GENET archive


9-Misc: GE discussion in Thai newspaper

                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Biotech challenges ahead for Thailand
SOURCE: The Nation, Thailand, by Asina Pornwasin
DATE:   11 Jul 2004 

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Biotech challenges ahead for Thailand

Thailand needs to encourage entrepreneurs, involve the public and focus
on its strengths if it wants to develop its biotechnology, an expert in
the field said recently.

The points were raised at a panel discussion on the potential of
biotechnology as part of the "Competitiveness: Challenge and
Opportunities for Asian Countries" conference hosted by the National
Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) and organised by The Nation.

Speaking in general, Anil Vaidya, CEO of Latro Medical Systems, said
there were five issues that needed to be addressed by countries seeking
to catch up with the advances in the technology.

The first is producing a high-quality science base and complementary
policies targeting the sharing of the knowledge through the model of
biotech clusters and a technology-transfer office.

Second, the country should have an appropriate regulatory framework to
support knowledge-based industry.

Third is the need to build up a workforce not only skilled in science but
with an understanding of what is actually worth patenting and commercialising.

Fourth is to encourage an environment of innovation through training
programmes, mentor support and rewards, as this is vital to foster a new
generation of entrepreneurs.

Fifth is the need to set up a framework to encourage investors.

Besides this, Vaidya said, government support is necessary to boost a new
industry like biotech, which means both direct government funding and
changes in the model of funding.

Vaidya, who is also a consultant to the British Department of Trade and
Investment, said that all nations found themselves walking a tightrope
when it came to how and where to invest public money for the benefit of
the country's industry. As there is a possibility of wastage of public
funds, there has to be some level of accountability on the efficiency
with which these funds are utilised, he said.

He said it was time to recognise that the old model for funding and
supporting biotech companies needed to be changed. The model adopted by
new and savvy biotech companies is to develop a revenue stream by selling
some form of product or service that supports them in the long-term
development of products that in the past would have been developed
through support of outside investors, he said.

"Some of the new and bright companies in the UK and America are taking
this route to the market," he said.

Coming to Thailand, Vaidya mentioned three challenges that faced the
development of biotechnology. The first is support infrastructure to
encourage a lot of biotech start-ups by helping them to identify sources
of funding and to negotiate the complex legalities involved.

The second challenge is to go beyond the public debate around genetically
modified (GM) food that has dragged on almost 10 years in Europe and
which is directly affecting to the Thailand's agro-biotech sector.

Since the government is focusing on biotechnology with the aim of
improving public health and agricultural productivity, Thailand needs to
learn an important lesson from the GM food debate in Europe and involve
all stakeholders in the debate about agro-biotechnology.

Third, Thailand should identify its own areas of strength in biotech.

Vaidya said a good example of this was Thailand?s considerable experience
in shrimp biotechnology, where the country could excel and draw global

Another strength is its rich biodiversity, he said: though many countries
in the Asian region have a history of using plant extracts and
medication, there are huge difficulties in tapping these resources. 

                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  GM foods - - to eat or not to eat
SOURCE: The Nation, Thailand, by Pennapa Hongthong and
        Pathomkanok Padkuntod
DATE:   11 Jul 2004 

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GM foods - -to eat or not to eat

Even though genetically modified (GM) products are legally required to
have proper labelling for over a year now, most Thai consumers are still
in the dark when it comes to this controversial issue.

While consumer-rights protection groups have long adhered to the
hypothesis that GM foods pose potential long-term health risks,
multinational food firms insisted that their GM products are safe and no
one has ever been killed by them.

So who to believe?

Despite lots of information from both sides on the pros and cons of GM
products, Vipawan Tongsaipetch, a 48-year-old businesswoman, concedes she
does not fully understand what the fuss about GM food items is all about.

"I often hear about it in the news, but I don't have any clear idea about
it. It seems to me that no one is really worried, so I guess having GM
food should be all right," Vipawan says as she does her shopping at Tops
Supermarket on Charansanitwong Road.

Another consumer, Kanchana Hiranyakarn, who runs a jewellery shop at a
Bangkok mall, says she has some idea about GM products and plays it safe
by avoiding all of them.

"I know what GM products are all about and do not want to buy and consume
them. I don't buy them for my loved ones either," she says.

While products with 5 per cent or greater GM content must be labelled,
most consumers say the labels are tiny and do not help them make their
decisions on the matter one way or the other.

According to Kanchana, these labels say nothing but "This product
contains GM corns/soybeans etc."

Sairoong Thongplon, of Thailand's Federation for Consumers, says such
labelling portrays GM content as just another ordinary ingredient,
perfectly safe for human consumption.

"The fact is there has been no scientific research to guarantee that all
GM products are safe," she said.

Suppachai Khunarattaphruk, secretary-general of the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA), says the current policy only allows the agency to
inform consumers what ingredients are their food.

"Every ingredient in any food we've approved for marketing is safe to
eat. GM food is no different from conventional food, so there is no need
to highlight the labelling," he says.

However, the FDA has no information on how many food items on sale in
Thailand come from products derived from GM ingredients.

A spokesperson for Nestle's consumer service in Thailand says Nestle has
a policy of registering its products as GM when they contain GM ingredients.

"All our food products derived from GM soybeans or corn are labelled as
such, even though their GM contents are less than 5 per cent, the level
required by law for registration," said the spokesperson.

Nestle aside, other food-manufacturers may believe "genetically modified"
labelling on their products may negatively affect sales, as wary
consumers would take such labels as warnings.

However, the Nestle spokesperson said that based on the few inquiries
they had received, only a small amount of consumers appeared to be
concerned with the GM content or lack thereof in their foodstuffs.

But the low number of inquiries could also be attributed to the low
number of consumers who notice the tiny labels.

