We will keep eating poison for a while yet

We will keep eating poison for a while yet

The latest resolution on the ban of the three hazardous chemicals is even more toxic than the chemicals themselves. Yes, I'm talking about paraquat, chlorpyrifos and glyphosate that are being manufactured and distributed by global agro giants.

The resolution on Wednesday by the panel, chaired by Industry Minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit, saw the ban on paraquat and chlorpyrifos being postponed for six months and the use of glyphosate being given the green light. This scandalous decision only goes to show that the panel is shamelessly not committed to its declaration that it will make food in Thailand safer by banning these dangerous substances, which have already been phased out in a large number of countries.

Actually, the committee's strong love for these toxic chemicals comes as no surprise -- the agro giants producing them are very powerful.

However, with this decision being made, a new can of worms has been forced open.

To begin with, some committee members have bravely taken the stand to dispute the panel chair's claim that the U-turn decision was unanimous.

Asst Prof Jiraporn Limpananond, a lecturer at Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Pharmacy, even quit the panel in protest. She served there as an expert.

Her argument was that there was no consensus, and no transparency in this decision. Kudos to her for sticking up for the truth.

Those representing the Public Health Ministry have also maintained their stance against the chemicals, which totally contradicts Mr Suriya's claims.

I hope Ms Jiraporn's resignation and the health authorities' firm position on the matter can be used as grounds for environmentalists to further push their crusade against the toxic chemicals.

Of course, we realise that banning these chemicals will not be easy, especially since it will have a serious impact on farmers following conventional farming methods.

Also, the Department of Agriculture will have to work hard to help them make a transition to farming without these chemicals. There are plenty of options available, but the department's sheer lethargy makes the ban a mission impossible.

Given the foul play on Wednesday and some irregularities before that, plus the sheer power of the agro giants, there is no guarantee that the ban on paraquat and chlorpyrifos will not continue being postponed.

We already know that it's a piece of cake to get a thousand or so farmers to come to Bangkok for a so-called protest, as we witnessed this week.

As for the brouhaha about regulating and restricting the use of glyphosate, no further proof is required to show how some unscrupulous Thai mandarins are being held hostage by the agro monsters.

With a wishy-washy prime minister, who clearly has no political will to make the right decision on this matter, we are indeed in a helpless situation.

I remember how one farmer, a staunch proponent of the chemicals, voiced anger about the possibility of a ban. He tried to convince the media about the chemicals' "safety", saying: "I have used them for so long and nothing bad has happened. I can still sell my produce."

The farmer even boasted that "there is no rejection [from foreign buyers], so far".

He may be right, but it won't be for long. In fact, he should count his blessings, because there's still time for him to adopt safer farming practices.

Imagine, if one shipment of produce was to be rejected due to chemical contamination, will this farmer and his pro-chemical associates take responsibility for the damage done to the farming sector and the country?

Not to mention the damage this farmer and his fellow chemical proponents are doing to the soil and the country's water resources.

As for the constant, clichéd response one gets to hear about non-chemical or organic vegetables being too expensive, has anybody ever thought about the amount of money the state spends on poor farmers who suffer from side-effects and consumers who fall ill from these chemicals?

Even the Public Health Ministry has admitted that these chemicals harm human health.

However, now that we are being forced to continue living with these three chemicals, I want to propose a fair practice -- clear labelling so consumers have the right to choose. And I'm deadly serious!

If the state allows the use of these extremely toxic substances -- paraquat (also known as Gramoxone), chlorpyrifos and glyphosate -- it should also make it mandatory for them to be listed.

However, if that farmer is right, and some people still have that couldn't-care-less mindset, then all I can say is: bon appetite.

Ploenpote Atthakor

Editorial page Editor

Ploenpote Atthakor is editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

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