SECB Statement on the experimental release of cisgenic apple trees with improved resistance towards fire blight

The SECB has issued a Statement on this field trial. It has concluded unanimously that the experimental release applied for poses a negligible risk to humans, animals and the environment, and can therefore be approved.

The cisgenic apple plants contain a resistance gene that gives them improved resistance to fire blight. The experimental release will be carried out during 2016–2021 on the Protected Site at Agroscope ART Reckenholz.

Fire blight is caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora and is one of the most severe bacterial diseases of apple and pear orchards, causing significant damage. The cisgenic apple trees contain the resistance gene FB_MR5 from the wild apple Malus x robusta 5, under the control of its native promoters and terminators. Since the transformation process ends with the genetically modified apple plants containing almost entirely apple genes in, we refer to cisgenic plants.

The field trials will investigate whether the plants’ important properties are retained despite the genetic modification. The cisgenic plants will be compared with unmodified controls to identify any morphological or physiological changes.

Various safety measures are planned for the field trials. The Protected Site itself, with the perimeter fence around its test field, already constitutes a significant safety measure against vandalism and against transfer of plant material. A further measure is the isolation distance from other apple trees and potentially sexually compatible wildtypes. The test field will also be covered with netting.

In its Statement, the SECB made particular mention of the netting around the test field, of possible crossing out, and of monitoring. The SECB concluded that the planned field trial poses a negligible risk to humans, animals and the environment, and approved it unanimously. At the same time, it suggested monitoring the test site for possible crossing out, and recording the number of insects that penetrated into the test facility despite the netting.

SECB Statement of 29 January 2016 (in German)

SECB Statement of 22 March 2016 on the requested extra documentation (in German)

The application was published on 24 November 2015 in the Federal Law Gazette and approved, with various conditions, by decree from the Federal Office for the Environment on 29 April 2016 (in German).

Information from the FOEN on the application for experimental release

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Last edition: 04.01.2021