Fri, Nov 08, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Swiss farmers battle litterers to save herds

Plastic bags and aluminum cans tossed from cars can be picked up and shredded by harvesting machines, making it easy for cows to eat the shards — with sometimes fatal results

By John Tagliabue  /  NY Times News Service, SOLOTHURN, Switzerland

Most alarming to many Swiss, a fanatically neat and orderly bunch as a rule, was the idea that they might be a nation of litterers. And there is no mistaking that the culprits are Swiss, not tourists or immigrant workers, farmers say.

“For once it’s not the foreigners,” Daniel Marti, who works for the local farmers association, said with a laugh.

So last spring, the national farmers association, together with anti-litter groups, started a drive to alert the average Swiss to the dangers caused when bottles, cans, plastic bags or packaging are tossed thoughtlessly out car windows.

Posters were distributed, like one featuring an orphaned calf bemoaning the death of a mother cow, over the words: “Litter Kills Animals.”

Another, lighter in tone, shows a bottle tossed from a car window hitting a bemused cow on the rump with the text: “Litter Makes Me Sick.”

Some companies that are the source of considerable litter, like McDonald’s and TetraPak, actively support anti-litter groups. While the posters went up along roads throughout Switzerland, volunteers visited schools to alert children to just how dangerous a bottle or a can may be for a cow.

The farmers are also seeking tougher anti-litter laws and deposits on cans, a measure retailers generally oppose.

The farmers say it is not just about dead animals. Though no studies exist, the estimated cost to them in time and money to rid their fields of litter before seeding or harvesting “goes into the millions,” Schneider said.

Not everyone is convinced the campaign is working.

“I think the results are about equal to zero,” said Erich Walker, 58, who reared six children on his 205 acre farm, where he raises cows, pigs and chickens and grows corn, sugar beets and wheat.

Yet he conceded the efforts might “sensitize people a bit.”

Others are more optimistic.

“One shouldn’t dramatize,” Schneider said. “The Swiss sense of order remains strong.”

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