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Korea says 'No' to GM rice imports (31/3/2007)

KOREA SAYS NO TO GE RICE IMPORTS

28 March 2007- Seoul - Korea's leading civil and farmer organizations voiced an unequivocal NO! to the import of genetically engineered (GE) rice into the country at the WORA Seminar entitled 'How to Secure the Safety of Rice' held in the heart of Seoul city today.

This stand is supported by the Korean Ministry of Agriculture. In a message from the Vice-Minister of Agriculture, Park Hae Sang, which was read out on his behalf by the Deputy Director of the Foodgrain Policy Division, Park Hee-Su, the VM said that the Ministry was working to keep GE rice out of the country: 'Rice is the principal food for Koreans and is the most important product of Korean agriculture. Korea is the only one out of 140 rice-importing countries to have a policy requiring GMO-certification from the exporting country – in this way, we try to prevent importing GMO rice.'

This pleased the crowd of about 80 present comprising government officials, journalists and members from local leading NGOs and farmer organizations.

The seminar was the major event of WORA Korea, organized by Consumers Korea (CK) in collaboration with The Korean Farmers and Fishermen’s Weekly News (KFFWN) and Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP).

Presidents of CK and KFFWN, Kim Jai Ok, and Suh Kyu Yong respectively, opened the event by talking about the importance of ensuring the safety of rice in Korea. 'Rice is our life and the risks of GM rice are very real,' they said and both called upon the groups present to act collectively to secure a GM rice-free Korea.

Dr Ricarda Steinbrecher, director of Econexus (UK) and a consultant genetic scientist for PAN AP who had been invited to address the event, spoke on 'Genetically Engineered Food and Crops: Issues and Concerns from a Scientific Perspective'.

Stressing that genetic engineering was far from being a precise technology, she cited example after example of negative, unexpected and unexplainable side effects of the genetic engineering of various crops. 'Since rice is eaten everyday, even low level toxicity, which can be a side effect of GE rice, will be very damaging over the long term. It is best to exercise the precautionary principle with regard to GE rice and GE food.'

Clare Westwood, Campaign Coordinator of PAN AP, based in Penang, Malaysia, explained why there was an urgent need to organize an Asia-wide campaign to save the rice of Asia with the onset of the threat of GE Rice. 'Lee Kyung Hae, the Korean farmer-hero who took his life in 2003 in protest of rice trade liberalizaton, is a symbol of what is happening to rice farmers everywhere. Do we want seeds that mean the extinction of millions of small rice farmers all over the world?'

She called upon Korea as a developed Asian nation to ban GE rice and deny GE seed companies an important market. 'Korea, Asia needs you! Join hands with the rest of Asia to save Asia's rice heritage.'

The eleven leaders from the various local NGOs and farmer organizations present each responded affirmatively and added calls of their own. All agreed to fight to keep Korea GE rice-free, set up more GE-free zones, and insist on strict labeling regulations for GE food/products. Consumers Korea reported that it had found GE content in 27 out of 260 food product samples – none of the samples had GE content included in the label.

Furthermore, the farmer organizations expressed interest in forming a network with the consumer organizations to fight against GE. 'This is a wonderful development,' said Kim. 'This WORA seminar has been very successful for many reasons, mainly in bringing together leading opinion leaders in Korea - this is very important as collectively, they are a powerful force; in getting everyone to realize that an Asian-wide campaign is needed to tackle the GE threat and having them commit to this campaign; in the strengthening and formation of alliances between the various groups to fight GE; and last but not least, in having the Ministry’s assurance that it is against the import GE Rice.'

As proof of their commitment, all those present at the seminar put pen to paper by signing giant posters of the 1-million People’s Statement on Saving the Rice of Asia.

The Week of Rice Action (WORA) 2007 brings together farmers, rural communities, and other sectors of society to celebrate and protect rice culture. To be officially launched on March 13 in Bangladesh, the main WORA events will take place in 13 countries across Asia from March 29 to April 4. Culminating in India and the Philippines, WORA will be an unprecedented mobilization of Asians “Celebrating and Protecting Rice Culture”! A key feature of WORA will be its one-million signature campaign calling on policy-makers to take immediate steps to save the rice of Asia.

WORA is organised by Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP) and its partner organisations in thirteen countries in the region. Anyone interested in being a part of WORA 2007 can log on to the WORA page at www.panap.net

Contact at PAN AP:
Ms Anne Haslam, PAN AP at wora2007@panap.net
PESTICIDE ACTION NETWORK ASIA AND THE PACIFIC (PAN AP), P.O. Box 1170, 10850 Penang, Malaysia. Tel: 604-6570271 or 604-6560381 Fax: 604-6583960
E-mail: panap@panap.net
Home Page: www.panap.net

Pesticide Action Network (PAN) is a global network working to eliminate the human and environmental harm caused by pesticides and to promote biodiversity based ecological agriculture. PAN Asia and the Pacific is committed to the empowerment of people especially women, agricultural workers, peasant and indigenous farmers. We are dedicated to protect the safety and health of people, and the environment from pesticide use and genetic engineering. We believe in a people-centered, pro-women development through food sovereignty, ecological agriculture and sustainable lifestyles.

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