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U.S. Protests Thailand's Plan To Ban 3 Pesticides


The government in Thailand is set to ban two controversial herbicides and a pesticide this week. Farmers there are not happy. Neither is the U.S. government. Michael Sullivan reports.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: In the northern province of Chiang Rai, rice farmers are finishing this year's harvest, massive combines making short work of the golden stalks in the fading sun. No one knows what next year's harvest will look like, in part because the government hasn't told farmers anything about what they can use on their crops after Sunday. Pratya Chunchuh (ph) has been getting an earful from frustrated farmers at his family's agricultural supply store.

PRATYA CHUNCHUH: (Through interpreter) The farmers are saying the government shouldn't have banned these substances without giving them a reasonable alternative. It's frustrating.

SULLIVAN: And it's a huge problem in a country where a third of the population depends on agriculture for a living. Rice farmer Siri Saknataiguan (ph) fears the worst.

SIRI SAKNATAIGUAN: (Through interpreter) There's no question that the chemicals we'll have to use instead will be more expensive. So the government has to help us. Otherwise, farmers won't be able to make a living.


SULLIVAN: In the nearby village of Wiang Chai Theong (ph), headman Jaalong Pasua (ph) says fruit and corn farmers are especially concerned and don't know what to buy come Sunday. He also worries about price gouging once they do know.

JAALONG PASUA: (Through interpreter) You never know what the suppliers will do because then demand will be high, so they jack the price if they want to or tell people they're out of stock to drive it up even more.

SULLIVAN: The Trump administration is concerned, too, for different reasons. Even though the vast majority of these chemicals are made locally, it wants the ban postponed - on glyphosate in particular - and told the Thais this in a letter. The U.S. is worried what the ban might mean for U.S. agricultural exports, since it's still used extensively in the U.S. That letter didn't go over so well here.

WITOON LIANCHUMROON: Yes, I am angry - I'm angry with that.

SULLIVAN: Witoon Lianchumroon heads a Thai NGO in Bangkok, one that helped push the ban through. He knows glyphosate's history in the U.S., where it's more commonly known by the trade name Roundup, and about paraquat and about chlorpyrifos. In the U.S., there are more than 13,000 lawsuits pending against Roundup's manufacturer over its alleged cancer risk. That letter, Witoon says, made him wonder who the U.S. government is actually working for.

LIANCHUMROON: Why did (unintelligible) - the representative (ph) of the companies, why they do not choose help before profit?

SULLIVAN: He's happy Thailand has chosen help over profit - this time at least. Back in the hills of Chiang Rai province, women are scything their small rice paddies by hand.

TAMRAJ OJEE: (Non-English language spoken).

SULLIVAN: Up here, says Tamraj Ojee (ph), they stopped using the chemicals a while ago when people started getting sick. She's a fan of the ban, as is farmer Siri Saknataiguan from earlier in the story. But, he says, the government needs to sort things out - fast.

SAKNATAIGUAN: (Non-English language spoken).

SULLIVAN: There's a lot of farmers in Thailand, he says, and if the government doesn't help us and we unite, there'll be trouble. For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Chiang Rai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.

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