The transformation from a meat landcape to a future of multiple realities.

Lara Biesser and Ella Willemse

After the Age of the Carnivore: 
How Will Your Diet Redraw the Landscape?

The topic of animal farming provokes many heated debates around ecology and ethics, questioning the economically driven market. Exploring this current situation around meat production we investigated the multiplicity of future realities, where the meat consumption is reduced. But is Switzerland ready to discuss the status of its national symbol—the cow?

Butcher caressing a cattle before the slaughtering process, Schlachthof Zürich, 1980.  
Source: Baugeschichtliches Archiv der Stadt Zürich.

The Butcher’s Duty

We consume meat as a ready-to-eat product from the supermarket, often forgetting that it all starts with animal farming, where live beings are kept to eventually be commodified into a nicely packed product. Trying to get on the track of the commodity beef we begin our investigation at the end of the production chain, on the butcher’s table. Historically this process of the killing and disassembling of an animal has increasingly been pushed out of our consciousness and to the peripheral, industrial outskirts of cities, hidden away from the consumer’s eye.

The work of killing the animals, splitting them in half and removing their innards lies in the slaughters’ and butchers’ hands. In short: he or she performs the moment when the cattle turns into meat. Obviously this is the part nowadays no one wants to see, because we are not used to get in touch with these “ugly parts” of meat consumption any more. Furthermore it has been a shift in society that has brought this distance between the animal in the beginning and the consumer at the end.

An animal’s organically grown body consists of many different parts which demand a professional handling when turning it into a consumable product. This includes separating the “useful” parts from the “waste” parts. Only 52 percent of the former live weight of a cattle is used afterwards as food for humans. This amount is called the “cold slaughterweight”, the rest goes into different productions like petfood, biogas, fertiliser, and one part is simply being burnt. As mentioned before, compared to other countries, where much more of the mass is eaten, in Switzerland a large part is not consumed.

Beef processing, half of the cold slaughterweight eventually goes to human consumption. Source: Schweizer Fleisch, 2019.

Beef processing, half of the cold slaughterweight eventually goes to human consumption. Source: Schweizer Fleisch, 2019.

Cattle make up for 71.1 percent of the slaughter weight that is processed in Switzerland. In this context the Grossvieheinheit (GVE) is an important measure and conversion key for comparing different animals based on their live weight and resulting consumable meat. Starting from the mass of one cattle, which counts as 1.0 GVE, other animal’s live weight is expressed proportionally it. This way one chicken for example counts as only 0.0031 GVE.

As a current trend in the farming sector of Switzerland one finds a reduction in the amount of farmers with increasing or stable livestock numbers, thus leading to intensification and an increase in production per animal.

Metabolism of beef, transition from grazing cattle to nicely packed product.
Source: AGRIDEA, 2017.

A little more than half of the Swiss cattle end up in the meat production sector, either with detours in the milk production or directly. However the path from the grazing cattle to a nicely packed meat product stays invisible to the consumer. In this invisible part major Swiss distributors such as Micarna (Migros) and Bell (Coop) take over. These big wholesale distributors provide increasingly bigger masses, accelerating the industrialisation of processes. However, since July 2020, Hofschlachtungen are again a countertrend to the industrialisation of impersonal slaughterhouses—where the minimisation of transportation stress for the animal is one of the main goals.

The concept of the Gnadenhof administers to the needs of animals, that fall out of the production chain. Either because of injury or obvious impairment these animals then receive a second chance for life one could say in this “animal shelter” where they can spend their days in peace till natural death.

In meat production Switzerland has a self-sufficiency rate of 86 percent, which means that 14 percent are imported, to meet the demand for premium cuts and mass-processed meat. What is a main driver for the whole importation sector are the low transportation costs. Since economically importation pays off well, even absurdities like the active and passive Veredelungsverkehr in exchange with Switzerlands neighbouring countries are being practiced.

How Industrialisation transformed Meat into a Mass Product

The commodification of meat has begun as people became wealthier and thus demanded for more, as suddenly everyone could afford some. One of the main concepts of industrialisation, the one of the assembly line work, has not been invented by Henry Ford, as often quoted so, but its roots actually lie in the slaughterhouses of Chicagos Union Stockyards from around 1900. Already by this time they have been providing 80 percent of the whole meat consumption of the US.

This invention has soon spread over the whole world and has also arrived in Zurich, where still today and ever increasingly the processing of an animal into meat is being performed on a complex chain of work. This way slaughterhouses have become highly industrialised facilities, which still also depend a lot on manual labour, because there are certain steps in between the rails and machines, which only the human hand can perform.

Schlachthof Zürich, since 1909

The example of the Schlachthof Zürich manifests this transition from representative monument to industrialised facility.

In 1909, when the stately building of the Schlachthof Zürich was built, at the time at the outskirts of the city, the understanding of the slaughtering process was still another. The building was not yet only understood as a highly efficient killing facility, but still stood for something representative, to be proud of. The following years brought some conversions, transforming it more and more into the industrialised facility we know today. The remaining stately facade stands opposed to the invisible processes behind it, that we barely notice today, although the city has overgrown the street block of the today called Schachtbetrieb Zürich SBZ by far. These days the relocation of this facility is being discussed, making space in the city, sustaining the invisibilisation of the process even more and increasing transport ways.

