Lab tests show rice 'edible'
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Lab tests show rice 'edible'

Govt to press ahead with auction plan

Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Phumtham Wechayachai, centre right in yellow, and other officials eat decade-old rice in Surin early this month. (Photo: Ministry of Commerce)
Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Phumtham Wechayachai, centre right in yellow, and other officials eat decade-old rice in Surin early this month. (Photo: Ministry of Commerce)

The government will proceed with its plan to auction off the rice from Yingluck Shinawatra's pledging scheme that had been stored in two warehouses in Surin for 10 years, after a laboratory test result showed that the rice is still safe for consumption.

Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Phumtham Wechayachai, who is on a trip to Italy, said a test run by a private laboratory on samples taken from the two warehouses in Surin where the rice is being stored showed they were free from aflatoxins and other chemical residues.

The samples were sent in by a reporter from a private media outlet.

"I'm happy about the result, especially since the samples were sent in by journalists," he said, adding the samples were also sent to the Department of Medical Sciences (DMSc) for further analysis.

Now the rice has been proven to be safe for consumption, Mr Phumtham said he has instructed the Public Warehouse Organisation to prepare the terms of reference and draw up the contracts for the auction.

Dr Yongyot Thammavudhi, DMSc director-general, said on Sunday the department has finished testing the rice samples from the Commerce Ministry. The result will be announced at a press conference on Monday.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has said the government wants a neutral agency to examine the quality of the rice to see if it is fit for export.

"If the buyers want us to check the rice's quality, we are ready to do so. Rice that remains in good condition and is free of chemical contamination will fetch a high price," the prime minister said.

Mr Phumtham has insisted the government should auction off 15,000 tonnes of rice left over from the loss-ridden rice pledging scheme of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra's administration so the government can earn some revenue.

Mr Phumtham said the auction is expected to fetch about 270 million baht, and reduce storage costs, which could reach up to 380,000 baht per month.

He said the rice is expected to be exported to Africa.

Early this month, Mr Phumtham, who is the deputy leader of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, led a group of officials and reporters to inspect two rice warehouses in the northeastern province of Surin to show that the rice stored there 10 years ago is still edible.

The minister said the rice at both warehouses had been carefully preserved and was frequently fumigated, while the warehouses were sealed to prevent pests and rainwater from getting inside.

But critics have argued that the rice appeared to be in "good condition" because it has been through multiple cycles of fumigation for over a decade.

If the rice needs to be fumigated every two months, then the rice has been through at least 60 fumigation cycles, which critics believe are hazardous to people's health.

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

Critics are also worried about the effect of the controversy on the reputation of Thai rice overseas.

The Yingluck rice-pledging scheme, which ran from 2011 to 2014, was the largest rice market intervention programme in Thai history.

During the scheme, the government bought grains from farmers at well above the market price without setting any limits on the amount purchased for the first time.

This resulted in losses totalling hundreds of billions of baht.

Yingluck fled the country in 2017 just before the Supreme Court sentenced her to five years in jail for failing to stop corruption-plagued rice sales.

When the scheme ended in May 2014, roughly 18.6 million tonnes of rice remained.

On Sept 10, 2018, the administration of prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha sold 17.8 million tonnes or 95.7% of the stock, generating a revenue of about 146 billion baht.

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