Old-rice sale critics warned of legal action
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Old-rice sale critics warned of legal action

Commerce minister continues to defend plan to auction off grain pledged a decade ago

(Photo: Ministry of Commerce)
(Photo: Ministry of Commerce)

Commerce Minister Phumtham Wechayachai is threatening legal action against people he says are spreading “false information” about the decade-old rice stocks the government is planning to auction off.

“Critics who have no knowledge about this and who upload false information onto a computer system are in violation of the law [the Computer Crime Act]. If they don’t stop, I will assign agencies to take action,” said Mr Phumtham, who is also a deputy prime minister.

“Don’t devalue Thai rice as this will ruin the country’s reputation in the long term.”

Responding to criticism of the government’s handling of the rice issue by Warong Dechgitvigrom, chief adviser of the Thai Pakdee Party, Mr Phumtham said it should be based on facts and information.

Dr Warong — the whistle-blower who exposed the rice-pledging scandal under the former Yingluck Shinawatra government — earlier claimed the old rice stocks had no seal of approval.

“Checks were conducted on the rice in a transparent manner. The rice is fit for auction. The old rice does not necessarily have the same pleasant smell as new crops. The rice will be exported to Africa,” Mr Phumtham said.

“I want to challenge Dr Warong to prove [the quality of the rice is substandard]. If it turns out to be fine, however, Dr Warong must take responsibility,” he added.

Mr Phumtham earlier posted on Facebook that the government wants to auction off the rice left over from the controversial rice-pledging scheme so that it can earn some revenue.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said the government would send samples for lab tests to ensure its safety.

Weerachai Phutdhawong, an organic chemistry expert who was asked by a media outlet to test samples taken from warehouses in Surin, claims to have found aflatoxins on the rice. Aflatoxins have been associated with an increased risk of liver cancer.

The Thailand Consumers Council (TCC) said on Tuesday that it wants to get more samples of the 10-year-old rice for a quality check to see if it is free from harmful residue.

Council secretary-general Saree Aungsomwang said initial tests carried out at Kasetsart University on samples from Surin province showed aflatoxin contamination.

She said consumers wanted to know if stored rice that has been fumigated frequently to kill insects and fungi — especially over a period as long as 10 years — is truly edible under food safety practices.

“We have already submitted a letter to the Ministry of Commerce asking it to let our team collect the rice samples for checks,” she said. “Unfortunately, there has been no response so far,”

If the product is safe, she added, the ministry should let the public known where it is being distributed and sold. As well, she said, all such rice should carry a label saying it originated from the pledging scheme.

Ms Saree also said the ministry should suspend holding auctions for prospective purchasers until it can prove prove that the rice is safe, because people everywhere in the world have a right to safe food.

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