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Parliament rejects GM crop moratorium

The Swiss are divided over the use of GM technology in agriculture

(Keystone)

The Swiss parliament has thrown out a proposal to impose a five-year moratorium on the use of genetically modified (GM) crops.

The issue is now expected to be put to a nationwide vote.

The House of Representatives followed the lead of the Senate which said "no" to a moratorium last week, as part of a revision of the country's law on agriculture.

This was the second time the House had voted on the issue, having previously come out in favour of a moratorium.

However, fears that a freeze would stifle Swiss research and cost jobs saw parliamentarians reject the proposal by 77 votes to 70 at the second reading.

Economics minister Joseph Deiss had earlier told the House that Switzerland could lose its pre-eminent position in agricultural research.

The Left and a handful of right-wing parliamentarians led by the president of the Swiss Farmers' Union, Hansjörg Walter, failed to convince their colleagues that a temporary ban would have no impact.

Upcoming vote

Parliamentarians also pledged to hold a proper debate on GM crops ahead of a nationwide vote called in February by the Green Party, environmental groups, farmers and consumer associations.

So far, 115,000 citizens have backed the initiative demanding for a five-year moratorium - well above the 100,000 required to force a poll.

Thursday's vote follows a previous decision by parliament during a revision of Switzerland's non-human gene technology law to allow GM crops to be planted.

That decision heralded the end of Switzerland's status as a country free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). However, it is still not clear whether farmers will make use of the new technology.

Environmentalists have voiced concerns in the past that parliament does not reflect the opinions of the Swiss. Regular polls have shown consumers are opposed to GMOs on their plate.

GM free

Switzerland is so far free of GM crops. Switzerland's two biggest retailers, Migros and Coop have refused to stock or sell GMO products.

Planned field trials of GM plants by Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology have also been at the heart of an intense legal battle for over a year, because of fears that crops could be cross-pollinated by GMOs.

Specialists warn this unavoidable, whether tests are carried out in Switzerland or not.

In March the country's Federal Court stopped an outdoor trial of GM wheat shortly before it was due to go ahead.

Judges said the environment ministry had not taken into account the opinions and concerns of those opposed to the tests, despite setting strict conditions.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The House of Representatives has said no to a five-year ban on GM crops in Switzerland.

Members of Parliament voted against the measure, voicing fears that it could penalise Swiss research and cost jobs.

Voters will have the final say as a popular initiative is expected to go to the polls.

The use of GM crop technology is allowed under Swiss law, but regular polls have shown that consumers are against GM food.

Switzerland's two biggest retailers, Migros and Coop have also refused to stock GM food.

There has also been a lengthy legal battle over planned field trials of GM wheat, which were stopped by the Federal Court shortly they were due to start.

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