The Schlachthof Zürich is one of the largest remaining slaughterhouses in Switzerland, whereas it represents an exception between the other big players in Switzerland, that have all settled in peripheral areas of the Swiss Plateau, with close connection to the road network.

The proximity to road network speaks of the distribution around the whole facility. Livestock has to be easily transported to the place and the processed meat then has to be distributed to the consumers again. Interestingly enough, what we notice as an average citizen is only the latter, whereas the first step of transport, where the animal is still live actually happens during early morning hours.

On the Schlachtstrasse the cattle passes diverse controls by the veterinary office in different stages of the slaughtering process and especially the act of the killing is a highly debated situation, that is strictly regulated in the Tierschutzgesetz (Animal Protection Law). But as long as we eat meat, the killing is part of it.

“At the SBZ yearly 30,000 cattles, 120,000 pigs, 65,000 sheep, 900–1,000 goats and 20,000 calves are slaughtered.”—Michael Achermann, Metzgerei Angst

The Metzgerei Angst is an independent business and only shares the premises with the Schlachthof Zürich. Nevertheless architectonically the two facilities are also internally directly connected in order to keep the production line between slaughter and butcher fluent. Angst inhabits the rooms along the representative connection hall where also historically access for buyers and distributors has been provided. From here on the meat was and is spread into all of Switzerland, as packaged product or as unprocessed meat.

Scandalous is how far away the understanding of this process has moved from the consciousness of most people surrounding us. We consume meat as a ready-to-eat product from the supermarket, it is a consumer’s good as anything else, we are not ready to give up so easily.

Unbalanced Profit Shares in Retail

At supermarkets and large canteens or restaurants most of the meat is being consumed. These purchasers either trade directly with the farmer or buy their meat from the butcher in between who organises the demanded mass via a livestock trading platform. But who in this chain oft trades profits how much? And how much are consumers ready to pay?

Meat makes up quite a significant monetary amount of the average Swiss shopping basket. This not only because of a quite high consumption, but also due to quite high meat prices in Switzerland. Many consumers are even ready to pay a bit more for meat that ensures better living conditions for the animal in the upbringing, assuming that this money flows into animal husbandry, to the farmer.

A thorough study by the Tierschutz shows the shocking truth: for conventional meat around a third of the price goes to the retailer alone and with label or biological meat retails share amounts even more than half of the price paid by the customer!
Obviously many consumers are not aware of this abuse, showed by the study’s interviews.

Checking meat offers these days the many labels and bio certificates are very prominent. This speaks of a current trend towards more consciousness for animal welfare among customers. Farmers are also increasingly participating to this trend, but interestingly enough these days more meat is produced under label conditions, than can be sold under label prices. It seems that the price still has a huge influence on the consumer’s decision, which raises the question of how big the consciousness of the consumer really is.

The opulent variety of meat offers at Migros resulting in obscene special offer prices.

The opulent variety of meat offered at Migros resulting in obscene special offer prices.

1 kilogramme of meat per week—(in)sane?

The Swiss meat consumption has increased drastically since the mid 20th century and has now reached an average of 52 kilogramme meat per person per year, 11 kilogramme of which are beef. Whereas the consumption of certain species has historically remained more or less constant in amount some like chicken have increased dominantly.

Per Capita Meat Consumption in Switzerland, overall increase. Source: Proviande, 2019.

Meat consumption in Switzerland per capita, overall increase. Source: Proviande, 2019.

The raise of chicken shows the influence of a dietary change on production, for it has overtopped all other categories and shows a change in diet. So on the one hand we have trends from countries like the US where chicken is consumed very carefree and in mass, which causes an increase in consumption. On the other hand a crucial aspect of Swiss meat consumption lies in the nowadays Swiss luxury habit of mostly eating premium cuts, independent of the seeming trend today going back to a consumption of “nose-to-tail”.

Swiss diet pyramids—3/4 of Swiss residents consider themselves as carnivore. Source: BFS and BLV, 2019.

The topic of animal farming stands in direct connection with dietary questions and individual decisions. Comparing the diet of omnivores, flexitarians, vegetarians, and vegans through means of the nutrition pyramid shows that animal products have to be replaced by appropriate substitutes, which provide the missing nutrients. By tradition we are used to a diet including meat and dairy. Vegetarianism and veganism are trends that are gaining ground, but as said then raise the question of substitutes. Do I then consume meat-alike products, which try to imitate for example chicken nuggets or sausage or do I try to prepare dishes which are naturally meat free?

Comparison of current average nutrition of European countries shows a great mismatch of consumption and the health boundary. Source: Lancet, 2020.

Comparison of current average nutrition of European countries shows a great mismatch of consumption and the health boundary. Source: Lancet, 2020. 

The three main drivers for people’s individual decision for less meat consumption are ethical concerns, environmental ones, and health questions. The question about health consequences of an extensive meat diet is also the main concern of the graphic shown above, showing that our current European meat consumption shoots far over the recommended health boundaries. This study derives from the medical journal The Lancet but also Zurich’s City Council has published a dietary strategy for the future including the mentioned health and environmental concerns, resulting in a demand for a reduction in meat consumption of the average citizen.

Landuse requirement comparison between meat diet, vegetarian and vegan. Source: NZZ, 2017.

