By: Visarut Sankham

OPPONENTS to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) turned up in full force at key sites in 47 provinces yesterday to demand that Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-ocha suspend the Biological Safety Bill until it is properly amended.

In Bangkok alone, more than 500 people gathered at Government House to submit a petition to the premier via Government Spokesman Maj-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd.

The protesters hailed from more than 100 organisations, including Bio-diversity Sustainable Agricul-ture Food Sovereignty Action Thailand (BioThai), Greenpeace Southeast Asia and the Foundation for Consumers. 

"We demand that the PM refrain from forwarding the Biological Safety Bill to the National Legislative Assembly until it is improved," BioThai director Witoon Liencham-roon said. 

He added that a panel should be set up to amend the bill, and at least half of the panel's members must represent entrepreneurs and farmers who could be affected by GMOs. Witoon said the bill should embrace a preventive approach by taking into account possible economic and social impacts on all stakeholders. 

He said the bill's amendment should also include liability and redress concepts mentioned in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and the Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supple-mentary Protocol, as well as pay attention to the opinions of the National Economic and Social Development Board and the Commerce Ministry.

Witoon said his group and other like-minded organisations had come forward because the bill, which recently won the Cabinet's nod, ran against Thailand's agriculture-development strategy and goal of sustainable and secure economic development. 

"The bill fails to rein in GMO impacts on the country's food security," he said.

Taweesak Pulam, managing director of Thai Seed Research Co.,Ltd. , also voiced concern that GMO plants might affect exports to Europe and the US. He also said he was worried that multinational firms could monopolise local agriculture industries, and ordinary farming could become 2.5 times as expensive. 

Direk Kongngern, head of the Northern Farmers Federation, said yesterday that most of the group's members grew maize in the North, and expressed concern on two points, namely prevention of contamination when growing GMO plants for commercial purposes and the safety of people's daily food supply. 

He also voiced concerns about big companies taking advantage of small farmers by monopolising the industry. For instance, local farmers in Chiang Mai's Phrao district are being sued because a company is alleging that their maize farms pollinated the company's GMO maize. "If the bill passes, farmers will be taken advantage of," Direk said. 

Sansern, meanwhile, accepted the petition from protesters and assured them that the government would handle the issue carefully. He said the bill was being reviewed by the State Council. 

Apart from the rally at Government House, anti-GMO groups and their supporters also gathered at their respective provincial halls to declare their concerns about GMOs and the bill, while submitting petitions to relevant provincial authorities.

Originally Published: The Nation