Outside the Swiss parliament in Bern on Tuesday, activists handed leaflets to politicians as they passed. Reflecting the linguistic nature of the 8-million-strong country, the leaflets read either "Wir fordern ein neues "Gesetz gegen den Handel und Verzehr von Hunde- und Katzenfleisch in der Schweiz" or "Nous demandons une nouvelle loi contre le commerce et la consommation de viande de chiens et chats en Suisse."
In short, the protesters wanted to ban the eating of cats and dogs.
The practice may not immediately be something you associate with Switzerland. If Westerners think of felines and canines as food at all, they likely attach the practice to some exotic Asian location (in South Korea, dog meat is sometimes eaten as a delicacy, for instance). In most of Western Europe, however, the practice is considered taboo, mostly due to humane reasons and an attachment to the animals as household pets.
In Switzerland, things are a bit different. The country has a more liberal attitude toward meat consumption (it's not uncommon to find horse on the menu in many parts of the country), and in some rural areas, cat and dog meat is consumed, often at Christmas time.
In 2012, Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger reported that the practice persisted in the rural areas of central and eastern Switzerland, and while there were no commercial slaughterhouses for cats and dogs, farmers would kill the animals themselves. "Unmentionable Cuisine," a 1979 book on taboo food around the world by Calvin Schwabe , detailed the Swiss recipe for dried dog meat (Gedörrtes Hundefleisch), and in 2008, the Independent spoke to one farmer who said cats are cooked with thyme (other accounts suggest that they taste similar to rabbit).
SOS Chats Noiraigue, the organization behind the campaign to ban the practice, says it has collected about 16,000 signatures. If its members can eventually get at least 50,000 people on board, they may be able to force a referendum on the issue due to Switzerland's system of direct democracy. "Around 3 percent of the Swiss secretly eat cat or dog," Tomi Tomek, founder and president of SOS Chats Noiraigue, told AFP. "A political leader told us parliament won't do anything unless people revolt."
Tomek has had some success with similar movements. In 2013, she managed to force a ban on the sale of cat fur in Switzerland. However, Swiss politicians have faced this question before: Tages Anzeiger notes that in 1993, a petition with 6,000 signatures circulated. In the end, Swiss politicians decided it was a something that should come down to the "ethical sensibility" of each individual.