How did GM oilseed rape arrive in Switzerland?

3 Nov

Were there contaminated seed spills from freight trains, or did they happen during the transfer of goods from cargo ships to trains?

An alert from GM Education led me to this significant study.

Surveying the occurrence of subspontaneous glyphosate-tolerant genetically engineered Brassica napus L. (Brassicaceae) along Swiss railways, by Nicola Schoenenbergerand Luigi D’Andrea


Railway tracks represent a highly interlinked habitat with numerous possibilities for accidental entry of oilseed rape due to seed spill during transportation. Moreover, glyphosate is regularly employed to control the vegetation, increasing the possibility of establishment for plants resistant to it.

We surveyed the presence of genetically engineered glyphosate tolerant oilseed rape (Brassica napus) with a focus on the most important Swiss railway stations. Our objective was to detect accidental establishment of transgenic plants, since Switzerland does not import nor cultivate transgenic oilseed rape.


Seventy-nine railway areas were sampled in Switzerland and the Principality of Liechtenstein, and the feral presence of oilseed rape was detected in 58 of them. A total of 2403 individuals were tested for genetic modification using commercially available immunologic test kits.

In four localities, one located in Lugano and three in the area of Basel, a total of 50 plants expressing the CP4 EPSPS protein were detected. In two of the localities, survival of herbicide applications was observed.

The populations were probably introduced through contaminated seed spills from freight trains, or during the transfer of goods from cargo ships to trains.


Railways represent an ideal system for herbicide resistant transgenic plants to establish and spread as a result of high selective pressure in favour of herbicide resistance with consequent increased difficulties to keep the infrastructure free of weeds. Crop-to-wild gene flow can occur as several sexually compatible species which are congeneric or in allied genera to oilseed rape were found growing sympatrically. Moreover, the capillary presence of railways in the agricultural landscape provides a putative source of contamination of GE-free agriculture.

Our results suggest that carefully adapted monitoring designs may be set in order to detect introduction events that can lead to rapid establishment and growing populations as the accepted contamination thresholds are likely to be biologically insufficient to prevent further environmental contamination.



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