The U.S. is pushing back on Thailand’s plan to ban chemicals including glyphosate, which multiple U.S. plaintiffs allege cause cancer, at a time of deteriorating trade relations between the two countries.
The ban on glyphosate, commonly sold as Roundup, as well as the pesticides paraquat and chlorpyrifos, will take effect Dec. 1, an official in the pesticide regulatory division at the Thai Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives told Bloomberg Environment Oct. 29. Users will have a month to turn the herbicides in to the ministry, she said.
“Then the department of agriculture must destroy the chemicals,” she said, adding that Thailand is moving toward organic farming. “It’s not safe, not healthy.”
Thais worried about the health and environmental impacts of the weedkillers have long pushed for the ban, which follows similar moves in Vietnam and some European countries. But glyphosate is still considered the most popular herbicide worldwide, and regulators including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Health Canada, and the European Chemicals Agency have registered it for use.
The ban received immediate resistance from the U.S., the top supplier of glyphosate. U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Ted McKinney urged Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha to delay the ban until “fully considering the scientific evidence,” according to a letter.
McKinney invited the general-turned-premier to Washington to get an assessment from the U.S. EPA, which he said found glyphosate “poses no meaningful risk to human health when used as authorized.”
Company Says No Effective Alternative
Bayer, which bought Roundup maker Monsanto in 2018, said there’s no effective alternative to glyphosate.
“Leading health regulators around the world have repeatedly concluded that Bayer’s glyphosate-based herbicides can be used safely as directed and that glyphosate is not carcinogenic,” the company said in a statement.
The World Health Organization has said the chemical could cause cancer, and California courts have agreed, awarding millions to plaintiffs who blame Roundup for their cancer. One court case in March prompted Vietnam to go ahead with its long-planned prohibition on glyphosate.
Glyphosate and paraquat “contaminate our water, the soil, and some species like crab or fish or frog,” said Witoon Lianchamroon, director of BioThai, a food safety advocacy group in Bangkok. “These two main herbicides cover around half of the total pesticide use in the country and they cause a lot of problems.”
He added that the court cases show ordinary Americans worry about glyphosate, too, but that the U.S. government is putting companies before public health.
Potential Trade Repercussions
The U.S. embassy in Bangkok said without glyphosate, “farmers and communities will have a harder time managing weeds in a sustainable and efficient manner, leading to higher energy use and higher production costs for smaller harvests.”
And the U.S. Department of Agriculture said U.S. trading partners should base regulations on international standards and scientific evidence.
“Should the ban be implemented in Thailand, it would severely impede Thailand’s ability to import agricultural commodities, such as soybeans and wheat, as well as Thai farmers’ ability to produce and trade agricultural commodities,” according to a statement from the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service.
Thailand’s chemical ban could reduce imports from the U.S. at a time when President Donald Trump wants to narrow the U.S. trade deficit with Thailand. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative suspended $1.3 billion in trading preferences for Thailand Oct. 25, citing labor rights concerns.