Bayer campaign against glyphosate ban revealed
text size

Bayer campaign against glyphosate ban revealed

Company and US trade officials sought ways to influence PM and minister, documents show

Deputy Agriculture Minister Mananya Thaiset chats with officials before chairing a meeting of the National Hazardous Substances Committee in October last year. (Post File Photo)
Deputy Agriculture Minister Mananya Thaiset chats with officials before chairing a meeting of the National Hazardous Substances Committee in October last year. (Post File Photo)

The chemicals giant Bayer and the US government cooperated closely last year to lobby Thailand to reverse its ban on glyphosate, used in the company’s controversial weedkiller Roundup, documents obtained by an environmental group and reviewed by Reuters show.

The lobbying, which included US trade officials asking Bayer for information on Deputy Agriculture Minister Minister Mananya Thaiset, is detailed in more than 200 pages of partially redacted documents and emails, some directly between US officials and a Bayer representative.

The documents were obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act by the Tucson, Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, which shared them with Reuters.

The Thai government eventually dropped plans to ban glyphosate a few days before the ban was due to come into force in December last year. It had approved the restriction in October citing concerns over the impact of the chemical on human health.

Reuters was unable to determine the reasons for the reversal or whether efforts by the United States and Bayer played a role in Thailand’s decision.

A government spokeswoman denied any foreign influence on the reversal of the ban.

While regulators worldwide, including the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have determined glyphosate to be safe, Bayer agreed in June to settle nearly 100,000 US lawsuits for $10.9 billion, denying claims that Roundup caused cancer.

Thailand had initiated significant steps in August 2019 to ban glyphosate and other chemicals widely deemed toxic to humans. The World Health Organization’s cancer research arm classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” in March 2015.

As Thailand considered the ban on glyphosate, Bayer kicked off its lobbying effort. The Germany-headquartered firm, which acquired Monsanto, the US-based maker of Roundup, for $63 billion in 2018, made an appeal for help arguing against the ban to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Sept 18 last year, the documents reviewed by Reuters show.

In a statement to Reuters, Bayer said: “Our engagements with all those in the public sector are routine, professional, and consistent with all laws and regulations.”

“The Thai authorities’ reversal of the ban on glyphosate is consistent with the science-based determinations by regulatory bodies around the world.”

Deputy government spokeswoman Ratchada Dhanadirek said the country supported safe agriculture and prioritised farmers’ and consumers’ health, noting that glyphosate was widely used internationally and there was no viable alternative.

The Prime Minister’s Office denied knowledge of the lobbying efforts when asked to comment on the documents reviewed by Reuters.

The Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) did not respond to Reuters requests for comment on the documents and its role in the reversal of the ban.

The documents show that Ms Mananya was identified in particular by Bayer as “seeking to dramatically accelerate the imposition of a ban” on glyphosate and other farm chemicals.

In July, before the documents were shared with Reuters, Ms Mananya said she was motivated to ban glyphosate and other chemicals after attending many farmers’ funerals in her previous job as the mayor of Muang Uthai Thani.

USTR officials discussed Ms Mananya in an internal email chain dated Oct 22, the day the government approved plans to ban glyphosate, the documents show. In a separate email to Bayer, an unidentified USTR official sought more information on the deputy minister from the chemicals company.

“Knowing what motivates her may help with USG (US government) counter-arguments” to reverse the ban, the official wrote. “She has no record of being diehard advocate of organic food and/or a staunch environmentalist,” Bayer’s senior director for international government affairs and trade, Jim Travis, replied.

Ms Mananya couldn’t be reached for comment on whether she had been approached by Bayer or US officials and her office declined Reuters’ requests for comment on the documents.

While Bayer and the USTR sought to understand the mindset of Ms Mananya, whom one USTR official described as “well-connected”, the documents make clear their main objective was access to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

In an emailed response to the USTR on Oct 24, Bayer’s Mr Travis said, “All efforts should be focused on the PM.”

Gen Prayut could not be reached for comment on the documents. He has rarely expressed his views publicly on the chemical ban. After the glyphosate ban was reversed, he only said, he had “no problem” with the decision.

On Oct 17, Ted McKinney, the USDA undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, wrote to Gen Prayut, asking for a postponement of the ban. The prime minister repeatedly declined to comment on Mr McKinney’s letter when asked by reporters.

“The US EPA … has found that there are no risks to human health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label,” a USDA spokesperson said in response to Reuters’ request for comment on the documents.

A ban on glyphosate would have meant grain grown using it could not enter Thailand, denying US exporters of bulk crops — including soybeans and wheat — access to a market that, like others in Southeast Asia, has grown massively from 2015 to nearly $1 billion in value in 2019, US data shows.

Despite the initial lobbying efforts, the National Hazardous Substances Committee formally approved the ban on Oct 22 with an effective start date in December.

US officials continued their efforts as late as Nov 26, the documents show.

On Nov 27, Thai authorities reversed course. A government committee announced the country was abandoning the ban four days before it was due to take effect, citing concerns over foreign trade impact, alongside the impact on farmers and the food and animal feed industries.

Do you like the content of this article?