GENET archive


APPROVAL: Thai activists warn of legal action over GM trials

                                  PART 1

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SOURCE: Bangkok Post, Thailand

AUTHOR: Apinya Wipatayotin


DATE:   17.08.2007

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An activist network against genetically-modified (GM) agriculture yesterday threatened legal action against the government if it approves open-field trials of GM crops, as proposed by the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry. Witoon Lienchamroon, director of Biothai, a non-governmental organisation advocating farmer rights protection, yesterday called on the government to put in place measures to prevent the spread of GM-contaminated crops before allowing field trials.

”If the government continues to ignore our concern, we will take the case to the Administrative Court. GM field trials will definitely pose a risk and burden to farmers as they will not be able to sell their GM-tainted produce,” Mr Witoon said, referring to the move by Agriculture Minister Thira Sutabutra to seek cabinet approval for GM open-field trials by next week.

”We do not oppose GM laboratory tests but we need a biosafety law before we eventually put in place field trials.”

The previous government in 2001 suspended a plan for field trials due to strong protests by activists who demanded the introduction of a biosafety law.

However, there were reports of GM contamination in papaya plantations surrounding the agriculture office in Khon Kaen and other areas in many provinces in 2004, prompting the set-up of an investigative panel led by Mr Thira, who was then dean of the agriculture faculty at Kasetsart University. However, his panel was unable to find the cause of the GM leakage.

Chakarn Sangraksawong, the ex-agriculture department chief, is facing a probe by the National Counter Corruption Committee in a case where he was charged with negligence of duty that resulted in GM contamination.

Buntoon Srethasirote, director of the Project Policy Strategy on Tropical Resources Base of the National Human Rights Commission, said open-field trials did not bring any benefits to the country.

”I think that the heavy push for the open-field experiments comes from academics who want to promote GM farming. But the country will not benefit from the trials. The global market has said no to GM produce and we are going to promote the produce that consumers do not accept,” he said.

He further questioned the delay in promulgating biosafety law, which has been drafted by the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry. The draft has yet to be submitted to the National Legislative Assembly.

The law will make GM firms accountable for contamination that damages non-GM farmers and the environment.

Soonthorn Sritawee, a representative of the Thai Organic Farming Association, said if the government approves the trials, organic farming produce will be severely affected as the country might be downgraded from ”medium to low” to ”high-risk” GM concern status by international trade counterparts.

He said the country earns some three billion baht annually from the export of organic produce - 90% of which goes to Europe and 10% to the US. The global market 

                                  PART 2

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SOURCE: Bangkok Post, Thailand



DATE:   10.08.2007

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Spurring research the goal, papaya to be first

The Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives has renewed its efforts to lift a ban on field trials of genetically-modified (GM) crops that would pave the way for commercial production of transgenic crops in the country.

The ministry would ask the coup-installed cabinet to revoke the 2001 cabinet resolution banning open-field GM crop experiments in the next two weeks, said minister Thira Sutabutra yesterday.

He was speaking after discussing the matter with Science and Technology Minister Yongyuth Yuthavong and Natural Resources and Environment Minister Kasem Snidvongs.

The three ministers agreed that lifting the ban would help promote research on GM crops in the country.

Transgenic plants must pass three levels of biosafety tests - laboratory, greenhouse and open-field trials - before being endorsed for mass production.

However, with the presence of the ban, experiments on GM crop are allowed only at laboratory and greenhouse levels.

GM papaya would be the ministry’s main focus because local papaya producers had been severely affected by the papaya ring spot virus outbreak. The problem could be solved by using a transgenic papaya strain that is resistant to the virus, said Mr Thira.

”There’s nothing to fear. [Field trials of GM crops] pose no risk to the environment and people’s health. Moreover, agencies involved will impose stringent measures to prevent GMO contamination in the environment,” he said.

Adisak Sreesunpakit, director-general of the Agriculture Department, which supervises GM crop experiments, said: ”Thailand’s research and development of GM crops has been frozen for six years so far. This makes us lag behind other Asian countries, such as China, Indonesia and India,” he said.

”The department will go ahead with GM crop field trials as soon as the cabinet agrees to lift the ban,” he said, adding that GM papaya would be the first crop to have open-field trials.

Field trials of non-edible crops, such as GM oil palm and orchids, were also in the pipeline, he said.

But the ministry’s pro-GM stance is not adopted by all agricultural agencies.

Surapong Pransilapa, director-general of the Rice Department, yesterday ruled out the possibility of using genetic-engineering technology to develop Thai rice varieties and tackle rice diseases.

”Thai rice must be GM-free,” he said. ”We have to make this clear to some 150 countries which buy our rice. Otherwise, we may lose major rice markets, particularly the European countries where consumers are against GMOs,” he said.

The Agriculture Department planned to use the technology to tackle unsolved problems damaging other crops’ yields, but for rice, it preferred to use other conventional means, he said.

Mr Thira agreed rice should be excluded from the ministry’s GM field trial scheme.

Buntoon Srethasirote, a member of a sub-panel on bio-diversity and intellectual property rights under the National Human Rights Commission, voiced concern over the fresh bid to lift the ban.

The science and technology and the public health ministers had recently expressed support for genetic engineering technology. This would add momentum to the ministry’s proposal to revoke the ban.

