Thailand has become the first Asian country to ban the release of genetically modified crops into the environment. The 3 April decision orders the agriculture ministry "to halt all genetically engineered crop field trials" and to set up a panel of scientists, farmers, and consumers to draft a biosafety law.
The action would halt ongoing field trials of Bt cotton by the St. Louis-based biotechnology firm Monsanto. This type of cotton has been genetically engineered to produce a toxin from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. The toxin is supposed to kill insects that try to eat the plant.
A Bangkok spokesperson for Monsanto says that the government has not yet notified the company of the ban. First-year results of its Bt-containing Bollgard cotton variety were "very promising," she added.
Jiragorn Gajaseni, head of Greenpeace's Southeast Asia office, hopes the decision will "encourage [other Asian countries] to follow suit." In 1999 the Thai government banned the import of genetically modified seeds for commercial cultivation but allowed imports for research.