Swiss vote NO to GE

Feature story - 28 November, 2005
Last Sunday, people turned up at polling booths across Switzerland in a referendum to determine whether genetically engineered (GE) crops and animals can be grown in the alpine nation during the next five years. Their verdict in each and every one of the three main languages was the same, nein, non, no, to GE.

Greenpeace action at Nestle headquarters in Switzerland, over repeated discovery of GE ingredients in the company's Asian products.

All 26 cantons (administrative regions) that make up Switzerland votedunanimously against GE crops and animals being grown in the country.The national vote was 55.7percent in favour of the ban but reached a high of 75.8 percent in thefarming canton of Jura. The farmers of Switzerland are concerned notonly with theuncertain health effects of GE crops but also that GE contaminationwould ruin their fast-growing organic farming sector.

The ban doesn't rid Switzerland of GE completely as GE field trialswill still be allowed under the new moratorium and products derivingfrom animals fed on GE crops can still be imported into the country.Pending applications for GE food and animal feed could also still beapproved.

"Greenpeace hopes Switzerland's rejection of GE crops inspires othersaround the world to stand up and say 'no' to genetic engineering. Wealso encourage the Swiss public to continue to voice its opposition tothis highly risky technology. Every route of contamination must beclosed before people can rest assured their plants and the food ontheir plates is not contaminated," said Geert Ritsema, GreenpeaceInternational GE campaigner.

Switzerland is unique in the world in that it allows its citizens adirect say in how they are governed via regular referenda. With thelatest vote going against GE, the biotech companies like Monsanto andSwitzerland's own Syngenta must be hoping that the democratic urgedoesn't escape the land-locked country and spread to other lands.

The people of Switzerland are fortunate that their government takesinto account their views before deciding important issues like therelease of GE crops into the environment. Across many parts of theworld, public opinion is similarly in opposition. But somegovernments, seduced by promises of riches,  havebeen quick to bypass or suppress public opposition and grant permissionfor biotech companies to contaminate the environment with geneticallyengineered crops.

With the US, Canada and Argentina trying to force GE food onto Europeanconsumers via the WTO, the Swiss vote shows that the pro-GE forces arelosing their grip. The rights of people to determine what food ispermissible from the farm gate to their dining table must be respected.With the Swiss voting against GE crops, the biotech industry must nowrealise what the opinion polls across the world has been showing for along time, people don't want GE food.

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