Rice exporters back ban on three toxic chemicals

Rice exporters back ban on three toxic chemicals

Sacks of rice at a mill in Kalasin province. Some countries are rejecting rice with excessive levels of chemical residue.
Sacks of rice at a mill in Kalasin province. Some countries are rejecting rice with excessive levels of chemical residue.

Rice exporters have thrown their full support behind the ban on three toxic farm chemicals, saying importer countries have tightened their order of crops based on food safety.

Charoen Laothamatas, president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association, said the group agrees with the government's decision to ban paraquat, glyphosate and chlorpyrifos, and has asked farmers to adjust by reducing the use of chemicals.

"Many rice buyers have tightened their measures to protect consumers," Mr Charoen said. "If Thai farmers ignore the ban or do not reduce chemical use, rice exports will be affected."

He said global rice consumption is shifting towards chemical-free products.

Chookiat Ophaswongse, honorary president of the association, said several countries including the US and Japan, as well EU members, have introduced new laws to protect consumers and tightened food safety rules for chemical residues, especially for farm products.

For rice, in particular, they require no chemical residue or the least residue. Japan, for instance, has slashed its maximum residue limit for chemical residues on rice from 0.05 parts per million to 0.01 ppm.

Mr Chookiat cited the sampling collected by OMIC, a surveyor from Japan, that found no Thai rice meeting Japan's rigid food-safety requirements.

"Thailand is asking for leniency, but we don't know if they will give in," he said. "Thai farmers need to shift to producing safer food and chemical-free products. Overall farm exports will be affected if later detection finds chemical-tainted products imported from Thailand."

The 26-member National Hazardous Substances Committee (NHSC) on Oct 22 voted to ban two herbicides -- paraquat and glyphosate -- and the pesticide chlorpyrifos.

The committee upgraded the three farm chemicals from Type 3 toxic substances to Type 4, which prohibits their production, import, export or possession.

The decision prompted some farmers to petition the Administrative Court to issue an injunction suspending the ban, while asking the committee to reconsider the move with new evidence.

The farmers want clarity on what options they will have to eradicate weeds after the ban comes into effect. They fear the alternatives could be expensive and add to their costly overhead.

They will also pursue legal action against cabinet ministers, the NHSC, academics and activists who provided "incorrect information" to back the ban.

Nonetheless, the Central Administrative Court ruled on Nov 1 to throw out the petition, saying the decision by the NHSC to prohibit the substances had yet to take effect.

In dismissing the request, the court said that when the NHSC resolved to ban paraquat, glyphosate and chlorpyrifos on Oct 22, it merely kick-started the process of prohibiting them.

The ban is scheduled to take effect next month.

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