PHITSANULOK : Naresuan University is preparing to trial its first genetically modified (GM) corn crop in a bid to strengthen Thai agri-business in the region.
The move comes despite strong opposition from environmental groups.
University rector Suchin Chinayon said the university is ready to start the seven-month project as early as next month if it is approved by cabinet.
About 60 local residents, 30 scholars and 20 state officials have been invited to join a forum on Thursday to discuss the project.
The trial would be conducted by the faculty of agriculture, which is interested in pursuing advances in genetic engineering, Mr Suchin said.
The university will work with experts from agri-business giant Monsanto Thailand to plant GM corn named "NK 603" on a five-rai plot at the university's Bueng Ratchanok agricultural research station in Phitsanulok's Wang Thong district.
The trial hopes to test how the GM corn can resist grass-killing chemicals, Mr Suchin said.
He said Thailand needs to develop new strains of corn to better protect the crop against insects and disease. At the same time, it has to start thinking of its position in the agricultural field when the Asean Economic Community (AEC) takes effect in 2015.
The AEC, the rector said, will enable the free flow of food products across the region.
The GM corn project could pave the way for Thailand to be a leader in genetically engineered grain in Southeast Asia, said Bunyanat Natthawong, of Monsanto Thailand.
Mr Suchin also dismissed concerns over the health safety of GM crops.
He said Thailand has imported GM soybean from China for 10 years without any problems being reported.
But environmental advocates are also concerned about the impacts of GM crops on the environment.
Greenpeace International, a key GM opponent, warns on its website that planting GM crops in an open field can lead to "genetic pollution" due to cross-pollination between GM and non-GM crops. This will eventually disrupt plants' natural breeding habits and affect biodiversity, the group says.
However, Naresuan University lecturer and Seed Association of Thailand chairman Chuangchan Duanphattra labelled opposition to GM crops as "a form of trade barrier".
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- Writer: Chinnawat Singha