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2-Plants: GM crops spreading in southeast Asia

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                                  PART I
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TITLE:  GM crops spreading in southeast Asia
SOURCE: The Dawn, Pakistan
DATE:   Jul 23, 2003

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GM crops spreading in southeast Asia

BANGKOK: The battle over introducing genetically modified (GM) crops in
Southeast Asia is being fought in the corn fields of the Philippines and
the papaya orchards of Thailand, among other places.

The struggle has mutated to become more ideological than scientific, with
proponents arguing that the new, genetically modified crops can bring
about an agricultural revolution to produce sturdier, faster-growing or
pest-resistant crops while boosting yields to feed the world's hungry.

Opponents, meanwhile, accuse advocates of the new technology,
particularly the administration of US President George Bush and the US-
based Monsanto Corporation, of dragging the rest of the world into a
brave new world of dangerous, genetically manipulated "Frankenfood".

In the Philippines, where there are currently no laws regulating the use
of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Monsanto was granted a permit
last December to commercially produce a genetically modified grain called
Bt corn, despite objections from environment groups.

Monsanto said Bt corn was resistant to pests, and the use of the variety
could improve production by as much as 40 per cent compared to
traditional corn varieties.

Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo said the country's corn farmers would
benefit from the decision to allow commercial production of the Bt corn,
arguing it would increase their income and productivity.

"Let us not be emotional about this issue," he said amid persistent
opposition from environment groups. "Let us see first how Monsanto will
be able to transfer this technology to the small corn farmers who stand
to gain from this development."

Scientifically known as bacillus thurigiensis corn, the Bt corn is a
genetically engineered crop in which a synthetic version of a gene from
soil bacterium bacillus thurigiencies is inserted so that the plant
produces its own Bt toxins to kill pests.

A total of 126 hectares of farmland is being used to cultivate Bt corn,
mostly in the northern provinces, according to the international
environment watchdog Greenpeace.

Beau Baconguis, a Greenpeace campaigner against GMOs, said the Bt corn
would cause more harm than good.

"The commercial propagation unleashes an unpredictable and uncontrollable
genetic experiment across the country," she said. "When the decision was
taken to commercialize Bt corn, authorities involved deliberately ignored
an extensive body of scientific research that indicates harmful
ecological effects."

Baconguis noted that the Bt gene produces a pesticide that is toxic not
just to pests but to many other insects, like the monarch butterfly,
which are beneficial.

She also cited scientific studies indicating that Bt corn releases Bt
toxins into the soil through its roots, which may cause soil degradation.

"Soil ecosystems are the basis of any agricultural system," she said.
"The costs associated with long-term damage to soil ecology cannot be

The new technology got a boost in Southeast Asia's most populous nation
in mid-July, when a leading authority on Islamic affairs in Indonesia
gave his go-ahead for the consumption of imported GM foods.

"Despite there being no official ruling on the GMO-based food products,
as long as it comes from plantations, such as soya bean or corn, there
are no problems," said Professor Aisyah Girindra, head of the medicine
and food supervision at the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI).

The Indonesian Consumers Institute (YLKI), meanwhile, has urged the
government to issue regulations requiring all imported processed foods,
including those derived from GM products, to undergo health examinations
before entering the domestic market.

In Thailand, the Agriculture Ministry is currently testing genetically
modified papaya in the northeastern province of Khon Kaen and in the
central province of Nakhon Pathom.

Varoonvarn Svangsopakul, a Greenpeace genetic engineering campaigner,
said the testing risks contaminating neighbouring fields.

"Any open field trials are dangerous," she said. "Birds and bees can
spread the seeds and pollen can contaminate surrounding fields. If you
look what's happening in Hawaii, this has weakened the trees and made
them infected by black spot fungus."

A delegation of Hawaiian papaya farmers visited Thailand in early July
and warned their Thai counterparts of the dire consequences of planting
the gene-altered varieties.

"When GMO papaya was introduced five years ago they claimed it was a
solution to the papaya ringspot virus problem. But instead it has caused
serious environmental and economic problems for farmers," said Melanie
Bondera, a sustainable agriculture farmer and member of the Hawaii
Genetic Engineering Action Network (HIGEAN) on Hawaii's Big Island.

"The developers of GMO papaya are saying that it's ready for commercial
release in Thailand," Varoonvarn said. "But the message from Hawaii is
very clear. GMO papaya is an ecological disaster."

Varoonvarn accused the US government of pushing GMO technology in Asia in
order to benefit American companies, particularly Monsanto.

"US policy is driven by big business," she said. "They have invested a
lot of money in this. The American companies are trying to control food
crops. Monsanto is very influential in government."

Varoonvarn said the current testing of GM papaya has given proponents of
the new technology a "foot in the door" in Thailand.

"They start with papaya and then move to other crops, like rice," she
said, adding that environmentalists expected President Bush to lobby on
behalf of US biotechnology interests when he visits Thailand for the
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in October.

                                  PART II
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TITLE:  Vietnam edges into biotech sector
SOURCE: IDG News Service, China/Hong Kong, by David Legard
DATE:   Jul 24, 2003

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Vietnam edges into biotech sector

Vietnam plans to open six national biotech laboratories between now and
2006 to extend the range of the country's research in this field, the
official Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported Thursday.

The government's investment is expected to produce opportunities for
hardware, software and services vendors in the bio-IT field as Vietnam
moves to a more systematic technology-based approach to biotech.

As a mainly agricultural nation, Vietnam has concentrated its biotech
efforts on plant breeding, fertilizers and bio-pesticides, where
government investment of 12 billion dong (US$820,000) since 1998 in plant
cell technology has generated considerable economic benefits, VNA said.

The country is now investing around 8 billion dong annually to set up and
maintain facilities to store genetic material from a variety of plants,
animals and micro-organisms, which will provide 500 species for study and
for use in biotech production, VNA said.

Vietnam has already used advanced gene technologies to create novel
vaccines and insect-resistant plants, and Vietnamese scientists are in
the early stages of studying the cloning of animals, according to VNA.

Biotech has rapidly taken hold across Asia-Pacific, with Australia,
Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and India the most prominent
players in the region. Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand have also
indicated they plan to build up their biotech industries through
government initiatives.

All the countries hoping to profit from biotech are investing heavily in
IT hardware, software and services to support their life science
ecosystems, according to research company IDC.

According to IDC figures, the Asia Pacific bio-IT market will increase at
a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 55 percent to reach $3.39 billion
by 2006.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
Kleine Wiese 6
D - 38116 Braunschweig

phone:  +49-531-5168746
fax:    +49-531-5168747
mobile: +49-162-1054755
email:  coordination(at)