Landuse requirement comparison between meat diet, vegetarian, and vegan.

 Source: NZZ, 2017.

Comparing the land consumption of different diets shows that meat production occupies much more area than just crop cultivation for a vegan diet. A cattle itself takes up pasture space, in addition to this especially for chicken and pigs also fodder has to be cultivated.

Swiss Cow as national symbol with strong connotation with the Swiss cultural landscape . Source: die Schweizer Kuh.

Swiss Cow as national symbol with strong connotation with the Swiss cultural landscape. 
Source: Die Schweizer Kuh, 2013.

The Holy Swiss Cow

Eating meat starts with animal farming, which is a cultural tradition in many countries, each with specific rituals and ways of dealing with it. Switzerland has even raised the cow to one of its national symbols, the image of the cow adorns our Alps and attires millions of tourists.

Muscle power from cattle being an important part of the cycle of extensive farming. Source: Die Schweizer Kuh.

Muscle power from cattle being an important part of the cycle of historical farming. Source: Die Schweizer Kuh, 2013.

But as the Swiss cow historically has been an important member of the Swiss farmer family, it has now become just another commodified product and the basis for efficient agriculture and food production. There has been an immense transition from extensive to intensive, mechanised animal farming in Switzerland, before animal farming has been a part within a cycle of agricultural production. Cattles deliver fertiliser for cropland and partly support the farm work with muscle power. Therefore cows have been the basis of existence for many Alp families. And since every farm possessed only few animals for their own, supply lands were often shared collectively. Every farmer was granted his fair share and the community supported its members.

However, increasing sales opportunities led to the expansion of livestock farming and an expansion of the small businesses. Since the end of the 19th century the animal farming sector has been largely mechanised with the goal of maximising the possible profit. This included the transition to usually only one single animal species on increasingly larger farms with insufficient farmland available to produce the required feed themselves. This intensification opens up questions about the animal welfare of the individual.

Spacial consequences of the agricultural land showing the vast pastures and the concentration   of cropland on the Swiss Plateau. Source: BFS, 2019.

Spatial consequences of the agricultural land showing the vast pastures and the concentration
of cropland on the Swiss Plateau. Source: BFS, 2019.

Taking a look at the topography of Switzerland explains the long tradition and big share of cattle within all Swiss livestock. Much of Switzerlands surface is characterised by mountainous landscape with meagre meadows, the perfect environment and feed for the domestic cattle. No chicken would survive on alpine pastures and no pig would enjoy the hard grounds.

The Swiss Plateau is where livestock and crop cultivation start to compete: not primarily by taking up land for animal husbandry, but mostly with food production. Many crops we cultivate, as maize, grain, barley, and soy, work as fodder for livestock and food for people. Especially pigs and chicken kept for fattening and slaughtering are nearly exclusively fed with such cultivated crops as fodder. So it becomes clear that cattle are topographically seen and concerning fodder issues the fittest animals for the Swiss landscape.

A Framework for Decent Livestock Conditions?

The Schweizer Tierschutz STS is considered to be the strictest in the world. “The five freedoms” form the “philosophy” behind the Tierschutz describe the basic conditions which have to be provided by any animal keeper. It fights for comprehensive protection of farm animals through political initiatives and campaigns. It focuses on advising farmers, animal transporters, and slaughterhouse operators, on consumer information, on monitoring animal-friendly labelled products, and on transparent, animal welfare-compliant imports.

Comparison of Trasportation Guidelines Switzerland and EU showing strong differences. Source: Schweizer Tierschutz.

The STS has already achieved a lot for the benefit of farm animals. For example, the legal bans on battery cages for chickens, the fixation of mother sows, as well as castration and other interventions on animals without the elimination of pain. Unique in the world is the restriction of animal transport for slaughter to a maximum of six hours. What Switzerland also likes to highlight in the international exchange are the comparably low maximal numbers of livestock per species per farm, which also claim to provide more animal welfare for the individual. But talking about ethical concerns it is questionable whether a comparison between Switzerland and foreign countries is fruitful. The question is not: are we better than the other? But it has to be: Are we actually providing animal welfare?

Moreover within animal welfare the conditions concerning minimal spatial requirements are highly regulated—especially for the showcase object cattle. Interestingly, the minimal space for one animal usually does not change with labels like BIO or Demeter, what really matters then, is how much outlet they get. To control the regular outlet of livestock the RAUS (Regelmässiger AUSlauf) rules have been formulated: for cattle they state that during summer months 26 day per month and during winter months 13 days per month have to be spent outside, in outlet. In Switzerland 83.7 percent of all animals benefit of the RAUS program and 58 percent of the BTS. It is important to mention, that these programs are highly subsidised—creating a certain monetary incentive. Are there alternatives to increase animal welfare without economical thoughts as motivation?

Large parts of Swiss livestock profit from the voluntary programs ensuring animal welfare. Source: Schweizer Tierschutz, 2019.

Supporting animal welfare programs and Swiss meat production one has to be aware of the big discrepancy between advertisement and reality. Here one example that shows, that the current standards might have to be put into question again.

Emissions in agriculture sector equivalent to emissions of animal farming sector. Source: BAFU, 2019.

