Clean air comes before animal feed
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Clean air comes before animal feed

Chiang Mai has been blanketed by toxic smog, much of it caused by animal agriculture, for days on end this year. (Photo: Dave Kendall)
Chiang Mai has been blanketed by toxic smog, much of it caused by animal agriculture, for days on end this year. (Photo: Dave Kendall)

As toxic smog chokes the country without signs of clearing, the government aims to become the world’s top exporter of animal feed. This is a slap in the face of the populace because they have been suffering from the industry’s harmful effects on health and the environment for over two decades.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has directed the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research, and Innovation to use knowledge and technology to enhance animal feed quality, safety and their cost-effectiveness, said Chai Wacharonke, spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office. This move aims to bolster the industry and position Thailand as a top animal feed exporter, potentially earning over 300 billion baht, he added.

The government has its priorities wrong. To return clean air to people, the government must regulate the field burning in corn plantations, the source of animal feed production, instead of letting the business expand at the cost of public health and the environment.

The PM2.5 air pollution has grown worse this year due to the long dry spells from global warming and no rain to clean the air, putting more than 56 million people in 58 provinces at risk, especially the elderly, young children, pregnant women and those with respiratory or heart problems, said public health authorities.

According to the National Economic and Social Development Council, more than 10.5 million people fell ill from air pollution last year, 115% more when compared with 2022. People in the North are hit the hardest, suffering from lung cancer, respiratory system infections, asthma and heart diseases because of the toxic haze.

Chiang Mai, for instance, was once labelled the Rose of the North for its natural beauty and clean, cool climate. Now, it has become one of the world’s most polluted cities when the haze season arrives.

Families are losing loved ones, and society its valuable resources. Yet tragic deaths from hazardous PM2.5 persist, harming tourism and burdening taxpayers with huge health costs.

However, the government focuses on fighting forest fires, arresting small arsonists, and failing to curb field burning in corn plantations, which is the main source of toxic haze in the North that affects the whole country.

The rapid expansion of corn plantations to supply the animal feed industry is linked to massive deforestation, field burnings and chronic toxic haze.

While rainforests are crucial in mitigating global warming and preserving biodiversity for the survival of the planet and humanity, the government advocates a policy that lets big farm businesses destroy priceless rainforests to produce animal feed. This is not acceptable.

Meanwhile, the government blames hill tribes for deforestation and forest fires.

Condemning their traditional farm rotation system with managed fires as the source of toxic haze, the government issued a limited time frame for farm burning, leading to rushed field clearing, which often causes uncontrolled wildfires in extremely dry weather.

Meanwhile, the toxic haze has become ever more intense because corn plantations have spread into neighbouring countries, eating up more forests and creating a borderless haze tragedy.

In the past decade, 11.8 million rai of rainforests in the Mekong River Basin were converted into corn plantations for animal feed, according to Greenpeace.

The largest areas are in the upper part of Laos, at 5.7 million rai, followed by the Shan state in Myanmar at 3.1 million rai, and the northern part of Thailand at 2.9 million rai.

The total area of corn plantations in the Mekong River Basin increased from 13,015,940 rai in 2015 to 18,095,317 rai last year.

Hot spots in these areas last year were also 10% higher than the previous five years, accounting for nearly half of all hot spots, affirming that field burnings in corn plantations are a main source of toxic haze.

The animal feed industry is not only linked to deforestation and air pollution. It also has been linked with the depletion of the seas through the use of cheap “trash fish” supplied by environmentally destructive trawlers to produce animal feed.

The animal feed industry is competitive in the global market because it’s using natural resources for free and isn’t paying for the damage it’s causing to the environment and public health. This can’t continue.

The PM2.5 air pollution problem is Thailand’s most serious environmental and public health issue due to its magnitude and severity.

A responsible government should prioritise people and the environment to solve the toxic haze crisis.

If export success comes from human and environmental tragedies, then the government is part of the problem, not the solution.

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