Consumer Kanchana wondered if the law was really enforced. "I always read
the labels of food products before buying them, but I have never seen GM
labelling," she said.

Kanchana relies on a handbook distributed by Greenpeace Southeast Asia,
which provides information on nearly 100 food items for consumers and
instructs them to make their own decisions on the matter.

The manual has three categories of products. The "green" list supposedly
contains GM free-ingredients while the "black" list contains food items
believed to be "GM contaminated". In between these two categories is a
"grey" list of manufacturers that do not have explicit public policies on
GM food.

Araya Ananprakit, a Greenpeace official, said almost 4,000 Thais had
applied for membership of the "Thais Say No to GMOs [genetically modified
organisms]" campaign, with the majority of members being mothers of
newborn babies.

Many members have called the group's GMOs hotline asking for information
about powdered milk for their babies that is GMO free.

Araya says the group occasionally gets as many 200 phone inquiries in a
single day.

"This shows certain groups of consumers are quite concerned about their
health and do not want their newborns consuming food derived from GM
crops," she says.

It seems these concerns will not ease unless the government, the FDA and
other state agencies protect consumer rights by giving more comprehensive
information to the public on genetically modified crops and organisms and
improves the quality of the labelling policy in Thailand.

                                  PART III
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Scientist blames ignorance
SOURCE: The Nation, Thailand, by Theeranuch Pusaksrikit
DATE:   11 Jul 2004 

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Scientist blames ignorance

While some European companies have invested significant amounts of money
in developing genetic engineering techniques for application on
genetically modified (GM) products, they are still struggling for
acceptance in their own countries. 

 One examples is Bayer AG, a research-based German company. Bayer AG
researches genetic engineering in crop protection and has sold products
mainly in the North American market, where GM products and GMOs
(genetically modified organisms) are more widely accepted.

Anna Maria Simons, a chemist at Bayer CropScience, told The Nation that
the plant used biotechnology methods that were in accordance with the
principles of nature.

"Nature already invented these codes, but people haven't been able to use
them until our generation. Before we didn't have the technology to look
inside of a cell. Now we can look and see what nature does and then we
can copy her," she said.

Simons said some Europeans would not consume GM products because people
haven't been educated about the basics of GM food and how it is developed.

"At school, genetic engineering is still a new subject. It's just
started. Many teachers don't have the in-depth knowledge to explain it to
their students," she said.

Simons added that people felt uncomfortable consuming GM products because
they regarded DNA as an inviolate, untouchable compound. 

"I often discuss this with young people. They have an impression that DNA
comes from God and so only God has the power to change it. They believe
no one should tamper with DNA," the chemist said. 

But she added many researchers had proved there was nothing inherently
risky about splicing genes from one organism into another. However, when
rumours suggest GM products may cause cancer, people immediately believe
the worst without investigating how GM products are developed, she said.

Simons suggested that consumers would gain confidence if authorities
conducted research on genetically modified products.

                                  PART IV
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  GMO LABELLING: Regulations lack teeth
SOURCE: The Nation, Thailand, by Pennapa Hongthong and
        Pathomkanok Padkuntod
DATE:   11 Jul 2004 

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GMO LABELLING: Regulations lack teeth
Local activists call for Thailand to adopt standards in line with the EU

At least 35 countries across the globe have adopted mandatory labelling
for any food product derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
European countries are perceived by consumers' rights protection
activists as having the best labelling policies to provide consumers with
the right to decide.

As of April 18, 2004, every product available on the European market must
be labelled if it contains an ingredient that contains more than 0.9 per
cent GMOs. Animal feed containing GMOs also must be labelled.

In Thailand, the labelling regulation issued by the Food and Drug
Administration is often perceived as a way to indirectly promote GMOs.
The regulation enacted last May requires any food product that contains
genetically modified maize or soybeans as one of its three major
ingredients making up 5 per cent or more of the total to be labelled as
genetically modified maize or soybeans.

Consumers' rights protection groups, including the Federation for
Consumers and Greenpeace, have called upon the FDA to revise the
regulation. The platform of these groups is that all food products
derived from GMOs should be labelled.

"It should not only be GM maize and GM soybeans. It does not matter what
the percentage of GM ingredients is: even if it is 1 per cent of the
total ingredients, that food item should be labelled as GM food," said
Sairoong Thongplon of the Federation for Consumers.

Patwajee Srisuwan, Greenpeace's GMO campaigner, supported Sairoong,
saying that some manufacturers might benefit from the weakness of the
labelling law.

For example, Unilever produces foodstuffs like Knorr sweetcorn soup and
Knorr oyster sauce, which are listed on Greenpeace's latest blacklist. A
Unilever spokesperson said the company's products contained no more than
5 per cent GM ingredients, so they were not required by law to have
labelling on the packaging.

"We have no policy in response to this issue. We back the idea of labels
for all food that contains GMOs according to the policy of the Public
Health Ministry," the spokesperson said.

The deputy director-general of the Department of Medical Science in the
Ministry of Public Health, Suphan Srithamma, said that if the country
wanted to be strict on GM food items, the laboratory testing capabilities
needed to be improved.

"We don't have enough equipment to check all GM ingredients in all types
of food items other than maize and soybeans," Suphan said.

At the moment there are only two major laboratories in Thailand that can
test GM items. One is under the direction of Biotech (the National Centre
for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology) and the other is in the
Department of Medical Sciences.

Sairoong also suggested that labelling be more prominent so that it was
clearly visible to consumers.

If the country endorses GM food items, it could pave the way for
transnational seed companies to introduce GM crops to Thai farmers, she

"Our farmers will be more reliant on transnational companies if GM crops
are grown here. What will happen to the country's agricultural sector
then?" she asked.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

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

P: +49-531-5168746
F: +49-531-5168747
M: +49-162-1054755
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