Chemicals giant Bayer AG and the US government last year cooperated closely to lobby Thailand to reverse its ban on glyphosate, used in the company’s controversial weed killer Roundup, documents obtained by an environmental group and reviewed by Reuters showed.
The lobbying, including US trade officials asking Bayer for information on Thailand’s deputy agriculture minister, is detailed in more than 200 pages of partially redacted documents and e-mails, some directly between US officials and a Bayer representative.
The documents were obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act by the Tucson, Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, which shared them with Reuters.
Thailand dropped plans to ban glyphosate a few days before the ban was due to come into force in December last year. It had approved the restriction in October citing concerns over the chemical’s effect on human health.
Reuters was unable to determine the reasons for the reversal or whether efforts by the US and Bayer had played a role in Thailand’s decision.
A government spokeswoman denied any foreign influence on the reversal of the ban.
While regulators worldwide, including the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have determined glyphosate to be safe, Bayer agreed in June to settle nearly 100,000 US lawsuits for US$10.9 billion, denying claims that Roundup caused cancer.
Thailand had initiated significant steps in August last year to ban glyphosate and other chemicals widely deemed toxic to humans.
The WHO’s cancer research arm classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” in March 2015.
As Thailand considered the ban on glyphosate, Bayer began its lobbying effort.
The Germany-headquartered firm, which acquired US Roundup maker Monsanto Co for US$63 billion in 2018, made an appeal for help arguing against the ban to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Sept. 18 last year, the documents reviewed by Reuters showed.
“Our engagements with all those in the public sector are routine, professional, and consistent with all laws and regulations,” Bayer said in a statement. “The Thai authorities’ reversal of the ban on glyphosate is consistent with the science-based determinations by regulatory bodies around the world.”
Thai government spokeswoman Ratchada Dhanadirek said that the country supported safe agriculture and prioritized farmers’ and consumers’ health, adding that glyphosate is widely used internationally and there is no viable alternative.
The Office of the Prime Minister in Thailand denied knowledge of the US or Bayer’s lobbying efforts when asked to comment on the documents.
The Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) did not respond to requests for comment on the documents and its role in the reversal of the ban.
The documents showed that Thai Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives Mananya Thaiset was identified in particular by Bayer as “seeking to dramatically accelerate the imposition of a ban” on glyphosate and other farm chemicals.
In July, before the documents were shared, Mananya said that she was motivated to ban glyphosate and other chemicals after attending many farmers’ funerals in her previous job as a mayor.
USTR officials discussed Mananya in an internal e-mail chain dated Oct. 22, the day that Thailand approved plans to ban glyphosate, the documents showed.
In a separate e-mail to Bayer, an unidentified USTR official sought more information on her from the chemicals company.
“Knowing what motivates her may help with USG [US government] counter-arguments” to reverse the ban, the official wrote.
“She has no record of being diehard advocate of organic food and/or staunch environmentalist,” Bayer senior director for international government affairs and trade Jim Travis replied.
Mananya could not be reached for comment on whether she had been approached by Bayer or US officials and her office declined requests for comment on the documents.
While Bayer and the USTR sought to understand the mindset of Mananya, whom one USTR official described as “well-connected,” the documents make clear their main objective was access to the prime minister.
In an e-mailed response to the USTR on Oct. 24, Bayer’s Travis said: “All efforts should be focused on the PM,” referring to Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
Prayuth could not be reached for comment. 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 Oct. 17, USDA Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Ted McKinney wrote to Prayuth, asking for a postponement of the ban.
Prayuth repeatedly declined to comment on McKinney’s letter when asked by reporters.
“The US EPA ... has found that there are no risks to human health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label,” a USDA spokesperson said in response to a request for comment on the documents.
A ban on glyphosate would have meant 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 massively from 2015 to nearly US$1 billion in value last year, US data showed.
Despite the initial lobbying efforts, the Thai National Hazardous Substances Committee formally approved the ban on Oct. 22 with an effective start date in December.
US officials continued their efforts as late as Nov. 26, the documents showed.
On Nov. 27, Thailand reversed course. A government committee announced that the country was abandoning the ban four days before it was due to take effect, citing concerns over the effect on foreign trade, alongside the impact on farmers, and food and animal feed industries.
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