crops to cushion food security
|Farmers in Le Loi
District, Kon Tum Province harvest maize. The plan to introduce
genetically modified crops in 2015 is expected to boost consumer choice.
— VNA/VNS Photo Tran Le Lam
HA NOI — The expected
introduction of genetically modified plants into the Vietnamese market in 2015
will give consumers more choice, says director of the Agricultural Genetics
Institute Associate Professor Le Huy Ham.
officially began studying genetically modified (GM) plants in 2006 with the
Government’s decision on the national biological technology programme. Prior
to the official start, however, scientists had been making preparations for
"Creation of a GM
plant takes a minimum of seven to 10 years and on average costs at least
US$50-100 million," says Ham.
Some of the current GM
plants that have been grown in country’s laboratories include the GM papaya,
developed at the Biological Technology Institute, which is speck resistant.
The Agricultural Genetics
Institute has developed a GM corn resistant to pestilent insects and herbicides.
The Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta Rice Institute has developed a GM soybean and a GM
cotton, both resistant to droughts.
The State budget funds all
GM plant studies in response to the Government’s priority on the national
biological technology programme, which follows only the nation’s information
technology programme, he adds.
Viet Nam has learned a lot
as a follower of global GM achievements made over many years. To date, up to 800
million hectares of GM plants have been grown in 25 countries, says Dr Randy
Hautea, Global Co-ordinator of International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech
Applications, which has centres worldwide.
"Application of GM
technology .is an irresistible trend in the context of the suffering caused
among people and plants as a result of climate change, when scientists can
hardly forecast when it will be rainy or sunny or when drought or floods will
occur," says Ham.
Coupled with the loss of
agricultural land for indus-trialisation and urbanisation, and the fast pace of
population growth, there is no other way to develop plants that will adapt to
the changing climate to maintain the nation’s food security, he adds.
Advantages of GM plants
include increased productivity, lower costs, environmental protection and
healthier people as a result of reduced pesticide use.
The Ministry of
Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) said that GM crops such as corn, cotton
and soybeans could result in huge savings. For example, the use of GM corn could
save US$500 million a year.
Farmers welcome the
development of GM plants because they will be the first group to benefit.
"Any new method which
lessens the hardship for farmers and raises productivity would be welcomed by
farmers," says farmer and chairman of northern Nam Dinh Province’s My
Thuan Commune’s People’s Committee Le Van Cuong.
At first, farmers were
reluctant to use the highly productive corn variety created with the use of
radioactivity. However, now this variety accounts for 80 per cent of the
cultivation areas in my commune, says Cuong.
"I have known about
the introduction of GM plants to farmers. It will be good because the country
currently must import a lot of corn due to its low domestic yield," he
For 13 years, billions of
tonnes of GM plants have been consumed worldwide and they have not been
discovered to cause diseases. This proves the safety of GM plants to human
health, Ham adds.
Radioactivity has been
used to alter plant genes since the 1950s throughout the world and since the
1980s in Viet Nam. However, the technique was then less-advanced than the
current method for GM, which uses a portion of one plant’s gene and attaches
it to the genes of another, Ham says.
"Nobody is against
this so there is no reason to be against this, it just seems to be too new for
everybody to accept," he adds.
The country currently
imports millions of tonnes of corn, cotton and soybeans every year, so
scientists are focused on studying these plants to eventually grow them over
large areas, says Ham.
While the United States,
Canada and developing countries in Africa, Americas and Asia support the use of
GM plants, many European countries have yet to agree with their use, according
to Professor Le Doan Dien, deputy chairman of Viet Nam’s Food Science and
"The argument, in
part, is a result of the trade benefits that a few countries have gained because
of their advances in genetic engineering. Countries new to GM studies will
temporarily oppose GM products in order to maintain a technical barrier for
protection of their domestic farmers and enterprises. They will wait until their
GM technology is competitive, allowing them to benefit, " says Le Thi Thuy
Van, a Financial Science Institute expert.
Many opponents to GM
plants say there is no way to ensure that GM organisms will remain under
control, and that the use of this technology outside secure laboratory
environments represents multiple unacceptable risks to both farmed and wild
"I have no idea why
we do not take the time to study ways of preserving our traditional plants, such
as the Ha Giang Orange, the Nam Roi Pomelo, the Bac Giang Lychee or Nang Huong
Rice, rather than mixing them with other plants that can lead to the loss of the
original species," says Dr Nguyen Van Khai, who is well known for his
vegetable and plant protection methods.
Existing plants have
already experienced the natural selection process for hundreds of years at
least. This proves their own strength and pre-eminence. It is impossible for
humans to take only a few years to decide which gene can be mixed with another
and assume that the new one is more perfect than the old one, says Khai.
Any bad impacts from GM
plants will take 50 years, an entire generation, to be known clearly. However,
GM plants are the product of our generation’s technological advancements. It
shows the variety of choices and the reality at this moment, says Khai.
So, when GM products are
introduced into the market, customers should have the right to make a choice.
This means they need to have access to all information about GM in order to make
a decision, he says.
By the end of this year,
specific regulations to clearly define the processes for study, application and
use of GM plants to ensure complete safety for people and to avoid harmful
environmental effects will be released by the Ministry of Agricultural and Rural
"Before GM plants
reach the people, scientists and the Government must be responsible for their
safety," says Ham. — VNS