FOCUS ON ASIA
The [Thai] Cabinet was expected to ratify the policy at its weekly meeting [last] Tuesday. But after encountering strong opposition from organic farmers, environmentalists and consumer groups, the Cabinet put the issue on hold.
The GMO debate: Monsanto looks for a foothold
The Nation, Aug 26, 2004
Saowalak Phumyaem,Kamol Sukin
Seeking clarification of the Kingdom's policy on genetically modified crops, the giant biotech corporation Monsanto yesterday sent delegates to meet senior officials from the Agriculture Ministry.
It is the first move by the multinational since the government announced its turnaround on GM crops and foods last week.
Though not yet official, it seems only a matter of time before GM crops are grown here.
And Monsanto, a driving force behind GM crops worldwide, is waiting to develop a market in Southeast Asia as soon as field tests are approved.
"The company's representative from Singapore met with me seeking a clear policy on field testing," said Chawanwut Chainuwut, the ministry’s deputy secretary-general.
"My reply will depend on the Cabinet," he said. Last Friday, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra as the chairman of the National National Biotechnology Policy Commission approved a new policy allowing trading and planting of GM crops if authorities ruled they were safe.
The Cabinet was expected to ratify the policy at its weekly meeting on Tuesday.
But after encountering strong opposition from organic farmers, environmentalists and consumer groups, the Cabinet put the issue on hold.
"What I can do is report the results of the meeting with Monsanto to Minister Somsak Thepsuthin," Chawanwut said.
“Personally, I support the premier’s policy. The leakage of GM matter during field testing is something preventable and I believe we can control it as we learned a lesson from the BT cotton case,” the senior official said.
In the case of BT cotton, trial crops leaked into the local area around the experimental fields.
Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recently said it would investigate the alleged leakage of GM papaya from a Khon Kaen laboratory to nearby farms allegations levelled by international environmental group Greenpeace several months ago.
Chakan Saengraksawong, director-general of the Department of Agriculture (DOA), said the department would provide a list of all farmers who had bought papaya seed from the research laboratory to help the NHRC’s investigation.
Chakan insisted the department had no policy of promoting GM seeds among farmers because they were illegal.
"We never sold the GM papaya seeds. If any official is found to have illegally sold the seeds he will surely face punishment," Chakan said.
However, the director-general said the DOA was ready for field testing and believed the authority could control its impact on the surrounding environment.
BioThai's director Witoon Lianchamroon, who leads the anti-GMO movement and opposes the government's policy reversal on GM crops, yesterday said his alliance including consumer and farmers' networks would today meet to consider their next move.