BANGKOK, Thailand, August
22, 2004 -- CropChoice news -- AFP, 08/21/04: Thai Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said he would allow an open-field trial
of genetically modified food in what would be a key step towards
commercial use of GM crops in the kingdom.
Thailand's decision comes under criticism
August 24, 2004, as reported by just-food.com: Environmental
groups have criticized Thailand’s decision to
allow field trials of genetically modified crops and
accused the Prime Minister of falling to pressure from
the United States.
The Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, denied
the allegations that the decision had anything to do
with the U.S.
"The cancellation of the GMO ban was not because
of any U.S. senator lobbying. Nobody can lobby me, only
the Ministry of Science and Technology lobbied with
information," Thaksin was quoted by Agence France-Presse
Environmental group Greenpeace said the Thai government
had made a “rushed” and “reckless”
"The decision made by a small group of bio-technology
advocates will benefit only a small group of companies,
and ignore the rights of farmers and consumers of the
nation. It is apparent that the decision was based on
false claims and assumptions, which will lead this country
into disaster," said Jiragorn Gajaseni, executive
director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
The relaxation of Thailand's existing regulations on genetically
modified organisms (GMOs) still requires cabinet approval, but Thaksin
said broader experimentation with and use of the strains would be
sanctioned under a new biosafety law to be tabled next year.
"We have the capacity to develop genetically modified crops
and if we do not embark on it now we may miss our opportunity,"
Thaksin said during his weekly radio address, a day after presiding
over a meeting on the matter.
"But we must ... use compulsory clear labeling."
Thailand's cabinet in 2001 banned GMO field trials. Current law
forbids the public sale of GMO seeds and requires products containing
more than five percent of a genetically modified ingredient to be
labelled as such.
Thaksin said he felt buoyed by progress in Europe where the EU
ended its ban on GMO products, and stressed that Thailand would
be successful if it could juggle both GMO and conventional crop
Sakarindr Bhumiratana, a scientist with Thailand's National Center
of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, said the kingdom was currently
testing GMO strains of papaya, chili and orchids for future commercial
"The scientists must experiment at the farm level -- the last
stage -- in order to assess the impact and ensure that GMO crops
can be grown on a commercial scale," he said in an interview
on Thai radio.
Last month environmental group Greenpeace, a major opponent of
genetically modified foods, accused the Thai government of illegally
selling seeds from genetically modified papaya fruit after raiding
a state-owned farm.
Other environmental groups slammed Thaksin's announcement as a
"mammoth mistake" that could throw Thailand's huge agriculture
industry in to turmoil.
"The policy is putting Thai people at risk," Witoon Lianchamroon,
the director of the BioThai Network, said in the Nation newspaper,
adding that a countrywide upswell of opposition was likely.
"Thaksin has doubled back on his big promise to farmers and
environmental groups" to maintain a ban on commercial use of
GMOs, he said.
Other opponents quoted by the English-language daily said Thailand
had been heavily pressured by American corporate giants like Monsanto,
which is pushing to test genetically modified corn strains.
They also said the US government, which launched negotiations on
a free trade agreement with Thailand this year, has insisted as
part of the talks that Thailand grant intellectual property protection
for genetically modified crops.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, biotechnology
could help developing-world farmers feed another two billion people
in 30 years, breeding drought-resistant crops as well as staples
such as rice and cassava that require less water.
In May a fresh row over genetically modified food erupted in Europe
after the European Commission declared the EU would allow its first
imports of a bio-engineered crop in over five years.
The decision outraged Europe's green lobby, which accused the commission
of flouting public opinion and the so-called precautionary principle,
by which a GM product must be proven safe before it goes on sale.