Archived news articles - 2003

The Straits Times, 2 September 2004

Debate over GMO crops spreads to Asia

Debate over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is echoing in Asia now as India prepares to fast-track their use to feed its growing population while Thailand retreats from field trials after a public outcry.

India plans a new policy promoting speedy approval of GMO crops to boost yields and feed its growing population, a government minister said yesterday.

The policy, which should be in place within eight to nine months, would also promote foreign and private sector investment in the biotechnology sector.

'We intend to have a biotech policy as quickly as possible to supply the farmers pest-resistant and drought-resistant seeds with high nutritional values,' federal Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal told Reuters.

He said at least seven GMO crops, including rice, potatoes and mustard, were being field-tested in India.

'But these products are six to seven years down the line,' he said, adding that the government would seek to speed up the approval process for biotech products.

'By 2025, we will have to produce 420 million tonnes of foodgrains to feed our population. That means we have to increase our (crop) productivity twice just to meet the demand of our people,' Mr Sibal said.

The debate on biotech grains has intensified worldwide, with advocates saying they could lead to a more secure future for food. Opponents say they could produce new toxins and allergens, affecting the health of consumers.

Thai officials, meanwhile, will begin a new study to decide if GMO trials should be delayed or even abandoned after the Cabinet backed down from relaxing regulations governing the crops.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has been accused of bowing to pressure from US corporate giants like Monsanto, which is pushing to test GM corn strains, to reverse a ban on trials.

Opponents said the United States government had insisted that Thailand grant intellectual property protection for GMOs before they reach an agreement on free trade.

Mr Thaksin yesterday dismissed suggestions that his earlier backing for open-field trials was linked to US pressure.

Science and Technology Minister Korn Dabbaransi said the study would decide 'whether GMOs should be openly or partly allowed or banned'.

Thailand's Cabinet in 2001 banned GMO field trials. Current law forbids the public sale of GMO seeds and requires products containing more than 5 per cent of a genetically modified ingredient to be clearly labelled.

Singapore Press Holdings Limited The Straits Times (Singapore).Copyright 2004