Thai Govt to 'review' GMO policy (31/8/2004)


The National Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (BioTec) scientists accused in this article of having "special" relationships with GM multinationals, are also behind the recently launched Biotechnology Alliance Association (BAA) funded by Biotec and the industry-backed ISAAA.

Govt to 'review' GMO policy
Satian Wiriyaphanphongsa,
Sirinart Sirisunthorn
THE NATION, Sep 1, 2004

The government yesterday balked over its controversial decision to embrace genetically modified organisms (GMOs), opting for a national committee of academics to further study the move.

Despite the government's strong push for the policy over the past week, the Cabinet decided yesterday not to consider a National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) resolution from August 20 to lift the current ban on GM-crop field testing. The NSTDA is chaired by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

About 100 representatives from anti-GMO alliances, including the consumer groups, organic farmers, organic farm-product exporters and environmental groups, gathered outside Government House while Cabinet met yesterday in a show of force against the policy.

Government spokesman Jakrapob Penkair admitted the decision was partly due to strong opposition from various groups.

"Prime Minister Thaksin Shina-watra decided not to consider putting the resolution on the Cabinet’s agenda due to it being a debatable issue academically, with controversy among various groups," he said.

"More information needs to be gathered before a decision can be made."

Jakrapob stressed that GM crop field tests were not yet government policy. "The premier had expressed concerns over the consequences of social conflict over the issue [if GM-crop field tests are allowed].

"The government is in between the two sides of the conflict. It is difficult to make the right decision, especially since the global debate is also on-going over this issue."

The Science and Technology Ministry has been assigned the job of selecting members of the GMO national committee, which its boss Korn Dabbaransi said would comprise academics from universities nationwide.

Korn said the committee would review all three options relating to the GMO policy: promote it, partly embrace it or reject it.

While field tests of genetically modified crops were not considered by Cabinet yesterday, MPs did approve other resolutions relating to the GMO policy, Korn said.

He said the Natural Resources Ministry was told to speed up implementation of the Bio Safety Bill, while his ministry was also assigned the job of furthering public understanding of the policy.

Protesters, meanwhile, said they would only accept the establishment of a national committee if several conditions were met.

"The committee must be independent, and be especially free of pro-GMO scientists, who are the majority at the National Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (BioTec), like previous GMO-related national committees. This is to avoid potential conflicts of interests," they said.

They also accused BioTec scientists of having "special" close relationships with multinationals here promoting GM crops.

Senior scientists at the agency have violated bio-safety laws, they allege, by importing genetically modified fish into the Kingdom without the approval of the bio-safety committee.

Protesters said at least half the new committee must be made up of consumers, farmers and independent academics.

It also called on the government to stop the "ongoing" secret planting of genetically modified crops on farmers’ fields.

Meanwhile, representatives of alternative-agriculture networks yesterday submitted letters to two Senate committees – the committee on human security and social development and the committee on foreign affairs – over the GMO issue.

They called on Parliament to speed up approval of the Plant Variety Protection Bill and the Bio Safety Bill, and to investigate the secret planting of genetically modified papaya on farms in the Northeast.

Senators Niran Pitakwatchara and Kraisak Choonhawan, presidents of the committee on human security and social development and foreign affairs respectively, said Thailand should not embrace GM crops.

The senators said they were concerned over contamination, bio-diversity, the potential monopoly of multinational seed companies in the local market and the impact of GM crops on exports. Thailand should move towards organic crops and stay away from GMOs, they said.

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