As the lead research institute for plant cultivation in Switzerland, ACW (Agroscope Changins-Wädenswil) is called upon to deal with scientific, agronomic and variety-specific aspects of genetically modified plants.
On 27 November 2005, the Swiss people accepted the moratorium on genetic engineering, which means that no commercial cultivation of genetically modified plants is allowed in Switzerland until 2010. Recently, the Swiss Federal Council suggested a prolongation of three years. In connection with this referendum, opponents and advocates alike said that the moratorium period should be used to acquire more knowledge about the risks and opportunities of this technology. Research has been explicitly excluded from the moratorium in order to make this possible.
Knowledge in this area is to be developed under the auspices of National Research Programme NRP59, “Benefits and Risks of the Deliberate Release of Genetically Modified Plants”. Agroscope is participating in this programme in cooperation with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich), the University of Zurich (UniZ) and other university and college partners. Agroscope, the Federal agricultural research organisation, is best placed to carry out independent and neutral research because its position as a Federal institution leaves it free of obligations to both advocates and opponents of the new technology.
As the centre of competence for plant cultivation in Switzerland, ACW is called upon to deal with scientific, agronomic and variety-specific aspects of genetically modified plants. As long ago as 1991, ACW carried out a field trial with genetically modified potato plants, and the institute itself was actively involved in researching and producing modified plants. It halted its activities in this area in 2005. Between 2008 and 2011, ACW will now take part in NRP59 with two trials: one involves genetically modified wheat plants from ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich, and the other is concerned with genetically modified apple plants from ETH Zurich.
By undertaking this research, ACW intends to contribute towards the acquisition of information about the benefits and risks of genetic engineering. On the one hand, the aim is to provide the general public with information as a basis for decisions such as whether to end or continue the moratorium; on the other, as the lead research institute for plant cultivation in Switzerland, ACW sees it as an important challenge to keep its competencies and knowledge in the areas of plant cultivation, plant breeding and crop protection at the highest level, and to make these resources available to assist consumers and the agricultural sector.