Switzerland to secure test site for GM crop trials

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Support for genetically modified crops in Europe has been controversial, but a few countries are moving toward supporting the research of these crops. Switzerland recently announced its government would now pay to secure a site from vandals for GM research to be conducted.

The Swiss government announced Feb. 7 that it would create a permanently protected area on federal land for experiments with GM crops. The site will be a secure are, the Swiss government claims, where research can be done free from vandals seeking to destroy GM crops and their research.

The plan for developing this secure area was published in a paper in the journal Trends in Biotechnology, which was submitted by scientists from Agroscope Reckenholz-Tankion research station and the University of Zurich.

European law requires scientists to notify the public of the precise locations where field trials are being conducted. In the past, this has led to protests and sometimes vandalism of the research plots. Since 2010, 100 European trials have been vandalized. As a result, field trials in the European Union had dropped from about 250 per year in the late 1990s to fewer than 50 in 2011, the researchers report. In Switzerland, only six applications for field experiments have been submitted since the late 1990s, and authorities rejected two.

To secure test sites, the Swiss Federal Council approved spending €600,000 annually from 2014 to 2017 to create a field of three hectares at the Reckenholz research station. Researchers will initially test GM wheat that has been engineered to resist powdery mildew.

The Reckenholz research station already is being used for GM experiments. The Swiss government’s willingness to pay for the costs of securing the field trials is a change from the past. Researchers report that 78 percent of their research funds were spent on securing their GM trials. Now, the Swiss government will carry the costs, which will allow the researchers to spend more of their grant money on the science.

The move shows that legislators believe approved GM experiments “should be protected and that the research agenda should not be determined by vandals,” writes Michael Winzeler, a co-author of the paper and a senior researcher at the Reckenholz station, in an e-mail to ScienceInsider.  

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