Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thailand Declares 13 Herbs as "Hazardous" Substances

  • Farmers up in arms at herb listing
    Chilli, turmeric, ginger branded 'hazardous'
    By KULTIDA SAMABUDDHI and APIRADEE TREERUTKUARKUL
    The Bangkok Post, February 11, 2009
    Straight to the Source

Farmers and traditional medicine experts have reacted angrily to the listing of 13 widely used herbal plants as hazardous substances, suggesting there is a hidden agenda that favours chemical companies.

The Industry Ministry listed the 13 plants as hazardous substances to control production and commercialisation.

The plants are widely used among farmers as alternatives for expensive and toxic farm chemicals, pesticides and herbicides.

The announcement on listing the plants as "hazardous substances type 1" under the 1992 Hazardous Substances Act was approved by Industry Minister Charnchai Chairungruang last month. It took effect on Feb 3.

Proposed by the Department of Agriculture, which is a member of the hazardous substances committee, the announcement requires growers, manufacturers, importers and exporters of pesticides, herbicides and plant disease control substances made from the 13 herbal plants to follow safety and quality control regulations issued by the committee. Otherwise they will face six months in jail and/or a fine of 50,000 baht.

Farmer advocates yesterday said putting the herbal plants on the controlled list would hurt growers as they could no longer produce, trade and use botanical pesticides and herbicides freely.

Farmers and producers of the organic substances might have to pay more for registration, packaging and testing as required by the law, said Witoon Lianchamroon, of Biothai, a non-government organisation working on organic farming.

He suspected the motive behind the listing.

Multinational chemical companies are expected to benefit once production and commercialisation of the alternative substances is curbed, he said.

Large numbers of farmers have switched recently from imported chemicals to botanical substances as they are much cheaper and safer, he said.

"Instead of tightening controls on these farmer-friendly herbal plants, the committee should crack down on multinational companies who exploit Thai farmers by luring them into buying their highly toxic and costly products," Mr Witoon said.

Tussanee Verakan, coordinator of the Alternative Agriculture Network, said the committee produced the list in secret without consulting farmers who would be the hardest-hit.

"The government keeps promoting organic farming and reduction of chemical use," she said.

"Why did they put such heavy restrictions on organic substances which are the heart of organic farming?"

Department deputy chief Jirakorn Kosaisevi insisted the listing was aimed at protecting benefits for farmers.

"The announcement is not intended to protect chemical producers," Mr Jirakorn said.

"These botanical pesticides are widely used and traded. They should be controlled to ensure they are up to standard."

The new regulation would help promote herbal products, he said.

Department for Development of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine deputy director-general Prapot Paetrakas said the 13 plants were core materials in herbal medicines. Controlling their manufacture and trade could affect the herbal medicine industry, he said.

The department will discuss the issue with legal experts and others on Friday.

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