Concerns rise over Thai ministry’s plan to sell decade-old rice

Picture courtesy of Ministry of Commerce

Concerns are escalating over the Thai Commerce Ministry’s plan to sell decade-old rice from the former government’s rice-pledging scheme. Consumer safety watchdogs, including the Office of the Consumer Protection Board (OCPB) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), have been urged to investigate potential aflatoxin and chemical contamination in the grain.

This appeal comes in the wake of Commerce Minister Phumtham Wechayachai’s recent publicity stunt, in which he consumed rice from a batch stored in Surin province warehouses since the Yingluck Shinawatra administration. The minister’s actions were intended to instil consumer confidence in the rice, which he aims to auction off to raise between 200 and 400 million baht (US$ 5.4 and US$10.8 million).

Head of the Network of Universities for Reform, Wirangrong Dabbaransi, voiced her concerns on social media, stating that the minister’s rice-eating display cannot guarantee the quality or safety of the grains. Wirangrong highlighted that the rice, which appears to be in good condition, has been through 129 cycles of fumigation over a decade.

Washing the rice multiple times, as was reported, does not eliminate all chemical substances or potential aflatoxin, a toxin produced by certain fungi under warm and humid conditions.

The proposed sale of this rice, Wirangrong warns, could have dire implications for public health and harm Thailand’s global reputation. Challenging the minister’s confidence in the grain, she suggested exporting the rice with a quality guarantee.

Chiang Mai University faculty member, Assoc Prof Pantipa Pongpiachan, expressed a similar sentiment, suggesting that the rice is unfit for human or animal consumption and should be used in alcohol production instead. Pantipa pointed out that the presence of insects in the rice suggests improper storage and the brownish hue of the cooked grains indicates potential fungal contamination.

Rice Sale

Meanwhile, Thai Pakdee Party leader Warong Dechgitvigrom questioned the quality of the decade-old rice, noting that previous bid winners failed to collect their purchases, and the fourth bidding round was cancelled a day before submission. Warong accused Phumtham of intentionally delaying the fourth round of bidding for his publicity stunt.

Defying criticisms, Phumtham stood firm on his decision to sell the rice, arguing that he was transparently managing old rice stockpiles. Public Health Minister Somsak Thepsuthin pledged to instruct the Department of Medical Sciences to investigate the rice quality within seven days, reported Bangkok Post.

Yongyuth Thammawut, Chief of the Department of Medical Sciences, clarified that the department only conducts tests upon request and has not yet received any such request regarding the decade-old rice.

Thailand News

Mitch Connor

Mitch is a Bangkok resident, having relocated from Southern California, via Florida in 2022. He studied journalism before dropping out of college to teach English in South America. After returning to the US, he spent 4 years working for various online publishers before moving to Thailand.

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