By Michael Shields
ZURICH, Switzerland (Reuters) - Switzerland's powerful drug industry expressed
relief Sunday when Swiss voters overwhelmingly rejected curbs on genetic
engineering in a nationwide referendum.
Final results showed voters gave the thumbs-down by a vote oftwo-to-one to the
proposal to ban by constitutional amendment the genetic alteration and
patenting of animals.
``We are relieved and satisfied. We are relieved because there was a lot at
stake -- the future of Switzerland as a center of excellence in biomedical
research,'' said Thomas Cueni, secretary-general of the Interpharma industry
``We are satisfied because it is really a vote of confidence in the
government's policy to regulate and control gene technology but to reject
general bans, to bar this or that in the Swiss constitution.''
The measure needed majorities of the 26 Swiss cantons (states) as well as of
the overall votes cast to become law, but it was not carried by a single
The emotional issue pitted animal rights activists, environmentalists and
consumer groups against Switzerland's political establishment and
pharmaceutical sector, which said a ban would ruin the country as a research
Proponents of the referendum drive wanted to outlaw the production of
transgenetic animals and the release of genetically altered plants or animals
into the environment.
Transgenetic technology is the science of transplanting a specific gene or
genes from one living organism into another.
Champions of the campaign tried to tap deep emotions about what repercussions
tampering with the natural world might have, and vowed to keep up the pressure
despite their setback.
``Of course, we will keep at it,'' said Florianne Koechlin, one of the
referendum drive's organizers. ``I am still convinced that a large majority of
Swiss do not want genetic technology food and does not want genetic technology
Swiss drug companies, led by global leaders Novartis and Roche, were among key
opponents of the measure.
They were joined by the Swiss government, much of the scientific community and
Nobel Prize-winning researchers who at times took to the streets to demand
freedom to experiment.
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