GM Thai rice 'unwise' / GM coffee outrage (8/3/2008)

1.GM tag for Thai jasmine rice 'is unwise'

2.GMO Coffee Decision Causes Outrage with Kona Coffee Farmers

3.GMO taro bill moves forward

EXTRACTS: Flood and drought tolerance can be more easily achieved by conventional breeding than by genetic engineering and the price for adding the GM tag may be too high. (item 1)

'I am outraged. This Bill was backed by the entire Hawaii coffee industry, who came together in a unique consolidation, yet our representatives ignore us. What do we need to do to get effective Agricultural legislation to protect what we are doing right now, in the fields?' (item 2)


1.GM tag for Thai jasmine rice 'is unwise'
Bangkok Post, March 8 2008

The National Biotechnology Committee of Thailand plans to use GM technology to improve the quality and productivity of jasmine rice, ordinary rice and rice for food processing.

The plan for jasmine rice is to use genetic engineering and molecular breeding to introduce resistance to flood and drought.

This is not a wise move.

Flood and drought tolerance can be more easily achieved by conventional breeding than by genetic engineering and the price for adding the GM tag may be too high.

With the GM tag, Thailand would jeopardise the special status accorded to jasmine rice. It would also risk its rice gene pools since the contamination of other rice varieties and their natural relatives with foreign genes from the GM jasmine rice would be a certainty.

Thailand has been fighting to protect its jasmine rice from biopiracy. It has contested claims by US-based companies seeking to use the name 'Jasmati' in a trademark violation called 'passing off'. Jasmine rice is claimed by Thailand as a special Thai product and the Thais have sought to exercise their rights over this product invoking the IPR protection called 'Geographically Indicated [GI] Rights', in the World Trade Organisation. Provided in Articles 22, 23 and 24 of the TRIPs chapter, GI protection can be claimed by countries for products that are exclusively associated with their region. At present, GI protection is available only for wines like Champagne and spirits like Scotch whiskey. Developing countries are, however, fighting hard to increase the scope of GI protection so that products of interest to them can also be given GI IPR protection and be considered exclusively theirs. India, for example, has an interest in Basmati rice and Darjeeling tea, to name just two products. Thailand has claimed jasmine rice as its own.

Once jasmine rice becomes a GM variety, not only is Thailand likely to lose its markets in those countries (particularly Europe) that are not favourably inclined to genetically modified food, it will probably also forfeit its claim to GI protection. Is it willing to do that? Have the Thai authorities thought through the consequences of turning their premium jasmine rice into a controversial GM food?

The Thai thinking is probably like India's, which has invested in Bt Basmati. The Basmati project in India has been put on hold after protests from rice traders and groups like Gene Campaign, which have pointed out that Basmati would acquire an 'untouchable' status if it were tainted with the GM label. The intention is to increase production of a premium product like Basmati or Jasmine rice and thus increase earnings in an assured high-end market. This will backfire because consumers will shy away from the GM label.

Jasmine rice is not the food of the masses. It is an expensive premium product, much like India's Basmati rice. The poor, who cannot afford its high price, consume neither, so there is no pressure to increase its production from the point of view of food security.

Like truffles and caviar, jasmine rice is a luxury food, which brings good revenues for its farmers. Tampering with it by adding the GM label is likely to jeopardise the assured earnings of the farmers who grow jasmine rice.

Apart from the issue of special protection under GI in WTO/TRIPs, is the question of environmental safety. Thailand belongs to the Indochina Centre of biological diversity. It has a great deal of diversity in rice, which includes farmer varieties, landraces and wild relatives of rice. One of the principle environmental concerns with respect to GM crops is the matter of gene flow and its consequences for biodiversity and agro-biodiversity.

It is a fact of biology that pollen will fly around and along with pollen will fly around the foreign genes contained in the pollen of the GM crop. When there are other rice varieties and wild relatives in the vicinity, the pollen with foreign genes will reach these varieties and fertilise them, thus transferring the foreign genes to them. Although rice is largely a self-pollinated crop, there is substantial cross-pollination. Enough anyway for genes to be transferred from the GM jasmine rice to the neighbouring rice varieties and the natural rice gene pool.

We do not know yet what the consequences of such gene transfers can be, since no studies have been done. Western nations have done gene transfer studies on crops of interest to them, but developing countries have not done this basic work. Basically, we do not know how genes from bacteria, or other genes alien to the species, will behave when they are integrated into rice. If there is no impact or the impact is harmless, it does not matter. But should we discover that there is a negative impact, we would have possibly jeopardised the integrity of one of the most important gene pools in the world.

The consequences for food security could be unimaginable if the rice gene bank in nature were to be endangered.

The implementation of GM technology is meant to be guided by the Precautionary Principle. This principle was formulated because we know so little about the long-term impact of cultivating GM foods. The Precautionary Principle says that if we do not know enough, or if there is uncertainty about the safety of a process or product, then it is best to avoid that product.

We know practically nothing about the behaviour of GM rice in an agricultural environment, particularly in a centre of diversity. The Precautionary Principle dictates that we do not take chances. In my view, no nation should cultivate a GM crop for which it is a centre of diversity. Mexico has taken this intelligent decision. Since 1998, the Mexican government has placed a ban on the cultivation of GM corn since Mexico is a centre of origin and diversity for corn. In 2002, the Mexicans went a step further, they banned even research on GM corn, since they were not prepared to take a risk with their corn gene pool.

