By PRATCH RUJIVANALROM
Their decision came despite the insistence of the Public Health Ministry, Office of the Ombudsman, National Human Rights Commission and many other organisations that the Hazardous Substance Committee ban the three severely toxic substances before the end of this year.
Following its meeting yesterday at the Industry Ministry, the committee chose to defy resolutions from the other bodies and instead affirmed its previous decision favouring the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry’s proposal to limit use of the chemicals. A total ban on the herbicides and pesticide will again be considered during the next two years.
Industry Ministry Deputy Permanent Secretary Apichin Jotikashira, who chaired yesterday’s Hazardous Substance Committee meeting, said afterwards that the committee acknowledged the dangers to the environment and public health from the use of paraquat, glyphosate and chlorpyrifos, and agreed that Thailand should eventually ban all of them.
Yasothon’s Nikom Kwanhom shows the scar left by a flesh-eating disease that he had contracted from exposure to water contaminated with paraquat.
However, Apichin said that the majority of Thai farmer were still heavily reliant on these chemicals to control weeds and pests and it was necessary for the committee to consider the possible impacts on these farmers if they decided to institute the ban, he said.
“The representative from the Agriculture Department told the meeting that right now we lack any equally efficient substitutes to these farm chemicals,” he said.
“So, the committee decided to continue to allow the use of these chemicals for two more years, while the Agriculture Department develops alternative as substitutes, so as to prevent negative impacts on many farmers.”
However, he insisted that from now on the use of these particular chemicals would be limited by five new regulations from the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry. These will permit using the two herbicides and the pesticide only for rubber, maize, sugar cane, cassava and fruit trees.
“We do not mean to defy the resolutions of the Ombudsman and other agencies, and have a reasonable justification to explain to these agencies why we decided not to ban these substances within this year,” Apichin said.
“We also confirm our intention to eventually phase out the use of these chemicals, as the Hazardous Substance Committee is scheduled to consider the ban again in the next two years.”
Prior to the committee meeting to decide the future of the three effective but extremely harmful farm chemicals, those who support and oppose their use submitted petitions at the Industry Ministry.
Opposition was led by Thailand Pesticide Alert Network, the Foundation for Consumers and a group of people who had been harmed by paraquat. They urged that the Hazardous Substance Committee grant their demands for a total ban on paraquat and the other two chemicals by the end of this year. They also demanded that committee members with a potential conflict of interest excuse themselves from the decision and that the meeting and its vote be transparent and publicly traceable.
Nikom Kwanhom, a Yasothon patient with necrotising fasciitis (“flesh-eating disease”) said his disabled left leg was clear evidence of the danger posed by paraquat and other farm chemicals to people’s health and the environment, and he wanted the committee to ban them.
“I have personally suffered the hazardous impacts of these agrochemicals,” Nikom said. “Even though the doctors could save my leg, it is permanently unusable, just because I accidentally trampled into a pond contaminated with a high concentration of paraquat from a nearby sugar cane plantation.”
Exposure to paraquat had worsened a previous leg wound and triggered an infection by flesh-eating bacteria that left him disabled, he said, adding that he had suffered tremendous consequences to his well-being and his family’s livelihood – as he is no longer able to work in the fields, his family’s income had been greatly reduced.
“I do not want any other people to face a similar fate to mine, so please ban these harmful chemical now,” he urged.
LONG ROAD TO PARAQUAT BAN
- April 5, 2017: Public Health Ministry calls for ban on paraquat (dipyridylium) and chlorpyrifos by 2019.
- November 19, 2017: Hazardous Substance Committee approves the renewal of paraquat importing licences.
- January 30, 2018: Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha orders Public Health, Agriculture and Cooperatives, and Commerce ministries to resolve on the proposed ban of hazardous agrochemicals.
- May 23, 2018: Hazardous Substance Committee decides not to ban paraquat, glyphosate and chlorpyrifos and instead orders usage restrictions.
- November 23, 2018: Ombudsman Office affirms its resolution to ban all three hazardous herbicides and pesticides within a year.
- January 15: Hazardous Substance Committee agrees to reconsider its decision to not ban the three agrochemicals.
- February 14: Hazardous Substance Committee reaffirmed its previous decision to not ban paraquat, glyphosate, and chlorpyrifos, with 16 votes for this decision, five against it and five abstentions.
Sources: BioThai Foundation and The Nation