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Daily News Blog

04
Dec

Bending to International Industry Pressure, Thailand Walks Back Toxic Chemical Bans

(Beyond Pesticides, December 4, 2019) Last week, Thailand’s government shifted course from banning three toxic pesticides to only restricting the use of glyphosate and delaying the enforcement of bans on paraquat and chlorpyrifos. After an initially strong stance, the government is now bending to pressure from the U.S. government and the chemical-intensive farming industry.

Glyphosate, paraquat, and chlorpyrifos had been on track to be upgraded to “type 4 toxic substances” starting December 1. All existing stocks of type 4 toxic substances are required to be destroyed, as the chemicals are not allowed to be produced, imported, or possessed in the country. The bans on paraquat and chlorpyrifos have now been deferred until June 1, 2020. Glyphosate will continue to be allowed in Thailand as long as products  meet maximum residue limits.

In October, U.S. Department of Agriculture Ted McKinney wrote a letter to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha describing the ‘severe impacts’ that a glyphosate ban would have on U.S. exports of commodities like soybeans and wheat. CropLife Asia, a trade group that represents pesticide industry giants, also asked PM Prayuth to delay the ban due to its potential impact on agriculture. Farmers protested that there were not proper alternatives for the banned pesticides.

16% of Thailand’s population is employed in the agricultural sector. The country is a substantial exporter of rice, rubber, and sugar. Rice farmer Siri Saknataiguan told NPR, “There’s no question that the chemicals we’ll have to use instead will be more expensive. So the government has to help us. Otherwise, farmers won’t be able to make a living.” On November 25, around 2,000 demonstrators marched to Thailand’s Government House demanding a delay on the bans.

Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, part of the Bhum Jai Tahi party that pushed for the ban, argued, “We have to listen to all parties and assess what we can do to create less dispute. But I’m responsible for the Ministry of Health, and there can be no compromise on any policy that’s dangerous for health.”

Thailand’s National Hazardous Substances Committee claimed that it would not be able to manage the costly affair of destroying the approximate 23,000 tons of the existing chemicals within the country. The committee stated, “After the discussion on the management of the hazardous chemicals. . .we have found that we are unable to manage the situation if the ban takes place on Dec. 1.”

Witoon Lianchamroon, director of the advocacy group BioThai, told Reuters, “This is most disappointing. They are helping companies that import these chemicals, particular the importers of glyphosate.”

The Industry Minister stated that officials are planning to begin a four-month study on the impact of bans on paraquat and chlorpyrifos as well as substitute chemicals. Health Minister Charnvirakul told reporters that he was disappointed but would respect the decision of the panel.

While this story has indeed taken a disappointing turn, the farmer backlash offers a case study for where single-chemical bans – though they can be an important in a short-term goal – can go wrong. The focus in Thailand is on the replacement of the banned toxic chemicals with substitutes instead of holistic, organic practices that are safe for people and the environment. 

Organic farms are profitable and resilient to the threats of a changing climate: healthy soil and soil cover help prevent nutrient and water loss, making them better prepared to withstand either floods or droughts. Beyond Pesticides recommends asking for organic because a broken, toxic system requires structural change, not a chemical substitute. Look into resources on organic for more.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Sources: Reuters, Bloomberg, NPR

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