Thailand Imports over 50 billion Baht worth of chemical pesticides each year

A great article on 8 Sep 2015 in the Bangkok Post, click here for article

  • have typed this over because thought it was worth reading and kept available…….

Thailand imports over 50 billion baht worth of chemical pesticides a year. Sadly, the negative consequences that these toxins bring to consumers are equally as huge. 

“Chemical pesticides affect people’s health, damaging the body’s gastrointestinal system, reproductive system and could potentially lead to innate physical disabilities. Our country imports 50 billion of these substances. But the harmful impacts both towards consumers and farmers are also worth 50 billion baht a year,” said Prasertilp Adthamest, lecturer from Srinakharinwirot University’s Faculty of Engineering, at the 2nd Mindful Markets Asia Forum held last week at Srinakharinwirot University. The three-day forum was designed for like-minded participants to gather and share views regarding good practices on alternative markets, small-scale farmers, the importance of organic living and green consumers.

Chemical pesticides that are detrimental to health mostly find their way to consumers through the food they eat. According to earlier studies conducted by the Thai pesticide Alert Network (Thai-Pan), for example, Sai Nam Phueng oranges, grown in the north of Thailand, were found to have the highest concentration of pesticides, with 100% of the sampled fruits found to be below safety standards. Other kinds of fruit found to contain high pesticide residues were guava, apple, strawberry, kumquat and watermelon. For vegetables, Thai favorite ingredient, holy basil was reported to be the most contaminated.

Kongkorn Narintarakul, assistant director of BioThai, a foundation that promotes sustainable agriculture and food security in various communities across the country, noted that food illiteracy is an important issue facing modern consumers who are more likely to rely on ready-cooked food available in supermarkets or convenient stores. Therefore, when they have no idea where their food comes from or how it is prepared, they tend to eat food that is bad for their health.

“According to figures from three years ago, an average Thai spends 34% of their income on food”, explained Kingkorn. “Of this amount, 70% is spent on food they eat outside. The eating behavior of Thai People have changed considerably in the past decade. We once believed that Thai consumers would not eat frozen food. But today a number of Thais do because it is simply convenient. Unfortunately, several non-communicable diseases are caused by our eating habits.

So one solution, Kingkorn suggested, is for modern consumers to equip themselves with more knowledge about the food they eat –asking themselves questions like where the ingredients come from, how they are produced, whether they are chemical-free and so forth. Opting for natural and organic ingredients is also another way to go.

When it comes to organic food, however, they key issue is how consumers can ensure that it is healthier than conventional produce.

Supaporn Sophonputtanaphoca, a lecturer from Srinakharinwirot University’s Faculty of Agricultural Product Innovation and Technology, recently conducted research to find out why organic fruits and vegetables may contain higher polyphenols — a typ0e of antioxidant agent — than those produced with the use of chemical insecticides and why they are therefore good for the health. According to Supaporn, polyphenols are the most abundant antioxidants in foods that yield tremendous health benefits for consumers. Found in fruits, vegetables and cereals, polyphenols are the most powerful antioxidant in nature.

The lecturer’s study found that plants’ innate defense mechanism plays a crucial role in their productions of polyphenols.

“Plants need to survives,” she noted. “without or with a limited use of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides to curb intruders like insects and weeds, plants need to protect themselves. And in order to do so, they produce chemical compounds including polyphenols. Suchanatural defense mechanism subsequently increased the level of antioxidants in order to prevent the attack from those intruders.”

But then again, amid campaigns encouraging consumers to go chemical-free, often people cannot help being skeptical about organic products available in supermarkets. Last year for example, Thai-Pan found that over 50% of vegetables sold in modern supermarkets that contained a “Q-mark” (denoting a guarantee of quality and safety) were found to be contaminated with chemical residues.

Fruits and vegetables labelled as organic tend to be more expensive than normal ones. If consumers are paying more, they would expect these goods to be of a better quality.

Natthaya Prapinanich from Srinakharinwirot University’s School of Economics and Public Policy explained that people’s eating habits have changed in that they are now more concerned about the health and the environment. And this is one of the most significant drives towards modern consumers being more into organic living.

“consumer awareness is essential,” commented the lecturer. “These days they have more knowledge towards organic products and they are willing to pay more because the image of the products bring positive attitudes.”

But from Natthaya’s point of view, issues regarding quality and security are still consumer’s top concerns.

“Better labelling is needed,” she added. “[According to my study], 60% of consumers in Kathmandu do not trust organic products sold in their country and it is clear that poor labelling is responsible. In my opinion, labels should include all the important data that consumers need to know including nutritive value, origin [of the produce] and expiry date. All this is to create the perception among consumers that the products they are about to purchase are safer.”




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