November 17, 2003
Monsanto Introduce GM Corn to Thailand; To Make Thailand Regional Base for GM Seed Production
United States' Agro-business firm Monsanto Thailand has begun introducing genetically modified corn to farmers as part of its plan to make Thailand a regional base for its GM seed production.
On November 11, Monsanto staff and agricultural officials met corn farmers in Nakhon Ratchasima and Sa Kaeo provinces to promote genetic engineering technology and GM corn, which, they claimed, was resistant to pest and herbicide and could give higher yield than conventional hybrid corn.
It was the first time the company promoted transgenic corn to small-scale farmers in addition to its common products, including hybrid corn seed, herbicide and chemical fertiliser.
But the current ban on open field trials and commercialisation of GM crops is standing in the way of the firm's plan to launch its transgenic products.
''Unfortunately, planting GM crops is prohibited in Thailand,'' said Metinee Srivatanakul, of the Agriculture Department's biotechnological research and development office. Commercial cultivation of GM crops is now allowed in 16 other countries. The Thai ban, she said, has set back genetic engineering development for agricultural purposes.
However, she told the farmers that transgenic crops had potential environmental impacts as well. ''Transgenic crops could become weedy because they contain genes that are resistant to herbicide.
''GM plants could also damage some beneficial insects or cross-breed with nearby weed, making the weed hard to get rid of,'' she said.
Monsanto's technology development manager Poomin Trakoontiwakorn said the firm planned to fully operate its GM seed business in Thailand in 2006, provided the ban is lifted by year's end.
''We need about three years to complete a series of field tests and seek government approval to sell GM corn seed,'' Mr Poomin said, adding that Round-up Ready and Bt corn seed would be launched initially.
Monsanto's Round-up Ready corn is said to be resistant to Round-up herbicide, a Monsanto product, while Bt corn is resistant to boll worm, one of the most destructive pests for corn and cotton.
Mr Poomin added that farmers interested in planting GM corn need to be taught how to handle specific procedures, such as crop isolation to prevent cross-breeding with conventional crops.
He said Thailand would be a base for hybrid and GM corn production.
However, farmers still questioned the claimed benefits of GM seed and expressed concern they could be forced to buy seed at higher prices.
Tongdaeng Sriboonruang, a corn farmer, said Monsanto would come to dominate the agricultural sector if it was allowed to sell GM corn seed here.