Animal Farming—the Climate Killer in Agriculture 

Of the total greenhouse gas emissions in Switzerland 12.4 percent source in agricultural production. Animal husbandry is the most problematic sector within agricultural production regarding the greenhouse gases emitted. This foremost because of the problematic carbon dioxide and methane emissions produced by cattle. In a cattle’s stomach organic material gets degraded without oxygen supply, which is the process that leads to methane production. Additionally, cattle contaminate soils with laughing gas when urinating on the meadows. This gas is eventually released from the soils again into our atmosphere.
On top of these “inland”-produced emissions come the ones, that are outsourced to other countries through Swiss animal farming. This derives mostly from the demand for animal fodder. Whereas cattle feed mostly grass from the meadows they are living on, a pig’s and especially a chicken’s diet consists mainly of fodder especially produced for it. But only 15 percent of this crude protein for livestock feeding are provided inland. In order to solve this inability for self-sustainability we need an area under cultivation abroad of more than 250,000 hectares, which is almost double the amount of Swiss farmland. This is why yearly around 300,000 tonnes of mainly Brazilian soy alone was imported into Switzerland for animal feed purposes. Big areas of rainforest are being deforested for a heavily intensified fodder cultivation–resulting in the global animal farming sector being responsible for about 80 percent of all forest losses.

Overview of nutrition intake and emissions per livestock, with large percentage of animal feed for pig and chicken on the one hand and drastic emissions within cattle farming. Source: Agridea.

Reconnecting these environmental issues to our diet we notice clearly that the highes emissions lie with the meat consumers. It should not be forgotten that the Swiss diet causes almost 30 percent of the environmental damage and 23 percent of the indirect climate emissions. A purely plant-based diet would halve the environmental impact, which would result, in a 76 percent reduction in land use. The same number of calories would therefore require much less land. In numbers this means that livestock uses about 40 percent of the arable land to deliver 20 percent of human calorific intake: the ratio is twelve calories of chicken for every hundred calories of grain, three calories of beef for every hundred calories of grain.

Emissions are highest with meat eaters. Source: Swissveg.

This means: What lands on our plates, what we import and how we feed our local farm animals has a measurable effect on the environment.

Cattle as major emitter of various greenhouse gas emissions resulting in being the most harmful livestock for climate change.

Cattle as major emitter of various greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture.

The multifaceted landscape of the Tössbergland, Zürcher Oberland.

Portraying the Tössbergland  

With the knowledge and findings of our research in meat production and our acquired understanding of animal farming in Switzerland we visited the Zürcher Oberland—a region located in the southeast of the Canton of Zurich.

This step into the field resulted in understanding the current practices of animal farming in the region, as well as receiving precious first hand information from farmers and their reactions to the current trends in animal farming.

Zürcher Oberland, an area spanning from pastures at high altitude in the Tössbergland in the East to Pfäffikon and the Pfäffikersee to the West where crop cultivation are predominent.

Zürcher Oberland, an area spanning from pastures at high altitude in the Tössbergland to Pfäffikon and the Pfäffikersee where crop cultivation is predominant.

The view from the hills connects the Oberland and the Unterland.

We expanded our focus of the Tössbergland onto a region until the lower lying Pfäffikersee, to facilitate a comparison between lower and higher agricultural areas. The acitvities in different altitudes are shaped by the specific topography and climate. In the lower lying areas the settlements are concentrated and the steeper and more uninhabitable it gets, the less inhabitants there are. The hillchains altitudes to the east forming the Tössbergland are in a prealpine range, which means quite specific until extreme conditions for farming.

Mapping agricultural uses we immediately see that the use depends on altitude: in the lower region there is some crop cultivation, whereas in the higher regions to the East only meadows and pastures are maintained. Crop cultivation usually includes the implementation of heavy machinery like tractors. Those are not suitable for steep slopes, so cultivation is limited to pastures and meadows, the latter sometimes even have to be mowed by hand if too steep.

What is also striking about this comparison, is that some potential for crop cultivation is not being exploited and merely also treated as meadows. Do the climatic conditions really not allow for more crop cultivation or is it just not economically interesting to do so?

Cattle husbandry is the predominant and crucial livestock farming in the Zürcher Oberland. 

Source: Canton of Zurich, 2019.

Coming back to the cattle instead of counting human inhabitants we hereby want to show the livestock shares of the different municipalities. Generally cattle overweigh clearly compared to the other species. So the region seems to be predestined for cattle husbandry.
One exception is Bauma, where a lot of pigs are being kept. But even this is in close connection to the cattle husbandry: pigs are fed with byproducts from dairy production. And since many of the cows in the Tössbergland are also kept for milk, and cheese is a typical regional product, pigs make sense there.
If we now convert these numbers into Grossvieheinheiten, cattle again dominates in all municipalities.

As wild animals have curated forests in the past, cattle could do so nowadays.

Coupled with the steep slopes comes forestation. The region has been heavily forested before the Middle Ages where big amounts of the wood stocks have been chopped for heating. In the following people began to realise that they have to cure for the forest, otherwise it will be gone completely and big reforestation projects have been launched. Now the forests are even growing again in mass. There is even a law that prohibits the cutting of forest which overgrows private land. To countertrend this development and introduce a conscious and careful restriction silvopasture systems could be implemented. ETH Zurich has conducted a study to find out about the impacts of cattle in forests. Foresters are concerned about the young vegetation and renewal of the forests, but the study has proven that a sensible combination of cattle and forests is absolutely justifiable. Others even argument, that cattle strengthen the bigger trees by eating away the younger ones, because the roots of the bigger ones then can grow unhindered.

