Future of Thai Agriculture to be compromised by GMO contamination Greenpeace demands GMO field trial ban

Feature story - April 8, 2008
Greenpeace today demanded a re-institution of the GMO (genetically-modified organism) field trial ban, warning that Thailand’s agriculture future will be compromised by GMO contamination if the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives does not take steps to protect the country’s farming sector.

Greenpeace demanded a re-institution of the GMO (genetically-modified organism) field trial ban, warning that Thailand’s agriculture future will be compromised by GMO contamination if the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives does not take steps to protect the country’s farming sector.

The call was made during the launch of the latest GMO Contamination Register, a report which monitors illegal GMO incidents worldwide. The updated version of the report lists an unauthorized planting of GMO maize in Thailand, discovered last December 2007, as one of 39 documented contamination cases in 2007.

GMO maize is not allowed for commercial growing nor for field trials in the Kingdom. But the GMO maize was found at a local farm near agrochem giant Monsanto's maize farm in Phitsanulok province. According to the Agriculture Department's records, Monsanto obtained permission to import five kilogrammes of the maize from the US in 1999 to plant on an isolated farm for experimental purposes.

"The contamination documented in the report is just the tip of the iceberg. Ongoing GMO contamination in the world's major food crops, particularly in rice and maize, shows GMO companies cannot control their artificial genes. Without decisive government action, our food and seed supplies will be under threat," warned Greenpeace Genetic Engineering Campaigner Natwipha Ewasakul.

GMO contamination has hounded Thailand in two other previous instances, harming the country's agricultural industry. In 1999 Thai farmers were found to be commercially growing illegal GMO cotton when only field trial had been authorised. In July 2004, Greenpeace exposed the role of an MoA-run experimental station in Khon Kaen as the source of genetic contamination of Thai papayas. The station distributed GM contaminated papaya seeds to as many as 2,669 farmers in 37 provinces. The MoA has so far failed to act to comprehensively rid Thai papaya farms of this widespread GM contamination. Due to the uncertainty caused by this unwanted and illegal contamination, market confidence on Thai papaya exports especially in Europe faltered.

The GMO maize contamination, however, is expected to be more serious. Corn pollen travels much further and spreads more easily than other crops. Corn is also one of Thailand's top export products and the danger of rejection by large markets such as Japan and the European Union, is great.

As shown in the case of the genetically-engineered maize, open field trials are the most common sources of GMO contamination. Thailand instituted a ban on GMO field trials in 2001, but last November, the ban was repealed in a much-deplored midnight decision.

"This latest case is a classic example of how GMO crops are uncontrollable. Once GMOs are released into the environment--usually via open field trials--it is almost impossible to recall them and the process is irreversible. Economic losses associated with GMO contamination are also massive,"said Ewasakul. "The only right thing for the government to do is to reverse the decision to lift the ban. For the sake of sound environment, and to protect Thailand's agricultural leadership GM crops must not be allowed to be grown in our country. Otherwise the future of Thai agriculture will be in peril." 

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