The Swiss cabinet has approved a plan to extend the current moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture from 2017 to 2021. However, it has also recommended an amendment to the law to demarcate specific GMO zones in the country in the future.
On Wednesday, the cabinet approved changes to the law on genetic engineering that would set in motion the extension of the GMO ban until 2021. The current moratorium would end in 2017 and the government acknowledges that more time and debate is required on the use of GMOs in Swiss agriculture.
In 2005, the Swiss people voted for a five-year ban on GMOs, which was then extended by the parliament in 2010 until 2013 and once again in 2012 until 2017. The current plan to extend the moratorium until 2021 will need to be approved by parliament as well before coming into force.
Currently the government only allows genetically modified crop field trials on a case-by-case basis under strict conditions. The plants have to be located in a covered area and monitored by the police to prevent vandalism by anti-GMO activists. They will have to be planted at least 300 metres from other species to prevent cross-pollination. Machinery and test materials have to be cleaned and correctly incinerated.
However, in Wednesday’s decision, the cabinet included an amendment to the law on genetically engineering that envisages the creation of GMO zones in certain parts of the country after 2021.
“These zones will be defined based on interest from farmers wishing to grow GMO varieties under a common entity,” said a cabinet statement.
The goal is to separate GMO crops from conventional agricultural throughout the production chain and secure greater acceptance for the coexistence of GMO and traditional agriculture in the country, it said.
“There is no real need for GMOs in Swiss agriculture for the moment. But this option should not be wiped out for the future,” Anne-Gabrielle Wust Saucy, head of the biotechnology section of the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), told swissinfo.ch.
In March, the leftwing farmers’ movement Uniterre had collected enough signatures to launch a nationwide vote on food sovereignty. The text of the initiative calls for favouring indigenous farmers and produce over imports but also wants a ban of GMOs in Swiss agriculture. The government has recommended rejecting the initiative.
On Wednesday, Swiss NGOs Pro Specie Rara, Berne Declaration and Swissaid announced that they had collected 40,000 signatures in favour of banning the patenting of living organisms like plants and animals. The action was part of a Europe-wide movement against patents on living organisms that gathered more than 800,000 signatures and was handed over to the European Patent Office based in Munich.