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Checkbiotech: Swiss GM crop trial yields positive results
Posted by: Prof. Dr. M. Raupp (IP Logged)
Date: September 10, 2005 09:14AM ; ;

A controversial outdoor experiment with genetically modified (GM) wheat has
been hailed a success, says the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich,
September 2005 by Matthew Allen.

But a lengthy legal battle and extra security needed to protect the site
from protesters caused the project to burst its original budget threefold.

The test, conducted in Lindau-Eschikon in canton Zurich, confirmed
laboratory results that the KP4 gene improved wheat's resistance to fungi by
10 per cent.

Safety tests on pollen distribution and soil analysis also showed that the
GM wheat posed no increased risk to humans or the environment, according to
project leader Christof Sautter.

Sautter told swissinfo that it was vital to carry out the tests in the open
air and predicted that similar trials may take place in Switzerland in the
future. "You can simulate temperature, humidity and light conditions
indoors, but you can never simulate the complex interaction with other
organisms and the soil," he said. "There really is no alternative.

"Sooner or later there will be someone in Switzerland asking to conduct a
similar field test, but nothing is known at the moment. It will not be me as
I cannot afford another experience like that - it was too stressful."


The environmental organisation Greenpeace, which opposed the trial both in
the courts and with a demonstration at the site, warned that it has set a
dangerous precedent.

"Dr Sautter has said there will probably be more trials to follow this one,"
said spokesman Yves Zenger. "We will continue to oppose these risky
experiments. "We are disappointed that our opposition was not taken
seriously this time. No one knows how GM crops will influence the
environment in the long term."

Residents around the experiment zone remain worried about the effects of the
trial for local farmers.

"Our farming community is at risk," said Kurt Schweizer of the group "Lindau
against GM Wheat". "Even if there is just a rumour of contamination, they
will not be able to sell their products.

"We just hope that [the institute] is right and they have kept the foreign
genes within the experiment field."

Scientific value

Professor Ulrich Suter, vice-director of research at the institute, said the
project's budget had mushroomed from SFr 350,000 ($280,000) to SFr 950,000
to pay for legal costs, delays, policing and a private security firm to
patrol the site.

But he denied the institute had ignored protestors, insisting that all the
relevant information had been made available.

"We were aware of the opposition, but the researchers had proved that the
experiment was of a scientifically high value, complied with the laws and
had obtained all the necessary approval from the government," Suter told
swissinfo. "Political opposition is not a sufficient reason to stop an
important experiment." Christof Sautter added that he could not understand
the protests. "I would appreciate plants that need less chemicals," he said.
"From a scientific point of view there is no need for this opposition to
gene technology."


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