Field Trials Of Genetically Modified Crops; Policy U-Turn On GM Has Crucial Ramifications
- From: chatnoir <wolfbat359a@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sun, 6 Jan 2008 08:09:10 -0800 (PST)
Opinion: Field Trials Of Genetically Modified Crops; Policy U-Turn On
GM Has Crucial Ramifications
Despite strong opposition by environmental and consumers
organisations, and also by traders of organic products, the Surayud
Chulanont cabinet has decided to lift a ban on field trials of
genetically modified (GM) crops.
The policy U-turn on Dec 25, 2007, two days after the general
election, was a slap in the face of political etiquette. Previously,
the interim government had promised it would not pass any major
policies and/or projects as their term of office was running out. The
latest decision will have crucial ramifications on the future of
farmers and export markets, worth several billion baht.
In 1995, Thailand began allowing the import of several GM crops for
research purposes. Upjohn was the first company to import GM tomatoes
for experiment in its laboratories. Upjohn was followed by Monsanto,
Novartis, Pioneer Hybrid and Cargill, which imported GM cotton and
maize between the periods of 1995-1999.
In the same period, the Department of Agriculture (DOA) also imported
three GM varieties of indigenous plants, namely rice, melon and papaya
for further tests in the country.
The importation of GM plants inadvertently led to problems of genetic
contamination. In 1999, an environmental organisation named Biothai
discovered leaks of GM cotton in individual farms; the seeds had been
imported by Monsanto for open field tests. Eventually the Thaksin
Shinawatra government passed a cabinet resolution on April 3, 2001
that banned all field trials of GM plants until the implementation of
a national bio-safety law. Still, the mistake was repeated when in
2004 Greenpeace discovered that the distribution of papaya seeds from
the DOA's research station at Tha Phra in Khon Kaen province included
a GM variety even though it was supposed to be limited to the
government's research lab. And just one week before the Dec 25 cabinet
meeting, Biothai found GM maize had been leaked to farmers' fields in
Wat Thong district, Phitsanulok province. The site is near the
research station of Monsanto, the company that imported GM maize for
its own experiments in 1999.
Genetic contamination is considered a serious problem around the
world. The discovery in 2000 of Starlink GM maize in individual farms,
flour factories and certain ready-made food products [in the United
States] caused damage worth estimated at over US$1 billion. Due to the
presence of Cry9C protein in GM maize found to potentially cause
allergy in humans, Aventis the manufacturer was allowed to grow the
plant only as animal feed. In 2006, the rice industry in the United
States was seriously affected by the contamination of Liberty Link 601
GM rice, developed by Bayer Crop Science.
The 2004 reports of GM papaya contamination in Thailand similarly led
to the cancellation of papaya exports from Thailand by Britain-based
Genetic contamination also poses problems for farmers - they run the
risk of facing lawsuits over patent violations from multinationals.
The much-publicised case of Canadian Percy Schmeiser who was
prosecuted after the canola he grew was found to contain GM varieties
that had spilled over from his neighbour's farm, may be a future
scenario for Thai farmers.
Such concerns are not without grounds: Mr Dennis Gonsalves, who owns a
patent on the GM papaya, once gave an interview that he considered
both the GM variety and any future cross-hybrids between the local
Thai varieties and the GM version to be a property of Cornell
University, his affiliation.
In effect, the claim that the Thai cabinet's Christmas resolution will
help promote the development of biotechnology research by our own
scientists is questionable: GM technology and more than 80% of the GM
seed market have long been monopolised by one single multinational,
and the rest divided by a handful of others. The decision seems to
pave the way for the commercialisation of GM plants down the road. The
lifting of the ban will not only delight Agriculture Minister Theera
Sutabutr and other GM scientists, but also the American corporation
based in Missouri, the owner of numerous patents on GM papaya, cotton,
maize, soybean and many others. Without doubt, they must have had a
great time celebrating Christmas and the end of the year.
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