ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
13 March 2003


The Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, which was to carry out the trial, now doubts whether the experiment will take place this year, or even at all.


GM crop trial blocked by Federal Court

March 12, 2003 7:24 PM

Scientists had hoped GM wheat crops trials would start in March (Keystone) Switzerland's highest court has stopped an outdoor trial of genetically modified wheat due to go ahead later this month.

Wednesday's ruling by the Federal Court overturned a decision by the environment ministry in February giving the experiment the green light.

The court decided that the ministry had not taken into account the opinions and concerns of those opposing the trials when it made its decision.  The ministry must now review the arguments of opponents - who include Greenpeace, farmers and commercial groups - and come back to the court with its findings.

The Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, which was to carry out the trial, now doubts whether the experiment will take place this year, or even at all.

It had hoped to plant GM wheat seeds before the end of March to ensure they grew in optimum conditions. But it is unlikely the ministry will be able to carry out the review in time.

End of the road

Rolf Probala, spokesman for the institute, told swissinfo the decision might mean the end of the trial altogether.

Probala said the project, which was due to take place in Lindau near Zurich, was now likely to face a funding crisis. Financing provided by the Swiss Science Foundation runs out at the end of 2003.

He added that the institute might also have to recruit new researchers as those currently working on the project only had short-term contracts.

By the time more funding and staff were found, scientists might have missed their chance, he said.

"Maybe in a few months somebody else in another country will do this experiment and then it's not scientifically interesting for us any more," explained Probala.


Greenpeace, which has led the campaign against the GM trial, said it was relieved at the decision.

Spokeswoman Marianne Künzle said the organisation had not expected the ruling to fall in its favour.

Although she refused to discount the possibility of the trial being relaunched, Künzle hoped the level of opposition would deter future GM crop trials.

"We really hope that the scientists now realise there is a big opposition from Swiss people, and from farmer and consumer associations," she told swissinfo.

The main arguments of opposition groups centre around the potentially harmful effects on the soil and concerns that GM plants might cross-pollinate with organic crops nearby.

Long-running battle

Wednesday's decision marks the latest chapter in a long-running battle between the institute and opponents over the trials.

The environment ministry originally rejected the institute's proposal last year. But the ministry overturned its own decision in December, giving the institute provisional approval.

The institute finally got the green light in February to start the trial, but Greenpeace launched an appeal soon after the ruling.

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