At the end of October, swiss-food.ch hosted a film screening and panel discussion in Zurich on the subject of genome editing entitled “Between Protest and Potential”. The well-attended event dealt with the emotional debates in recent decades surrounding genetic engineering. The event showed that the situation has changed fundamentally.
To denigrate green genetic engineering, narratives that do not stand up to scrutiny keep popping up in the public debate. The aim in each case is political. Recently, the false claims are intended to prevent the regulation of new breeding methods such as Crispr Cas from being technology-friendly.
The science magazine "Einstein" of Swiss Television has addressed the new breeding methods. The report clearly shows that there is no way around these new methods if Switzerland wants to continue cultivating popular apple varieties such as Gala, Braeburn, and Golden Delicious.
Patents protect innovation and at the same time they drive innovation. During our Swiss-Food Talk on August 15, three innovation experts discussed the importance of patents for the Swiss economy.
In future, the EU wants to treat genome-edited plants in the same way as conventionally bred ones. As the "NZZ am Sonntag" writes, this is like a small revolution. Until now, the commercial use of gene scissors has been impossible due to an extremely restrictive genetic engineering law.
The media is full of stories about Swiss producers of plant protection products exporting pesticides that are banned in Switzerland. Weak regulations in importing countries would be deliberately exploited. However, this does not correspond to the facts. When exporting plant protection products, Swiss manufacturers adhere to strict international standards. In addition, there are certain products for which an approval in Switzerland does not make sense.
The health of our crops cannot be taken for granted. On the contrary: in our mobile world, pests and plant diseases are spreading like wildfire. Climate change acts as an accelerant. When pests migrate and new plant diseases establish themselves in our latitudes, they can become a threat to native species. The International Plant Health Day on 12 May is a reminder of this. And the day shows: to ensure plant health in the future, research and innovation are needed above all.
A regulatory change in England allows the commercial use of new breeding technologies. Until now, these technologies had been regulated in accordance with the same restrictive rules as in the EU. As a result of the new law, English farmers are now allowed to grow crops that have been bred using genome editing. This gives England’s farmers a new tool in the fight against climate change and for more sustainable agriculture.
The European Patent Office reports more patent applications for 2022 than ever before. A particularly large number of patents were filed in the field of sustainable technologies - such as clean energy. Switzerland is still one of the most innovative countries in the world, ranking seventh in Europe. To ensure that this remains the case, policymakers must continue to advocate for research-friendly framework conditions in the future.
The European Patent Office (EPO) has dismissed an appeal by various NGOs against a patent on a bell pepper held by Syngenta. This has been reported in various media. However, the furor whipped up by the media in connection with these plant-related patents is unwarranted. There is no need for plant breeders to fear a ‘patent trap.’ On the contrary, patents promote transparency and help to drive progress.
In Switzerland, a growing number of pesticides are being banned by the authorities. At the same time, there are almost no new ones entering the market. The regulatory authorities are severely overstretched. Things cannot go on like this. Every product that disappears from the market increases the risk of pests developing resistance and of crops failing.
A research consortium of industry and public researchers in England has published a genome database of the most common insect pests in the United Kingdom. The open-source database has been set up to help with the development of targeted and environmentally friendly pesticides.
Modern crop protection products must be safe, targeted and short-lived – i.e. degraded shortly after reaching their target – without leaving behind biologically active degradation products.
Bioengineered crops have been cultivated in many parts of the world for around 25 years. Several publications bear witness to the great benefits of biotechnology in agriculture. The cultivation of the plants has a positive effect on the environment, the climate and yields for farmers.
Fewer and fewer pesticides are available to Swiss farmers. Many active ingredients are disappearing from the market. At the same time, the Swiss authorities are approving very few new ones. The Swiss farmers' association warns against new measures. Otherwise, a decline in domestic food production may ensue.
In Switzerland, a significant backlog of pesticides is pending approval from regulatory authorities, who are struggling to keep pace with the demand. This delay has serious implications for both the agricultural sector and environmental sustainability.
Nobel prize laureate Nüsslein-Volhard: “Genetic engineering offers major opportunities for environmental protection”
Genetically modified plants are not cultivated in Europe, an approach criticized by Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard as anti-scientific and ideology-driven.
