Experimental releases of genetically modified organisms
In contrast to activities in contained systems (laboratory, greenhouse or production facility), field trials take place in the environment, releasing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in a controlled manner for research purposes. Each field trial must be authorised by the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN); it is permitted only if there is no risk to humans or the environment, according to current knowledge.
The most important reasons behind the low level of applications made for licences to carry out experimental releases of genetically modified organisms are the small number of relevant research groups, the numerous legal constraints, and possible delays due to appeal periods. Furthermore, the legislation (Gene Technology Act and Release Ordinance) requires applicants to supply financial guarantees sufficient to determine, prevent or eliminate possible hazards. Protecting experimental sites against acts of vandalism by opponents of gene technology necessitates heavy security precautions.
The area cultivated in 2019 corresponds to around 2 % of the area of an average-sized farm of 20 ha (200000 m2). The state and development of this indicator cannot be evaluated. As safety measures are put in place in order to reduce hazards, the sites themselves do not directly reflect the potential danger that release of these organisms may pose to the environment.
Member states of the European Union keep publicly accessible registers that specify the area for each experiment. This allows the total area to be calculated. International comparison is difficult, because the experimental areas in Switzerland are extremely small, and in comparison to other countries very few experimental releases are carried out.
The indicator is based on details from the licence applications. The area specified covers the entire experimental area including the protective field edge. Licences for experimental releases are issued by the Federal Office for the Environment.