By many measures, Ueli Stauffacher’s poultry farm is exemplary. Located about 30 minutes southwest of Zurich, the chickens it raises for meat (called broilers in agricultural parlance) are housed in two spacious, well-kept barns. One of those barns is outfitted with heated floors that keep the birds’ bedding dry and a state-of-the-art filtering system that strips away the overpowering smell of ammonia that typically characterizes chicken farms, leaving the air inside remarkably sweet and clean. Solar panels on the roof generate enough electricity to power the whole farm renewably. Stauffacher and his wife even host playgroups at the farm, complete with a brightly-decorated break room where children can watch the chickens through a window as they color and enjoy snacks.
Yet the 40-year-old farmer fears he may soon be forced to either dramatically change how he raises birds, or shut down his farm altogether. On Sept. 25, the Swiss go to the polls to vote on an addition to the federal constitution that would, in a global first, ban intensive, or “factory,” farming. If the proposal passes, the 9,000 broilers that Stauffacher raises in each of his two barns will be reduced to around 2,000 total , and he will either have to build a lot more barns or reduce his flock size significantly in the next 25 years. Neither of these options, he says, is economically viable.