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Swiss to vote on banning food speculation

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The Swiss will vote on a proposal to ban speculation on agricultural commodities and food, the government said Wednesday, announcing that organisers had gathered enough signatures to put the issue to a referendum.

The Swiss Socialist Party's youth wing gathered nearly 116,000 valid signatures -- well beyond the 100,000 needed to organise a popular vote in Switzerland, one of the world's main trading hubs for commodities.

The initiative, entitled "No speculation in food commodities", will likely come up for a vote within the next two or three years, giving voters the possibility to put a stop to all trading in financial instruments linked to agricultural products.

Referenda on a wide range of issues are held every few months in Switzerland, making up the backbone of the wealthy Alpine nation's direct democratic system.

"You shouldn't play with your food," insisted Swiss Socialist Youth chief Fabien Molina.

The organisation maintains that a third of the world's commodities trading passes through Switzerland.

"This stock exchange casino leads to massive fluctuations and price spikes that have already saddled millions of people with hunger," it says on its site.

A disastrous surge in prices for many staple foods in 2007 and 2008, which triggered riots in a number of countries, has been widely blamed on speculation on commodity markets.

The price of both wheat and rice rose by about 130 percent between 2006 and 2008. Other grains and meat also shot up at the time.

Similar food price spikes in 2011 were seen as contributing factors in the Arab Spring uprisings.

The ban requested by the Socialist Youth would affect all commodities traders with any presence in Switzerland, and breaches would lead to criminal prosecution.

Only direct contracts with food producers and wholesalers carrying price and delivery-time guarantees would be permitted.

A recent study by Swiss activist group Alliance Sud found that global speculation in food commodities has ballooned 33-fold in the past decade, soaring from $13 billion to $430 billion from 2003 to 2013.

The Socialist Youth have previously put one other initiative to a popular vote, the so-called "1:12" initiative aimed at capping executive pay.

That text, which would have made it illegal for the top earner in a company to make more in one month than the lowest earner made in a year, failed miserably at the polls last November, with 65.3 percent of voters rejecting it.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140423/swiss-vote-banning-food-speculation