Shocking use of pesticides continues
The Ministry of Health Labour and Welfare of Japan recently found pesticide residue in exported durian and other processed products. It issued a warning letter that if Thailand's durian is not safe for the consumer, all durian from the country will be quarantined.
The letter should have alarmed the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. The king of fruit, our country's pride, is not safe for consumption. Instead, the Ministry let the Plant Standard and Certification Division of the Department of Agriculture respond. The division issued a letter this month "to inform" durian exporters that they need to be "more careful" in controlling their farmers/suppliers for the use of pesticide. The government agency also recommended that exporters randomly check their goods before exporting.
Wait a minute. I read the letter again and again. I can't find any sentence that the division, the representative of the ministry, will take any action like fine or ban the companies who supply the contaminated durians and put our durians on the surveillance list.
Durian is one of our cash cow export agricultural products. The fruit generated 35 billion baht to the country's revenues last year. Earnings are expected to increase by 42% to 50 billion baht this year. But can we make the fruit safe for consumption? When contamination is found in the export product, it is highly likely that the yummy custard-like meat of durians available in the market today is contaminated too.
The pesticide residue in durian is one of the examples of our unsafe food. The situation worsens especially when the government does not ban paraquat, glyphosate and chlorpyrifos on farmlands. The three dangerous poisons will still be in our soil, water and food for years to come.
Last week, for example, I visited a big orchard in Rayong. A tour guide told us that they try to make their farm hazardous chemical-free. But when I pointed to the yellow dying grass surrounding the durian plantation, the guide admitted that due to the farm's size they use paraquat to kill weeds sometimes.
On a separate occasion, I visited a village in Muang district in Mae Hong Son. Most farmers there grow garlic. They said their garlic was cheap and chemical free. But when I visited a farm and saw some farmers harvesting garlic, they told me they use paraquat to control grass before they plant the garlic.
I recently met with farmers in a banana-growing area in Sukhothai. They also use paraquat yearly to clear weeds and apply chemical fertilisers to make the natural yellow-green colours of the banana leaves turn dark green as requested by the market. Those farmers I talked to in three different provinces were not aware of the poisons they use on their farmlands. They give me the same reason that if the government advises it, they presume that it is good.
As a result, it is not a surprise when the Thailand Pesticide Alert Network (Thai-Pan) found that 41% of 15 popular vegetables and nine fruits contained toxic chemical residues above the safe level. It was even absurd that three out of six samples that has the "Organic Thailand" label issued by the Department of Agriculture under the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives has chemical residues exceeding the maximum residue limit.
The annual result of toxins found in vegetables and fruits of Thai-Pan repeats the lyrics of 2012. Again, I do not see the government, especially the Agriculture and Cooperatives and the Public Health ministries, taking any actions to make sure our food is safe.
Instead, the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives has an odd solution. It sets aside a 98 million baht budget to train 1.5 million farmers how to use the three hazardous farm chemicals. The aim is to certify the farmers so that they can buy and use the toxins safely. It is an oxymoron. Public money will be spent on publicising the hazardous chemicals. Isn't this a load of rubbish?
If chemicals are hazardous, sooner or later we all have to pay the price with our health. While Thailand is so proud of our food, why won't we make it safe? What's wrong with the government's action that goes against its own policy to campaign Thailand as the Kitchen of the World, the scheme to make Thailand one of the top 10 world food exporters. The goal is a pipe dream. Right now Thailand's achievement is to be among the top five pesticide-consuming countries in the world.
Karnjana Karnjanatawe is a travel writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.
Karnjana Karnjanatawe is a travel writer for Life section.