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2-Plants: Thai Agriculture Department plans GE crop field trials

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TITLE:  Farm officials plan GM field experiments
        Greenpeace against easing ban on trials
SOURCE: The Bangkok Post, Thailand, by Kultida Samabuddhi

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Farm officials plan GM field experiments
Greenpeace against easing ban on trials

The Agriculture Department plans to conduct field experiments on
genetically modified crops this year after the Agriculture Ministry's
biosafety committee agreed on Thursday to relax the ban on such trials.

Field trials were put on hold by a cabinet resolution two years ago in
response to demands by biodiversity advocates and farmers that GM field
trials be suspended in the absence of a biosafety law.

Deputy Agriculture Minister Newin Chidchob said recently the ban had
disrupted the department's research on genetic engineering technology for
agricultural purposes.

Under the ban, open plantations of GM crops were prohibited to prevent
the possible spread of GM plants and cross-breeding with native plant

Witoon Lianchamroon, a member of the committee drafting a biosafety bill
and director of Biothai, an NGO working on biodiversity, said relaxing
the ban would enable the department to plant GM crops in open fields
under strict rules to prevent dispersal of GM plants, which could invade
native plants.

"However, field trials are allowed only in limited experimental areas,
such as the department's research plantations. Planting of large-scale GM
crops is still banned," said Mr Witoon.

Seeds companies in Thailand were keen on conducting field trials of GM
cotton and papaya.

Sophida Hemakhom, the Agriculture Department's chief of legal affairs,
said easing the ban would contribute to a more reliable risk assessment
of GM crops. Private seeds firms, such as Monsanto Company (Thailand),
would also be allowed to conduct GM field trials at the research
stations. However, the research must be conducted jointly with the department.

The debate on GM field trials here stemmed from a case involving the
planting of Bt cotton which ended up in private fields. Bt cotton
contains a gene which helps repel pest insects.

Varoonvarn Svangsophakul, genetic engineering campaigner with Greenpeace
Southeast Asia, said Thailand still lacked an effective monitoring system
to prevent the leakage of GM seeds, so the ban should stay.

In the United States and Mexico, GM seeds including corn had leaked into
commercial plantations and invaded native farm crops.

The American GM Starlink corn was approved for use as animal feed, but
was later found to be mixed in human food. This might happen because of
unexpected cross-breeding in fields.

"These countries have more effective biosafety regulations than Thailand,
yet the leakage of GM plants still occurred and caused great economic
loss to the countries," she said.

Mr Newin said a 20-member biosafety bill drafting committee would start
work soon. The bill will put in place regulations governing various
activities involving biotechnology. Drafting will be carried out over 180