Thursday, April 9, 2009

Herbs Declared "Hazardous" in Thailand to Protect Pesticide Profits

Ginger, Turmeric, Neem Declared "Hazardous" in Thailand After Chemical Companies Try to Protect Pesticide Profits

by David Gutierrez

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The government of Thailand has classified 13 plants - traditionally used as herbal medicines and natural pesticides - as "hazardous substances," causing outrage among farmers and advocates of traditional medicine.

The plants - including ginger, turmeric, neem and chili - have been classified by the Industry Ministry as "hazardous substances type 1," requiring all manufacturers, growers, importers or exporters of any products made from the plants to follow strict safety and quality control rules or face up to six months in jail and a 50,000 baht ($1,400) fine.

Farmers' groups have objected to the new rules as an unfair burden on organic farmers, who will now have to pay more for the registration, packaging and testing of non-synthetic pesticides. They have also objected that the list was developed without any consultation of farmers who would be affected.

"The government keeps promoting organic farming and reduction of chemical use," said Tussanee Verakan, coordinator of the Alternative Agriculture Network. "Why did they put such heavy restrictions on organic substances which are the heart of organic farming?"

Witoon Lianchamroon of the organic farming nonprofit Biothai said he suspects that the move is intended to benefit chemical companies by putting obstacles in the path of those who would otherwise prefer natural alternatives. Because natural pesticides are less toxic and substantially cheaper than imported chemical pesticides, recent years have seen large numbers of Thai farmers abandoning chemical products.

"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," Witoon said.

Alternative medicine practitioners have also reacted angrily to the decision. According to Prapot Paetrakas, deputy director-general of the Department for Development of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine, all 13 newly regulated plants are central to the practice of traditional Thai medicine.

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