Farming chemical facts distorted
Industry Minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit did not speak the whole truth about the reversal of the resolution by the new National Hazardous Substances Committee (NHSC) that he chairs over weed-killers glyphosate and paraquat, and the pesticide chlorpyrifos.
Or the facts about the health threats posed by glyphosate when he claimed that 161 countries in the world, including the United States, still use the herbicide, so why not Thailand?
One of the three representatives of the Public Health Ministry, Assoc Prof Jiraporn Limpananont, said there was no clear resolution as such by the NHSC, let alone a unanimous resolution as claimed by Mr Suriya. But she said committee members were put in a situation where they were forced to accept the resolution from the minister.
His claim that glyphosate, a product of US-based Monsanto which was last year taken over by Bayer, a giant German chemical manufacturer, does not pose health threats contradicts findings of the Chulabhorn Research Institute, Mahidol University's Research Institute and the Medical Science Department of the Public Health Ministry, which confirm the weed-killer is a health threat and, probably, is carcinogenic.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has concluded that glyphosate, probably, causes blood cancer or non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Bayer faces more than 18,000 civil lawsuits in the US alone from victims of glyphosate sold under the tradename of Roundup in the US. In July this year, the California court slashed the US$2 billion (60 billion baht) jury verdict awarded to a couple for their cancer blamed on glyphosate to $86.7 million.
Mr Suriya appeared to have the resolution in his mind before he chaired the first meeting of the new NHSC last Wednesday. He might have coordinated behind the scenes with Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Chalermchai Sri-on of the Democrat Party about reversing the previous resolution of the old committee banning the three farm chemicals effective from Dec 1.
The emergence of the black-shirted protesters from the so-called Anti-Chemical Ban Alliance in front of Government House last week ahead of the committee's meeting appeared to be part of the plot to put pressure on the NHSC to do away with the ban.
In the meantime, the Department of Agriculture, which is under the direct supervision of Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Mananya Thaiset, openly defied Ms Mananya by sending its proposal to delay the ban on paraquat and chlorpyrifos until June 1 next year and to allow controlled use of glyphosate indefinitely to Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Chalermchai through Agriculture and Cooperatives permanent secretary Anan Suwanrat. The proposal was approved by Mr Chalermchai without prior consultation with Ms Mananya, the driving force behind the push for the ban of the three substances together with her Bhumjaithai Party leader, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul.
Both were stabbed in the back by their colleagues from the Democrat and Palang Pracharath parties, but have to swallow their pride in dismay because they don't want to leave the government -- a move which could break apart the administration.
Obviously, the Dec 1 ban deadline, which was meant to be a New Year's gift to consumers, was executed in a rush. Doubtlessly, the Bhumjaithai Party has scored political points from their successful push for the ban of the three chemicals even though both Mr Anutin and Ms Mananya have no idea about what alternative substances will be used by farmers. Their insistence on alternative bio-substances makes the job to find an appropriate alternative even harder.
The Department of Agriculture cannot be relied upon either because this department has been complacent all along and has been in a cosy relationship with the chemical industry.
Hence, the decision to delay the ban of paraquat and chlorpyrifos makes sense as it grants more time to those in possession of the products to get rid of them. But the big question is: Will the NHSC extend the deadline again after six months?
But the indefinite controlled use of glyphosate is a bad decision that benefits the importer of the chemical and its manufacturer, Bayer, at the expense of consumers who have to eat fruit and vegetables and drink water tainted with a toxic substance suspected to be carcinogenic. Forget about the Department of Agriculture which has been assigned to control the use of glyphosate and work out measures to mitigate its impact on the environment and human beings.
How long will the controlled use of glyphosate last? Indefinitely? Will the Department of Agriculture work harder to find an alternative to the substance or remain complacent? We expect answers otherwise the department's very existence will seem pointless.
Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.
Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.