By: Pratch Rujivanarom

ACTIVIST AGRICULTURAL groups and organic farmers have expressed concern over a proposed Biological Safety Bill they say will lead to contamination of their crops by genetically modified organisms (GMO).

Biothai Foundation director Witoon Lianchamroon warned against the Biological Safety Bill yesterday. He said if this bill passes Parliament and becomes effective, it will open the way for giant transnational biotechnology conglomerates to shirk their responsibility for the damage GMO contamination can cause to the environment.

The Bill was approved by the Cabinet yesterday despite widespread protests over GMO liberalisation in Thailand by NGOs and organic farmers. The draft, presented by the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, was accepted by the Cabinet. 

The bill will now proceed for its final consideration by the National Legislative Assembly.

"The GMO liberalisation will definitely cast a huge negative impact on the agriculture, economy and healthcare of our nation. If the giant conglomerates are allowed to freely introduce GMO crops to our country, contamination of these genetically modified species to the environment is inevitable," Witoon said.

"And the bill did not mention anything about responsibility for the GMO contamination, which could cost more than Bt10 billion."

Witoon explained that GMO contamination would severely affect the country's agricultural sector, as the crop of other farmers would mix with the GMO gene. This would make it impossible to sell the crop to GMO-free markets like Japan and Europe.

He further pointed out that the contamination would also reduce the biodiversity of the crop, alter the ecosystem, and consumption of the GMO product might cause health problems for consumers.

"The bill's intention is to protect the country from GMO, but in fact [the reverse is possible]. This bill is largely in favour of the giant biotechnology conglomerates and severely ignores the participation of those [on the ground] who are affected," he said.

A supporter of the farmers, Chatchana Pradtanaruk, the owner of Ban Chatjane organic farm, was worried the introduction of GMO would be the end of organic farming in Thailand.

"Organic farming largely relies on a healthy ecosystem to control pests and enhance soil fertility by natural means. The GMO contamination will destroy this balance and force the organic farmers to go back to chemical farming," Chatchana said.

He said that the practice of GMO farming in Thailand would decrease the native species of crop and enslave the farmers because they had to buy seed from big biotechnology companies every year. 

Witoon said that his organisation would carry on protesting the bill in order to prevent the worst effects of GMO that are yet to come.

Originally Published: The Nation