Glyphosate slant omits legal cases

Glyphosate slant omits legal cases

The Prayut Chan-o-cha government is doing the right thing in standing up to the US after its demand that Thailand lift the ban on three extremely toxic farm chemicals: the herbicides paraquat and glyphosate, and the pesticide chlorpyrifos.

The ban, which is set to take effect on Dec 1, was approved on Tuesday by the National Hazardous Substances Committee, which also reclassified the three farm chemicals from Type 3 toxic substances to Type 4, prohibiting their use, production, import, export or possession.

Prime Minister Prayut acknowledged he had received a letter from Washington via the US Embassy which expressed concerns over the ban. In response, he has assigned agencies to explain Thailand's position. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who is also the health minister, has insisted the government stands by the ban as it is in the interest of people's health while the US was only "worried only about trade". This is a shame.

A source pointed out that while it appears Washington was worried about the ban on all three substances, it's actually glyphosate that is the prime concern for the US.

Mr Anutin said: "Fearing they won't be able to sell their products, they are now asking us to lift the ban. Should we bow to this move?"

In the letter, which was circulated by several Thai media outlets, Washington pointed out the possible adverse effects of the ban on imports of farm produce from the US to Thailand, including soybeans, corns, and several kinds of fruits. At present, Thailand imports about 73.2 billion baht of US agricultural produce each year.

Glyphosate, which is also known as Roundup, is a popular farm chemical not only in the US but around the world. The substance was initially developed by agro giant Monsanto, which later sold the patent to Germany-based Bayer AG in a 2018 acquisition deal that cost the latter US$63 billion (1.9 trillion baht).

It has been reported the US is concerned the ban may force Thai farmers to switch to other chemicals which are more expensive, leading to higher production costs.

The source said the US Department of Agriculture in defending the use of glyphosate had accused the Thai government of banning the chemical without "sufficient scientific proof". It also claimed the chemical has been widely used in the US because it has been proven to be safe in a "number of studies".

According to local media reports, the US letter cited an assessment by the US Environmental Protection Agency as well as scientific opinions from agencies in Japan, the European Union, Australia and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations to back its claim that the "use of glyphosate in farming poses no harm to the health of humans".

However, the fact is that some countries -- like Austria -- have banned the weedkiller and more countries have followed suit, including Vietnam.

As the US agency insisted the substance is safe, it seems to have forgotten about Dewayne Johnson, a school groundskeeper, who claimed the company's weedkillers gave him cancer, raising global alarm.

Mr Johnson sued the agro giant in 2016. In August 2018, a Reuters report said a jury awarded Mr Johnson $39 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages, a total of $289 million, following a trial in the Superior Court of California in San Francisco.

It was reported that 46-year-old Mr Johnson had applied Roundup weedkiller 20 to 30 times per year while working as a groundskeeper for a school near San Francisco. He was said to have had two accidents in which he was soaked with the product.

The agro giant has faced similar lawsuits after Mr Johnson's victory. After the Johnson verdict, Monsanto said it stood by the studies that "suggest Roundup does not cause cancer". There were reports that the company would appeal the ruling.

At the same time, it was reported by Bloomberg in August this year that Bayer AG -- while repeating that the weedkiller is safe -- proposed to pay as much as US$8 billion to settle more than 18,000 US lawsuits alleging its Roundup herbicide causes cancer.

Such reports were missing from the US agency's remarks suggesting the Thai government abandon the ban. In fact, suspicions are being raised on the influence of lobbying by the agro giant on US policymakers.

BioThai, a food safety advocacy group which earned praise for its role in pushing for the ban posted on its Facebook page on Friday that the US opposition to Thailand's ban on glyphosate was due to the influence of the powerful company which sells the chemical in the US. The advocacy group was right in pointing out the US agency's stance in the glyphosate saga shows that it is seeking to protect the agro giant's interest.

The Prayut government must ignore Washington's move. It has the sovereign right to protect the health of its people.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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