US rice alert 'routine'

Reports that the United States might quarantine Thai rice because of concern over pesticide residue stemmed from misreadings of a routine bureaucratic announcement, according to the US Embassy.

US authorities have not changed the way they treat Thai rice imports in general, said Walter Braunohler, a spokesman for the US Embassy in Bangkok.

In an interview on Krungthep Turakit TV, he said the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had a number of import alerts for different products.

The alert for pesticides was first established in 1998 and has been updated regularly ever since. He said the import alert had nothing to do with the Thai rice pledging programme.

Thai Rath, the country's largest-selling newspaper, was the first to carry the report that the US FDA had ordered "every port" in the US to quarantine rice from Thailand.

It named no sources other than an unidentified "foreign news agency" but no such reports could be found. Other media outlets jumped on the story but there appeared to have been few attempts to verify it.

The Commerce Ministry dismissed the report, while Foreign Minister Surapong Torvichakchaikul said he believed it had been fabricated by someone with ill intentions.

However, the issue refuses to die as the personal secretary to Korn Chatikavanij, a key member of the opposition Democrat Party, posted a screenshot from the FDA website on his Facebook page. Noch Hautavanija said it was an order by the FDA to quarantine all shipments of Thai rice at every port on the American mainland.

Some Pheu Thai Party officials believe those citing the FDA document are attempting to discredit the goverment's rice-pledging programme. It has been the target of criticism for huge financial losses, poor transparency, and quality problems.

A closer reading of the import alert shows that it simply provides guidance for officials.

"Districts may detain without physical examination shipments of the products identified in the attachment for this alert if the shipper or manufacturer fails to provide a valid certificate of analysis showing the product does not contain illegal residues of the cited pesticide(s)."

The document contains a "red list" of hundreds of companies from dozens of countries including Thailand, which could be subject to quarantine or random inspections. Companies are moved to a "green list" if they have complied with FDA rules.

Vatchari Vimooktayon, the permanent secretary of the Commerce Ministry, said all Thai rice stocks were examined by surveyors approved by the Bureau of National Import-Export Product Standards of the Foreign Trade Department before they are shipped out.

She said the fumigation processes used for rice before it is shipped abroad were done to standards regulated by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, leaving no chemical residue.

A second import alert dated May 28 follows a similar format in outlining guidelines for "detention without physical examination of processed rice-based products due to filth".

The original alert was issued in 1989 to help officials deal with shipments containing insects or animal droppings. It is also updated regularly. Some Thai companies are on the red list but most are on the green list.
The United States was the third largest importer of Thai rice in the first five months of this year after Iraq and Benin. It imported 161,000 tonnes.

Thailand exports about 400,000 tonnes of rice to US markets each year.

Related search: Thailand, rice, US Food and Drug Administration, pesticide, quarantine

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