NHRC calls on govt not to allow GM trials
Wants bio-safety law enforced first
Bangkok Post, Nov 13 2007 http://www.bangkokpost.com/News/13Nov2007_news10.php
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) yesterday urged the government not to approve open-field trials of genetically-modified (GM) crops until the bio-safety law is in effect. The agency also asked the government to come up with a clear explanation about the extent of GM contamination in the environment.
The agency made its call amid speculation that the cabinet would soon give the nod to GM open-field trials as requested by the Agriculture and Cooperatives and the Natural Resources and Environment ministries.
Buntoon Srethasirote, head policy strategist at the NHRC's Tropical Resources Base division, said the agency wanted to know how and why the release of GM papaya and BT cotton was still continuing onto farmland.
''The government has failed to investigate the GM crop contamination cases, despite the fact that the results obtained would be key to drawing up effective preventive measures against possible disasters.
''If it fails to gives us an answer, it should never approve the field trials,'' said Mr Buntoon.
According to the expert, all parties concerned should be aware that large-scale or commercial-scale planting of GM crops may not be possible due to the strong anti-GM movement here.
He cited a recent move by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to suspend the cultivation of GM crops nationwide, due to environmental concerns.
Several other European Union (EU) countries have enforced similar bans.
In addition, many EU members have also agreed to ban the growing of GM maize of the BT-11 variety created by the Syngenta company, and the Pioneer company's 1507 variety, following reports of water contamination at GM plantations.
''We don't think the country will benefit that much from GM crops. It is apparent that many international markets are going to say 'no' to such crops,'' he added.
Meanwhile, Somchai Ratanashueskul, a lecturer at the Faculty of Law, Thai Chamber of Commerce University, said it was necessary that the bio-safety law be put in place before the GM field trials are allowed, or there would be no preventive measures against contamination and farmers would be left legally defenceless if they were hit by such contamination.
''A mere ministerial regulation is insufficient, as it does not include any penalties for violators.
''We have already experienced contamination from GM cotton in 1999 and GM papaya in 2004, even though the state authorities had repeatedly assured us that field trials would be carefully conducted with maximum preventative measures,'' said Mr Somchai.
The Thaksin Shinawatra government in 2001 agreed to put on hold a plan to hold open-field GM crop experiments after strong opposition from the Assembly of the Poor. It also promised to suspend the field trials until a bio-safety law came into effect.
Until now, little progress has been made on the law's passage.
The law, which was drafted by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, has so far only been approved by the ministry's permanent secretary.
Cabinet approval is needed before the draft can be tabled before parliament.
The law also contains clauses stipulating measures placing restrictions on GM imports and exports, as well as safety guidelines for field trials and compensation for those affected by GM crops.