The Zürcher Oberland and especially the Tössbergland is a prominent regional recreation area for city dwellers. The touristic potential of the area characterizes the space and shows its connection to the Unterland. However this magnet function for tourism also includes the ruthlessness of littering—seemingly not realising the major impact on cattle it has when consuming plastic or metal that was thrown into their pastures. A positive potential in this touristic landscape overlapping the agricultural productive landscape lies in the consciousness of the city-dweller for the processes behind the products sold in supermarkets. Hikers are tempted to buy homemade specialities from farmshops supporting farmers directly without intertrade.

The following subchapters illustrate reactions to current topics in animal farming that crystallized out of farm visits in the Tössbergland. The first family-run farm Bodengut at Bachtel presented great fascination for their found niche in the meat production.

Family Rüegg running the Hof Bodengut since 2012. Source:

Specialisation for Survival

“We live with the animals from the animals”—Judith Rüegg

The Hof Bodengut is a family run business located in the Bachtel region of the Tössbergland. The vast farmgrouds have been purchased by the family Rüegg who transformed it into their dream. Farming for them means to work with animals, regarding their needs and providing the space they need for a worthy life. An elaborate and modern redesign of the big barn is now the winter residence of their cattle. The whole summer long the cattle spends its time on the pastures spread over the whole territory of the Tössbergland. This because the family has decided to produce their meat under the label Natura Beef. Additionally the cattle grows up in Mutterkuhhaltung, which means that calves stay with their mothers and the herd feeling rests ensured.

But not only on their own farm in the upbringing Judith Rüegg cares about the handling of her cattle. She has decided to organise the slaughtering and butchering herself, instead of relying on a big retail market like Migros or Coop, where the cattle would end up in a huge slaughterhouse somewhere in Switzerland. Judith practices a direct marketing, where she has made a contract with a local butcher who slaughters the animals and then processes and distributes some of the meat himself. The rest he gives back to Judith who prepares it to the wishes of her customers and sells it directly to them. Recently they have even installed a small farm shop where passer bys can purchase their specialties.

“We are very proud of the fact that our products are made with a lot of passion with regional aspects.”—Hof Bodengut.

Because Bodengut values their independency high they need to stay in contact with their customers and advertise their products well to the public. The elaborate website and Instagram account show this very well. Additionally they regularly host events shaped around the wishes of their clients, ranging from brunches to weddings.
Obviously their agricultural (here mostly meat) production does not suffice to deliver enough income for them. Additional incomes from events and the husbands external full-time job are absolutely crucial for them to survive as a farm.

It seems to be about finding your niche within this industrialised sector. Crucial to this system is that it works only as a niche, if anyone would practice such a production the current demands would not be met. Agriculture has changed to meet the ever growing demands of the masses. But what if we question the consumption and ask ourselves, whether the current prices and masses are justifiable?

Through events with people from the Unterland and personal ordering/distribution consciousness for the processes behind the commodity meat can be raised.

The farm has decided to specialize, in order to survive economically. Although it seems like a good solution, one has to consider that this mode of production works only as a niche product and the demand of the masses are not being covered.

Cattle farmers in Tössbergland have three options for trading: either selling the cattle to a large scale distributor, giving it into cattle trading, to a larger slaughterhouse, or investing into direct marketig.

The majority of farmers are under contract with large wholesalers, others give their cattle into the pool managed by cattle traders. Then usually the cattle gets distributed all over Switzerland, in live-animal transports. The third variant is direct marketing, which gives the farmer a chance to stay local, but also means more expenses in organisation.

How Subsidies Keep it All Running 

“The Schnebelhorn only exisits thanks to the large amount of subsidies.”— Landwirtschaftlicher Verein Pfäffikon-Hittnau-Russikon.

Since 1896, the Landwirtschaftlicher Verein Pfäffikon-Hittnau-Russikon has been running a Sömmerungsweide on the Schnebelhorn Alp—with 1292 m.a.s.l. the highest point in the Canton of Zurich. About 140 cattle spend their summer on the alp every year. The summer grazing area comprises a fifty hectares of pasture land in the canton of Zurich and another twelve hectares in the neighboring canton of St. Gallen. In addition, there are about sixty hectares of forest.

In the past, farmers had to pay per day to the farmer for looking after their cattle on the summer pasture. This became more and more expensive, as the farmer of the alp itself had to pay for repairs at the alp and thus more and more lowland farmers thought about not supporting the concept of the Sömmerung any longer. To prevent the summering methods from disappearing completely, the Federal Council decided in 2014 that the farmers would be financially supported by alpine pasture contributions. However, the Federal Council decided to support the farmers not only for cultural and conservation reasons, but a major factor was that winter ski areas (which are alpine pastures in summer) must be grazed, otherwise they would be covered up with shrubbery and skiing would no longer be possible.

Another aspect addressed to the idea of the Swiss Sömmmerungsweide is the discussion about fear concerning weightloss of cattle during summer periods on the alp. As there is no additional feed except for meagre meadows. However, in dialogue with the president of the Verein, we depicted the concept of compensatory growth, meaning that it is true that some weight is lost during the stay. However, after the Sömmerung the cattle utilise fodder that they receive in the barn (including silage) in winter much better and can compensate or even over-compensate the losses.

