Vietnamese farmers nationwide are now able to plant three varieties of genetically-modified (GM) corn from the Swiss firm Syngenta, according to a new government's rule announced Wednesday.
The three varieties are NK66 BT, NK66 GT and NK66 BT/GT and will be supplied to corn farms nationwide with each variety being distributed to specific regions, said the decision from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
NK66 BT in particular will be supplied to regions with European corn borers, NK66 GT for places with strong weeds and the other for farms susceptible to both the borers and weeds.
Pham Dong Quang, director of the Department of Crop Production, said the three varieties can resist pest and herbicide as well as produce higher yields.
“GM corn will be used for animal feed only and thus, it does not require special labeling,” he said.
Earlier, the agriculture ministry has approved result of tests for impacts to the environment and biodiversity of NK66 corn. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has also issued certificate for bio-safety for the three GM corn varieties.
Kumar Datta, Syngenta Vietnam country director, said the company will coordinate with provincial agricultural agencies on plans to widely spread the varieties for better income of the farmers.
Last August, the agriculture ministry approved the imports of four corn varieties engineered for food and animal feed processing—namely, MON 89034 and NK603, produced by DeKalb Vietnam (a subsidiary of US mega-corporation Monsanto) and Bt 11 and MIR 162 from
Near the end of the month, the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources issued a bio-safety certificate for Monsanto's MON 89034 corn variety, enabling farmers to start commercially cultivating the crop, which is banned in Europe and China.
'Jumping the gun'
Those developments and the latest bio-safety certificate for the three GM corn varieties by Syngeta were in line with a 2006 ambitious plan to develop biotech crops as part of a “major program for the development and application of biotechnology in agriculture and rural development.”
The plan aimed to cultivate Vietnam's first GM crops by 2015 and have 30-50 percent of the country’s farmland covered with genetically modified organisms by 2020.
An increasing number of Vietnamese officials and scientists have touted the need to grow GM corn to reduce Vietnam’s dependence on imports.
Vietnam currently imports 1.5 million tons of corn for feeding animals every year from Brazil, Argentina, and the US, including GM varieties, according to the agriculture ministry.
However, the plan has prompted concerns as many scientists questioned the high costs of GM seeds and pesticides as well as their uncertain yields and the potential to undermine local food security, making them a poor choice for a developing country like Vietnam.
According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, only 27 countries planted GM crops in 2013. At least 60 have labeling requirements, including Japan, Brazil and the EU.
In the US, less than a quarter (22 percent) of field trials were inspected in 2013 by the US Department of Agriculture, meaning that most field trials are simply unmonitored.
"Vietnam does not have a monitoring or testing system in place that it can use to assess the safety of foods made from GMOs in the country or imported from abroad," Genna Reed, a researcher at the Washington D.C.-based Food & Water Watch, told Thanh Nien News.
"This is an egregious example of biotechnology companies jumping the gun on the use of their novel technology without having an adequate regulatory system in place."