The decision by the National Committee on Hazardous Substances not to ban paraquat over the next two years is shameful and shows a lack of responsibility. The committee on Thursday voted 16:5 in favour of continuing to allow the use of the chemical, which is prohibited in 53 countries due to its high toxicity. Five members abstained.
The voting was carried out in secret, but it is understood that those representing the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry gave a “yes” vote to the popular herbicide.
Thailand imported about 44,501 tonnes of paraquat last year compared with 31,525 tonnes in 2016.
In April last year, when the terms for the import of paraquat were due to expire, the committee voted for an extension. At that time, the panel insisted it still had “no knowledge how the chemical causes impacts on health and the environment”.
In May, the committee claimed, amid growing concern about the impact of the pesticide, that a ban was not possible as there were no other chemicals in the market that “work as effectively as paraquat”. The Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry pledged to train farmers how to use the herbicide “properly” to minimise any negative impacts on the health of users and consumers.
The mere fact that paraquat use requires special training is worrying. For one thing, it is questionable whether the ministry can give training to all users. It also implies that the chemical is highly hazardous while improper or excessive use of it can adversely affect users’ health.
The Agriculture Ministry is at odds with the Health Ministry, which has a clear stance that the herbicide must be banned. In April 2018, a health reform committee under the ministry issued a resolution to ban the import of paraquat and chlorpyrifos by the end of last year and to prohibit all use by Dec 1 this year.
The Public Health Ministry has conducted a number of research studies, which show the impact of the herbicide on people’s health. More importantly, it found that paraquat residues had entered the food chain. These results were submitted to the National Committee on Hazardous Substances.
But the pro-paraquat officials refused to listen. They insist the ban will cause problems for many farmers who depend on it. Corn farmers, in particular, object to a ban, which they claim will lower their yields. They also insist the herbicide has reduced their labour costs, which means lower production costs overall.
But they, the farmers and the officials should know that nature has its limits and the environmental clock is ticking. If we wait until the produce is returned it will be too late, and the damage will be too great to control.