Uproar at ban delay
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Uproar at ban delay

Chemicals to be used for six more months

Industry Minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit, chairman of the National Hazardous Substances Committee, announces the results of the meeting on Wednesday. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)
Industry Minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit, chairman of the National Hazardous Substances Committee, announces the results of the meeting on Wednesday. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

The National Hazardous Substances Committee (NHSC) on Wednesday decided to postpone a ban on paraquat and chlorpyrifos for six months while restricting the use of glyphosate, sparking uproar from consumer and health advocates.

The panel's move came despite its earlier decision on Oct 22 to ban the herbicides paraquat and glyphosate, and the pesticide chlorpyrifos, effective from Dec 1. The substances would be upgraded from Type 3 toxic substances to Type 4, which prohibit their production, import, export or possession.

The proposed ban was met with strong opposition from farmers with reports emerging last week that the Department of Agriculture would propose postponing the ban by another six months.

At its meeting on Wednesday, the NHSC resolved to delay the ban on paraquat and chlorpyrifos until June next year and revised its decision to only restrict the use of glyphosate as stipulated in the May 23, 2018 decision.

Based on the May decision, glyphosate will be used in the farming of six major crops -- corn, cassava, sugarcane, rubber, oil palm and fruit only. It is not allowed in watershed areas and other sensitive environment zones, and farmers must submit proof of use including the type of crops and the size of their farms when purchasing the substance.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Industry Minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit, who chairs the NHSC, said the committee reached its decision after reviewing information provided by the Department of Agriculture and the Ministry of Public Health.

Twenty four of the 29 panel members attended the meeting. The five members absent were three academics and two others from state agencies.

The panel's decision was made mostly in line with the proposal put forward by the Department of Agriculture, which cited impacts on farmers and food-related entrepreneurs who would be left with a very limited period of time to prepare if the ban took effect on Dec 1.

As for the restricted use of glyphosate, he said a total ban will inflict damage on the food industry, which imports soybean and wheat mainly from countries such as the United States and Brazil where the chemical is not banned.

If glyphosate is banned in Thailand, the residue must be 0%, and this will hurt the food industry, he said, noting that the chemical is still used in more than 160 countries and banned only in nine.

"The previous resolution was made without consideration of economic impact issues. But after that, many stakeholders raised strong concerns on that point to the committee, regarding impacts on the food industry, international trade and the high amount of budget to eradicate 23,000 tonnes of them," he said.

"Therefore, we reviewed it. However, please let it be noted that we remain firm in our position to ban the two other chemicals," he said.

The NHSC on Wednesday also instructed the Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives Ministry's Department of Agriculture to find alternative substances to paraquat and chlorpyrifos and come up with measures to minimise the impact of the chemicals' use on public health within four months.

Mr Suriya declined to address the possibility of switching to restrict the use of paraquat and chlorpyrifos if there were no replacements.

Prakob Wiwitjinda, head of the Department of Industrial Works and the NHSC's secretary-general, said the decision has nothing to do with the US lobbying for a ban delay, particularly on glyphosate.

It was reported that Washington sent a letter via the US embassy to the government asking to delay the ban on glyphosate which would "severely impact" Thailand's import of agricultural commodities.

Mr Prakob said that the decision was reversed because information from the Department of Agriculture had pointed out Thailand would be unable to import products contaminated with the chemical and the food industry would be hurt.

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