Gene Technology Act: exception for new technologies

The Federal Council is to submit a proposal to Parliament by mid-2024, on how new breeding technologies can be authorised on the basis of their risk. The National Council and the Council of States took this decision in the spring parliamentary session as part of the so-called "elimination of differences" process.
The Swiss Parliament has opened the door to regulate new genetic engineering processes separately. (Image: Pixabay)

As expected, the Federal Parliament has extended the moratorium on the cultivation of genetically modified plants in agriculture by four years, until the end of 2025. This is the fourth extension of the moratorium, which was introduced in 2005. However, both chambers have opened the door a crack to regulate the new genetic engineering procedures separately.

Accordingly, the Federal Council is to submit to Parliament a risk-based authorisation regulation for plants that have been bred using methods of new breeding technologies, including in particular the CRISPR/CAS technique, which is referred to as "gene scissors" (see below). No foreign genetic material may be inserted into these plants. In addition, they must have a proven added value for agriculture, the environment or consumers compared to conventional breeding methods. Here you can read the debates in the National Council and here those in the Council of States (only in French or German).

New breeding techniques

A genetically modified organism is a living organism whose genetic make-up has been changed by human intervention. In recent years, new techniques have emerged to modify the genome of plants. One of these is the CRISPR technique, known as "genetic scissors", which makes it possible to make subtle changes in the genome, so fine that they could theoretically occur in nature. CRISPR works like scissors, cutting DNA at a specific point to allow targeted changes in a plant's traits.