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.

Invasive alien plants – Early detection for rapid response, April 2023

This SECB information brochure highlights the need for early detection of invasive alien plants and for immediate action to prevent the arrival of invasive alien species and the spread of those already present.

Much has been achieved since this brochure first appeared in 2014. For example, the Swiss Strategy on Invasive Alien Species has been released, and a new overview of alien species and their impact has been published. These developments have been included in the brochure. There is also an illustrated middle section on new, little-known invasive plants that may pose increased problems in the future, also in the context of global warming.

The brochure is available in German, French and Italian:

Invasive gebietsfremde Arten: Früh erkennen - sofort handeln (April 2023)

Plantes exotiques envahissantes : détection précoce – réaction immédiate (avril 2023)

Piante alloctone invasive. Rilevamento precoce - risposta immediata (aprile 2023)

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.

Opinion on TEgenesis

The SECB has already on other occasions  recommended a risk-based and product-related assessment and an adaptation of the legislation:

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.

Biological Risks in Switzerland

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 opinion on synthetic biology

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.

SECB opinions on the handling of scientific findings with the potential of misuse

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)

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Last edition: 23.05.2023