Recently, the Thailand government came up with a Rice Master Plan. The plan outlines a policy that aims to keep Thai rice free of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). Back home, our government continues to approve field trials of GM crops, which are unnecessary and threaten food security, health and the environment.

Thailand's GE-free rice policy, a key strategy in the master plan, laid out for 2007, and is valid until 2011 has been maintained in the new draft plan for the period 2011-2015. This plan not only promises to protect rice farmers and consumers, but also safeguards Thailand’s rice heritage from the inherent and irreversible risks posed by genetically-engineered (GE) crops.

Instead of stepping back, scrutinising and being critical of the regulatory mechanisms concerning GM crops, India's Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) continues to be a clearance house for GM crops. It has given permissions for field trials, which threaten to contaminate the environment and wipe out biodiversity. Biodiversity alone can protect us in a climate-stressed world, not GM monocultures.

Rice art in an organic rice field in Thailand

Aerial view of ‘Rice Art,’ depicting farmers wearing straw hats and using sickles planted in Thailand’s Central Plains. The field was planted with two varieties of organic rice by local the community together with Greenpeace supporters, volunteers and activists. © Greenpeace / Athit Perawongmetha

Like Thailand, India is home to innumerable rice species – grown from the foothills of the Himalayas to the plains of Southern India. Seventy-five per cent of India’s rice crop is planted with a dozen varieties. Once upon a time there were 30,000 varieties. This means that of the hundreds of thousands of rice varieties found across the world, a significant proportion is found in India. By allowing field trials of GM rice, we are endangering our country, which banks on this crucial crop for food security. Moreover, like in Thailand, we have enough knowledge - and more - of producing rice using well-established and proven successful methods such as Systematic Rice Intensification (SRI), which work in the face of climate change.

As a signatory to the Convention on Biodiversity - and having ratified the Cartagena Protocol (CP), the Indian government is bound to ensure there is no experiment in this rich rice biodiversity hotspot. On the contrary, India continues to gamble with its people, its environment and its future.

In the last one year alone, field trials for at least five crops have been permitted. These include large-scale field trials of GM corn (maize) over multiple locations across the country. Plus, the Government has permitted field trials for rice in at least six locations. There has already been one case of contamination in Jharkhand in 2008. This is proof enough of what we stand to lose with just-a-benign-research-experiment.

Liberty Link 601 (LL601) GM rice in the year 2006 is a case in point. Field trials of GM rice in the US led to unapproved GM rice entering global food supply chains. Contaminated food stocks were found and pulled from shelves in European stores. Widespread bans on US-produced rice were enacted. As a result, farmers, millers, traders and retailers around the globe faced massive financial costs, including testing and recall costs, cancelled orders, import bans, brand damage and consumer distrust – distrust that could last for years. Total costs incurred around the world as a result of LL601 rice contamination are estimated in the range of $741 million to $1.285 billion. Farmers who incurred direct and indirect losses as a result of Liberty Link rice contamination are attempting to recoup their costs through class action litigation against Bayer Crop Science LP, Riceland Foods and Producers Rice Mill.

In response, the All India Rice Exporters’ Association (AIREA) called on the Indian government to ensure that there would be no GMO experimentation (or field trials) in the Basmati growing region, thus ensuring a GMO-free Basmati belt.# Today, given that we have opened trade gates to export non-Basmati rice (which is not protected) while we have rice field trials going on simultaneously, we stand to lose trade-wise. Clearly, it is just not worth it.

Greenpeace India calls on the Indian government to take cue from the Thai Government and put a complete stop to GM crops. It should completely disallow field trials and adopt a long-term GM-free position, which will safeguard its people and the environment in the long run.