Swiss take lead on GM seed mixing rules

Government sets 0.5% contamination threshold before seeds must be labelled

The Swiss government has approved a strict legal threshold for the presence of genetically modified (GM) material in seeds for commercial planting. In so doing, the country has taken a European lead, the glaring lack of similar EU rules having been shown by last month's furore over contaminated oilseed rape seedstock imported from Canada (ENDS Daily 29 May).

Under a revision of a 1998 ordinance on seeds, from 1 July only imported seed batches showing GM contamination under 0.5% will be able to be marketed as non-GM. Checks for GM content will be required for all seed imports except those from countries with rules at least as strict. Most crop seeds planted in Switzerland are imported - in the case of maize, for example, it is over three-quarters.

Though the 0.5% threshold is twice as strict as that approved in the EU for GM foods, Swiss environmentalist and consumer groups slammed the government's decision, claiming it would open the door to GM seeds trade. NGOs fear that once in the field, GM plants will cross-pollinate with others, putting organic farmers in jeopardy. The government has rejected calls for zero tolerance of GM material as unrealistic.

The ordinance also includes an obligation on anyone importing seeds to Switzerland to take all possible measures to avoid contamination by GM material. Importers must describe these measures and how they plan to implement them. Any seeds containing over 0.5% GM material must be labelled as such.

Follow Up:
Swiss agriculture ministry, tel: + 41 31 322 8128; Greenpeace Switzerland, tel: +41 1 447 4141.

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