Tolerances for traces of unlicensed genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in foodstuffs
Small traces of unlicensed GMOs in food can be tolerated, provided these traces are due to unintentional mixing and do not exceed a threshold of 0.5% per ingredient. The GMO must also have gone through an authorisation procedure in another European country. The legal basis for this is provided by Article 23 of the Ordinance on Foodstuffs and Utility Articles (FoodO, SR 817.02) and Article 6a of the FDHA Ordinance on Genetically Modified Foodstuffs (GMFO, SR 817.022.51). So far, the genetically modified maize varieties NK603, GA21, 1507 and 59122 have been included in the list of tolerated materials. The Federal Office of Public Health submits reports on the food safety of traces of genetically modified maize strains for the SECB’s consideration. The SECB’s primary task is to issue Statements on biosafety, and to evaluate possible impacts on humans and the environment. For all four applications, the SECB concluded that the tolerance of traces of these genetically modified maize strains poses no risk to humans or the environment.
Genetically modified plants as food and feed
In Switzerland there is a Moratorium to the end of 2017 on the commercial cultivation of genetically modified plants. Applications may however be submitted to market GM plants as food and feed. The SECB has issued Statements on several such applications. Many of them are still being processed by the federal authority responsible. The SECB Statements can only be published once the responsible federal authority has made its decision.
The SECB has evaluated possible impacts on humans, animals and the environment. In relation to the environment, the SECB was primarily concerned with any impacts that could result from the loss of genetically modified grains during transport, or through the mixing of conventional and genetically modified seed.
In Switzerland, one genetically modified soy variety and three genetically modified maize varieties have so far been licensed as food or feed.
Since 1996 the gene technologically produced soy strain "Roundup Ready" has been authorised for use in food and animal feed in Switzerland. This variety is resistant to the herbicide Roundup in which the active ingredient is glyphosate. In 2001 the company Monsanto applied for an extension of this authorisation.
In its Statement of 14.03.2002 the SECB declared itself in agreement with an extension of the application:
Three strains of genetically modified maize are currently authorised for use in food and animal feed in Switzerland. Two applications (Bt11 and Bt176) were submitted by the company Novartis, and a third variety (Mon810) was marketed by Monsanto. The original applications date back to 1996-1998, i.e. they were submitted before the Gene Technology Act came into force. The SECB issued Statements on these applications and concluded that the use of these maize varieties as a foodstuff for humans and animals had no harmful impacts on humans, animals or the environment.
Maize Mon810 contains a gene that makes the plants resistant to the larvae of the corn borer.
Bt11 maize contains two new genes that make the plants resistant to the larvae of the corn borer and tolerant to the herbicide glufosinate.
Bt176 maize is differentiated from conventional varieties by its expression of an additional gene that protects it against predatory insects.
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Last edition: 07.09.2017
Swiss Expert Committee for Biosafety (SECB)
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