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Swiss Troops Stormed France in the Name of Cheese (and Cows)

Thirsty cows + torrid heat = trouble between nations

Alpine cows near Berne, Switzerland. (Ming-yen Hsu/Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0)
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It seems the Swiss are not above crossing international borders in the name of cheese, Andrew Amelinckx reports for Modern Farmer. Swiss troops unceremoniously popped over the French border last week to collect water for thirst-stricken cows vital to the country's lucrative cheese industry, writes Amelinckx — and needless to say, France was not amused.

Thanks to a mass of warm air that blew up from North Africa, Switzerland (along with much of Western Europe) found itself in the midst of a sudden heat wave. As temperatures hit the high 80s several weeks in a row, cheese-producing Alpine cows felt the burn and began to suffer from dehydration, writes Connor Gaffey for Newsweek. As a result, the Swiss Army stormed into a neighboring nation to tap into French water resources.

To be fair, the Swiss apparently did ask permission first, but a miscommunication seems to have taken place somewhere along the line. According to the BBC, Swiss authorities say that they asked the French Air Force for permission before heading over, but no one told local authorities in France’s Jura mountains region. When Swiss helicopters touched down multiple times to gather water over several hours, residents were understandably confused, writes Gaffey. Despite the two countries’ mutual love of cheese, local officials expressed outrage at the incident.

To make matters worse, the cows initially refused to drink the water. That's fairly normal, though, explains Gaffey. Sometimes changes in water chemistry or temperature can turn cows off. They are slowly but surely getting over their dislike of French water.

Switzerland has since apologized, and the potential international cow crisis has been averted — for now. Or is it? As Europe assesses the damage from its record-setting heat wave, French corn seems to have been impacted. Maybe French cows will decide to storm the Swiss border in search of a bit of delicious retaliation.

About Helen Thompson
Helen Thompson

Helen Thompson writes about science and culture for Smithsonian. She's previously written for NPR, National Geographic News, Nature and others.

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