Lack of cooperation into GM papaya probe / NGOs urge end to trespass suit (2/5/2005)

support Thailand's GM Papaya Activists

1.Lack of cooperation into GM papaya probe
2.NGOs urge end to trespass suit

While Thailand's Ag Ministry is relentlessly pursuing a lawsuit against the campaigners who allegedly trespassed on its Khon Kaen research station in order to prove that experimental GM papaya grown there had spread elsewhere (item 2), the Ministry is dragging its heels when it comes to investigating the illegal proliferation of the GM papaya. (item 1)

A panel set up by the Department has been starved of information, making it impossible to halt the contamination: ''We could not track and destroy them to prevent any further spread" because "we do not know where they are. The fact is we cannot know this as we haven't received the necessary information.'' (item 1)

1.Lack of cooperation into GM papaya probe
By Bangkok Post, 30 April 2005

An independent probe into the alleged spread of genetically modified papaya has encountered a setback because of a lack of cooperation from the Department of Agriculture, said a probe panel source yesterday.

The panel was set up late last year to conduct an investigation into the case after farm advocates expressed concern over the possible spread of the transgenic plant.

Last July, Greenpeace activists revealed the department's research station in Khon Kaen province had grown GM papaya, and said seeds of the plant might have been distributed to growers in the province and elsewhere.

The farm advocates demanded an investigation to stop the spread.

Thailand does not allow open field trials of GM plants nor their commercial production.

The agricultural department set up its own panel to investigate its operation at the station, but later left the task to a new panel.

The source said the panel kept asking the department for information that could help it check how wide the papaya had spread, but received no response.

Without relevant information, the panel could make no progress. The more time it took to complete the investigation, the more the papaya might have spread, said the source. ''We could not track and destroy them to prevent any further spread if we do not know where they are,'' said the source. ''The fact is we cannot know this as we haven't received the necessary information.''

According to an official at the department who asked not to be named, the DNA testing team had finished testing DNA fingerprints of over 8,000 samples of papaya collected from about 2,600 farms suspected of having bought the seeds from the station. Some 85 northeastern farmers, mainly in Khon Kaen, were found to have grown GM papaya.

The team reported the findings to the department late last year, the official said.

The official who was involved with the independent probe confirmed that the panel sent an official request to the department for information but had not yet received it.

More requests would be made, the source said, adding the agriculture and cooperatives minister should help push the case along. ''As the ministry chief, it's the minister's duty to take care of this case. More importantly, this involves farmers' security and well-being,'' the source said.

2.NGOs urge end to trespass suit
Bangkok Post, April 29 2005

Human rights and agricultural advocates yesterday called on the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry to withdraw the lawsuit against Greenpeace campaigners who allegedly trespassed on its Khon Kaen research station to prove that genetically-modified papaya grown there had spread elsewhere.

About 20 representatives of about 15 non-governmental organisations including Amnesty International Thailand, the Protection for Human Rights Defenders and Greenpeace submitted their request in a letter to ministry officials.

They argued that the campaigners had the right to information about the state's actions and that they acted to protect the public interest. As such, they should not be subject to threats of legal action.

''This is a matter of human rights,'' said Boonthan T Verawongse, acting director of Amnesty International Thailand.

''The public has the right to know about the matter, but their rights have been violated. Instead of trying to clarify the facts, the ministry has been negligent about this and has even charged those who tried to reveal it.''

Late last year, the Agriculture Department filed a lawsuit against Greenpeace Southeast Asia's Jiragorn Gajaseni, and Patwajee Srisuwan for trespassing on its Khon Kaen research station, where a trial cultivation of GM papaya was conducted, and for damaging and stealing state property.

The activists said they tried to prove that the station was responsible for distributing the seeds of GM papaya grown elsewhere.

The two activists face a maximum of five years in jail if found guilty.

Ms Patwajee said the activists tried to stop the officials from growing more GM papaya trees which had been leaked to nearby farms for fear that the transgenic plant would harm human health and the environment.

Their exposure led to investigation by the agriculture ministry and the National Human Rights Commission which confirmed that the GM plant had spread to farms outside Khon Kaen. It was the second time such a leak was reported after an alleged leak of GM cotton was exposed in 1999.

The ministry then ordered the papaya grown in the fields destroyed, and filed a lawsuit against the two activists for trespass.

Chakarn Saengruksawong, the agriculture department chief, said the department would not drop the case.

He insisted agriculture officials had done nothing wrong, and that the department had complied with a cabinet resolution that prohibited open field trials of GM crops.

A legal source at the department said the resolution was unclear on how field trials should be held, and researchers often interpreted it as allowing open field trials as long as they did not take place in open farms.

Meanwhile, Sunai Setboonsarng, assistant to Agriculture Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan, said he would forward the group's letter to the minister, who is overseas. He would call for talks between the various parties next week, preferably about food safety policies rather than details of the court case.


Back to the Archive