SECB Statement on the experimental release of genetically modified barley
In its Statement, the SECB concludes that the planned experimental release poses a negligible risk to humans, animals and the environment and can therefore be approved.
The genetically modified barley strains to be released are partially resistant to various fungal diseases, most notably powdery mildew and leaf rust. The resistance comes from the wheat-derived gene Lr34. This gene has been used in wheat production for a century and confers partial, non-race-specific resistance to various fungal diseases.
Fungal diseases affect barley along with many other types of cereal. Powdery mildew in particular, caused by the fungus Blumeria graminis f. sp. hordei, can lead to substantial crop losses.
Experiments in the greenhouse and vegetation hall have shown that the genetically modified barley strains have an increased resistance to powdery mildew and leaf rust. The aim of the trials is to test whether the Lr34 gene is also effective in field conditions. At the same time, agronomic parameters such as plant growth and yield will also be investigated.
In addition, a biosafety project will be carried out and possible effects on mycorrhizal fungi, as an example of a non-target organism, will be examined.
The field trials have been approved for the years 2019–23 and will take place at the Protected Site, a secure experimental field at Agroscope's Reckenholz site. The security measures in place include perimeter fencing, round-the-clock guarding and surveillance of the experimental field and an alarm system. These measures will protect the experiment from vandalism and so prevent the removal of plant matter. Further measures are the use of coated seed and isolation distances from other, conventional barley fields. In addition, bird netting or fleece will be applied after sowing and before harvest so that birds cannot disseminate the grains.
In its Statement, the SECB focused in particular on the issue of possible outcrossing and came to the conclusion that gene flow and outcrossing to wild species are not relevant in this case because there are no wild species in the vicinity of the experimental area with which spontaneous crossing could occur. It approved the experimental release.
SECB Statement of 20 March 2019 (in German)
The application was published in the Federal Gazette on 29 January 2019 and approved by the Federal Office for the Environment in a decree dated 12 June 2019.