Last week, the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) gave a green light to trials of genetically modified (GM) barley in Switzerland.
Permission was given to the University of Zurich to plant GM barley at a controlled site in the canton of Zurich. The barley has been modified to resist fungal diseases.
The experiment aims to gain insights into how transgenic barley lines behave in the open field, and whether resistance to fungal diseases also works under field conditions. The trials will run from spring 2019 until autumn 2023.
In Switzerland, genetically modified plants have to be licensed for research purposes. Agricultural use was banned under an extended moratorium until the end of 2021 due to uncertainty around how to avoid natural crop contamination.
GM crops can contaminate natural crops in a number of ways, which include cross-pollination, the spreading of split seeds while harvesting or transporting crops and contamination in storage or during transportation.
Contamination can be costly and hard to control. Earlier this year French authorities discovered contaminated rape seed imported from Argentina, according to Reuters. Bayer, owner of one of the contaminated seed brands offered to compensate farmers, who had to destroy contaminated crops.
Affected farmers will lose two seasons of production: the one destroyed and the following season – the soil must be left for an extra season to ensure GM contamination does not return.