The topic of meat substitutes is on everyone's lips here in Switzerland, as in many countries. At the forefront of Swiss manufacturers in this field is the start-up Planted, whose success is partly due to its systematic protection of intellectual property.
Heat waves are posing a major challenge to cultivation around the world. Water shortages and droughts are resulting in heavy crop losses for the agricultural industry. Because droughts will be more frequent in the future, the search for plant varieties that consume less water is a top priority. One drought-tolerant wheat variety from Argentina is showing great potential.
There are now more skeptics than ever before when it comes to biotechnological plant breeding methods, despite 30 years of research having produced a clear data basis. Conventional genetic engineering or the more modern CRISPR/Cas method present no increased risks compared to traditional breeding methods, such as cross-breeding.
Swiss farmers are less and less able to protect their crops against pests and fungal diseases. This is reported by the "Nebelspalter". The number of approved crop protection active ingredients has decreased drastically since 2005.
Patents create transparency about inventions and enable their further development. For research-intensive Switzerland in particular, patents are a central building block in order to remain a leading location for innovation. At the swiss-food talk on 17 May, three representatives from the fields of research, start-up and industry spoke about the reasons for and significance of patents, particularly in plant breeding.
The number of patent applications is an important indicator of a country’s innovative capacity. No other country applies for as many patents per capita as Switzerland. The country should therefore continue to safeguard its ability to provide a research-friendly environment.
Great Britain has already decided on its first steps, Switzerland has too: The handling of simple genome-edited plants is being made easier.
Swiss agriculture is under pressure. Due to the changing climatic conditions and increasing weather extremes, the cultivation of many crops has become more demanding. Nevertheless, consumers, processors and trade expect regional and high-quality products at affordable prices.
No European country applies for more patents per capita than Switzerland. Patent protection is a mandatory prerequisite for research and development, a foundation of Swiss welfare.
The large-scale cultivation of genetically modified crops would counteract global warming. American and German researchers come to this conclusion in a study.
Patents play a crucial role in science and research. Also in the field of new breeding methods, applying for patents is an important factor for innovation. In the following article you will find answers to many questions regarding patents in plant breeding.
The Swiss Parliament has decided to update the genetic engineering moratorium that has been in place since 2005. The step was overdue. On the occasion of a webinar organized by swiss-food.ch, experts from science and agriculture spoke about the benefits of new biotechnological breeding methods. It became clear: the risks are low, the opportunities are great.
The summer of 2021 has shown how damaging prolonged rain can be for crops. With climate change, the likelihood of extreme weather events will increase. Farmers therefore need improved plant varieties that can withstand heat but also a lot of moisture.
In an opinion piece in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Nobel laureate Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard argues the case for using the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors in plant breeding, even in organic farming. In her view, genome editing brings numerous benefits, especially when it comes to nature conservation and species protection.
The federal figures for the volume of plant protection products sold in 2020 offer a contradictory picture: total sales figures for plant protection products have continued to decline. In 2020, 1930 tonnes of plant protection products were sold in Switzerland in total. There was an increase in the sale of plant protection products permitted for use in organic farming. This also includes substances that pose a considerable risk.
The romanticized conception of “natural” is deceptive. Very little of what we eat today developed naturally. “For 12,000 years, people have selected plants based on their characteristics, in an effort to make them edible and more productive,” says Bruno Studer, professor of Molecular Plant Breeding at ETH Zurich. Agriculture has developed through artificial selection.
The public is very open to the use of innovative technologies in agriculture. This also applies to targeted plant breeding using modern methods like gene editing.
Europeans are still resisting the cultivation of genetically modified crops – but this doesn’t mean they want to forgo the benefits of these products.
Synthetic pesticides enabled the transition at the end of the 19th century from an era of periodic famines to an age of food security. For this reason, it is clear to the University of Göttingen’s Professor Andreas von Tiedemann that pesticides are a cornerstone of modern society.
The protein-rich press residues of rapeseed would be ideally suited as feed for livestock with the help of "genome editing". Instead of imported soy, domestic rapeseed could be fed to animals.