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Swiss GM crop trial to start in March

A Swiss out-door trials of modified weat crops will start in March (www.athertonsc.au) swissinfo.ch

Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology has been given the green light to start a controversial trial of genetically modified (GM) crops in March.

This content was published on February 21, 2003 - 19:34

Switzerland's environment ministry on Friday removed the final hurdles blocking a long-awaited trial of modified wheat.

Swiss fields have been GM free since the early 1990s when modified potatoes were planted. Two other requests to grow GM crops outdoors were rejected in 1999.

The Zurich test crop has had a long gestation.

Originally rejected by the environment ministry last year, the Zurich trial was given fresh hope when Moritz Leuenberger, the environment minister, overturned the decision in September.

Safety conditions

Shortly before Christmas, the trial was given provisional approval so long as the research complied with a series of safety conditions.

The GM wheat will have to be under permanent observation once it has been planted. The soil will be analysed to see if any of the modified genes have been transferred from the plants.

The environmental organisation, Greenpeace, said on Friday it had not ruled out an appeal of the decision in the Federal court.

The proposed trial has been at the centre of a public debate about whether Switzerland should introduce a moratorium on the planting of GM crops.

Late last year, the Swiss parliament voted against instituting a five-year ban - triggering the ire of anti-GM activists who this week launched a popular initiative to have the decision overturned.

Now for the weather

Christof Sautter, a researcher in charge of the trial, welcomed the latest decision.

"[Now] we are only dependent on the weather," Sautter told swissinfo.

Sautter says the GM crop trial will test the effectiveness of an anti-fungal agent that researchers hope will be used to produce better crops.

Greenpeace says the trial puts an unnecessary and pointless burden on the environment.

Sautter, however, says the four-month trial will be conducted under close scrutiny.

The institute will erect tents over the plot to prevent wind-borne pollen infecting neighbouring crops.

"We will also harvest the seeds before they reach the fully mature stage."

swissinfo, Jacob Greber and Ramsey Zarifeh

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