Build trust in Thai rice
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Build trust in Thai rice

The all-out effort by the Pheu Thai-led government to auction decade-old rice from Yingluck's rice-pledging scheme raises questions about the party's political acumen.

First, the cooked rice-eating stunt by Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Phumtham Wechayachai drew media attention and its fair share of scepticism.

It's a bit of a mystery why Pheu Thai decided to make a big deal with such a stunt while the previous government had quietly auctioned off rice from this scheme before.

Mr Phumtham also unveiled his idea to sell the remaining 15,000 tonnes or even export it to Africa with the goal of fetching 270 million baht and saving the rice storage budget.

The campaign also quickly backfired as it was perceived as an attempt to white-wash ex-PM Yingluck Shinawatra's notorious rice-pledging scheme.

Questions were also soon raised about the safety of the rice, especially when test results from Kasetsart University's laboratory found that rice samples reportedly taken from the warehouse showed aflatoxin residue.

Weerachai Pududdhawong, a lecturer and food safety expert at the university, urged the government to use the decade-old rice grain to produce biofuel and alcohol instead.

In response to all the criticism and doubt, Pheu Thai politicians quickly turned combative as they sought to win arguments, with Mr Phumtham losing his cool when he lashed out at critics -- branding them as "fanciful" and "unscientific".

His critics did not listen, so Mr Phumtham showed an authoritative streak and made a threat to sue his critics in court.

Such intimidation tactics have worked to a point, with Mr Weerachai yesterday announcing on his Facebook page that he would stop commenting on the rice issue after being told by phu yai and executives at the university to hush up.

Meanwhile, the government has openly supported another lab test sent by a media group that shows that the rice is safe to eat.

Meanwhile, the Thailand Consumers Council (TCC) has been denied access to take samples of rice for the purpose of conducting its own food safety testing.

The government also denied a TCC request to read official laboratory tests from the Department of Medical Sciences (DMSC) at the Ministry of Public Health. The government had DMSC take samples from the warehouse, and the DMSC's analysis of the decade-old rice found that it was edible.

But the question is whether the public and consumers will believe in the one-sided information being pushed by the government. Would they be willing to eat rice if they knew it was 10-year-old grains from a warehouse in Surin?

The image of Thai rice in the marketplace takes decades to build, and while Thai rice may lag behind in terms of productivity and research and development, it's a prime quality product that is safe to consume.

Pheu-Thai government's hard-sell tactics and its lack of transparency put unnecessary question marks over the Thai brand image while going against the grain of the party's soft power approaches in promoting other Thai exports.

Instead of pushing hard to offload such rice, the government should focus on building trust in Thai rice while also considering its own image at home and abroad.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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