Review and Prospects of Biosafety in Switzerland
Press report from 4/5/2002
The results and perspectives of biosafety research in Switzerland were
introduced and discussed at a conference in Bern on April 5, 2002.
The topic of possible effects of cultivating transgenic plants has made
the headlines quite often in the last few years. However, reports on other
biological risks, such as those that could be caused by composting bio-waste,
appeared seldom. None the less, it is important that the advantages and
disadvantages of all applications of biotechnology - regardless of whether
gene technology was implemented or not - should be critically judged.
With this in mind, the Biotechnology Priority Program (SPP Biotech) of
Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) financed a multitude of projects
from 1992 until 2001. The goal was to accompany all current developments
in the applications of biotechnology. The projects were arranged with
several different federal authorities and were not only nationally but
also internationally networked.
During that time frame, researchers developed, on the one hand, methods
for estimating the impact of various modern and traditional plant protection
strategies (for example, the effects on related wild species, non-targeted
organisms). On the other hand, microorganisms which appear in our environment
and in our daily lives were studied in-depth. For many areas, methods
of investigation had to first be developed. Today there are several specific
and highly sensitive methods to detect pathogens, for example in soil,
compost, food, water or medical products.
The program director of the SPP Biotech, Oreste Ghisalba, is of the opinion
that the biosafety research in Switzerland needs to continue even after
the official conclusion of the SPP Biotech, while maintaining and expanding
the existing research networks as much as possible. The accompanying research
must progress away from the risk-laden view and toward an identification
with new chances and advantages", pleaded Ghisalba additionally.
Othmar Käppeli from the BATS Centre in Basel commented: "Experience
shows, that impact research should span all areas of application of the
biosciences and beyond that, all economical, ecological, social and ethical
questions from the individual disciplines need to be taken into consideration".
In order to meet the necessary requirements for this demand, a plan for
a wide-reaching national research program has been submitted to the Swiss
Federal Office for Education and Science.
In the podium discussion, all agreed unanimously that the biosafety research
should be continued. In order to promote acceptance for the financing
from tax money, Federal Council member Johannes Randegger underscored
that on the one hand the needs of the society have to be addressed, on
the other hand the scientific world has to "sell" itself better.