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Thailand's papaya trade loss is a GE warning to NZ

8 September 2004

Thailand's papaya trade loss is a GE warning to NZ

The Green Party today said a Genetic Engineering contamination scare currently unfolding in Thailand demonstrates the serious risks GE release would pose to New Zealand's exports.

The Bangkok Post, The Nation and the AFP agency reported on the weekend that European importers have cancelled orders of Thai papaya products after news that field trials of GE papaya had possibly contaminated nearby farms. The "precautionary" move followed independent labs in Hong Kong confirming papaya on the Thai market were the 'Kaek Dam Tha Phra' strain that are officially only grown at Government research stations. A Director of a Thai organic exporter affected said the European reaction has been "faster than the bird flu impact", while an executive of a leading fruit exporter said the move had already cost the Thai industry "one billion baht" (NZ$37 million).

"This costly cancellation of export orders demonstrates the economic impact that even the suspicion of GE contamination can have," said Jeanette Fitzsimons, the Green Party's GE Spokesperson, "New Zealand should pay heed - growing GE damages a country's food exports."

Opposition to GE is strong in Thailand, but the Government there has fudged the issue, having just cancelled approval of GE crops that would have ended a three-year regulatory ban. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who yesterday tried to downplay the papaya scare, has consistently been accused by local activists of bowing to pressure from corporate giants such as Monsanto.

"Regardless of the political and scientific debates on the safety of GE food, the economic fact is that consumers around the world are applying the precautionary principle, particularly in Europe, which is our largest market for food and beverage, taking some 37 per cent of that class of our exports."

Some recent examples:

* in the UK, continued consumer resistance to GE has meant all supermarkets are maintaining their five-year ban on GE ingredients in their in-house ranges, many are also now calling for GE-free feed for animals on their suppliers' farms, and the nation's largest corporate farmer has banned GE crops;

* in Italy, a major wine association is opposing GE wine while only 13 per cent of Italians have said they are willing to eat GE food and only then if it is much cheaper;

* in Austria, supermarkets are now banning GE food;

* in Germany, 170 out of 216 food companies are specifying GE-free products.

Ms Fitzsimons: "The list goes on.

"This GE papaya scare is yet another reason why a Free Trade Agreement with Thailand is not in the interests of the people of either country. Despite popular opposition, both Governments appear to be caving in to corporate pressure to keep the door open to GE release. GE trade barriers with Thailand are just and reasonable because they support the interests and wishes of the Thai people," said Ms Fitzsimons.


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