BANGKOK (Reuters) – Chemical giant Bayer and the US government worked closely last year to lobby Thailand to reverse its ban on glyphosate used in the company’s controversial herbicide Roundup, documents obtained by an environmental group and reviewed by Reuters.
Lobbying, including U.S. trade officials asking Bayer for information about Thailand’s deputy secretary of agriculture, is described in more than 200 pages of partially edited documents and emails, some directly between U.S. officials and a Bayer representative.
The documents were obtained under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act by Tucson, Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, which shared them with Reuters.
Thailand eventually dropped plans to ban glyphosate a few days before the ban was due to take effect in December 2019. It had approved the restriction in October, citing concerns over the chemical’s impact on human health.
Reuters was unable to determine the reasons for the conversion, or whether the efforts of the United States and Bayer played a role in Thailand’s decision.
A government spokeswoman denied any foreign influence in reversing the ban.
While regulators around the world, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have determined that glyphosate is safe, Bayer agreed in June to settle nearly $ 100,000 worth of $ 10.9 billion lawsuits, dismissing allegations that Roundup caused cancer.
Thailand had initiated significant steps in August 2019 to ban glyphosate and other chemicals that are widely considered to be toxic to humans. The World Health Organization’s cancer research arm classified glyphosate as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” in March 2015.
When Thailand considered the glyphosate ban, Bayer started its lobbying efforts. The German headquarters, which acquired US Roundup manufacturer Monsanto for $ 63 billion in 2018, appealed for help in arguing against the ban to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) on September 18 last year, according to documents reviewed by Reuters . .
CONSISTENT WITH LAW, RULES – BAYER
In a statement to Reuters, Bayer said: “Our engagement with all of them in the public sector is routine, professional and in compliance with all laws and regulations.”
“The Thai authorities’ reversal of the glyphosate ban is in line with the scientific decisions of regulatory bodies around the world.”
Ratchada Dhanadirek, a spokeswoman for the Thai government, said the country supported safe agriculture and prioritized the health of farmers and consumers, noting that glyphosate was widespread internationally and that there was no viable alternative.
The Prime Minister’s Office denied knowledge of the United States or Bayer’s lobbying efforts when asked to comment on the documents reviewed by Reuters.
The Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment on the documents and its role in reversing the ban.
‘FOCUS ON PM’
The documents show that Deputy Minister of Agriculture Mananya Thaiset was particularly identified by Bayer as “trying to dramatically speed up the introduction of a ban” on glyphosate and other pharmaceutical chemicals.
In July, before the documents were shared with Reuters, Mananya said she was motivated to ban glyphosate and other chemicals after attending many farmers’ funerals in her previous job as mayor.
USTR officials discussed Mananya in an internal email chain dated October 22, the day Thailand approved plans to ban glyphosate, the documents show. In a separate email to Bayer, an unidentified USTR official sought more information about her from the chemical company.
“Knowing what motivates her can help with counter-arguments from the USG (US Government)” to reverse the ban, the official wrote. “She has no record of being a gloomy advocate for organic food and / or a skilled environmentalist,” replied Bayers Senior Director of International Government Affairs and Trade, Jim Travis.
Mananya could not be reached for comment as to whether she had been contacted by Bayer or U.S. officials, and her office rejected Reuters’ requests for comment on the documents.
While Bayer and the USTR tried to understand the mindset of Mananya, which a USTR official described as “well connected”, the documents make clear that their main goal was access to the Prime Minister.
In an email response to the USTR on October 24, Bayer’s Travis said, “All efforts must be focused on the Prime Minister,” referring to Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
Prayuth could not be reached for comment on the documents. He has rarely expressed his views publicly on the chemical ban. After the glyphosate ban was reversed, he only said that he had “no problem” with the decision.
On October 17, Ted McKinney, USDA’s Deputy Secretary of State for Trade and Foreign Affairs, wrote to Prayuth asking for the ban to be postponed. Prayuth repeatedly refused to comment on McKinney’s letter when asked to do so.
“The US EPA … has found that there is no risk to human health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current brand,” a USDA spokesman said in response to Reuters’ request for comment on the documents.
A ban on glyphosate would have meant that grain grown using it could not enter Thailand, denying US exporters of bulk crops – including soybeans and wheat – access to a market that, like others in Southeast Asia, has grown massive from 2015 to almost 1 billion. Dollars in value in 2019, US data show.
(Graphics: US crop sales to Thailand since 2010)
(Graphics: Southeast Asia has emerged as an important growth market for US crop exporters)
Despite initial lobbying efforts, Thailand’s National Committee for Dangerous Substances formally approved the ban on October 22 with an effective start date of December.
U.S. officials continued their efforts as late as Nov. 26, the documents show.
On November 27, Thailand reversed course. A government committee announced that the country lifted the ban four days before it was due to take effect, citing concerns about foreign trade impact along with the impact on farmers and the food and animal feed industries.
Reporting of Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Clip by Matthew Tostevin and Kenneth Maxwell