COMMENT from Dr Brian John: Having lost market share as a result of the LL601 fiasco, the US wants that market share back - and the tactic is not to clean up American rice but to ensure that the rest of the rice market goes down the GM route too. If GM rice can be made acceptable in the countries of the Far East, a few million tonnes of contaminated US rice can easily be shifted on the international market...
GM Thai rice on sale soon?
By Charlotte Eyre
13/09/2007 - A biotechnology boom will soon hit Thailand as the authorities move towards removing a ban on the field testing of biotech products, according to a new report.
If, as expected, the ban is removed, Thailand will be able to develop a national biosafety framework that will give the country a competitive edge against other regions in Asia, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) report said.
"Until the ban on field trials is removed, Thailand risks being at a disadvantage from neighbouring countries," said Sakchai Preechajarn, who prepared the report.
Although on field trials, and not on laboratory testing, the ban has effectively placed a moratorium on the advancement of biotechnology in Thailand, the report said.
Furthermore, although there is strong opposition in Thailand, the technology is widely misunderstood, the report added.
"A 2005 survey by the Agricultural Economics Office showed more than 90 percent of Thai consumers felt they had no access to information on the costs and benefits of biotech crops, and consequently were skeptical of any health benefits derived from biotech food products," Preechajarn said.
"Further impeding their ability to obtain information is the Thai media, whom often portray biotechnology negatively," he added.
The ban was initially set in place in 2001, however in May this year the Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives met with representatives from the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, and Kasetsart University to discuss guidelines for re-opening field trials of biotech crops.
However, the government will face huge opposition from pressure groups and manufacturers alike, local newspaper The Nation reported this week.
Greenpeace Southeast Asia and BioThai are both against the move, as is the Public Health Ministry and various exporters of organic farm products, who are worried their image would be tarnished internationally, the newspaper said.
"Allowing field testing of GM crops is wrong and would ruin the export of Thai farm products to major European and Japanese markets," said Wanlop Pitpongsa, chairman of the Thai Organic Agricultural Trading Association.
Last year, Thai exporters announced they would make an official declaration that they have no genetically modified rice in production in a bid to enhance their sales on the global market.
The rice producers hoped to benefit from Europe's recently implemented rules for US-grown rice that required shipments to be GM free.
"It's too early to tell how much we're going to gain from this situation," said Wanlop Pichpongsa from Capital Rice, one of the largest exporters. "But we're hoping that if we start new sales to the EU we can take some market share on a permanent basis."
Guidelines suggesting the removal of a ban will go to cabinet later this month.