Plan for GM crop field trials revived in Thailand (5/5/2007)

1.Plan for GM crop field trials revived - Bangkok Post
2.Advice on GMOs for the prime minister - GM WATCH (in Bangkok Post)

GM WATCH comment: The Thai Government is flirting wih GM crops once again.

This time the attempt to get GM crop trials going is even more foolhardy than 3 years ago when we supported Thai consumer groups and environmentalists by pointing to the potential negative economic impact - see item 2.

Since then, of course, that impact has more than been confirmed by the plight of the US rice industry - a direct result of GM trials. China too is having rice exports rejected - again as a result of contamination arising out of GM trials.

Ironically, Thailand is one of the main countries to achieve a competitive advantage from its rice industry being GM free - something farmers and exporters are extremely anxious to maintain.

Still more ironically, when Thailand previously trialled GM papayas, it too triggered an ongoing contamination problem as well as lost exports.

As we note in our letter (item 2), there seems to be a fever that sweeps through political leaders leaving them believing they must succour the money-losing biotech industry or suffer a competitive disadvantage. The economist and biotech-industry specialist, Joseph Cortright calls it the "bad-idea virus".

And it's not just about economics, as vital a matter as that is for developing world countries and their farmers. Thailand's Ag Minister asks, ''Can anyone tell me how exactly GM crops are harmful?'' (item 1). Someone should give him a copy of Jeffrey Smith's new book, 'Genetic Roulette' which carefully documents over 300+ pages all the studies pointing to the health risks of genetically enginered foods. For the consumer GM foods offer nothing except additional risks. And by boycotting them, consumers not only protect themselves and their families but help to protect Third World farmers and the environment.

Last time around, when the now deposed Thai Prime Minister said his country's GM moratorium should be abandoned, his decision was overturned by his own Cabinet following a powerful campaign of opposition by Thai farmers, exporters and campaigners.

Let's hope for Thailand's sake that the current military appointed administration is also open to such democratic pressures.


1.Plan for GM crop field trials revived
Draft guidelines to go to cabinet next month
PIYAPORN WONGRUANG Bangkok Post, 4 May 2007

The Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry has revived a plan to conduct field trials of genetically modified crops. Minister Thira Sutabutra yesterday said he had told the Agriculture Department to draft guidelines on how the open-field trials should be conducted to ensure the environment and human health were not affected.

The department is expected to complete the transgenic crop trial framework by the end of the month, and the ministry would ask cabinet for approval of the draft next month, he said.

GM crops must pass three levels of biosafety tests - laboratory, greenhouse, and open field trials - before being endorsed for mass production.

Mr Thira said experiments on GM crops in the country had so far only been at the greenhouse level.

Open field trials were necessary if scientists wanted to know the possible impact of GM plants on the environment.

Field trials and commercialisation of GM crops were put on hold under a cabinet resolution in 2001, shortly after the spread of GM cotton which raised fears among the public of the adverse impact of GM plants on human health and the environment.

In the past six years, the ministry, which oversees experiments and planting of GM crops, has repeatedly tried to lift the ban, but failed due to opposition from environmentalists and farmers.

Protests against transgenic crop growing resurfaced in 2004, when GM papaya grown at an experimental field inside the department's research station in Khon Kaen were found in non-GM papaya plantations nearby.

Scientists say that genetic engineering technology will help reduce the use of harmful farm chemicals and fertiliser.

Mr Thira said the ministry decided to press ahead with field trials of GM crops because some neighbouring countries have been working on the technology and had yielded research outcomes that could put Thailand at a competitive disadvantage in the farm sector.

He said that many farmers suffered low farm yields from disease and pest outbreaks, which could be corrected by GM technology. ''We care about farmers, and we are not working on this issue without reason,'' he said.

Adisak Sreesunpagit, the Agriculture Department chief, said the department would try figuring out how the open field trials should be conducted.

He said the trials should be conducted under tight controls, while the experimental fields should be located away from other farms to prevent the plants from spreading into conventional crop areas.

If cabinet approves the trial, the potential crops which could be planted would be papaya, tomato, chilli, and pineapple, he said.

Mr Adisak said it was unreasonable to ban GM crop field trials.

''Can anyone tell me how exactly GM crops are harmful?'' he said.


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