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Switzerland’s hidden pigs


    Photo: “Bio Schweinli” at Siedli by Burgäschi (SO), 2021-April-23.

    Note: There isn’t any agenda here. My diet is increasingly veggie, but I still eat meat.

    Most visitors to Switzerland probably won’t see a single pig. Even living here and covering large chunks of the landscape it is rare enough that it stands out when I see one.

    So it is surprising to learn that there are almost as many pigs as there are cows in Switzerland. In 2017 there were 1,544,612 cows to 1,444,591 pigs to be very precise. You can’t go anywhere without seeing a cow here (sometimes even just a few minutes from the main train station in a city). There are less than 80,000 goats but they seem to be everywhere. You would think it was 18 goats per pig rather than the other way around.

    So where are all the pigs? Indoors mostly. The majority of pigs live their entire lives in a stall (Maststall, literally ‘fattening stall’) until they are sent off to slaughter. The NZZ wrote an interesting article about the life of a typical pig.

    Sometimes you will see a few pigs in a little enclosure next to a farmhouse, especially at seasonal Alp farms in summer. But really most of the time you only know they are there when you pass by a farm building with a very distinct smell.

    This isn’t unique to Switzerland. This type of intensive indoor farming is the norm for pigs now (and many countries like Denmark and China take it much further). Swiss standards for animal rights are actually quite high compared to other countries, so given that and the reputation for happy cows roaming the meadows it seems odd that most pigs are stuck inside for their short lives. Meat marketed as “Bio” does at least have a requirement that they can go outside.

    The same is true over the border in the German Black Forest where despite the famed ham you will almost never see a pig because most of the ones that are there are indoors (they actually import 90% them from elsewhere in Germany or the EU for production of the origin protected Black Forest Ham).

    Curiously there is one case in Switzerland where people think they can see a pig where there isn’t one.

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