Cultivating the steep areas with cattle is nearly the only option to make these lands valuable in an economical sense, as it has been proofed in history. Otherwise forests would claim this land for them and overgrow the Swiss cultural image.

The complexity our system of subsidies has reached is not productive, but sometimes even destructive, when different interests are sustained that work against each other.

The state engages in agriculture on various scales through differentiated subsidies. They bear vast potential for effective changes because of the monetary incentives created. The Tössbergland shows the big power this money has, because of its indispensability for their economic survival.

Especially the subsidies for steeper regions take hold in the Tössbergland, as seen in this map showing the inclinations of the territory. The steep areas are in urgent need of these subsidies to keep them running, otherwise the forests would claim that land for them. Another topic adressed by the subsidies is the Landschaftsbild which is often discussed talking about feed storage for animals as these “Heuballen” and silos, which might disturb a desired image.

Karl Bertschinger, farmer in Hittnau.

Karl Bertschinger, farmer in Hittnau.

The Fourth Agricultural Revolution: Smart Farming

Karl Bertschinger owns cropland used for mostly fodder production and some areas which can only be used as meadows and pastures. On his farm on average 150 cattle stay for around a year—he is responsible for the upbringing from calf to the already inseminated cattle. Shortly before birth, the soon-to-be mother cow returns to the dairy farm close-by, where it has come from as a calf. During the cattle’s stay at Bertschinger it has a regular pasture outlet, but is also fed with some of the fodder, silo maize is typical for the region, which Karl cultivates himself on his cropland.

Since the beginning of 2019 the farm is equipped with ear tags from, enabling twenty-four seven real-time observation of the livestock. The basic equipment cost 4500 Swiss Franc—in comparison to a missed oestrus that costs the farmer 200 Swiss Franc this is quite a feasible price.

This type of smart animal farming is quite established in dairy farms, due to the importance of tracing their health and monitoring their fertility in order to inseminate at the right moment. In the meat production smart animal farming is mostly used in mother-cow husbandry—is this expandable?

An important aspect of this digitalisation is the comparability within the herd of the same age. Hence through networking the statements can become more precise as their are compared to references and the momentary average of the herd. However at the end of the day always the human is needed to evaluate the data and to take action.

“In Switzerland every cow has their own digital identity.”—Karl Bertschinger

Livestock numbers including new births for example have been systematically written down since long, only since some time this data is being recorded also digitally. In this database, every animal and its “properties” can be accessed.

The question arises what this enormous technologisation of animal farming means for the farmer himself or herself. How far will the profession of the farmer disappear and develop into a management task? Like in any other profession nowadays there is also a call for digital awareness raising in the agriculture sector.

Smart farming is being developed to increase efficiency and often also addresses topics of animal welfare.

“Digitalising animals” can be ethically questioned, since it puts the commodification of live beings to a next level. Additionally, these new techniques set radically new demands to the farmers.

Current technologies in animal farming that are being tested and developed. Source: AgroVet-Strickhof, 2019.

Current technologies in animal farming that are being tested and developed. Source: AgroVet-Strickhof, 2019.

Smart animal farming has shown to be a popular means these days to increase efficiency. Naturally it immediately opens up ethical questions thinking of “digitalising” animals. But research shows, that these digital measures usually contribute positively to the animal wellbeing as it helps to identify hurt animals more quickly for example. Wearable technology on livestock monitors their health, location, and wellbeing with the result of significantly increasing their yield. E-tags clipped to the ear constantly measure body temperature. Even a cow’s breath can be analysed for signs of nutritional problems. Armed with the ubiquitous smartphone, a farmer can use apps for on-the-spot diagnoses such as detecting metabolic diseases in cows. Robots are capturing vast amounts of information—all this data will synchronise with the farm management software to provide the farmer with an overview of the health of the entire herd as well as specific actions for individual livestock.

New technologies such as smart farming have to be considered and evaluated not only by their economical profit, but also by their welfare benefit for animals.

 The Agrovet Strickhof research facility in the field of agricultural and veterinary sciences is linked to the
practical needs of agriculture.

The Capitalist Landscape

The heavily subsidised agricultural sector in Switzerland is in crisis. The state invests a lot of money to reassure the production in Switzerland, including the contributions for image cultivation. What is so problematic about it, is, that the subsidies support sometimes even contradictory topics.

Now and in the future these incentives created by subsidies are not sufficient to save the farmers from other external factors by the free market economy.

Analysing the current situation we identified certain tendencies, which could lead to a future mostly driven by economic concerns.

The market pushes farmers to more efficiency, especially large scale retailers demand a constant readiness for delivery. Therefore many small businesses have to merge into bigger ones, in order to survive. Otherwise farming often get’s hardly profitable or they live basically only by the subsidies they get.