Moreover, he said, the coup-appointed government seems to lack understanding about environmental issues, considering its previous decisions that posed threats to the environment, such as signing a free-trade agreement with Japan.

”Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, meanwhile, has failed to thoroughly consider the pros and cons of proposals made by each ministry. He always allows them to make their decisions freely,” he said.

He said field trials of GM crops should be banned, pending the promulgation of biosafety laws to ensure the impact and possible damage caused by them would be controlled.

                                  PART 3

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SOURCE: The Nation, Thailand



DATE:   09.08.2007

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Thailand lagging behind in modified crops: Adisak

The Agriculture Ministry will ask the Cabinet to allow field tests of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) again as Thailand falls behind trading partners who already grow them.

GMO crops are farmed in 22 countries over an area of 637.5 million rai. Trading value is currently US$6 billion (Bt203 billion) per year.

If the Cabinet grants approval, the ministry will conduct research and development through experiments and field tests, particularly with papaya. It also plans to experiment on other crops, such as palm oil and flowers.

Adisak Sreesunpagit, director-general of the ministry’s Agriculture Department, yesterday said details of GMO research and development were being prepared.

The ministry and the private sector were ordered to stop field tests of GMO plants on April 3, 2001. As a result, research and development has been limited to experiments in restricted areas.

Adisak said the government should consider allowing resumption of testing, in order to catch up with global developments.

Developed countries like the United States, France, Australia, Canada, Spain and Germany and developing countries like China, India, Argentina, the Philippines, Indonesia and Brazil have embraced GMO technology.

Many GMO crops have already been sold in the market, including soybean, maize, corn, canola, cotton, potatoes and papayas.

However, the Thai government has not allowed anyone to grow GMO plants for commercial purposes, because of concerns about biosafety. It only allows the import of GMO seeds for experiments and development in laboratories.

Over the past 11 years, the annual trading value of GMO crops has increased from $200 million to $6 billion. They are cultivated by 10.3 million farmers in 22 countries. The technology will be used by 30 nations by 2010.

”Thailand’s research and development on GMO plants has fallen behind countries that have been using modified crops for six years,” Adisak said.

                                  PART 4

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SOURCE: The Nation, Thailand



DATE:   01.07.2007

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Research into genetically modified organisms in Thailand has so far been restricted to controlled laboratory conditions. As Pongpen Sutharoj reports, two ministries will soon be asking Cabinet for permission for researchers to conduct field trials with the aim of eventually patenting any discoveries.

The Science Ministry and the Agriculture Ministry are planning to propose the Cabinet accept field trials of genetically modified organism (GMO) crops for research and development purposes.

GMO is a controversial issue which has raised conflict in society over its impact. While biotechnology researchers have said it is necessary to conduct GMO research to develop scientific knowledge within the country to understand the advantages and disadvantages of the technology, some groups are against the development.

Even though Thailand allows researchers to conduct R&D on GMO, the Cabinet six years ago passed a resolution to permit GMO research projects to be conducted and tested only within laboratories, not as field trials.

Researchers have said this resolution places limits on the development of knowledge. To better understand the technology, they have said research and development - including field trials - is required.

Sakarindr Bhumiratana, president of the National Science and Technology Development Agency, said that to increase scientific knowledge, the Science Ministry and the Agriculture Ministry had agreed to propose that the Cabinet allow a field trial of GMO crops.

He said research and development would help the country as a foundation to enable researchers and society as a whole to understand both the advantages and the disadvantages of the technology so they could make further decisions about whether the country should continue developments in the area.

The Agriculture Ministry will propose the idea to Cabinet next month to pass regulations on GMO crop field trials while the Science Ministry will take care of the development of bio-safety standards to control the field process as well as designing a GMO research and development roadmap.

Sakarindr said the development of GMO technology would have to come with bio-safety measures to ensure that the entire research and development process, especially in any field trial, was done under rigid safety standards and was controllable.

”Now we have a scientific procedure and regulations that can make sure that all field trials will be safe and will not harm the environment and its surroundings,” he said.

The National Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (Biotec) has also drafted a roadmap for GMO research.

Biotec’s director Morakot Tanticharoen said the roadmap was expected to go to Cabinet at the same time as the Agriculture Ministry proposed the field-trial plan next month.

She said the roadmap would be a guideline for GMO development during the four years from 2008 to 2011.

The roadmap consists of four strategic plans including the development of technology competence among local researchers; the development of GM crop prototypes which have economic, social and environment value; the development of bio-safety mechanisms for field trials; and the development of public understanding of the technology.

In the first year, she said the plan was hoped to develop a bio-safety mechanism for field trials while training at least 10 biotechnology researchers to oversee field-trial safety. The roadmap also plans to increase this to 30 researchers in 2009 and 50 in 2010.

Meanwhile, the plan will also focus on the development of 15 science communicators in the second year to help public understanding of GMO technology as well as push the development of at least five prototype GMO crops.

Examples of crops with potential for research and development include tomatoes, papaya, chili and pineapple.

She said that the development of basic genetic technology would also be done in parallel to help the country build its own knowledge for further development. The technology in this area included the gene-discovery process as well as gene transformation.

”Eventually we hope we will have basic genetic technology from the discovery of new gene characteristics in crops or gene transformations that can be patented. We hope for at least five patents in the next four years,” she said.

She said the roadmap was hoped to help the country create a competitive advantage and put it on the right direction for GMO technology.



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