Initially it looked like a gain for campaigners, who have been able to force the U.S. government to label food from GMO sources. The bad news: the label doesn't actually have to be readable to the consumer!
Al Jazeera (Aug. 5):
'Food safety organisations in the US have condemned a new law they say will allow food producers to obscure the labeling of genetically modified ingredients in their products, despite widespread health concerns over the effects of GMOs and the pesticides associated with them.The law also fails to stipulate penalties if found in breach of the law.
Signed into law on Friday by President Barack Obama, the legislation permits manufacturers to inform consumers of GMO content through the use of Quick Response or QR codes, which require a device - such as a smartphone - to read.
The law was passed despite opposition from environmental and food safety groups, as well as national polls which show that some 90 percent of Americans surveyed favoured clear labeling.
Paul said that more than 300 food and pesticide makers spent nearly $400m over the last four years in lobbying efforts to defeat the mandatory labeling of GMOs.
"We failed not because of lack of support from consumers - but because of the enormous amounts of money thrown by the industry," Paul [Katherine Paul, an associate director of the Organic Consumers Association] said, adding that she was disappointed by Obama, who once vowed to enforce clear GMO labeling'.
Let's hope that the most probable outcome will be the opposite: food without GMO sourcing will be labelled clearly GMO-free!
From IRRI.org (Jun. 23):
'On the subject of genetically engineered foods, this rings true. After years of debate, the prestigious National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has released its verdict: there is no substantiated evidence that food from genetically engineered (GE) crops were less safe than food from non-GE crops'.
Gold rush no more'But first let’s look at the usual scientific rhetoric that I find is repeated worldwide ad nauseam: “Opposition based on emotion and dogma contradicted by data must be stopped.” Whose data? The data produced by GM companies or the data produced based on the research funded by biotech giants?...To say that scientific and regulatory agencies around the world, which find GM crops as safe as, if not safer than those derived from any other method of production, is a clever ploy to hoodwink public opinion and thereby push harmful and risky crop production technologies....What has to be accepted is that the food crisis the world witness is not because of any shortfall in production. The problem is because of the absence of food justice, which in other words means access and distribution'.
The bigger picture is that like many exporting countries, Cambodia is struggling in it's ambitions to gain more market share as the overall world market gives mostly purchasers the power to bargain.
The Phnom Penh Post (Jul. 8) kicks off the concerns:
The Khmer Times (Jul. 18) chimes in:'Cambodian rice exports decreased nearly 6 per cent year-on-year during the first semester, reinforcing concerns about the future of the rice industry, the Kingdom’s most important agricultural sector....Rice industry experts say the sector is suffering from a number of issues, including competition from low-cost Vietnamese imports, high production costs, and millers’ lack of finance.According to CRF president Sok Puthyvuth, who was re-elected for a second term last Saturday, the issues have already resulted in between 10 and 20 per cent of the nation’s rice millers declaring bankruptcy'.
'Cambodia’s rice industry has been advised by the European Union (EU) to seek other markets and not just concentrate its exports to Europe, as it moves from a low-income country in its least developed country (LDC) status to a lower-middle income nation, amid calls to cut its EU tariff-free export quotas....According to Oryza, the daily online markets newsletter, Italy is pushing the EU to cut LDC rice imports from Asia to protect the Italian rice market that seems to be getting bigger'.
Future for Cambodia's rice not bright? Phnom Penh Post (Aug. 3):'China will also consider increasing the export quota on Cambodian rice to 200,000 tonnes starting in 2017, as well as continuing to negotiate on the exports of broken rice, banana, mango, longan, cashew nut, pepper, coffee and soybean. The current export quota on rice to China is 100,000 tonnes per year.Ministry spokesperson Soeng Sophary stressed that while the talks were fruitful, no official decisions were made'.
'An industry analyst has issued a dire forecast for Cambodia’s rice sector, claiming the long-grain “white gold” that has been credited with lifting millions of Cambodia’s farmers out of abject poverty, and which seems a natural fit for the Kingdom’s agrarian workforce, is on a downward trajectory.Jim Plamondon, a former technical evangelist for Microsoft who is developing new marketing strategies for Cambodian rice varieties, says the Kingdom’s rice industry – the lifeblood of its agricultural economy – is headed for a brutal and imminent consolidation'.
