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Charities favour GM moratorium

Swiss charities say GM technology does not benefit farmers in developing countries

(Keystone)

The Swiss Alliance of Development Organisations has called on voters to accept a five-year moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture.

But a survey commissioned by opponents of the moratorium claims that if it is accepted on November 27, thousands of jobs could be at risk in Switzerland.

The alliance, a coalition of Swiss charities, says GM technology cannot overcome hunger in developing nations.

"These methods only increase the difficulties faced by small farmers by making them dependent on the agrochemical business," said the alliance's Michèle Laubscher in the Swiss capital, Bern, on Friday.

According to the alliance, GM seeds are more expensive than traditional varieties because of patents and licensing fees. "In Argentina, transgenic soya beans have contributed to the disappearance of 150,000 small farms," added Caroline Morel, director of Swissaid.

Laubscher said that by accepting a moratorium on the use of GM technology in agriculture, Swiss voters would be sending an important message to all those fighting its use in developing countries.

"This is made even more important by the fact that Syngenta, one the world's biggest producers of GM seed, is based in Switzerland," she said.

Survey

However, a survey carried out by the Swiss Institute for Business Cycle Research for opponents of the moratorium, which was published on Thursday, claimed that accepting the moratorium would affect both farming and research.

"Farmers in Switzerland would be at a disadvantage because they would not be able to grow plants resistant to pests and diseases," said the institute's director Bernd Schips.

Acceptance would also be detrimental to Swiss research and the country's economic development.

"Even if genetic research is not banned, a 'yes' vote would convince companies to take their research out of the country," added Schips, who warned Switzerland would no longer be a leader in this field.

Based on earlier surveys carried out before an earlier vote in 1998 on whether to ban genetic research, Schips has calculated that around 40,000 jobs are under threat, in basic research and other areas.

Some researchers have already warned of the possible effects of 'yes' vote. Besides losing scientists who will head abroad, careers could also be nipped in the bud according to opponents of the moratorium.

The government has also said that a moratorium on GMOs in agriculture would be bad news for farmers and consumers, adding that the current law on the issue, which came into force last year, provided enough protection for people and the environment.

The procedure for authorising GM crops lasts at least five years - as long as the moratorium.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

In 2004, GM plants were grown on more than 81 million hectares of land in 18 countries.
Gene technology is most often used to produce soy, maize (corn), cotton and rapeseed oil.
The largest crops are to be found in the US (50 million hectares), Argentina (16 million), Canada (5.4 million), Brazil (5 million) and China (3.7 million).

end of infobox

In brief

A popular initiative calling "for food produced without genetic modification" demands that all commercial use of GMOs be abandoned for a period of five years.

The government and parliament – narrowly - have rejected the moratorium.

They consider that the current law on GMOs already adequately protects humans, animals and the environment.

end of infobox


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