GM Watch wades into GMO row (29/8/2004)


Item 2 is our open letter to the Thai Prime Minister, sent at the request of BioThai, which as well as making Thailand's English-language papers, The Nation and Bangkok Post, made the front page of 4 Thai-language newspapers.

1.Watchdog wades into GMO row - The Nation
2.Advice on GMOs for the prime minister - Bangkok Post

1.Watchdog wades into GMO row
Kamol Sukin
The Nation, 28 August 2004

British-based GM Watch has joined local crusaders opposed to genetically modified organisms in urging the government to review its controversial reversal of its GMO policy.

Thailand's former policy to ban GM crops was praised by large sections of the international community. Its decision this week to do a policy U-turn and allow GM crops has raised big questions internationally, GM Watch director Jonathan Matthews said in an e-mail to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra released to the media.

Matthews said Thaksin's recent comment that Thailand did not want to miss the GM train indicated he had been given wrong information about the biotech industry.

"It makes us wonder what you have been led to believe about where that train is heading. The industry is on the decline," Matthews said in the letter.

"The giant biotech Monsanto corporation recently announced it was stopping all further efforts to introduce GM wheat globally, stop breeding GM canola in Australia and withdraw its GM cereal programmes from Europe."

A similar trend is under way at other major biotech companies, including Bayer and Syngenta, Matthews added. He said Thaksin's claim that Thailand was following Europe's lead in allowing GM crops was flat-out wrong.

The EU has just brought in the world's most stringent laws against the planting of GM crops due to widespread consumer rejection of them. "This is the reason why the biotech industry has headed to Asia, and Thailand is a core target of them,'' Matthews said.

"No doubt they will try to unleash propaganda on you using all means possible, including claims that you will miss the 'train' if you don't allow GM crops."

Matthews said Monsanto had already pulled out of Indonesia, where it was under investigation.

"China's political leaders appear at best ambivalent about going further down the GM route because of increasing evidence of consumer hostility. The only GM crop commercially approved in any part of India, GM cotton, has proven immensely controversial," he added.

Matthews warned the Thai government against making decisions based on the propaganda of the biotech industry.

Instead, he said, it should listen to consumers, activists and environmentalists.

2.Advice on GMOs for the prime minister
Bangkok Post, 28 August 2004

We are writing to express our dismay at the news that you intend to give the green light to GM crops in Thailand. Your doing so risks grave harm both to Thailand's standing in the world and to the marketability of Thai agricultural produce.

We strongly support your exporters, farmers, consumers and civil society groups who are warning you that this is not in the interests of Thailand.

You have talked about the need for Thailand to jump aboard the biotech train before it's too late. This makes us wonder what you have been led to believe about where that train is heading? Were you told, for instance, of a recent report from one of the world's leading business advisory firms, Ernst & Young, showing that publicly traded biotechnology companies in the US are estimated to have suffered cumulative losses of more than $41 billion in the last decade or so?

Were you told that the economist and biotech-industry specialist, Joseph Cort-right has described as a "bad-idea virus" the fever that sweeps through political leaders leaving them believing they must succour the money-losing biotech industry or suffer a competitive disadvantage?

Cortright's research on the biotech industry leads him to conclude: "This notion that you lure biotech to your community to save its economy is laughable."

Outside the developing world, GM crops are in serious retreat, as witnessed by Monsanto's recent announcements that it will: Stop all further efforts to introduce GM wheat globally; stop its GM canola breeding programmes in Australia; withdraw its cereal programmes from Europe. Other GM firms, like Bayer and Syngenta, have suffered similar setbacks.

You have said that Europe has opened its doors to GMOs but that is certainly not the view of countries like the US, who are trying to export GM crops to Europe. That is why the US is pressing ahead with its WTO action against the EU.

In fact, the EU has just brought in the world's most stringent rules on GMOs. Many European food companies and supermarkets also have policies of not allowing GMOs in their products.

This is the reason why the biotech industry, with the unprecedented backing of the US government, is trying to push its dubious wares in countries in Asia. Countries like Thailand have become the principal targets of a desperate industry.

GM crop supporters have doubtless told you that you are in danger of falling behind in Asia's "biotech race".

But look more closely and you'll see that that is nonsense. Monsanto has already pulled out of GM in Indonesia, where it is under investigation for corruption.

China's political leaders appear at best ambivalent about going further down the GM route because of increasing evidence of consumer hostility while experts like Prof Dayuan Xue warn that GM crops have brought no "significant benefits" to China's many small farmers.

One particularly intractable problem for your farmers and exporters is that GM contamination is difficult to contain or avoid, and the costs of trying to do so can be prohibitive. In addition, no studies have been conducted on the long-term effects of GM crops on the environment or on human health.

We therefore ask you not to base your decision solely on the advice of biotech advocates and the demands of Washington and corporations eager to export seeds and products to Thailand that are unwelcome elsewhere in the world. We ask you not to ignore the rights of your farmers and consumers just because of the hype and pressure that is coming from the US and the biotech corporations and their local supporters.

We ask you not to put at risk Thailand's excellent name for quality agricultural produce. And, most of all, we ask you to consult your farmers and consumers about whether they want GM crops.

Director, GM Watch

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