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Vietnamese rice in Thailand's fields poses growing problem

Alien strains help farmers meet demand at low cost but dent national brand

A rice farmer gestures in Khon Kaen, Thailand. The country has strict regulations against importing foreign strains of rice, but industry insiders say Vietnamese seeds are finding their way in.     © Reuters

BANGKOK -- The future of Thailand's rice industry is in flux as virtually undetectable intruders spread in the paddies of the world's second-biggest rice exporter.

Despite regulations designed to protect the authenticity of Thailand's branded rice, farmers have been quietly switching to Vietnamese strains that are cheaper, easier to cultivate, and have a similar soft texture that goes down well with consumers.

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