Gen Prayuth’s government recently appointed a committee to consider lifting the kingdom’s ban on open field GMO trials , specifically for four crops, namely maize, cassava, palm and sugar cane.
GMO produce and products widely produced, processed and/or consumed in the kingdom include soya, corn, papaya and cotton. Though some of it is imported to the kingdom from places like the Philippines and US, where GMO regulations are lax at best, Thai farmers are increasingly cultivating GMO produce, some times unknowingly.
Meanwhile, environmental watchdog Greenpeace has urged General Prayuth’s government to stop pushing for open field trials of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the kingdom, but to little avail.
The Supreme Administrative Court last month dismissed a lawsuit filed by Greenpeace in 2006 against the Department of Agriculture (DOA) for negligence in the papaya contamination scandal in 2004, when activists had exposed contamination from the DOA's experimental GMO papaya plantation in Khon Kaen.
Though criminal charges of theft, trespassing and destruction of property were successfully lodged by the Department of Agriculture against the Greenpeace activists, no one has ever been held accountable for the GMO contamination, in Khon Kaen and in the dozens of other cases that have surfaced over the past two decades across Thailand, despite a GMO testing being banned.
Greenpeace believes that maintaining the ban means the Thai government could continue to define Thailand’s own agricultural policies, which the group says, should be ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate to the country’s unique circumstances.
The ban also protects the rights of Thai people and communities from corporate control of agriculture.
Tara Buakamsri, Thailand Country Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia said: “Whether or not the Department of Agriculture (DOA) is found guilty of negligence in the management of its GM papaya field trials in Khon Kaen province in 2004, the fact is that GMO contamination already occurred in many provinces.
“This is the biggest lesson learned by Thailand and it proves that experiments on GMOs on the ground in open fields are uncontrollable.”
Just last month, after the new government was installed by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MOAC) has opened up the possibility of using GMO technology to improve four economic crops: maize, cassava, palm and sugar cane.
The MOAC is considering GMOs "an option" for increasing yields, controlling costs, and cutting down on pesticide use – despite independent studies that show that GMOs do not increase yield but push up prices and encourage the use of pesticides.
According to various news reports, Alongkorn Konthong, Director of the Biotechnology Research and Development Office, the Department of Agriculture is planning to ask the NCPO to lift the cabinet's 2007 resolution banning GMO field trials, and it appears that the government is providing full cooperation.
“Removing the ban on field trials would amount to widespread GMO contamination in Thailand—endangering the important food crops on which millions of Thais depend. Aside from the papaya contamination in Thailand, experiences around the world, such as in the US, have shown that GMO contamination is nearly impossible to reverse. The consequences to Thailand agriculture will be grave should such contamination continue,” he added.
“Thais, as individuals and consumers, have the power to be informed and aware, and also to make a conscious effort to not support irresponsible GMO technology that is developed to support corporate food monopoly. We need to protect our food, not only in the name of health, but also to promote the livelihoods of small farmers, and thus the security and integrity of our nation’s food supply for future generations,” concluded Tara.