sales (except for some minor exceptions)(Respect for Animals, 2020)

Given the evidence presented above, existing precedent suggests that import bans are legally compliant, as long as they can be defended on the basis of public morals. There are several examples of import bans which have been motivated by animal welfare considerations and have either not been challenged, or have been challenged and successfully defended in the WTO. Therefore, it appears that Switzerland would have legal grounds to impose ethically-motivated import bans.

Another potential barrier for Swiss trade agreements is the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). The EFTA is an intergovernmental organisation made up of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland which aims to promote free trade and economic integration between its member states (Books, 2010). The EFTA has some powers and responsibilities for negotiating trade agreements and preventing preferential trade between its member states, the European Union, and other countries. A subset of EFTA members have also joined the Agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA) which covers the free movement of goods, services, persons, and capital (EFTA, 2021b). The free movement of goods within the EEA Agreement does not apply to all products; most trade in agricultural products is not included in the EEA Agreement (EFTA, 2021a). However, as Switzerland is not part of the Agreement on the EEA, it has its own bilateral trade agreements with the EU.

Specifically, Switzerland has its own agreement with the EU on agriculture that aims to ‘strengthen free trade relations between the parties by improving market access for the other party's agricultural products’(The Federal Council, 2020). Article 5 of this agreement outlines requirements for the removal of technical barriers to trade. However, this does not specify issues with animal welfare, referring only to ‘Veterinary hygiene and zootechnical measures in the trade in live animals and animal products’ as well as various other plant or organic products. Title 2 of this agreement covers trade in animal products (Federal Council, 2020) but existing language only refers to veterinary hygiene and animal health with no mention of animal protection or welfare. If the initiative is successful, this agreement will have to be renegotiated and amended with animal welfare in mind. If trade agreements with the EU are highlighted in the future as a potential barrier to this initiative then foie gras would be the most affected, followed by fur.


During our research we spoke with multiple experts who offered their advice on the implementation of the ask, ask complexity, ask formation based on their past experience, and public perception of the issue.

Due to the sensitive nature of these interviews and the information the individuals shared, we have chosen to collate their collective thoughts into a summary to avoid compromising their important work.

Experts had the general impression that the Swiss population cared about animal welfare issues, demonstrated by their seemingly higher welfare standards across the board. Trade policy is a particularly prevalent current topic due to the recent United Kingdom exit from the European Union and the consequent redefining of the UK’s trade arrangements. Similarities to the situation in Switzerland, which is also not a member of the European Union, have proved useful as a point of comparison.

Experts pointed us to synergies between Swiss and European trade laws that could prove to be useful examples in this case. The two most notable examples seem to concern welfare at the time of slaughter and the seal meat ban. Both of which are good examples of trade legislation being put in place to protect animals and maintain higher welfare practices.

As this matter has already been presented to the government in Switzerland, experts felt that this issue would not be new to the agricultural ministry while industry would already be considering this as an up-and-coming topic. Whether this is a positive or negative is unclear. This could be advantageous due to the knowledge already surrounding this issue increasing the pace of the case. Alternatively, it could be disadvantageous due to opponents having more time to consider their arguments.


This section summarises our outreach CEA, which weighs organisational costs against the welfare benefits of the policy in expectation. This provides us with an estimate of the comparative cost-effectiveness of outreach for different asks. However, some parameters are calculated through our own internal projections and are therefore uncertain. The results of this CEA should be taken in light of the limitations of the model and of the welfare points index system used for the welfare estimates. However, we feel that the discussion provided below and in the additional information document more clearly communicate the updates we made based on our findings. These make the uncertainty in our estimations clearer to readers unfamiliar with CEAs compared to presenting the raw numbers. For further discussion of some of the challenges with CEAs, see the attached sources (Reese, 2016; GiveWell, 2017; Sarek, 2019).


The effect of this ask and each of its elements are driven in large part by the quantity of imports for each product. Some products such as shark fins, live-plucked down, and exotic leather are imported in low enough quantities that the combined effect of a ban on these products makes up less than 1% of the value of a cruel products ban. Other products, such as frogs’ legs, fur, caged eggs, and foie gras make up 73%, 10%, 13%, and 3% respectively. This makes the inclusion of some products in the import ban much higher priority than others. Another element the cost-effectiveness analysis highlighted is the importance of flow-through effects for different products. For example, frogs’ legs would have a large direct impact given the number of frogs that are imported, while also reducing the number of insects used in their feed. The sheer number of insects involved (~6 billion), means that this effect has the potential to dwarf most other products, depending on one's views on the importance of insects and their welfare during farming. Some areas that could improve this cost-effectiveness analysis include a more in-depth examination of how demand for the by-products of other industries, such as leather or cheese trimmings, affect the production of the main product and modelling the effect of price changes on supply and demand. These effects have been ignored or modelled only simply as we do not expect additional research into these areas to significantly affect the value of the import ban.



A concern raised by the Federal Council in response to the Cruel Products motion is that the implementation of such a policy would require inspections of foreign producers, which would ‘be extremely time-consuming and require the consent of the state concerned’(Lukas, 2019). Therefore, they claim that implementing such an import ban would be practically impossible. However, for some items such as frogs’ legs or shark fins, enforcement would be significantly easier than the Federal Council has previously suggested since all examples of these products can be considered cruel. Previous instances of such bans, such as on seal products or the ban on cat fur, are examples of enforcement on individual products being largely successful. For other products, analysis of previous instances of lower welfare bans or tariffs would be beneficial (such as the EU-Mercosur trade agreement which has successfully placed conditional tariffs on egg imports that are not raised to EU standards would be beneficial) (Busby, 2019).

