PM denies rift claims over chemical ban

PM denies rift claims over chemical ban

Differing opinions 'normal in coalition'

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Tuesday insisted that differing stances within the coalition on the chlorpyrifos and paraquat ban won't affect the unity of the government.

He was referring to Bhumjaithai Party's full support for the ban and the Democrat Party's decision to forward a petition calling for a revision of the ban to the National Hazardous Substances Committee (NHSC).

"Our core priorities are public health and welfare. And the truth is, any drastic changes do take time and we have to go step by step," the prime minister said.

Gen Prayut went on to say that he personally believes the differences won't affect the unity of the government as differing opinions are common, especially when people with opposing ideas work together.

"The government will choose the best way to improve the safety of both farmers and consumers ... all parties involved will therefore have to find a way to move forward," he said.

The remarks were made after reports emerged that Agriculture Minister Chalermchai Sri-on, a Democrat member, tried to reverse the ban on the toxic farm chemicals after being pressured to do so by advocates of the substances.

The move went against the stance of Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister, Anutin Charnvirakul, the Bhumjaithai leader, who supports the ban.

When asked if the issue surfaced at yesterday's cabinet meeting, Mr Anutin said it didn't come up for discussion. However, he insisted that the ban has been incorporated into the Industry Ministry's regulations and, as such, cannot be reversed that easily.

He said the matter had already been discussed with Mr Chalermchai, who assured him that he was simply passing on the petition to the NHSC; therefore it did not necessarily reflect his stance on the matter.

Chawalit Wichayasut, an opposition Pheu Thai Party MP for Nakhon Phanom, said the PM should really spell out in no uncertain terms what his government's policies are on the use of hazardous farm chemicals.

The premier couldn't simply act as a messenger conveying messages back and forth between the NSHC and the sides supporting or opposing the ban on these chemicals, he said in his capacity as chairman of the House committee studying the national guidelines for chemical use in agriculture.

"The fact of the matter is, more than 90% of those who advocate the use of these dangerous farm chemicals usually hire poor and ill-informed workers to handle the substances," he said.

"It is them who suffer the serious health consequences. Some of them have even had to have their legs amputated because of complications from repeated exposure, leading them to become disabled," he said.

In addition to the chemicals' known adverse impacts upon farmers' health, a study by Naresuan University warned about paraquat's ability to contaminate groundwater sources, which could compromise the safety of tap water in some areas of the country, Mr Chawalit said.

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