The ban had been driven fiercely by junior agriculture minister Mananya Thaiset for whom today’s decision will be seen as a setback. The move also flies in the face of a strong ultimatum from Thailand’s Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul who on Tuesday said starkly that the question was one of the public’s health and that economic considerations could not be considered. The Bhumjaithai leader said squarely that he would not back down on the issue: ‘We don’t care about the economic impact because it is beyond the ministry’s responsibilities.’
A controversial decision on Wednesday by a government committee to delay the ban on US farm chemicals and lift the ban altogether for one herbicide, Glyphosate, is set to trigger a deep crisis and conflict within the coalition government after two senior Bhumjaithai Party ministers forcefully repudiated any such move on Monday and Tuesday.
Indeed the Minister of Public Health has previously threatened to resign over the matter and in a statement on Tuesday ruled out any delay to the ban based on public health. The key government committee responsible for the ban on the three farming chemicals glyphosate, paraquat and chlorpyrifos on Wednesday voted unanimously to delay the ban for two of the chemicals for 6 months and lifted the ban altogether for the herbicide glyphosate which had already been subjected to restricted use rules earlier in the year.
Controversial decision that will have political ramifications both inside and outside government
The decision on Wednesday is bound to cause controversy and stoke tensions within the coalition government.
In recent days, the deputy minister at the Ministry of Agriculture Manaya Thaiset had used colourful language to suggest how people supporting the ban would deal with proposed black-clad protesters seeking a delay to the ban. She said that those dressed in white would deal with them.
The junior minister on Monday was also demanding an explanation from the Department of Agriculture, an agency within own ministry, a reported request to the committee seeking a delay to the ban.
‘More concerned with people’s health’ – Anutin
On Tuesday, her party leader and the Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul made clear his firm opposition to any move to delay the ban. ‘We will only support the resolution dated Oct 22 for a ban on all three agrochemicals. We don’t see any reason to postpone. We are more concerned about people’s health,’ the minister said.
Earlier this year he had threatened to resign if the ban was not implemented.
It is difficult to see how the minister can accept today’s move by the committee which not only delayed the ban but also effectively reversed the October 22nd season in respect of the very widely used Glyphosate products.
Meeting chaired by Industry Minister
The meeting today was chaired by the Industry Minister Suriya Juangroongruangkit, who also earlier in the week had indicated a certain understanding of the position of farmers.
To many Thai farmers, the effects of the ban would have been cataclysmic with a huge rise in the costs of crop production and even then risking lower crop yields.
Former officials at the Department of Agriculture in the vanguard of moves to delay or cancel the ban
The opposition to the surprise ban announced on October 22nd has been led, in fact, by former leading officials at the Department of Agriculture within the ministry who had for long ruled out any possibility of such a ban as being too detrimental to the industry’s cost base.
It is reported that only 24 out of the 29 members of the committee attended today’s meeting which decided to delay the ban on two of the substances until June 1 st next and quash the ban on Glyphosate in the light of strict regulations issued in May on the proper use of the product.
Industry minister supports the latest decision
After the decision on Wednesday, the Industry Minister came out strongly in support of the decision of the Committee on Hazardous Substances.
‘The December 1 ban of the October 22 resolution is very short period and would have severe impacts that would also reach consumers because prices would rise,’ Minister Suriya Juangroongruangkit said.
Demonstrations by farmers this week
The turnaround came after farmers protested outside Government House this week. The farming groups had earlier initiated injunction proceedings at the Administrative Court in Bangkok.
It also follows pressure from the US government through its embassy officials who have indirectly indicated that Thailand’s trade relationship with the United States is linked to the ban.
For now, we await the response of the Bhumjaithai party and its ministers as well as a range of activist groups in Thailand and around the world who had applauded the ban.