Activists warn of legal action over GM trials (16/8/2007)

Activists warn of legal action over GM trials
Bangkok Post, August 17 2007

An activist network against genetically-modified (GM) agriculture yesterday threatened legal action against the government if it approves open-field trials of GM crops, as proposed by the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry. Witoon Lienchamroon, director of Biothai, a non-governmental organisation advocating farmer rights protection, yesterday called on the government to put in place measures to prevent the spread of GM-contaminated crops before allowing field trials.

''If the government continues to ignore our concern, we will take the case to the Administrative Court. GM field trials will definitely pose a risk and burden to farmers as they will not be able to sell their GM-tainted produce,'' Mr Witoon said, referring to the move by Agriculture Minister Thira Sutabutra to seek cabinet approval for GM open-field trials by next week.

''We do not oppose GM laboratory tests but we need a biosafety law before we eventually put in place field trials.''

The previous government in 2001 suspended a plan for field trials due to strong protests by activists who demanded the introduction of a biosafety law.

However, there were reports of GM contamination in papaya plantations surrounding the agriculture office in Khon Kaen and other areas in many provinces in 2004, prompting the set-up of an investigative panel led by Mr Thira, who was then dean of the agriculture faculty at Kasetsart University. However, his panel was unable to find the cause of the GM leakage.

Chakarn Sangraksawong, the ex-agriculture department chief, is facing a probe by the National Counter Corruption Committee in a case where he was charged with negligence of duty that resulted in GM contamination.

Buntoon Srethasirote, director of the Project Policy Strategy on Tropical Resources Base of the National Human Rights Commission, said open-field trials did not bring any benefits to the country.

''I think that the heavy push for the open-field experiments comes from academics who want to promote GM farming. But the country will not benefit from the trials. The global market has said no to GM produce and we are going to promote the produce that consumers do not accept,'' he said.

He further questioned the delay in promulgating biosafety law, which has been drafted by the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry. The draft has yet to be submitted to the National Legislative Assembly.

The law will make GM firms accountable for contamination that damages non-GM farmers and the environment.

Soonthorn Sritawee, a representative of the Thai Organic Farming Association, said if the government approves the trials, organic farming produce will be severely affected as the country might be downgraded from ''medium to low'' to ''high-risk'' GM concern status by international trade counterparts.

He said the country earns some three billion baht annually from the export of organic produce _ 90% of which goes to Europe and 10% to the US. The global market for GM produce is growing at a 15% clip each year.

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