Why the Swiss Evacuate Their Cows by Helicopter

At first, it's kind of charming. Look how well the Swiss treat their cows! A helicopter is dispatched just to carry an injured bovine stuck in the mountains! It's not an uncommon sight in the Alps, either: in Switzerland, insurance that covers helicopter evacuation for your family also includes your cows.

But this is not just about the Swiss being quaint. "That cow flying through the air is the result of a complex calculation involving limited resources, economic forces, and compassion," writes Veronique Greenwood in Aeon Magazine. So Switzerland treats its cows so well because it is such a small country? Bear with us for a minute.

The proximity of cities and farms means that, for the Swiss, cows are not some abstract commodity existing in the great food production system. They are less comfortable with inhumane treatment. Further, the country's small size means that agriculture and ecosystem management go hand-in-hand. An injured cow cannot be left to die and rot, where it will pollute the drinking water of a nearby village, for example. Land made barren by indiscriminate farming practices cannot be abandoned and replaced by moving further west. The United States, in its vastness, once had this luxury; but, as populations grow and space runs out, we need to rethink our relationship with our land.

"Look carefully," writes Greenwood about the flying cow. "This could be a postcard from the future." [Aeon Magazine]

Image credit: AP Images/Urs Flueeler