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The latest news from Thailand follows the extraodinary trade pressures brought to bear ever since Thailand introduced a modicum of GM food labelling and a moratorium on growing GM crops - a moratorium which now looks set to be overturned
In 2001 the head of the Thai Food and Drug Administration revealed how a visiting US trade delegation had threatened trade sanctions against Thai imports, worth about US$8.7bn a year, if labelling went ahead. The threats to invoke Section 301 of the U.S. trade laws were made during an official visit.
Then earlier this year, the Thai Environment Minister publicly objected to the U.S.'s insisting that Thailand grow GM crops as a condition of a bilateral free trade agreement.
Now - surprise, surprise - the Thai Prime Minister says he is going to revoke an earlier ban on the commercial use of GM crops, in defiance, as the article below notes, of 'wide opposition from farmers, environmentalists and consumer networks'.
This follows the pattern of what happened in Sri Lanka after it introduced a ban on GM food in May 2001 in order to allow time for the health risks to be studied. At the time of the announcement, Sri Lanka's Director General of Health Services said that the safety of consumers was paramount and that the ban would remain in place until worldwide concerns about GM foods were settled. After intense pressure from the U.S. and the W.T.O., however, Sri Lanka's ban was indefinitely postponed.
What makes what's now happening in Thailand particularly ironic is that Greenpeace has recently exposed a scandal involving GM contamination of papaya seeds. The seeds, which have been sold to Thai farmers, appear to have been contaminated by GM crop trials carried out at a Thai research station in contravention of the existing ban.
Yet the Thai Prime Minister's response to what is potentially one of the worst cases of GM contamination of a major food crop in Asia, is not to tighten the existing ban but to revoke it!
Interestingly, the biotech-industry backed ISAAA is the main financial backer of the just-launched Biotechnology Alliance Association which plans 'to promote biotechnology' in Thailand. At one and the same time, ISAAA has established a new Center to promote GMOs in India, as part of the biotech industry's campaign there to remove regulatory hurdles to the rapid introduction of GMOs.
1.Comment from Deejay Songtian
2.POLICY REVERSAL: Green light for GMOs
1.Comment from GM WATCH subscriber Deejay Songtian:
As the GM papaya contamination spreads, the Thai Prime Minister announces that GM crops will be grown....
Last night I had a dream. I dreamt that I was walking down a crowded Soi near my office, arriving at my favorite Som Tam (green papaya salad) stall, drawn by the sound 'tum-tum-tum-tum
.' As I sat down on a rickety wooden bench, I called out my order and glanced around. And my heart stopped. There were no people around me. Limbs covered in brown fur, huge wet eyes, long teeth chewing through strips of green papaya, fine black whiskers dripping sweat. There were no people around me. I was alone among Guinea Pigs. When I opened my mouth to scream, I heard the squeal of a rat. Then I saw my whiskers dripping sweat, the fur on my arms, claws scratching at my own face. As I turned to run my body was thrown against a wall of wire; the wall of a cage.... Then I woke up. My heart beating rapidly, feeling my face, rubbing my bare arms for comfort, I stumbled outside to catch my breath. And there I saw it, a narrow column in the newspaper lying at my feet: 'GM Papaya Declared Safe'. Safe because some scientists said it's safe. Because the guinea pigs that ate it hadn't died. Hadn't died yet, because we became them. And now the nightmare begins.
Deejay Songtian, Bangkok, Aug 21, 2004
2.POLICY REVERSAL: Green light for GMOs
PM authorises planting, trading of modified crops after testing
The Nation, 21 Aug 2004
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday bestowed the government's tacit blessing on the planting and trading of genetically modified (GM) crops by revoking an earlier ban on their commercial use, in defiance of wide opposition from farmers, environmentalists and consumer networks.
In contrast to the current policy that only permits GM crops to be grown in laboratories for experimental purposes, the revision will allow for open planting and commercialisation of GM crops provided they receive approval from the Bio Safety Committee (BSC), the premier said.
The announcement was made yesterday after Thaksin chaired a meeting of the National Biotechnology Policy Board (NBPB) at the Science Ministry.
"We are not going to promote GM crops, but we will not slam the doors shut on their development. We will allow for their plantation and commercialisation as we do for other crops," said Sakarindr Bhumiratana, NBPB secretary and president of the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), who relayed the prime minister's speech.
After outlining Thaksin's three basic options of promoting GM crops, allowing them to be planted and commercialised, and imposing an outright ban on their commercial use, Sakarindr said: "We choose the second option."
"The current policy caused misunderstanding among researchers and private biotech companies that led to a decrease in related research and investment," he said.
"The policy change is needed. Otherwise Thailand will fail to keep abreast of the global current in the GM-crop trade," Sakarindr added.
As a means of kick-starting the policy next Tuesday, the Cabinet will revoke the resolution it passed on April 3, 2001 that effectively bans any handling of GM crops outside a research environment.
