On Tuesday, August 28, 2007 Greenpeace dumped eleven tones of papayas outside the Thai Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry in protest at the agency’s move to lift a ban on open-field trials of genetically-modified crops.
Although Greenpeace is a common sight in Bangkok, I really doubt that most Thai people in general have any idea of what they are talking about, especially in regard to genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs refer to plants and animals that have received small amounts of genetic material from another organism, usually to give them resistance to disease or insects or to give them another desirable trait, such as the ability to live in areas with little water.
The problem about GMOs is that they are new and not fully tested, so bad things could happen that we can’t foresee. GMOs can be harmful to environment, killing off necessary insects, contaminating plants and animals, or even accidentally creating whole new and dangerous species. Partly because of such potential dangers, many countries have banned the import of products containing transgenic components. Since Thailand exports large amounts of agricultural products, GMOS could be a significant threat to its economy. In addition, GMO seeds are typically patented by large foreign multi-national companies, giving them a huge incentive to try to have them introduced around the world. (All these contentions, incidentally, are hotly disputed by GMO proponents.)
Nevertheless, GM foods, including GM papaya, have been approved by governments in countries like the United States and Canada.
However, arranging a protest in Thailand is not simple when people don’t understand the issue at stake and are hungry at the same time. The Greenpeace demonstration was met with an unexpected reaction from a crowd of onlookers. Passers-by took matters, and tones of papayas dumped by Greenpeace, into their own hands, and ran off. Many passers-by, who mostly knew nothing about transgenic fruit, said they did not care about any health risks. They were just thinking about how hungry they were. Bangkok Post reports about a man who was waiting in traffic for the lights to go green near the ministry and then leapt out of his car and joined the feast. ”I’m not scared of GM papayas. Rather, I’m scared I won’t have any to eat,” said Ubon Ratchathani villager Ampon Tantima, 31, before rushing back to his car with the free fruit.
Naturally I support Greenpeace’ protest against GMO, but I think that a campaign should be aimed at a bottom-up approach. First you provide the general population with knowledge and then you try to influence politicians. Without the knowledge of the common people the support will only come from a small intellectual minority and this may not be enough to change the decisions made at the governmental level.