A farming rights group has urged the Agriculture Ministry look more closely at the issue of genetically modified (GM) contamination of papaya after Japan intensified its screening of the fruit and products from Thailand.
MINEFIELD: Greenpeace volunteers help a farmer in Rayong clear genetically engineered papaya.
Witoon Lienchamroon, director of BioThai, a non-profit group that works to protect farmers' rights and bio-diversity, said GM contamination is threatening papaya farmers and exporters and the country may lose its markets to Malaysia and the Philippines.
Mr Witoon said Japan recently increased random inspection of papaya and derivative products from Thailand to 30% of all imports. This came after an inspection of a dried papaya showed it contained GM ingredients.
Citing the European Union's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed, he said 24 samples of papaya and dried papaya products from Thailand were found to be contaminated with GM papaya in random inspections during January and September.
He said the finding may prompt the EU to follow in Japan's footsteps by intensifying random inspections of papaya and products from Thailand.
The EU first detected GM contamination in papaya from Thailand in 2006. Two samples of contamination were reported in 2009 and 11 samples last year.
Mr Witoon said the inspections could be increased to 50% of all imports and it could end in a ban if the problem could not be addressed. "It will affect papaya farmers and business operators. They will have to shoulder increasing costs from GM testing," he said.
"It is possible that the inspections will be extended to other products which have papaya in them, such as sauce and fruit salad."
Mr Witoon urged farmers to trace and verify the origin of seeds to make sure they are not GM-contaminated. He said Thailand's markets could turn to Malaysia and the Philippines, which exported 22,037 tonnes and 2,945 tonnes, respectively, of papaya in 2011.
Thailand exported 995 tonnes of papaya in that year.
GM contamination in papaya was first reported in Thailand in 2004. The GM papaya was traced back to an experimental field at a state-run research station in Khon Kaen.