The Bio Safety Committee has been tasked with issuing suitable safety measures within three months in a bid to implement the new policy as soon as possible.
Meanwhile the Natural Resource and Environment Ministry has been assigned to draft the Bio Safety bill within one year, while the Science Ministry has been granted authority over assessing the safety of GM crops and related products.
The premier's political about-face has inflamed local farmers, environmentalists and consumer networks.
"The policy is putting Thai people at risk," said Witoon Lianchamroon, director of the BioThai Network.
"How can the government place its trust in the Bio Safety Committee when it has long been known as a paper tiger? It has no legal power to enforce the rules and therefore cannot make private companies adopt its guidelines," he said.
The networks said they believed the decision stemmed from heavy US pressure and giant biotech corporation Monsanto, which allegedly aims to monopolise the Thai grain and agricultural markets.
Witoon said he anticipated a national upswell of protest against the premier's decision to decriminalise the crops.
"It is a mammoth mistake, and the premier will undoubtedly suffer the consequences," Witoon said. "Thaksin has doubled back on his 'big promise' to farmers and environmental groups," Witoon said, referring to the April 3, 2001 Cabinet resolution which was the result of protracted negotiations between rival lobbying and government groups.
Witoon said the resolution represented Thaksin's promise to put the issue to bed before 2001, when a leak of genetically modified cotton was discovered in the northeastern provinces.
"The policy will put Thailand at risk of further contamination from GM crops, which may spread to natural plants. The premier will take us to the point of no return," he said, referring to the potentially irreparable level of damage some believe GM crops will wreak.
"The lesson to be learned from the BT cotton episode in Loei province is that controlling contamination is impossible and thus there is a large inherent danger," he added.
"Before long an opposition movement will take place. Not only from our network but also from other consumer and environmental networks," warned Witoon.
Varoonvarn Svangsopakul, a campaigner from Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said the policy would make eating GM-contaminated food unavoidable.
"GM products are banned in most countries, especially our 'expert' countries like the EU and Japan. Consumers there reject them to avoid possible side-effects," she said.
"Next week we will hold a special session and invite GMO scientists from Britain to update us on the latest GMO safety developments," she added.
Jacques-chai Chomthongdi, founding member of the Free Trade Agreement Watch, said he believed the government had been swayed by lobbying from Monsanto Thailand and the US government, which wants to protect its biotech trade.
"The US Trade Representatives expressed quite clearly during my visit to Washington DC several months ago that granting intellectual property rights [IPR] for GM grain was the staple US policy and it was not subject to negotiation regardless of nation," he said.
"Recently the US government stated in its proposed free-trade agreement [FTA] to the Thai government that Thailand had to support the implementation of IPRs, agree with the benefits and use of GMO technology and make Thai people understand that GM technology was not dangerous," he said.
"There is no other reason why the US had to sign an FTA with Thailand as it was already receiving benefits in deals made in other business sectors," he added.
Discussions on penning a Thai-US FTA began this year, with follow-up talks scheduled for Hawaii next October and the third round slated for soon after that in Bangkok.
Apart from the new policy on GM crops, yesterday's meeting also saw the Bt660-million Bio Park project approved in an endeavour to boost the nation's competitiveness in the biotech industry.
The NSTDA was also granted principal authority in developing a "shrimp cluster" to promote the domestic shrimp industry by exploiting new biotechnology.
Responding to the government's announcement, Monsanto's spokesman Khongthas Janchai said the company was "very happy" with the reversal and planned to launch field tests for two potential GM crops, the Round-up Ready and Bt maizes, in the near future.
"We believe GM crops can coexist with native plants without any negative impact. The government is on the right track," he said.
Khongthas denied accusations by the farmers' network that Monsanto had developed a special relationship with NSTDA's scientists and had applied pressure to amend the policy.
Scores of farmers and environmental networks contacted by The Nation yesterday said they were currently discussing ways of responding to the new crop policy to register their protest.
"We cannot reveal how this movement will express itself, but it will happen in a big way, and we are hoping for large-scale public support," said one environmental activist contacted by telephone.
Genes are the blueprints for every living organism. Genetic engineering is the process of artificially modifying these blueprints. By cutting and splicing DNA essentially genetic surgery genetic engineers can transfer genes from one organism to any other organism on earth.
In the case of plants, scientists want to transfer desirable qualities, for example, to make a crop resistant to herbicides or to enhance food value. Scientists in favour of genetically modified organisms believe the practice could lead to a secure future for food.
Another group of scientists disagree. They contend genetically modified crops will produce new toxins and allergens in foods, affecting the health of consumers. They are also concerned about large-scale environmental and ecological damage.
Introducing GM crops would also lead to a significant loss of biodiversity, especially the native species, they say.
Scientific evidence on GM crops is still insufficient to judge whether they are safe for human consumption. Most studies of the GM crops are currently laboratory-based with few field experiments having been conducted.
Green light for GMOs in Thailand - the nightmare begins
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