GM crops: Vietnam's food sovereignty under threat

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Genetically-modified (GM) maize on trial cultivation at a farm in Vietnam. More and more experts are concerned about the harmful consequences of GM crops and Vietnam's plans to cultivate them on a wide scale.

Vietnamese experts are increasingly concerned about genetically-modified (GM) plants that have undergone trials and are about to be cultivated widely.

Le Huy Ham, director of the Agricultural Genetics Institute, said the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is considering approving mass cultivation of seven GM maize varieties.

"If it [the approval] is done early, Vietnam will plant GM maize on local farms in 2012," he said.

This is in line with a government plan announced last year to cover between 30 percent and half of the country's agriculture land with the controversial gene-altered crops by 2020.

Since then, many local scientists have said the "modern varieties" could be a good choice to ensure food security as Vietnam is among the countries that would be hardest hit by climate change, which is expected to inundate large areas of farmland.

But increasing numbers of people, including experts, are worried about the implications of GM crops as the time for mass cultivation of GM maize draws near.

Nguyen Thi Binh, former Vice President of Vietnam, said she has participated in several international seminars where scientists have expressed concerns over the harmful consequences and risks that GM plants pose to environment, human health and the economy.

"The pollen of GM plants can affect surrounding farms and reduce the effect of certain pesticides and force pests to improve their resistance," she told Thanh Nien.

"On economic side, we would have to buy seeds from producers, US firms specifically, for every crop. GM corn doesn't geminate and we have to totally rely on seed producers."

 Vo Tong Xuan, a well known Vietnamese agriculturist, said GM maize may benefit the animal feed industry with mass cultivation, but conceded the nation would have to rely on foreign producers to supply seeds and their own herbicides for every crop.

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Known for his contributions to Vietnam's emergence as a major rice exporter from being a net importer food as late as in the 1980s, Xuan said he strongly opposed cultivation of GM rice in Vietnam.

"It will not be more profitable," he said, adding that Vietnam needs new rice varieties that can grow in dry and poor lands, and this can't be found among GM rice varieties.

At a seminar on biotechnology held last month in Hanoi, many experts were worried by the prospects of mass cultivation of GM maize.

An international agriculturist who wanted to remain anonymous said Vietnam should never adopt GM plants because of harmful consequences to food sovereignty and sustainability.

"The local varieties of rice and other crops that have been proven to adapt to varying levels of conditions in Vietnam for many years will be replaced by these so called "˜modern varieties' which are not sustainable.

"In the long run, the companies will be in control of the food security and sovereignty of Vietnamese production because Vietnam will be heavily dependent on these seeds," he told Thanh Nien Weekly.

He said the corporations will exert their patent rights for these varieties, which would undermine the nation's food sovereignty and food security.

"Vietnam's food security status enjoys a good level of equity but once the companies gain control of this vital aspect of the society, which is staple food, Vietnam runs the risk of inequity and manipulation by corporate greed and narrow interests," he said.

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