Thailand (and India) should take a leaf out of Mexico's book and leave GM rice alone.

Dr Suman Sahai is Director of the Indian non-governmental organisation Gene Campaign, a research and advocacy group in India, working in 17 Indian states. She can be reached at: [email protected]


2.GMO Coffee Decision Causes Outrage with Kona Coffee Farmers
Kona Coffee Farmers Association, 7 March 2008

KAILUA KONA, HAWAII - Sen. Jill Tokuda (D-Kailua-Kaneohe), Chair of the House Committee on Agriculture and Hawaiian Affairs, decided not to support, or even provide a committee hearing on HB 1577, which would place a moratorium on field trials for genetically modified coffee. Instead she is asking for a study to 'develop policies that best serve the needs of our agricultural community'.

The Hawaii County Council unanimously passed a resolution urging the State Legislature to pass this legislation. 'It is deeply disappointing that once again the State Legislature overrides the wisdom of our County leaders and and the requests of Kona Coffee Farmers', said Bruce Corker, President of the Kona Coffee Farmers Association. 'It is troubling that the Legislative leadership has killed both the GMO moratorium and the coffee truth-in-labeling bills in the back room, rather than permitting testimony from Big Island farmers in the open and democratic forum provided by committee hearings.'

'We respect the right of scientists to do research, but perhaps they could apply their efforts to ridding us of the coffee twig borer which is having a significant and detrimental impact on Kona Coffee. That would be extremely helpful to Kona Coffee farmers', said Corker.

'I am outraged', said Cecelia Smith, spokesperson for the KCFA, 'this Bill was backed by the entire Hawaii coffee industry, who came together in a unique consolidation, yet our representatives ignore us'. Smith continued, 'What do we need to do to get effective Agricultural legislation to protect what we are doing right now, in the fields?'


3.GMO taro bill moves forward
Would put moratorium on developing GMO strains
by Rachel Gehrlein THE GARDEN ISLAND, March 3 2008

Supporters of a Senate bill aimed to impose a 10-year moratorium on the developing, testing and raising of genetically modified taro are relieved, after waiting for more than a year, that the bill will be heard on March 19.

After Senate Bill 958 was first introduced in January 2007 it failed but was carried over to the 2008 legislative session.

'We were very stubborn telling them (lawmakers) the bill needs to be heard,' said Chris Kobayashi, a Kaua‘i taro farmer. 'The 10-year moratorium is just a time out so things could be explored further.'

Jeri DiPietro of GMO Free Kaua'i agrees.

'(The bill) asks for a temporary moratorium, a time out,' DiPietro said.

'It is a moment to evaluate and use precaution in a new situation. If only a second look had been given before the Department of Agriculture allowed the importation of the apple snail and let it rage out of control into pest status.'

Kobayashi said the idea of GMO taro is scary because on the genetic level, if the taro is modified from the original plant, 'we can never bring it back.'

'As farmers, we wouldn’t be able to see the difference,' Kobayashi said. 'There is a lot of sharing of huli (the starts of taro) between farmers.'

Rep. Mina Morita, D-Kapa‘a-North Kaua‘i, said taro is a food crop that has cultural implications that scientists need to be aware of.

'The scientists should be responsible to the individual,' Morita said. 'If individuals think GMO research is not necessary at this time, and the farmers don’t want to grow it and the consumers don’t want to eat it, who does it benefit?'

Wayne Nishijima, associate dean with the University of Hawai‘i’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, said the university signed an agreement with the Royal Order of Kamehameha I a few years ago to not conduct GMO tests on known Hawaiian varieties of taro.

But Nishijima said the Hawaiian taro’s susceptibility to various pests, such as Phytophthora colocasiae — a fungus-like organism that invaded American Samoa taro in 1993 — could be solved with genetic engineering.

'The current GE project (at UH) is on Chinese taro to develop resistant varieties to Phytophthora blight,' Nishijima said. 'No Hawaiian varieties have been genetically engineered, but we have researchers doing traditional breeding to develop Phytophthora resistant cultivars, but it takes time.'

But because none of the Hawaiian varieties have Phytophthora resistance, taro from other locales must be used, Nishijima said.

Nishijima feels that because UH has already signed a moratorium, there is no need for a law to be passed to create another moratorium.

'In my opinion, extending the moratorium to include genetic engineering of non-Hawaiian taro varieties does not follow their argument of infringement of their cultural rights and heritage,' Nishijima said. 'What it will do is significantly limit our ability to address current and future problems. If the bill passes, it will put taro in a position to make it vulnerable to the devastation by new invasive species.'

In support of SB 958 imposing the moratorium, the Kaua‘i County Council has drafted Resolution 2008-04. The resolution is scheduled to be heard at the council meeting on March 12.

'We need as many testimonies as is possible to support SB 958,' DiPietro said in an e-mail. 'You need not be a farmer. Consumers have a right to a choice too.'

GMO Free Kaua‘i will also hold a rally in support of the SB 958 today from 4 to 6 p.m. at the gateway at Lihu‘e Airport.

Rachel Gehrlein, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or [email protected]

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