Opinions of the SECB
The SECB's responsibilities include providing information about new scientific findings and about the need for further research in biotechnology and gene technology. The SECB considers current issues and publishes its opinions. In this way, it is ready for any requests from the Federal Administration and is able to advise the authorities in a timely manner.
SECB opinion on TEgenesis, December 2020
TEgenesis is a new plant breeding technique using chemicals to activate mobile genetic elements specific to the plant. These transposable elements (TEs) are moved around within the genome, enabling some plants to adapt to changed environmental conditions. Certain properties, such as heat or drought resistance, can then develop naturally. The chemicals used do not change the gene sequence of the TEs: they merely activate and accelerate an adaptation process that could occur naturally in response to changing environmental conditions. Moreover, TEgenesis does not use any of the gene technology methods defined in the Release Ordinance (Annex 1, No 1).
The SECB has considered the implications and biological risks of this technique. It recommends that TEgenesis should not be classified as a gene technology method but that the safety of the product should be assessed.
The SECB has already on other occasions recommended a risk-based and product-related assessment and an adaptation of the legislation:
- SECB statement on adapting the Gene Technology Act: Extension of the moratorium on marketing genetically modified organisms (February 2021) (in German)
- SECB report on new plant breeding procedures (May 2015) (in German)
Statement on new genetic engineering techniques, January 2020
Together with other European advisory committees on biosafety, the SECB advises to adapt the regulation on genetically modified organisms.
The future regulation should focus on the result of the genetic modification, rather than on the used technique. With Genome editing techniques, modifications in the genome are achieved, similar to those that can occur spontaneously and randomly by chemical or radiation mutagenesis.
Statement on new genetic engineering techniques
Biological Risks in Switzerland, November 2019
The SECB has been dealing with biological hazards for many years. In doing so, she finds that some of them are very diverse and are not always perceived according to their real risk. For the study “Biological Risks in Switzerland” seven examples were selected, which reflect the range of work of the SECB. The risks analysis are based on scenarios of varying likelihood of occurrence. By prioritising the risks, the SECB helps to address and communicate the issues identified according to their importance.
Risk-related criteria to assess activities in the field of synthetic biology and its regulation, October 2018
For activities in the field of synthetic biology, the SECB recommends a case-specific risk assessment , focusing on the objective of protecing humans, animals and the environment. The SECB considers it important that all risk-related criteria be taken into account, and particularly an organism’s ability to multiply and disseminate.
SECB opinions on the handling of scientific findings with the potential of misuse, April 2015
Research with pathogenic organisms could be misused for criminal (bioterrorism) or military (bioweapons) purposes. In recent years there has been increasing discussion of such dual use research and the publication of research findings. The SECB has updated and amended its opinions. An unnecessary restriction of scientific research and medical advances should be avoided.
Evaluation of the safety of green gene technology
On 12 December 2012 the Council of States was the second chamber of Parliament to vote to extend the moratorium on gene technology for a further four years, until the end of 2017. The National Council had already made this decision on 26 September 2012. This means the commercial cultivation of genetically modified plants continues to be prohibited in Switzerland. The question of whether or not genetically modified plants are safe for humans, animals and the environment arises regularly. The Swiss Expert Committee for Biosafety concludes unanimously that the licensed genetically modified plants are safe.
Press release of 15 November 2012 (in German)
Background paper on green gene technology (in German)