Fighting against genome editing with yesterday’s weapons
The Council of States (upper house of the Federal Assembly of Switzerland) intends to allow genome editing provided that no foreign genetic material is inserted into new plant varieties through this method. The decision is causing consternation among genetic engineering skeptics. But you only have to look at their arguments to see that the opponents of genetic engineering are fighting with yesterday’s weapons.
Wednesday, December 8, 2021
According to the Bauernzeitung newspaper, the decision of the Council of States did not meet with a positive response from “die Grünen” (the Green Party of Switzerland). In a media release, the party stated that through this decision, the Council of States was “jeopardizing one of the most important quality characteristics of Swiss agriculture, its GE (genetic engineering) free status.” They are concerned that genetic engineering methods are still in their infancy. And that there are no market-ready products and no risk research either. In addition to the Green Party, the Swiss Smallholder Association (VKMB) and the Swiss GMO-free Alliance (Allianz Gentechfrei) also oppose the decision of the Council of States. They also stress the “unjustifiable risks” that new breeding methods present. The Umwelt magazine published by the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (BAFU) even states that: “The risks of this technology [genome editing] are also not yet sufficiently known.”
The aid organization Swissaid has also contributed its opinion on this political discussion with a media release. While it is clear that only through agricultural productivity and innovation will we be able to feed a world with close to 10 billion people, Swissaid refuses to accept the facts and presents new genetic engineering methods as a threat to biodiversity— without any scientific basis for this. In the opinion of the Swiss Expert Committee for Biosafety (EFBS), the scientific evidence does not provide any grounds for prohibiting the new breeding methods.
Risk is no higher than with traditional crops
The talk of risks that are still unknown and the denial of opportunities is a popular means of blocking new technologies. The opponents of genome editing repeatedly stress the fact that the research is still incomplete as far as risk assessments are concerned. However there is an overwhelming scientific consensus in the assessment of the risks caused by genome editing in particular. The risk presented by genome-edited crops is no higher than with traditionally bred crops. Researchers from various Swiss universities and colleges have therefore urged in favor of relaxing the moratorium on genetic engineering. And this scientific consensus needs to be accepted. Those in green circles frequently refer to the scientific consensus on climate change. So it is revealing that the same parties are now ignoring the voices of science regarding allowing genome editing. The Tages-Anzeiger newspaper describes this attitude as “bizarre”. Ideology and repeating old stories are clearly more important than solving specific problems.
Interview with Prof. Wilhelm Gruissem
In his interview with Reto Brennwald, Prof. Wilhelm Gruissem from the ETH Zurich university explains why it is scientifically untenable to claim that the data situation is unclear—both for traditional genetic engineering and for genome editing.
On 7 February, the EU Parliament voted in favour of approving the new genomic breeding methods in the EU. MEPs voted in favour of a corresponding proposal by 307 votes to 263 with 41 abstentions. Further deliberations will now follow.
Authorisation of new crop protection products: federal government hesitates, parliament exerts pressure
In Switzerland, the authorisation of new crop protection products is stalling. And there is a disturbing asymmetry. The federal government immediately withdraws authorisations for crop protection products that the EU takes off the market.
It is disappointing what the Federal Council announced in a media release on 25 October 2023 on the subject of new genetic methods. Both in terms of content and timing, the government is putting on the brakes. The dithering is incomprehensible.