Thai government unlikely to ban deadly farm chemical

March 26, 2018 - The chances of winning government approval to ban paraquat, a toxic chemical widely used in agriculture as a herbicide for weed and grass control, are relatively slim, according to the BioThai Foundation.

The non-government organisation said in a statement that the subcommittee tasked with vetting the ban mostly represented agro-industrial interests, so there was only a 30 per cent chance a ban would be approved during its meeting tomorrow.

More than 40 countries have banned or restricted the use of paraquat due to its toxicity. In Thailand, the Public Health Ministry and a working group on high-risk chemicals used in agriculture have recommended the government impose a ban.

However, according to law, the Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives Ministry is authorised to lead the decision-making process on whether to ban chemicals used in the farm sector. The 

14-member subcommittee tasked with deliberating on the paraquat issue is dominated by the agriculture ministry and related agencies, which are seen to represent the interests of the agro-industrial sector. 

According to BioThai, public health, environmental protection and other related agencies generally have the authority in other countries to impose bans on the use of chemicals that have high public-health risks. 

In the past, teams from Mahidol, Chulalongkorn and Naresuen universities have been commissioned to conduct research on the effects of paraquat residues in the environment. 

At least two members of the subcommittee - the representatives from the Food and Drug Administration and Public Health Ministry - are expected to push for a ban on the herbicide. Prokchol Ousap, coordinator of Thailand Pesticide Alert Network (Thai-PAN), said while an outright ban is unlikely, the subcommittee may impose the "restricted use" requirement on paraquat. 

In this event, according to BioThai, there would then be challenges over enforcement of the "restricted use" condition. Prokchol urged the subcommittee to disclose the result of the vote publicly before it is forwarded to a multiagency committee in charge of controlling the use of toxic chemicals. 

Over the past year, Thailand's imports of paraquat have totalled about Bt1 billion. According to the Anti-corruption Organisation of Thailand, an NGO, the paraquat issue has gained a lot of attention on social media.  

A recent survey showed that it reflected public concern about alleged corrupt practices at the Agriculture Ministry.

Source: The Nation