Battle rages on between academics, firms; panel to look at next steps
ACADEMICS and private enterprises have called for the reversal of a decision to revoke the bill regulating genetically modified organisms (GMOs), saying that aborting the legislation would result in losses for the country in the long run.
But a non-government organisation cheered the decision and suggested the way ahead was to boost technology advancement in organic agriculture.
These contrasting reactions came after Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said yesterday Cabinet had agreed to withdraw the biological safety bill – the ‘GMO bill’ – from the drafting procedure. He said that even though there had been long debate on the bill since 1997, there was no use considering it further.
“Other countries use GM plants in the event of war or crop failure due to disease. This is because these plants can tolerate drought and disease and also have high yields, which will be useful in the event of war around the world,” the PM said.
Maj-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd said Cabinet decided to send the bill back to the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry so it can add |revisions based on the debate.
Jessada Denduangboripant, a scientist and professor at Chulalongkorn’s Faculty of Science, said Thailand needed to have a GMO act to control and regulate GMO plants, and microbes.
GMOs were an important and useful technology that could help farmers improve agricultural productivity, as the growing of such plants uses less water and offers high yields. Taking the bill out of the legislative system will not help the country escape GMO plants, as it has already allowed the import of many GMO products, while some GMO plants are grown in Thailand, he argued.
Jessada said many countries in Asean had GMO laws and allowed the growing of GMO crops, if Thailand did not have its own law, it would no longer be able to control GMO plant combinations.
Pornsilp Patchrintanakul, adviser to the Board of Trade and president of the Thai Feed Mill Association, said Thailand should have a GMO law to regulate and enhance the management of GMO plant production, as many GMO plants were already grown in the country, while there was nothing in place to regulate the import of GMO products.
“Thailand needs to look at why this law is necessary rather than say ‘no’ to it, because it would not lead to an influx of GMO products or plants. The NGOs were afraid, as many GMO products were already sold and grown in the country, such as papaya,” he said.
He added that about 10 years ago, a NGO grouping called for Thailand to draft the GMO bill, but now they refused to accept it.
Even if there is no such law, GMO plants will continue to be grown in the country, while businesses such as feed-mill manufacturers and instant-noodle enterprises need to import GMO maize and wheat flour to support their production, he explained.
Asked about concern over the combination of GMO and organic plants, Pornsilp said now that the bill has been abandoned, GMO plants and products would spread nationwide anyway in the absence of proper regulation. The country also needs such a law as a food-security measure, as GMO plants could help solve shortage of some food plants in the long run, while the government could also have a law to control the growing and import of the plants, he said.
Kasemsun Chinnavaso, Natural Resources and Environment Ministry permanent secretary, said the intention of the bill had been to control GMO production and prevent the smuggling of illegal GMOs. A committee will now be set up to examine the next steps following its revocation, said the official.
However, on the NGO side, the PM’s decision to revoke the legislation was seen as good news.
Biothai Foundation director Witoon Lianchamroon said he was delighted the bill had been revoked, and stressed that any new law should aim to tackle the larger perspective of protecting the country’s food security and biodiversity.
“I would like to see a broader legitimate body designed to protect our food supply sustainably by using safer technology based on organic farming. We have to move away from GMO because it is a danger to the environment and does not fit with global market demand,”
He wants the government to do more research on organic agriculture.