Police to step up probe into GM papaya (9/12/2005)

Police to step up probe into GM papaya
Agriculture Dept was negligent, says NHRC
Bangkok Post, 10 December 2005

Police have vowed to step up an investigation into the Agriculture Department's alleged negligence of duty involving the spread of genetically modified papaya. The move came after the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) lodged a complaint with national police chief Pol Gen Kowit Wattana on Thursday, accusing former department chief Chakan Saengruksawong and GM papaya researchers of negligence in containing leakage of the transgenic crop.

Pol Gen Kowit's secretary Pol Maj-Gen Prawut Thavornsiri, who accepted the complaint, said police would look into the allegation to determine whether the complaint has grounds.

Commissioner Vasant Panich said the NHRC decided to lay the complaint against Mr Chakan and researchers in charge of the research project after laboratory tests confirmed leakage of GM papaya outside the department's research station in Khon Kaen province.

The department conducted a field trial of transgenic papaya, which is said to be resistant to the ringspot virus, a plant disease that has caused a sharp drop in the papaya crop across the country.

The research is conducted by the department and the US-based Cornell University, which has already patented the genetically modified DNA of the ringspot virus and related inventions.

Mr Vasant said the spread of GM papaya would hurt Thai farmers, who might face legal action for unintentionally growing the patented papaya variety.

The impact of transgenic papaya on the ecological system and native papaya strain was also not yet clear, he said.

The NHRC submitted its findings to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the agriculture chief last year, but little had been done to stop the leakage, he said. Recent laboratory tests of papaya samples confirmed that the transgenic crop had spread further to a number of provinces.

``The NHRC decided to take tough action against the department because we believe GM papaya leaked into the environment as a result of the department's negligence,'' said Mr Vasant.

Buntoon Srethasirote, a member of the NHRC's sub-panel on biodiversity and intellectual property rights, said the department had probably violated the Plant Quarantine Act, which bans the plantation of GM papaya. He said growing GM papaya was unacceptable because the plant has not passed bio-safety tests. Growing GM papaya would also hurt Thai farmers and fruit exporters because GM crops were unpopular in the global market.

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