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Swiss Study Shows GMOs Safe

Christopher Ortler, (Translation), Source: Swiss Department for the Environment (Bafu)

Bern, Switzerland - As part of a nationally funded scientific study, guidelines were created for the monitoring of genetically modified plants. The results were presented at a conference in Bern.

Gene technology in agriculture does not have it easy in Switzerland. The attack last week on a field trial of genetically modified wheat near Zürich is the latest example of this.

The field study on the uses and risks of cultivating genetically modified plants is part of a nationally funded study. Critics of genetic technology fear dangers for people, animals and environment. Indeed, further research in to the biosecurity of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is needed.

To address this need, the Swiss Department for the Environment (Bafu), during the years 2004 to 2007, conducted a study entitled "Biosecurity in non-human gene technology," with the goal of creating guidelines for the monitoring of GMOs. The results were recently presented at a conference in Bern.

No effects on non-target organisms

One emphasis of the study was the effect of GMOs on non-target organisms. Researchers from the research institute Agroscope Reckenholz-Tänikon, for example, examined the effects of genetically modified canola (rape) on solitary bees whose larva nourish themselves, unlike honeybee larvae, exclusively from pollen. The scientists concluded from their investigations that the insecticide containing transgenic plants had no negative effects on the bees.

Another important point of the study was to determine the effects of genetically engineered plants on biodiversity in the soil. Researchers from the University of Bern established that the leaves of three Bt-corn varieties, which produce proteins poisonous for insect pests, were decomposed at the same rate as the leaves of other corn varieties.

Furthermore, the composition and relative proportions of organisms taking part in the process were also indistinguishable. In light of the observation that snails, worms and flies were unaffected by consuming Bt-corn, the researchers declared the tested varieties to be ecologically safe.

Complex environmental monitoring

Considerable progress was made in regard to early detection of unexpected environmental impacts. Organisms that can be used as indicator species were identified, as were those requiring protection. One project, however, showed how difficult it is to demonstrate negative effects of transgene plants on the environment. The main reason for this is that the population levels of indicator species fluctuate considerably, in great part due to variable environmental conditions.

In the concluding discussion, gene technology critics voiced concern that there are too few studies being directed toward questions and issues important for farmers and consumers.

Environmental post-market monitoring of Bt-maize (pdf, 146kb)
The Decomposition of Bt-Corn on the Fields and its Impact on Earthworms and on other Macroorganisms in the Soil (pdf, 205kb)