Officials say genetically modified organisms are circulating freely throughout the country despite their potential adverse health effects
The World Food Program said recently that one billion people worldwide were starving as a result of food shortages and urged governments of developing countries in particular to grow and use genetically modified crops to increase food security.
THE importation into Cambodia of living modified organisms (LMOs), organisms that have been genetically modified through the application of biotechnology, is out of the control of authorities despite their potential adverse effects on biodiversity and human health, a government expert said.
"Currently, we are very worried about the transit, handling and use of LMOs, especially the trans-boundary movement into Cambodia," said Oum Pisey, technical adviser for the Ministry of Environment. "We have a lack of expertise among officials and weak law enforcement."
He said that while LMOs were circulating freely throughout the country, Cambodian citizens had no way of knowing that the products were genetically modified.
Customs officers and border police lacked knowledge of which products were blacklisted, he said. They also had neither the equipment to test imports for LMO content nor the knowledge of how to operate such equipment. But he added that his ministry was now training customs officers on restrictions on LMO imports.
Chuon Mony Roth, chief officer of processing management at the Department of Agro-Industry, said she had asked the Ministry of Agriculture to purchase testing equipment, but was told there was not enough money available to equip all border stations, as one set comes at the hefty price of US$50,000.
Cambodia has signed the 2003 Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and has introduced respective legislation in 2007. The protocol seeks to preserve biological diversity and protect human health by ensuring "safe transfer, handling and use of [LMOs]", and bans certain LMOs from crossing borders.
Ambiguous health effects
Scientific evidence concerning the benefits and dangers of LMOs is ambiguous. Despite their benefits, such as increased yield and resistance towards diseases, some allege that LMOs may reduce biodiversity, cause cancer and allergies in humans, and carry other health risks.
"If we use LMOs and genetically modified crops, we will get higher yields to feed our people and we will even be able to export, but it will impact the environment and human health in the future," Minister of Environment Mok Mareth said.
Hean Vanhan, a specialist on the implementation of plant protection within the Department of Agro-Industry, said the government always encouraged farmers to use modern technology to boost agricultural productivity in order to improve food security and exports, but tried to limit the use of technologies that caused harm to human health.