Increasing efficiency could mean for the Tössbergland that farmers neglect steep areas, because they are very work-intensive to be cultivated. In that case the steep areas will be taken over by the forests and the agricultural work will concentrate in the flatter areas, arranging the work densely packed together. Different interests in the flatlands will start to compete and conurbation follows. Since all the arable surfaces are needed for crop cultivation for human food, animal farmers will no longer be able to keep their livestock outside and tend to stack it in industrialised facilities. Because they will all need to be provided with fodder from crops and can’t feed anymore from the meadows, a lot of fodder will have to be imported. This increases emissions especially in the countries where currently most of the popular fodder, like soy beans, comes from, like Brazil or Argentina. Whereas emissions within the country might even sink compared to their productivity, for concentrated animal husbandry it is usually the most resource-efficient way of animal-keeping. But in that case usually the animal welfare diminished heavily. This invisibility of livestock to the average consumer is already fact for lots of chicken and pigs kept in mass livestock farming facilities and the trend could take over also cattle husbandry. Animals in general will be even heavier bred for more efficiency. The consciousness of the consumer for the life of the animal behind their product will certainly decrease even more and consume will be practiced even more carefree. The money a farmer gets for a kilogramme of meat will decrease more and more, because retailers have all the power and strive for profit.
Most likely Switzerland will still not be ready to give up on their nice image of an Alpine farmer country and it will still be cultivated in a very small scale for touristic reasons, sustained by the State or just touristical money.

Switzerland will have to decide whether to leave agriculture completely to the free market or to radically redesign the monetary support system. Either way we have to consider the consumers and big retailers power for change, because they regulate the demand.

Last cow standing, how will a change in animal farming transform Swiss landscapes in the future?

Possible Futures Based on Concerns From Today
In the following we will depict some images of future situations, where certain issues that we have been confronted with, will develop further. They are fictional, but born out of actual facts.

Designing Animal Welfare

Massentierhaltungsinitiative 2018

“Animal welfare is all well and good, but Swiss animal products will become even more expensive compared to foreign products and we will be replaced by imported products (which are produced under poor animal husbandry conditions abroad).”—Karl Bertschinger.
Representative surveys repeatedly show that the vast majority of the population demands meat from “species-appropriate animal husbandry”. This is in stark contrast to the fact that the majority of our consumption of animal products today is covered by industrial animal husbandry. The reasons for the strong discrepancy between demand and supply are manifold and range from a lack of knowledge and awareness to the multi-billion dollar marketing of the meat lobby, which is still reproducing and cementing the myth of Heidiland animal husbandry. The initiative “keine Massentierhaltung” from 2018 aims to put an end to this and shows how urgently this unethical an unsustainable development is discussed these days.The initiators demand lower maximal livestock numbers per farm, more space for the animals in general, no more tether husbandry and conditions for a more natural behavior. Their motives lie in quests for more animal welfare and ecological topics.

Animals are becoming an industrialised and commodified product like anything else, but the crucial difference with meat is, that it derives from an animal, that was once alive. We need to take the needs of animals more seriously and try to give them more dignity.

We asked ourselves, whether a more ethical cohabitation of animals and humans is possible. A first step would have to be the abolishment of mass animal husbandry. Any creature needs to have access to fresh air and grown grounds. For chicken this means no more halls with possbily some “outdoor climate areas” added, but really a life outside, on the meadow, with space for picking, scraping, and sandbathing. Methods like the “chicken-mobile” exist already and work well, but are mostly implemented only for laying hens, whereas chicken for fattening are barely kept outside. Also pigs for fattening are mostly used to paved or even grilled floors, with no space for rummage and mostly metal fences around them. We demand that also they receive their appropriate areas for natural behavior like a rummage area where they can test their strong noses by digging into the ground. Especially those two currently marginalised species demand more equality, more space and visibility in our landscape. For cattle the situation is not as bad currently, but still we would like to imagine a future even better. Cattles intrinsic needs for long distance movements and grazing outside could be satisfied by letting them wander around in herds, searching their food for themselves, whereas pastures would no longer be parcelled landplots but vast green areas. Unpleasant encounters with waste from passing cars and long transportations by car for the cattle could be evited by this and fences could be replaced by natural boundaries or “Ha-Ha-walls” like in the historical english landscape gardens.

But the question stays: do humans have the right to continue exploiting animals the way we have been doing it for the past centuries?

Imagining a Vegan Landscape

Meat production is a very resource-intensive industry and is often criticised for the high emissions caused. Also the Initiative called “Agrarlobby stoppen!” calls for more ecological consciousness in the agricultural sector.

In order to achieve a more ecologically sustainable agriculture we might have to renounce entirely on the commodity meat and replace this great source of protein, vitamins, and minerals with a more diversified vegetal diet. A lifestyle without meat is proven to be perfectly doable by many vegetarians and vegans already today.

Here we try to radically reconsider todays animal territories with all the spatial consequences that come with it and turn the meat landscape into a vegan one. Many crops we cultivate, as maize, grain, barley, and soy, work as fodder for livestock and as well as food for people. So many of the arable lands, that are now used for fodder cultivation could be used just as well for the cultivation of food crops. Also the imports for animal fodder can be completely omitted and therefore externalised emissions reduced. New breeds for crops will allow farmers to cultivate now still difficult types for their regions in the future. Our landscapes would be cultivated by a big variety of crops to cover all the nutritients humans need. Fruit trees and vegetables provide vitamin, nut trees and legumes provide protein and wheat, potatos provide calories. Lacking the natural fertiliser we gain from the excrements of cattle, now chemical fertilisers would have to be implemented to keep the soils nutritious.

