FOCUS ON ASIA
1.Alarmed rice exporters join anti-GMO move
2.Farmers, activists to take to the streets
1. Alarmed rice exporters join anti-GMO move
Bangkok Post, 24 August 2004
The country's leading rice exporters yesterday joined activists, farmers and environmentalists to oppose the prime minister's decision to allow open-field trials of genetically modified crops, saying it was a big mistake which would jeopardise Thailand's rice markets overseas.
"None of our customers wants to buy GM produce,'' said Wanlop Pichpongsa, a company executive. "Importers, particularly in European countries, always ask for the GM-free labels or non-GMO certificates for rice and farm products from Thailand.''
The country was likely to lose several markets in Europe if it promotes open-field trial and commercial plantation of genetically modified crops, said the executive, who called Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's move "unreasonable''.
Farmers and farm product exporters would also suffer sharp increases in investment costs in order to segregate GM from non-GM products, he told a press conference held jointly by farmer networks, organic food producers, exporters, consumer protection groups, legal experts and anti-free trade agreement activists.
The groups were reacting to the National Biotechnology Policy Committee, chaired by Mr Thaksin, which announced last week that the country would allow the import and commercial plantation of GM products scientifically proven as safe for human consumption and which posed no harm to the environment.
Thousands of farmers, agricultural exporters and consumer rights activists will hold a nationwide demonstration if he refuses to reconsider the decision, said Saree Ongsomwang, president of the Consumers Federation of Thailand.
The group will rally at Government House today, when the national biotechnology policy is expected to be tabled for cabinet consideration.
Witoon Panyakul, of GreenNet, a leading organic food trader, said the prime minister would be better off consulting agricultural exporters, farmers and consumer groups instead of listening to a few scientists in the National Science and Technology Development Agency.
Biodiversity advocate Witoon Lianchamroon, of Biothai, urged the public to prevent the government from going ahead with the pro-GMO policy because it would benefit the United States government and US agribusiness companies, such as Monsanto, at the expense of Thai farmers.
The US administration and Monsanto have been pressing the Thai government to amend domestic laws and regulations that impede market access to American genetically-engineered products, he said.
In April, Monsanto sent a letter to the US Trade Representative calling on Washington to address current trade barriers to agricultural biotechnology with the Thai government at the Thai-US free trade agreement negotiations.
Mr Witoon also called on the government to withdraw the issue of GMOs, biotechnology and intellectual property rights from the ongoing bilateral trade talks with Washington, until Thai biosafety laws are put in place.
Buntoon Srethasiroj, an independent researcher of the FTAWatch group, said the prime minister's decision was based on "seriously inaccurate information'' from biotechnology specialists allegedly working for multinational biotech companies.
Contrary to Mr Thaksin's claim, the world's consumers and agricultural importers do not welcome genetically modified food, he said.
2.Farmers, activists to take to the streets
Saowalak Phumyaem, Sirinart Sirisunthorn
THE NATION, August 24 2004
Groups hope to persuade Cabinet to call off todays expected lifting of ban on fieldtesting
Organic farmers and other concerned groups from around the country will today hold a protest in front of Government House in an attempt to pressure the Cabinet into rejecting a proposal to lift the ban on the widespread testing of genetically modified crops.
The Cabinet is today expected to reverse a former resolution that banned the testing of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) except in the laboratory.
The expected decision will open the way for GM field tests, following Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatras decision last week to approve a new policy that includes allowing GM crops to be planted and traded.
Thaksin is president of the National Biotechnology Policy Commission.
BioThai and the Consumer Protection Network will lead the morning protest.
"If Thaksin chooses GM crops [today], he wont receive any votes from our members at the general election," BioThai director Witoon Lianchamroon told a press conference yesterday.
"And we will also lunch hundreds of measures to stop field testing, which would harm the public and environment significantly."
Witoon added that some companies would benefit if the policy was reversed and that was why the new policy was being rushed through.
"Recently, Charoen Pokphand joined the biotech Monsanto company in the grain business. No doubt, GM grains are included, he said.
Thaksin yesterday said he stood by his decision.
"Criticism is acceptable but it does not mean I have to believe it. I will make my decision based on scientific information, even though it contradicts what the critics are saying," he said.
"Sometimes there are not many critics but they speak out loud through the media."
Responding to environmental group Greenpeaces accusation that US Senator Kit Bond lobbied Thaksin to embrace GMOs, the premier said he was not familiar with the name and did not remember meeting him.
Consumer groups have also charged that the expected Uturn over the GMO policy came after pressure from the US, which is currently engaged in freetrade negotiations with the Kingdom.
But Thaksin said a conclusion to ThaiUS freetrade negotiations was still a long way off and consumer groups had exaggerated the issue.
However, Banthoon Setsirote of the National Human Rights Commission said that one of the articles in the draft freetrade agreement with the US stated that Thailand had to remove any limitations or obstacles relating to biotechnology goods.
Saree Ongsomwang of the Consumer Protection Network said: "Consumers will be at high risk and suffer if the policy is reversed.
"If contamination is found, it will take as long as 15 years for the courts to deal with it based on past experiences."
Jirgorn Gajaseni of Greenpeace Southeast Asia said only unethical scientists guaranteed the safety of GM crops.
However, Dr Sakarindr Bhumiratana of the Science and Technology Ministry said antiGMO activists used outofdate information to back up their arguments.
Thai scientists are ready to develop GM crops, he said.
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