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REGULATION & POLICY: Plan for GM crop field trials revived inThailand

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  Plan for GM crop field trials revived
SOURCE: Bangkok Post, Thailand
AUTHOR: Piyaporn Wongruang
DATE:   04.05.2007

Plan for GM crop field trials revived
Draft guidelines to go to cabinet next month

The Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry has revived a plan to conduct
field trials of genetically modified crops. Minister Thira Sutabutra
yesterday said he had told the Agriculture Department to draft
guidelines on how the open-field trials should be conducted to ensure
the environment and human health were not affected.

The department is expected to complete the transgenic crop trial
framework by the end of the month, and the ministry would ask cabinet
for approval of the draft next month, he said.

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

Mr Thira said experiments on GM crops in the country had so far only
been at the greenhouse level.

Open field trials were necessary if scientists wanted to know the
possible impact of GM plants on the environment.

Field trials and commercialisation of GM crops were put on hold under a
cabinet resolution in 2001, shortly after the spread of GM cotton which
raised fears among the public of the adverse impact of GM plants on
human health and the environment.

In the past six years, the ministry, which oversees experiments and
planting of GM crops, has repeatedly tried to lift the ban, but failed
due to opposition from environmentalists and farmers.

Protests against transgenic crop growing resurfaced in 2004, when GM
papaya grown at an experimental field inside the department's research
station in Khon Kaen were found in non-GM papaya plantations nearby.

Scientists say that genetic engineering technology will help reduce the
use of harmful farm chemicals and fertiliser.

Mr Thira said the ministry decided to press ahead with field trials of
GM crops because some neighbouring countries have been working on the
technology and had yielded research outcomes that could put Thailand at
a competitive disadvantage in the farm sector.

He said that many farmers suffered low farm yields from disease and pest
outbreaks, which could be corrected by GM technology. "We care about
farmers, and we are not working on this issue without reason," he said.

Adisak Sreesunpagit, the Agriculture Department chief, said the
department would try figuring out how the open field trials should be

He said the trials should be conducted under tight controls, while the
experimental fields should be located away from other farms to prevent
the plants from spreading into conventional crop areas.

If cabinet approves the trial, the potential crops which could be
planted would be papaya, tomato, chilli, and pineapple, he said.

Mr Adisak said it was unreasonable to ban GM crop field trials.

"Can anyone tell me how exactly GM crops are harmful?" he said.

Witoon Lianchamroon, director of BioThai, a non-profit organisation
promoting biodiversity, said the ministry had not yet shown the public
how it could stop GM crops spreading to conventional farms.

He said the ministry should drop the idea for the public good.

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