Greenpeace shakes biotechnology meet with demand for GE-free crops

Bangkok, 7 November 2007–Greenpeace today shook the opening of BioAsia 2007 Thailand, the first international trade exhibition and conference for biotechnology in Bangkok, when Greenpeace volunteers dressed as farmers installed 60 mock genetically-engineered rice ‘time bombs’ at the entrance of the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center where the meet was being held. The volunteers also unfurled a banner reading “Don’t bomb our future, keep our rice GMO-Free” as a warning that geneticaly-engineered rice and its corresponding environmental impacts, such as GE contamination, pose a serious threat to farmers’ livelihoods, and Thailand’s rice economy.

BioAsia aggressively promotes genetic engineering of food crops, with special emphasis on rice, and is expected to advance questionable GE rice technologies which environmental organizations such as Greenpeace are opposing due to prevailing health and environmental safety issues.

“Rice is the single most important food crop in Southeast Asia. Genetically-altered rice being pushed by this conference is a ticking time bomb that will sabotage the sustainability of the staple food of billions of people. The introduction of GE rice in Southeast Asia and in Thailand will destroy the region’s agricultural future. Thailand is–and should remain–GE-free,” said Greenpeace Southeast Asia GE campaigner for Thailand Natwipha Ewasakul.

Greenpeace is actively campaigning for GE-free rice farming, asserting that the genetic modification of food crops 1) endangers human health, 2) harms the environment, and 3) jeopardizes farmers’ livelihoods. No scientific study has ever conclusively proven that GE crops are safe for human consumption, or for propagation in fields. GE crops further encourage the dangerous corporate control of agriculture, entrenching farmers into almost complete dependence on giant corporations for seeds and technology.

Genetically-engineered rice has additionally been the subject of scandals since 2006 when several GE rice strains manufactured by Bayer were found to have illegally contaminated the world’s rice supply, beginning with imports from the US. The contamination, caused by the inherent uncontrollable nature of GE plants, triggered the largest financial disaster in the history of the US rice industry as country after country rejected US rice imports tainted with GE strains. The Greenpeace report “Risky Business” released yesterday details the massive economic damages caused by GE rice which is estimated at USD 1.2 billion. Greenpeace distributed copies of the report during the conference.

Greenpeace finds especially insidious the conference’s promotion of biofortified rice, or rice genetically bombarded with common nutrients to make it purportedly more beneficial than conventional or GE-free rice. Pre-conference sessions yesterday were devoted to this GE technology, particularly the so-called ‘golden rice’ which in 2000 was presented by its proponents as a magic solution to vitamin A deficiency. However, because of its genetically-altered nature, ‘golden rice’ was hounded by technical problems and safety concerns. It has also been unmasked as a marketing attempt by the GE industry to position genetically-altered crops, whose safety is under question by scientists, as beneficial.

“Southeast Asia is one of the world’s biggest rice consumers and presents lucrative opportunities for giant agricultural corporations who control GE technologies and who are hellbent on marketing these with little regard to health, environmental, and economic consequences,” said Greenpeace Southeast Asia GE campaigner for the Philippines Daniel Ocampo. “We cannot allow the future of rice to lie in their hands. The future of food cannot and must not depend on risky GE technologies.”

Greenpeace campaigns for food production that is grounded on the principles of sustainability, protection of biodiversity and providing all people to have access to safe and nutritious food. Genetic engineering is an unnecessary and unwanted technology that contaminates the environment, threatens biodiversity and poses unacceptable risks to health.