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BioThai strikes back after delay to chemicals ban

Nov 29. 2019
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By The Nation

After delay to the ban of agricultural chemicals was announced, BioThai Foundation, a strong supporter of the ban, released an analysis report titled “36 days to cancel glyphosate ban” which identified the four factors behind the postponement.

The delay was not totally unexpected.

A ban was imposed on paraquat from 2005-2007 in Malaysia before multinational chemical companies teamed up with the country's palm-rubber industry to successfully pressure the government to lift it.

However, this time round, the Malaysian government was not able to resist the pressure from within the country and abroad. It will restart the ban on January 1, 2020.

The Sri Lankan government announced a ban on glyphosate for all crops in 2015, it then limited use of the chemical to rubber and tea in mid-2018 after a campaign by giant chemical companies.

The US government under president Obama banned the use of chlorpyrifos in 2015. After Donald Trump became the US president, Scott Pruitt who has a close relationship with Dow Chemical Company, was appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pruitt lifted the ban on the toxic chemicals harmful to children, but was forced to resign after a US court ruled that the ban must be restored with 60 days. The case is currently in the appeal process.

Factors affecting Thailand

1. US government

As soon as the Hazardous Substance Committee announced the ban on glyphosate and two other toxic substances on October 18, 2019, the US government led by Ted McKinny, undersecretary of Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs who had worked in the Dow Chemical Company for 19 years, wrote a letter to the Thai government in opposition to the ban of glyphosate. In the letter, the undersecretary claimed that baning glyphosates will 1) lead to Thailand using more expensive chemicals costing Bt75-125 billion, 2) are not based on sound science, suggesting the Thai government should consider the use of risk assessment data from EPA and 3) will affect US exports of soy beans, wheat, and other agricultural products to Thailand, worth a total of Bt51 billion a year.

2. Thailand's colossal animal feed industry

Thailand's animal feed industry is the number one manufacturer of animal feed in the world. It supported the US stance, claiming that the ban on glyphosate would affect the feed, livestock and food industries, resulting in trillion-baht losses and leaving 2 million people unemployed. They also spread the news that pet food-exporting countries would raise the issue with Thai government.

Their view was different to that of the Thai Chamber of Commerce and the Board of Trade of Thailand which supported a ban of three years, and had asked the government to allow imports of raw materials with glyphosate residue at international standard level.

3. A network of pesticide companies under the leadership of CropLife which has a branch in Thailand, the Thai Agricultural Innovation Trade Association (TAITA)

An anti-ban statement was announced by multinational corporations, namely Bayer-Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow-Dopp and BASF who were major players in opposition to the ban and had been joined by two pesticide trading associations, the Thai Crop Protection Association and the Thai Agro Business Association.

The content of the statement coincided with a letter from the US government which questioned the ban on scientific findings and citing its effect on the Thai economy.

4. Politicans in the government

It is not surprising that 2 ministers from Palang Pracharat and Democratic are keymen against the ban.

4.1) Suriya Juangroongruangkit, Industry Minister, was the first person in the government to make a request for a re-consideration of the ban of glyphosate after assuming his position as chairman of the National Hazardous Substances Committee.

4.2) Chalermchai Srion, in a letter on 18 September 2019, suggested to the Ministry of Agriculture restricted use of the chemicals, instead of banning the three 3 toxic substances.

His role became more clear when he appointed Anan Suwannarat, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, to head a research on the effect and remedial measures for farmers.

Anan published information which were seen in favour of ending the ban, citing 1) is against the WTO agreement, 2) claiming 75 per cent of farmers protest the ban, 3) unable to find sufficient substitution/replacement chemicals, 4) compensation for farmers to change to other chemicals is too high, costing tens of billion of baht, 5) there are restrictions on sending chemicals back to the country of origin / third country and 6) affecting the economy and causing a rise in the jobless rate.

It now depends on whether the public will accept the 6 reasons for lifting the ban. Is there any reason to support it? Is it just an excuse to benefit the chemical and feed industries and will the Thai government cave in to US pressure ?

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