BANGKOK (Reuters) – Chemicals company Bayer and the US government worked closely last year to campaign for Thailand to lift the ban on glyphosate, which was used in the company’s controversial weedkiller Roundup. This is shown by documents received from an environmental group and checked by Reuters.
Lobbying, including US trade officials asking Bayer for information about Thailand’s deputy agriculture minister, is described in more than 200 pages of partially edited documents and emails, some directly between US officials and a Bayer representative.
The documents were obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act from the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Arizona, which distributed them to Reuters.
Thailand eventually dropped plans to ban glyphosate a few days before the ban went into effect in December 2019. It approved the restriction in October, citing concerns about the chemical’s effects on human health.
Reuters was unable to determine the reasons for the reversal or determine whether the efforts of the United States and Bayer played a role in Thailand’s decision.
A government spokeswoman denied any foreign influence on the lifting of the ban.
While regulators around the world, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have determined that glyphosate is safe, Bayer approved the settlement of nearly 100,000 U.S. lawsuits for $ 10.9 billion in June, denying claims that Roundup had cancer caused.
Thailand took significant steps in August 2019 to ban glyphosate and other chemicals that are generally considered to be toxic to humans. The cancer research department of the World Health Organization classified glyphosate in March 2015 as “probably carcinogenic for humans”.
When Thailand was considering banning glyphosate, Bayer began lobbying. The German-based company, which took over US Roundup maker Monsanto in 2018 for $ 63 billion, appealed to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) on September 18 last year to argue against the ban, as the documents checked by Reuters show.
In accordance with laws, rules-Bayer
In a statement to Reuters, Bayer said: “Our relationships with everyone working in the public sector are routine, professional, and in accordance with all laws and regulations.”
“The Thai authorities’ lifting of the glyphosate ban is in line with the science-based regulations of regulators around the world.”
Ratchada Dhanadirek, a spokeswoman for the Thai government, said the country supports safe agriculture and prioritizes the health of farmers and consumers. Glyphosate is widespread internationally and there is no alternative.
The Prime Minister’s office denied knowledge of lobbying by the US or Bayer when asked to comment on the documents examined by Reuters.
The US Trade Representative’s Office (USTR) did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment on the documents and their role in lifting the ban.
“FOCUS ON THE PM”
The documents show that Deputy Agriculture Minister Mananya Thaiset has been identified by Bayer in particular as an “attempt to drastically speed up the imposition of a ban” on glyphosate and other agricultural chemicals.
In July, before the documents were released to Reuters, Mananya said she was motivated to ban glyphosate and other chemicals after attending many farmer’s funerals in her previous tenure as mayor.
USTR officials discussed Mananya on an internal chain of emails dated October 22, the day Thailand approved plans to ban glyphosate. In a separate email to Bayer, an unidentified USTR official asked the chemical company for more information about her.
“Knowing what motivates them can help with counter-arguments by the USG (US government)” to lift the ban, the official wrote. “She has no record of being a die-hard organic food advocate and / or a staunch environmentalist,” said Jim Travis, Bayer’s senior director, international government and trade.
Mananya could not be reached for comment on whether or not she had been approached by Bayer or US officials, and her office declined Reuters’ request for comment on the documents.
While Bayer and the USTR sought to understand Mananya’s mindset, which one USTR official described as “well connected,” the documents make it clear that their main objective was access to the Prime Minister.
In an email reply to the USTR on October 24th, Bayers Travis said “All efforts should be focused on the Prime Minister,” referring to Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
Prayuth could not be reached for comment on the documents. He has seldom publicly expressed his views on the chemicals ban. After the glyphosate ban was lifted, he only said he had “no problem” with the decision.
On October 17, Ted McKinney, USDA Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, wrote to Prayuth asking for the ban to be postponed. Prayuth has repeatedly declined to comment on McKinney’s letter when asked by reporters.
“The US EPA … has determined that using glyphosate under the current label poses no risks to human health,” a USDA spokesman responded to Reuters’ request to comment on the documents.
A ban on glyphosate would have prevented grain grown with it from entering Thailand, denying US exporters of mass crops – including soybeans and wheat – access to a market that, like others in Southeast Asia, grew massively from 2015 to 2015 grew nearly $ 1 billion in value in 2019, US data shows.
(Chart: US crop sales to Thailand since 2010)
(Graphic: Southeast Asia has become an important growth market for US crop exporters.)
Despite the initial lobbying, Thailand’s National Hazardous Substances Committee officially approved the ban on October 22, with an effective start date in December.
US officials continued their efforts on November 26, documents show.
On November 27, Thailand reversed course. A government committee announced that the country would lift the ban four days before it went into effect, citing concerns about the impact on foreign trade, as well as the impact on farmers and the food and animal feed industries.
Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Adaptation by Matthew Tostevin and Kenneth Maxwell