Experimental release of wheat by the ETH Zurich

The SECB has repeatedly issued Statements on the experimental release of genetically modified KP4 wheat by the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich and has approved the experiment on several occasions.

The wheat was genetically modified to produce the KP4 protein to provide resistance to wheat bunt, a fact that has been proved in greenhouse tests. The present experiment aims to test KP4 wheat in the open field and conduct various biosafety tests.

The SECB expressed its opinion on the application, which was submitted on 4 January 2001, as well on the re-submission of 22 July 2003. This second application has been supplemented by new data and additional safety measures, and rewritten in a format compliant with EU Directive 2001/18/EG, but does not otherwise differ substantially from the first application in terms of content.

The application submitted on 22 July 2003 was evaluated by FOEN and approved by decree on 30 October 2003 subject to strict safety conditions.

Objections against this approval were registered by environmental and farming associations as well as by neighbours. FOEN rejected the objections by decision on 27 February 2004

The following SECB Statements are available:

In this first, detailed Statement, the SECB conducted a risk assessment of the experimental release, evaluating in particular its biosafety. The majority of the SECB was of the opinion that this small-scale experiment posed no significant risk to people or the environment, and approved the application subject to certain conditions governing the way the experiment was conducted. Critical comments were also made, and alternative approaches to combating what bunt were noted.

The 6-member Committee, which was incomplete following earlier resignations by some members, established that the application did not provoke any new biosafety issues. It therefore voted, with the President's casting vote, to approve the experiment. In addition, some members of the Committee made supplementary comments on general issues of risk as well on the way the protein worked and its toxicity.

The SECB, once again complete, was asked by FOEN to examine specific questions concerning possible impact on soil, possible outcrossing distances, and instability of the wheat caused by transformation. These questions were raised by the objecting parties and cited as arguments against authorising the experimental release. The majority of Committee members concluded that these arguments did not constitute a significant risk to people and the environment and did not argue against the biosafety of the experiment.

At the request of the applicant, the SECB was given the opportunity to add to its Statement of 26 September, which had been issued under pressure of time, and to comment on statements by the ETH relating to the objections as well as on the statements issued by all the agencies. It decided against doing so, and issued only a commentary by a few Committee members on the statements of the ETH Zurich.

Various groups raised objections to the FOEN decree of 30 October, approving the experimental release. The responsible organ, the legal department of the Department for the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC), asked the SECB to issue a Statement on the new issues raised by the objections. The SECB Statement again referred to critical aspects of the application but voted by majority to authorise the experiment.

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Last edition: 04.01.2021