Thailand yesterday postponed a controversial plan to ban two toxic farming chemicals, paraquat and chlorpyrifos, while reversing a planned ban on a third chemical, glyphosate, and permitting its restricted use.
This comes after protests and warnings of the disastrous effects of the ban on the three substances.
Proposed by the Agriculture Ministry over health concerns, the ban on the chemicals - often found in pesticides and insecticides - was to take effect from next Sunday.
But the National Hazardous Substances Committee delayed the ban on paraquat and chlorpyrifos till June 1, and permitted the use of glyphosate within current maximum residue limits.
The decision followed a public hearing earlier this month which showed 75 per cent of people were against the ban due to the short time frame given to those affected.
The ban means that no agricultural produce found with residue of the chemicals can be sold, which will create widespread ripple effects.
"If we impose the ban now, it will be chaos," said Mr Anan Suwannarat, the permanent secretary of the Agriculture Ministry.
Industry Minister Suriya Juangroongruangkit said: "We also found that it could cost us hundreds of billions of baht if we ban glyphosate now as we wouldn't be able to import soya beans from the US and Brazil."
The United States, where glyphosate is widely used, urged Thailand late last month to impose a maximum residue limit on the substance, instead of a ban.
The US exported US$593 million (S$810 million) worth of soya beans and US$180 million worth of wheat to Thailand last year, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
Thailand is the world's second largest exporter of rice, after India.
Its agricultural produce constitutes more than 8 per cent of the gross domestic product.
ALTERNATIVES NOT EFFECTIVE
Another pesticide the government has encouraged us to use costs much more than paraquat but is not effective at all. I've been using paraquat for decades and I don't have cancer.
FRUIT FARMER WATSAN PIPATTANASUKON, 72, on alternative government-recommended pesticides.
On Tuesday, up to 2,000 farmers gathered in Bangkok to demand a delay on the ban until there is a sound scientific study to determine if the substances are truly hazardous.
Mr Charuk Sriputtachart, a farmer representative, warned that the ban could affect up to two million farming households, leading to a threefold increase in production costs and a dip of between 20 per cent and 30 per cent in agricultural produce.
It is also expected to affect the employment of 12 million workers in the industrial, agricultural and food sectors, leading to economic losses of about 1.7 trillion baht (S$76.8 billion).
Fruit farmer Watsan Pipattanasukon, 72, told The Straits Times: "Another pesticide the government has encouraged us to use costs much more than paraquat but is not effective at all.
"I've been using paraquat for decades and I don't have cancer."
Paraquat can cause lung congestion, convulsions and acute respiratory distress syndrome. Chlorpyrifos has been linked to low IQ and brain damage in children, and developmental and auto-immune disorders. Glyphosate can cause problems such as eye and skin irritation.
While the chemicals are used in many counties, some have banned or restricted their use.
For example, Vietnam banned paraquat in 2017 and Malaysia will do likewise next year. Singapore plans to put controls on 11 chemicals, including paraquat, next year.