Backdown on GMO farming (31/8/2004)


Backdown on GMO farming
PM orders proposal recalled from cabinet
Bangkok Post, 1 September 2004

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday reversed his earlier decision to allow open-field trials and commercial growing of genetically modified crops, reportedly out of fear the issue would trigger social conflict.

The Science and Technology Ministry received an order to withdraw its proposal for promotion of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from cabinet consideration.

A source said the prime minister did not want to make any decision on the matter at present because of heightened opposition following his announcement last week.

The prime minister ordered the ministry to find a solution acceptable to both sides before presenting the proposal again for cabinet consideration.

The source said the cabinet did not want to rush GMO policy because of strong social resistance, but felt the majority of people were not fully informed. The cabinet was also concerned about the effect on exports if GMO testing was approved.

Last week, Mr Thaksin gave the green light to the testing, planting and commercialising of GM crops after chairing a meeting of the National Biotechnology Policy Board. This would require the lifting of a cabinet resolution on April 3, 2001, which bans handling of GM crops outside a research environment.

Government spokesman Jakrapob Penkair denied Mr Thaksin had changed his mind. He just decided to include more research and studies on the issue.

He admitted that the prime minister might not have had full information on the effect of his GMO policy, particularly its negative effect on the environment, when he announced the decision.

The cabinet agreed to suspend all actual growing and testing of GM crops in experimental fields until further notice, allowing only theoretical research or studies from other countries to determine a standpoint.

Science and Technology Minister Korn Dabbaransi said the cabinet also ordered a new working group formed comprising university academics, but excluding social activists or civic sectors, to study whether GMOs should be openly or partly allowed or totally banned. The ministry would also launch an information campaign to improve public understanding of GMOs.

Mr Korn said the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry would also be told by the cabinet to speedily finish drafting the law on biosafety and send it for parliament's approval as soon as possible.

Mr Thaksin's pro-GMO policy announcement last week drew immediate condemnation from organic farming advocates, farmers and exporters, academics and environmentalists.

Yesterday farm activists led delegations to meet two senate committees and lodge complaints.

Bamrung Khayotha, of the Alternative Agriculture Network, told the committees on foreign affairs and social development and human security that thousands of organic farmers nationwide would be adversely affected.

He said the government had misled farmers about the virtues of growing GM crops over organic farming when in fact GM crops would undermine the diversity of organic and conventional farming.

Many organic farmers in Khon Kaen had bought GM papaya seeds from the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry and grown them on their farms.

Bangkok Senator Kraisak Choonhavan, chairman of the committee on foreign affairs, said he would discuss the problem with the government soon.

Mr Kraisak said he believed the government promoted GMOs to help push the Free Trade Area (FTA) agreement it was negotiating with the United States.

In the end, he said, Thai farmers would have to import genetically modified seeds and other relevant products from the US, even though many countries such as Japan and the European Union had banned all kinds of genetically modified products.

The government's support for GMOs would affect exports, especially organic farm products which were widely valued by foreign countries, he said.

Senator Niran Pithakwatchara, chairman of the committee on social development and human security, said the government's policy would undermine the country's self-sufficiency and the community economic system of some 40 million Thais. His committee planned a seminar on GMOs on Thursday at the Senate.

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