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7-Business: Thai Committee drafts biotechnology development plan

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TITLE:  Biotech to be harnessed for growth
        Genetic modification part of 8-year plan
SOURCE: The Bangkok Post, Thailand, by Porpot Changyawa
DATE:   Aug 21, 2003

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Biotech to be harnessed for growth
Genetic modification part of 8-year plan

Biotechnology, including genetic modification, will be a valuable tool in
boosting productivity of key primary products, including rice and prawns,
under the national biotech map.

The National Biotechnology Committee on Agriculture has drafted an eight-
year development plan, to run from 2004 to 2012, focusing on 11 commodities.

It aims to improve quality and productivity of jasmine rice, general rice
strains, rice for food processing, tapioca, rubber, sugarcane, orchids,
commercial fruits, fancy fish and commercial woods, committee chairman
Sutat Sriwatanapongse said.

It involves application of a range of techniques from cell, tissue and
embryo technology, to the more advanced molecular breeding, genomics and
genetic engineering.

Produce would be engineered to ensure characteristics desired by both
consumers and farmers. Through molecular breeding, jasmine rice would be
made more resistant to flood and drought while maintaining its unique
smell and softness. Microorganisms from genomic technology would be used
to improve conditions of prawn farms. Through genetic manipulation, fruit
harvest times could be controlled.

In some cases it would take more than eight years to achieve results, he said.

Biotechnology would also be used to supplement services such food quality
checks and certification, said Mr Sutat, a senior scientist at National
Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (Biotech).

The plan was sent to the national biotechnology board chaired by the
prime minister this week, but is still open for comment and changes.

The board would also like to see biotechnology applied in industry,
medicine, environment and energy, and biodiversity.

Researchers at the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry will chiefly be
responsible for implementation of the plan. The ministry has set up a new
Biotechnology Research and Development Office, which began work on Tuesday.

Apart from a lack of experts in the field, researchers at the ministry
are worried about bio-piracy.

"Results of Thailand's agricultural research and development have been
drained to neighbouring countries, making them our potential trade
rivals," one researcher said.

Many staple commodities had been smuggled or imported into neighbouring
countries where they were now produced with high quality yields and
without the cost and effort of research.

Tougher measures were needed to control the outflow of precious plants
and animal strains developed in the country. 


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