Thai and Asian Farmers Rally Against Frankenfoods

By Pennapa Hongthong
The Nation, Bangkok, 17 September 2000

CHIANG MAI - More than 1,000 farmers declared their opposition to both trade
and research into genetically modified organisms (GMOs), as a mounting
campaign on the issue reached its final destination.

The 10-day rally against GMOs - "The Asian Long March to Protect Perfect
Bio-diversity" - featured a caravan from Bangkok to Songkhla and then to
Phetchaburi, Roi Et, Mahasarakham, Loei and finally Chiang Mai.

The group of mostly Thai farmers was joined by representatives from the
Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Indonesia.

The purpose of the caravan was to pressure governments to say "no" to all
trade involving GMO goods and stop all field research.

The farmers also called on the United States government and its embassies in
the seven countries to stop interfering and pressuring Asian governments to
support GMO products and research.

They also declared opposition to the industrial-based intellectual property
law system and called for the abolishment of laws that provide patents on
local wisdom and biological resources.

"We know it's not easy to fight powerful multinational corporations, but we
believe the power of farmers and consumers is strong enough to protect our
local genetic resources," the farmers said.

Abigail C Verdillo, an advocacy official for Masipag, a Filipino
farmer-scientist partnership for development, said it is necessary for
farmers to take action against GMOs. "Technology that goes beyond farmers'
control is not good for the agricultural sector," she said.

For Thailand, farmers demanded that the government destroy all GMO rice
seeds being developed for Pathum Thani's rice research under the supervision
of the Agriculture Ministry.

They also campaigned for the labelling of GMO products, in order to protect
consumer rights. Farmers at the final rally said that many agricultural
workers they encountered during the campaign admitted that they still knew
very little about GMOs.

The campaign received a warm welcome from farmers in Chiang Mai and nearby
provinces. The local farmers joined their colleagues in expressing their
concern and suggesting solutions to prevent the arrival of GM seeds in their

They also sought ways to empower each other in fighting the controversial
high-technology product.

Some suggested a boycott of all goods, including fertiliser and agricultural
chemical products, of the GM cotton development corporation Monsanto

But Yos Santasombat, a lecturer from Chiang Mai University's faculty of
Social Science, said the influx of GMO products on the market is not only
the fault of multinational corporations.

The government, and middle-class people who fail to see the links between
culture and the environment, are also to blame, he said.

"What the Thai government is doing is trying to build the roof of the house
by using material from the house's foundations. No foundation will be left
when the roof is finished," he said.

The first anti-GMO campaign of its kind in the Kingdom, it was organised by
the People's Network for Indigenous Seeds Protection and covered communities
in the South, East, Northeast and North of Thailand.

"In a symbolic gesture of their growing opposition to GMOs, farmers have
already burned down an effigy of genetically-modified rice seeds," anti-GMO
activist Withoon Lianchamroon said.

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