Extraordinary press conference saw senior officials of the Thai government deny the briefing given to the media yesterday by the Minister of Industry Suriya Juangroongruangkit on the farm chemical ban. One member of the National Committee of Hazardous substances resigned on Wednesday night.

The Thai government’s position on the ban on three controversial chemicals was plunged into chaos today in addition to crisis after senior officials at the Ministry of Public Health directly challenged the assertions of the Minister for Industry Suriya Juangroongruangkit on Wednesday when he announced that a delay of the ban had been agreed by the National Committee on Hazardous Substances and that the ban on one substance glyphosate had been lifted. On Thursday, members of the committee, senior government officials, stated that no such decision had been made at a press conference in Nonthaburi.

Some of the most senior officials and the Thai Ministry of Public Health gave an extraordinary press conference to the media at the ministry in Nonthaburi on Thursday in which they directly contradicted the announcement made by the Thai Minister of Industry on Wednesday that the National Committee on Hazardous Substances had voted to delay the ban on three controversial farm chemicals imposed on October 22nd last. The shocking situation involving what appears to be a conflict between the senior officials and a senior government minister, leaves the government’s position on the issue in chaos. Those who spoke to the media included: Dr Narong Saiwongse, deputy permanent secretary, Dr Opart Karnkawinpong, the director-general of the Medical Sciences Department, Dr Sukhum Karnchanapimai, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Public Health and Dr Paisarn Dunkum, secretary-general of the Thai Food and Drug Administration.

There is a crisis in the Thai government over the ban on three controversial chemicals used extensively by farmers. 

Following yesterday’s announcement by the Ministry for Industry that the December 1st ban imposed on October 22nd by a select committee had been delayed by 6 months and the ban on one of the chemicals glyphosate lifted altogether, comes news that a member of the National Committee on Hazardous Substances Jirapon Limpananon resigned her position on Wednesday night stating that no such decision was made by the committee during yesterday’s meeting.

Extraordinary briefing at the Ministry of Public Health

This has been followed today by what can only be described as an extraordinary press conference given by senior officers of the Ministry of Public Health who insist that no such decision was made yesterday and that, on the contrary, the public health threat from the three chemicals was so severe that such a reversal could not be contemplated.

Officials at the Ministry of Public Health refuted yesterday’s statement by the Minister of Industry

The Public health  officials held their press conference at the Ministry of Public Health in Nonthaburi on Thursday to refute the statement issued on Wednesday by the Industry Minister Mr Suriya.

One of the leading speakers at today’s alarming escalation of what appears to be tensions in the government on the issue was Dr Sukhum Karnchanapimai, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Public Health. His stance was unequivocal.

‘The Public Health Ministry stands firm that the three chemicals affect health and our standpoint is to insist on the previous resolution of the National Committee on Hazardous Substances on Oct 22nd, 2019, to ban the three chemicals,’ he told astonished reporters. 

Nationwide teleconference with medical facilities on Monday detailed the health impact of the chemicals

The senior ministry official then outlined the current health impact of the controversial chemicals. He revealed that officials had held a nationwide teleconference with doctors at medical facilities throughout Thailand on Monday.

He told reporters bluntly that Thai people throughout the kingdom were suffering from the effects of the chemicals which are already banned in a minority of countries worldwide.

He said doctors and nurses from provincial health offices and hospitals nationwide reported via a teleconference on Monday that more people were now suffering from the substances.

Thai man died from liver failure after paraquat spilt on his pants while using the chemical

Dr Sukhum disclosed that where once there were 45 cases in Nan Hospital linked with the effects of the chemical, that figure had now risen to 225 admissions per month.

He raised the case of a Thai man who while using the chemical paraquat had died from liver failure. This came about because of a wind which blew the pesticide on to his pants.

Root cause of brain disease and cancer in Thailand

Dr Sukhum told the gathering that use of the three chemicals was the root cause of some brain disease and cancers among the Thai population with some instances of health damage being caused to babies from conditions developed by their mothers.

He stated that this was caused by high levels of contamination on fruit and vegetables being eaten by consumers throughout the food chain.

Glyphosate shown as a catalyst for breast cancer

The press briefing heard from Dr Opart Karnkawinpong who is the director-general of the Medical Science Department at the ministry.

He held that the herbicide glyphosate has been shown to be a catalyst for breast cancer among Thai women which also impacted babies.

Cabbages with paraquat residue 20 times above world safety levels in Thailand in Phitsanulok province

Dr Opart outlined how paraquat residue has been found in cabbage eaten by Thai people in a variety of dishes. Paraquat residue had been found on cabbages in Thailand despite a ban on its use for this vegetable. 

He revealed the results of a survey from Phitsanulok province which showed a residue level of 0.21 milligrammes per kilogramme in cabbage.

He said that the world safety level was 0.01 milligrammes meaning that the Thai produce being eaten by Thai people in the province was 20 times over the safety limit.

Senior official adamant that no decision was taken by the committee on Wednesday as there was no vote

Dr Opart was adamant that at Wednesday’s meeting of the National Committee on Hazardous Substances, there was no vote by any member of the committee to either ease or lift the ban on glyphosate as reported to the media by the Minister of Industry.

At yesterday’s press briefing, the minister, Mr Suriya said that the decision by the committee was unanimous and that 24 out of  29 members attended the meeting which he had chaired.

However, today Dr Opart who questioned this was joined by Dr Paisarn Dunkum who is the secretary-general of the Thai Food and Drug Administration. 

Dr Paisarn told the media that no decision was made at the meeting. He recollected that the discussion at the meeting centred on the confirmed dangers of the substances.

Pharmacy council chairperson resigned

Following the press reports of the easing of the ban and the reversal in respect of glyphosate on Wednesday based on a briefing given to the media by the Minister of Industry, Ms Jirapon Limpananon the Chairperson of the Pharmacy Council of Thailand resigned from the committee that night.

Ms Jirapon was also adamant that no decision was made on Wednesday and that indeed the October 22nd decision must be respected in the interests of the health of the Thai public.

Chaos reigns on the issue of critical importance

Today’s explosive development appears to show the Thai government in a state of chaos on the issue of the chemical ban which urgently needs clarification. The position of a senior minister is now openly questioned due to an apparent conflict not of only of opinions on the issue but also what transpired on Wednesday.

Government leadership in an impossible position

It also leaves the Thai government in an impossible position between a measure which will decimate production in the agriculture sector in a week in which we have already learned that the rice crop may be severely diminished even before the ban was to come into effect.

Threat of food price increases

This means the prospect of higher food prices on top of an already difficult economic position which is causing hardship for Thai people.

Alternatively, the government can uphold yesterday’s announcement which will lead it into conflict not only with health activists but now senior officials at its own Ministry of Public Health.

Clarification is required – crisis of confidence

It should also be noted that an explanation for the contradiction between the Minister for Industry and today’s officials is required.

Yesterday the Thai Examiner noted that former high-level officials from the Department of Agriculture within the Ministry of Agriculture were among the most ardent champions of reversing the controversial October 22nd ban.

Only one is quite certain, that is that the Thai government’s position on the issue presents a chaotic and disorderly situation which does not inspire confidence.

Further reading:

Chemical ban delay to cause a government crisis as shock move rebuts Bhumjaithai ministers

Dire warnings from farm experts on trade, output and the food chain as ban set to kick in