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Do the Swiss eat dogs and cats?

    Unimpressed cat

    Photo: An unimpressed meadow kitty. Nobody ate it whilst I was looking.

    One of the stranger stereotypes to pop up on the internet is that hundreds of thousands of the Swiss eat dogs and cats (the latter supposedly being cooked with thyme for Christmas dinner in Switzerland).

    Is there any truth to this? Apparently (and surprisingly) a tiny bit yes, but nothing near the level that news reports say. It seems that it was historically not uncommon in rural areas, but today most Swiss people wouldn’t even think it was a real practice let alone take part in it.

    The more German and Swiss-German you understand, the better you will understand all the links here, otherwise this Swiss Info article is by far the best you will find in English.

    Where did this story come from?

    The recent popularity of the idea seems to have been kick-started by an article in the (respectable) Tages Anzeiger newspaper in 2012, and naturally such a topic is very whacky-news friendly for other outlets and got reported around the world.

    This got picked up by some big name outlets like the BBC, and the Washington Post amongst many others. Almost any other English language article you find will just be parroting these rather than actually looking into the story themselves.

    Another wave of controversy was caused by a (fake) video showing a restaurant where cat meat is being prepared.

    What evidence is there?

    Very little.

    Finding any hard (and reliable) numbers on the practice is downright impossible, all that can be said is that to whatever extent it does exist it is very secretive and rare.

    • A few animal rights groups are tossing around the statistic that 3% of the population (about 250,000 people) secretly eat dog or cat. The slight problem here is that nobody can say where this number came from (not even the activists who quote it apparently). The group most commonly quoted is SOS Chats Noiraigue, a small cat loving club from a tiny 500 person village of no consequence whatsoever – so I would be very skeptical about that number.
    • There are a few newspaper articles/interviews with anonymous sources. Hardly anybody is going to go on the record publicly claiming to do it because they would be lynched by the rest of the country. The one named person is clearly something of an eccentric who lists foxes and badgers among the things he has eaten, and he says he no longer eats cat and never ate dog (Independent article which cites a Blick article which cites a SRF documentary “Das Tier und wir”).
    • Mostly it is just anecdotal stories of things people heard, or that someone says their grandparent ate it as a kid on the farm.
    • Others put the numbers at just a few hundred people (see the Swiss Info link at the top of the post) which seems more realistic, but again it is impossible to verify.
    • That cat is, or even was, a traditional Christmas dish seems to have no reliable source at all.

    Is it allowed?

    It seems so yes.

    Legally you can eat a cat/dog. As opposed to neighbouring countries where it is very much illegal. You cannot however prepare them for the purpose of selling to people.

    Art. 2. the EDI Regulation on food of animal origin covers animals allowed for production of food. But if I understand it right then that is just for sale, and actually eating cats/dogs is a grey area of allowed but not explicitly so.

    Interestingly it was also legal in 44 of the states in the USA until 2018.

    What do the Swiss think about it?

    If you visit, or even live here you will never see even the tiniest hint of this. Most Swiss would look at you like you had a few screws loose if you were to ask them if they ate cats/dogs (or maybe make a joke about the availability of cat/dog at the supermarket in a rural part of the country). The only way you might see it (if it is real) is if you spend your entire life becoming very close friends with farmers/hunters in a very rural area.

    It should be noted that animal welfare laws are generally also very progressive in Switzerland for wild, domestic, and farm animals. It has one of the highest animal welfare ratings in the world.

    It is also worth remembering that historically the country was very poor, with tough isolated winters for rural/mountain famers (even today some of the rural areas such as Emmental and Jura have a very low income). It is something that older people might remember from their childhood, but will almost certainly be becoming less and less common with every new generation. This was probably the same for every country to some extent until recent times (and a few farmers eating unlikely animals probably is going on in every other country too).

    Why don’t they just change the law?

    Animal rights groups are pushing for that with petitions (eg: this and this though being online polls neither are legally binding). There was a petition with 6000 signatures presented in Canton Bern in 1993, but it was rejected as being not a matter for the government to handle but for each person to decide on their own what was right.

    From those interviewed on TV and posting in online forums there does seem to be a certain amount of tolerance for the idea (“meat is meat”). This sort of goes with the Swiss “do what you like, but it is your own stupid fault if you get hurt” attitude. However I also suspect that most of them just don’t take it seriously because it isn’t a widespread practice.

    Even if the law was changed to make it illegal it probably wouldn’t make any real difference. There are endless remote Swiss farm houses which are giant warren of living, storage, and animal space. Trying to control them all would be a financially impossible and socially/politically suicidal task. If a Swiss farmer wants to keep something secret then it is going to stay secret. Time and money on animal rights would be better spent elsewhere.

    More resources

    Anyone looking to try cat in Switzerland will be able to buy boxes of Katzenzüngli (cat tongues), they are however made out of chocolate.

    Cat Tongues

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