GMO contamination hits GM free Switzerland
GM crops haven’t been grown or used in Swiss agriculture since 2005, but the country famous for repelling invaders is being threatened by the intrusive encroachment of spills of GM canola (oilseed rape) as it passes through the Rhine port of Basel and along its railway system (1, 2).
Swiss farmers and consumers reject GM
The Swiss Farmers’ Association have asked for an extension to the national moratorium on GM crops until at least 2017. Swiss consumers just do not want to have anything to do with GM food and the Swiss National Science Foundation have decided that GM crops offer no economic incentive to Switzerland (3).
Bernard Nicod, a member of the executive committee of the Swiss Farmers’ Association said that he is “not opposed in principle to genetic engineering” but “Swiss agriculture is not ready for it yet”.
“Production of genetically modified plants needs to meet three conditions: it has to make sense from an ecological, an agricultural and an economic point of view. Currently, none of these criteria hold.”
“Swiss agriculture needs among other things to supply food products to consumers. Currently, the majority of our consumers do not want foods produced from transgenic crops. No business person would want to get into producing goods that the consumer doesn’t want. Switzerland is a small country, with farms and fields close together. So it would be hard to separate the cycle of production and distribution of conventional agriculture from that of transgenic agriculture. We are not sure we can cope with the extra costs of that kind of separation.”
“Finally, it should be borne in mind that one of the tasks of farmers is to maintain biodiversity. But we know that using GM plants has the tendency to reduce the number of species. I can’t help wondering if this is not a contradiction.”
Threat from GM contamination
It was concern about threats to biodiversity that led researchers to look at evidence of contamination from GM crops in the Swiss transport system.
A recently published study found the feral presence of GM canola in railway areas in four separate localities. GM canola has also been found by investigators in the river port area of the city of Basel.
It is thought that the populations were introduced through contaminated seed spills from freight trains or during the transfer of goods from cargo ships to trains, what is more concerning is the fact that some of them had survived herbicide spraying.
GM canola/rape is particularly invasive and its spread, contaminating non-GM crops and wild relatives alike, is causing worldwide concern.
Last year, researchers in North Dakota found that it had crossed into wild plants, spread in part by lorries transporting the seed. "We found the highest densities of plants near agricultural fields and along major freeways," Professor Cindy Sagers told the BBC. "But we were also finding plants in the middle of nowhere - and there's a lot of nowhere in North Dakota (4)."
A new study by the Conservation Council of Western Australia discovered that 62% of canola plants found along a ten kilometre stretch of highway were genetically engineered (5).
The council's Nic Dunlop says that is alarming because the location is renowned as an area free of GM canola. "What surprised us was that given that last year only 8 per cent of the state canola production was GM and given we've got nearly two decades of conventional canola seed on the roadside, how we managed to get as much as 62 per cent," he said.
But should it surprise anyone? Despite the wishes and concerns of citizens throughout the world, traders and legislators continue to ignore the problems of posed by GM technology. Is allowing contamination a policy to make acceptance of GM a fait accompli?