According to a report which partially examined this issue,(Grethe, 2007) one problem might be that the process of verification could be biased by domestic producers, since they have an interest in increasing the cost of compliance for foreign producers. To rectify this issue, the process of determining cost of compliance and equivalence requirements must be allocated to an institution independent from producer interests. Another issue comes in the determination of equivalence, since it is difficult to unambiguously assess different husbandry systems with respect to their degree of animal friendliness. For example, a production system may be superior to Swiss standards on one metric (e.g. space) but inferior on another (e.g. provision of enrichment). Therefore, any system of enforcement needs to be limited to significant differences in animal welfare standards for which some consensus can be reached. The report points to international organic certification standards as an example of how a ‘process standard’ can work across borders. In Europe, the report found compliance with these standards is ascertained at a relatively low cost, usually less than 1% of product value (Grethe, 2007).

Even if import restrictions are successful, another concern with enforcement will be Swiss citizens purchasing these products across the border. For foie gras, 38% of consumers indicated willingness to travel to France or elsewhere to circumnavigate the ban (‘La réalité du foie gras en Suisse’, 2019). Given the lack of information available for other cruel products, we should take this as a rough prior for the percentage of consumers who would travel abroad for less frequently purchased luxury products. However, for items such as fur, exotic leather, and live-plucked down, faux or replacement products are more difficult to distinguish from the genuine product. One would expect this to reduce the desire to travel abroad for the real product. Again, there are also reasons to expect caged eggs to differ significantly, as consumers are typically willing to pay more for cage-free vs caged eggs (Lusk, 2019) and the two products are virtually identical. This means cross-border shopping will be largely determined by the potential cost savings of doing so (Leal, López-Laborda and Rodrigo, 2010). Therefore, we expect a greatly reduced motivation for cross-border shopping for these goods.


Another important consideration is the substitute goods used in the place of these products. While at face value a ban on items such as foie gras would eliminate the suffering of geese farmed in its production, consumption is likely to shift onto other animal products, even if these are less cruel. The only item this is unlikely to be true for is fur, because faux fur products act as a replica and no comparable animal products exist.

For other products, we must predict what are likely substitutes based on when and where they are consumed. Frogs’ legs for example are consumed year-round and are likely replacements for chicken, fish, beef, or, another French tradition, snails. The percentage of consumption that will shift onto each item respectively is uncertain.

We have stronger evidence for replacements for foie gras from Stop Gavage Suisse’s survey, where respondents reported that in the event of a ban 36% would purchase foie gras abroad, 29.5% would eat ‘normal’ liver pate instead, 10.5% non force-fed foie gras, and 25% would fall back on other Swiss products (‘La réalité du foie gras en Suisse’, 2019). Thus a ban on foie gras would likely only reduce consumption by approximately 64%, with the majority of this shifting onto other products.

Similarly to fur, exotic leathers also have faux alternatives using sustainable, vegan-friendly materials that could serve as replacements.(Hakansson, 2019) However, some existing Swiss brands that have moved away from crocodile and alligator skins have used embossed straps made of cow and calfskin instead (Chandrasekhar, 2020).

Alternatives to caged eggs are organic, free-range, or barn eggs. However, as organic eggs are the most expensive at 42 cents per egg, the vast majority of consumers switching from cheaper caged eggs are likely to switch to barn and free-range eggs at 22 cents per egg(Infographic: The Swiss egg market, 2019) Free-range currently makes up 39% of the market while barn eggs make up only 10%, with a further 34% of eggs lacking data on whether they are either barn or free-range.

Banning the import of live-plucked down would shift demand towards ‘ethical’ down and vegan alternatives. To be considered ‘ethical’ down, at a minimum live-plucking and force-feeding are prohibited (NSF, 2018). There are several certification schemes that already provide oversight which could be used as a requirement for import (Lindeke, 2019). We expect that the majority of demand will shift to ‘ethical’ down rather than vegan alternatives. However, a lot of live-plucked down is mislabelled, meaning that enforcement rather than consumer preference will be the likely driver of shifts to alternative products.


An additional area of uncertainty with the level of public support is how support for a ban on various products varies depending on what is included. The public could focus on the elements with the strongest support. Therefore, inclusion of weaker elements like frogs could be prudent as these would have little effect on the probability of success of a larger ban but are unlikely to pass on their own. However, it is also plausible that the inclusion of less popular elements could cause voters who support bans on fur, foie gras, and exotic leather but oppose a ban on frogs, to vote against the initiative.


If successful, a ban on particularly cruel products could eliminate consumption of some products, depending on enforcement. This could significantly reduce the number of animals being farmed through particularly cruel methods, ending a huge cause of suffering. However, upon elimination of many of these products consumers will shift their consumption to substitute goods, such as moving from foie gras to pate or non forced fed foie gras. This makes a ban on most cruel products more similar to typical welfare asks than it may first appear. Regardless, there are still some non-obvious positive flow-through effects that bolster the impact of this ask, such as a reduction in insect and other animal products used to feed frogs, foxes, and reptiles. This combined with the direct impact on the animal farmed for cruel products could add up to a very impactful ask. The main uncertainties that still remain are the probability of success depending on the inclusion of various combinations of products, as well as how to make a legally coherent framework for certain products.



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