Is this vegan landscape really the only solution or can we envision a future and design radical new ecologies in which meat is part of our diet and pastures stay the symbol of Swiss cultural landscape?

“A solution for non-chemical fertilisers would actually be sewage sludge, as we did in the past. But today this is contaminated with antibiotics and co, making it unusable. Maybe a topic to examine?”—Karl Bertschinger.

The future of animal farming in Tössbergland combining the economical, ethical, and ecological.

Can Economical, Ethical and Ecological Work Together?

A reduction in meat consumption is to us the only justifiable development in the future, leading to a multiplicity of productions coexisting and coworking in communities. In the following, we implement this demand in the landscape, with the tools that our research has given us.

        i Dietary shift and consciousness 
        (see: the vegan landscape)
A dietary shift from a meat dominated diet to a more diversified vegetal consumption will be established, using all the potential crop cultivation area for human food. Animals will be held only to such a degree, as no additional fodder has to be produced for them. Roughage recyclers like cattle will feed from meadows, wich cannot be used for crop cultivation and simultaneously cattle produce natural fertiliser (excrements) for the crop fields. Animals like chicken and pigs will eat the surplus from human food production, byproducts from cheese production, and oilpress. Therefore livestock in general is included into a smooth cycle in the agricultural production.
Importation of fodder can be completely omitted.

        ii New organisational structures/networks 
           (see: direct distribution)
A new cooperative structure between farmers and butchers will establish to ensure fair prices for meat production. Through this the producers gain independency from the big retailers and can ensure more animal welfare, controlling all the moments in the production chain. By this we are proposing a countersolution for the big industrialised, anonymous facilities.
Smaller businesses will be able to survive through the protection of the cooperative framework and still provide food for the masses.

        iii Reimagine the idea of the commons
            (see: communal farming)
On a landuse-level the cooperatives are organised in a new governance structure: a network of coworking on productive commons. Whereas farmers will share big plots of pastures for herds of cows, the butchers will share the facilities for the slaughtering process. Farmhouses and butchershops still remain in private hand.
A next layer of commons addresses the shared use of the landscape for leisure, by people from the city enjoying the productive cultural region from another perspective.

        iv A new encounter with nature
            (see: the ethical landscape)The cows will graze in herds and move freely to where the grass is high, sustaining the biodiversity of certain areas. Furthermore, forest maintenance will include the deliberate use of livestock, leading to punctual silvopastures. Cattle will find shelter under trees on the pastures and drink from natural water sources. Other animals like chicken can be kept in combination with high stem trees for fruit and nuts.

        v Smart implementation of smart farming
            (see: the fourth agricultural revolution)
Smart animal farming will provide the means for the herdsystem, because farmers will be able to track their cattles by GPS and be alerted if the cattle is in trouble. Virtual fences keep the cattle within the pasture boundaries and drones deliver real time images of the herds, for identification of special events like birth. Future farms will be digitally connected for a great exchange of knowledge and data collection which helps them to increase their efficiency.

        vi New legislation
            (see: how subsidies keep it all running)
On a policy level more concrete measures for animal welfare will be included into the Tierschutzverordnung, in order to detach animal welfare from economic incentives. Labels will lose their meaning, whereas living standards for animals rise in general.

A cow lazily swishes its tail, now and then perceiving a distant buzzing. The drone maintains its station hovering above the herd. The images it collects are analyzsed with data from other animals. A few kilometers away, the farmer receives an alert, one cow must be giving birth. Driving out to the farm he leaves his car at the edge and enters the realm of the cattle jumping over the broad street ditch. As he approaches the cow in labor with his GPS tracker, he meets two hikers resting under the shadow of the trees next to the pasture. Excitedly they follow the farmer who is checking up the newborn. Cattle from all sorts graze around it, while he marks it as one of his.  



We would like to thank all the people who have patiently answered to all of our questions: Pius Schwager, Michael Achermann, Simone Koechli, Judith Rüegg, Stefan Knutti, and Karl Bertschinger.


–Agrarbericht, 2019.
–AGRISTAT - Statistik der Schweizer Landwirtschaft
–Bundesamt für Landwirtschaft (Direktzahlungen)
–Bundestamt für Statistik (Bodennutzung, Landwirtschaft)
–Bundesamt für Lebensmittelsicherheit und Veterinärwesen (Tiertransporte, Schlachtbetriebe, Fleischkontrollen, Fleischuntersuchungen)
–fibl.or (Hoftötung, Tierhaltung)
–Baugeschichtliches Archiv der Stadt Zürich.

–Bodennutzung/Futteranbau –Zukunft der Schweizer Alpwirtschaft, Fakten, Analysen und Denkanstösse aus dem Forschungsprogramm AlpFUTUR, WSL und Agroscope

–Tierschutzverordnung vom 23.April 2008.

– (Schweizer Bauernverband)

–Annabelle, Gewissensbisse, 20 Fragen, um 1 Antwort zu finden: Wie geht heute verträglicher Fleischkonsum?
Viehhaltung Feedlots

– (Schlachtbetrieb Zürich)

–Der neue Schlachthof der Stadt Zürich, Separatabdruck der Schweizer Techniker-Zeitung, 1909



–Fleisch für Zürich: 100 Jahre Schlachthof Zürich, 100 Jahre Metzgermeisterverein Zürich, 1909-2009