Did I hear niche markets? The Khmer Times (Jul. 14):
'As the demand for organic rice in European and United States markets keeps growing, many local rice millers and exporters are moving quickly and signing contract farming deals to supply them with the premium product'.
Warnings'The private sector’s campaign to develop a single recognisable umbrella brand for Cambodia’s premium varieties of fragrant rice looks increasingly tenuous after a government body voiced objections to the name selected, and argued instead that the country should market each variety of rice under its own individual brand name.'
Well, self-explanatory, not only is Cambodia facing a difficult export market. Vietnam's Thanhniennews (Jul. 19):
'Vietnam has reduced its rice export target for the year since demand is falling as many buyers await cheap supply from Thailand’s stock clearance sale.
The Vietnam Food Association (VFA) said it has reduced the export target from 6.5 million tons to 5.65 million tons, Tien Phong newspaper reported'.
Thailand's rice market is expected to face a price war next year as a result of oversupply that will lower prices in both domestic and export markets, while the stronger baht could hurt the competitiveness of rice shipments, exporters warn'.
Same recipe everywhere ...'The government is being urged to exercise the powerful Section 44 of the interim charter to cut red tape and speed up sales of state rice stocks'.
Moving on, the Bangkok Post (Jul. 25) has some wider implications of new trade trends:
In 2014, Thailand imported only 593,000 tonnes of wheat.The figure rose to 3.46 million tonnes in 2015 and will reach an estimated 5 million tonnes this year.Higher imports have affected domestic prices of maize and tapioca chips in recent years. Wheat imports come at the behest of animal feed producers which are feeding the chicken boom ...
The Bangkok Post (Aug. 2) notes that the nonpolitical trial of the former democratic government by the current junta revolves around the possible loss of what they now estimate as 26 bn Bhat. Though how this figure is arrived at is unsure as previous attempts to pinpoint the exact losses resulted in data that were much higher.
It also seems that the timing of this is more significant: just a week before a referendum on a new constitution that no political party favours with the outcome that either a new constitution is voted in thereby guaranteeing the junta constitutional influence. Or if not approved by the electorate the junta will also remain; a win-win situation.
Seems fair.'Former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra told the Supreme Court on Friday that her loss-ridden rice-pledging programme really helped debt-ridden farmers and the national economy.Ms Yingluck told the court that pledging prices set at 15,000 to 20,000 baht per tonnes were not too high because they were aimed at enabling rice growers to earn equivalent to 300 baht per day -- the same as the daily minimum wage for labourers -- and resolving their chronic indebtedness, she said'.
'Phongsaly, long renowned for its green tea, is set to be the nation's first coffee producer in the north after around 3,000 hectares of coffee trees were planted in the province'.
Then again, in Cambodia coffee growing is not so positive. The Phnom Penh Post (Aug. 3):
'Samban [director of the Agricultural ministry’s department of industrial crops] attributed the contraction to the impact of recent droughts and the volatility of global coffee prices, as well as a flood of cheap imported coffee into the market.
The shrinking market for locally produced coffee has not discouraged MK Mondulkiri Company, which has found a niche supplying organic Cambodian coffee to the local and international market.
Orn Chanthy, the company’s CEO, said the competition in the coffee retail market was fierce, but many consumers recognise that cheap products are often of inferior quality.
“It is hard to compete on price as coffee can be imported cheaply, though without any assurance of quality,” she said. “There is a lot of fake coffee in the market and some coffee [deceptively] uses the name of our coffee-growing region.”
Chanthy said exports of MK Mondulkiri coffee increased last year, with shipments going to European and Asian buyers, though she declined to provide figures'.
'A Chinese agricultural company has agreed to establish a banana plantation in Cambodia, according to a senior government official'.
'Agro-industrial conglomerate Mong Reththy Group is constructing a new $10 million feed mill to supply its own livestock operations as well as the domestic market, the group’s eponymous president and CEO said yesterday'.
'Export of crude palm oil from Mong Reththy Group, the Kingdom’s only active producer, doubled during the first half of the year despite prices showing no indication of improving, a company executive said yesterday'.Finally the Bangkok Post has put up two video's which highlight award-winning Eastwest Seed business. There's this (Jun. 12) on the business explaining also why they are not so interested in GMO seeds. And this (Jul. 10) about the way that the company is for instance pushing the marigold business.