Would you eat 10 year old rice? Activist demands court intervention

Photo courtesy of Thai PBS World

Prominent solo activist Srisuwan Janya approached the Central Administrative Court, seeking an urgent suspension of the Commerce Ministry’s plan to auction off approximately 15,000 tonnes of rice from the scandal-tainted rice pledging scheme of the Yingluck Shinawatra government.

In his court petition, Srisuwan highlighted the concerns of numerous rice experts who oppose the auction. They argue that rice stored for over a decade loses all nutritional value, becomes inedible, and could be infested with insects. These experts’ claims come despite assurances from the Department of Medical Sciences, which has tested the rice and declared it safe for consumption.

Srisuwan cast doubt on the reliability of these tests, questioning whether the samples tested truly originated from the two warehouses in Surin province where the rice had been stored.

A critical point of contention is the auction’s terms of reference, set for June, which do not specify whether the rice must be exported or can be sold domestically. Srisuwan warned that exporting this old rice could severely tarnish the reputation of Thai rice globally. On the other hand, if sold locally, it could pose serious health risks to consumers.

Srisuwan urged the court to issue an injunction to halt the auction, overseen by the Public Warehouse Organisation under the Commerce Ministry’s supervision, reported Thai PBS World.

He emphasised the potential damage to Thailand’s agricultural image and the health risks to the Thai population.

UPDATE: Panel to auction 15,000 tonnes of rice from Yingluck era

A dedicated panel has been established to manage the auction of 15,000 tonnes of rice remaining from the contentious rice-pledging scheme initiated during former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s tenure. This announcement came from Commerce Minister Phumtham Wechayachai.

The panel is set to draft the terms of reference (ToR) for the auction, with completion expected by the end of this month. The National Rice Policy and Management Committee (NRPMC) has already granted the panel the authority to proceed without further review.

Representatives from the Public Warehouse Organisation, the Marketing Organisation for Farmers, the Internal Trade Department, the Foreign Trade Department, and the Thai Chamber of Commerce form the panel. The auction is projected to take place early next month or by the end of June at the latest.

Bidders will have the opportunity to inspect the rice quality, adhering to standards defined by the Commerce Ministry, said Phumtham.

“The rice is expected to be exported to Africa. We hope the auction will fetch a good price. Revenue from the sale will be returned to state coffers. I am glad the controversy over the rice has ended.”

Phumtham previously urged critics to cease devaluing the rice and to focus on other urgent matters, such as the economy. He noted that the Department of Medical Sciences (DMSc) and a private laboratory had inspected the rice and confirmed it was safe for consumption.

Earlier this week, the DMSc confirmed that rice samples tested by the Commerce Ministry were indeed safe for consumption. Nonetheless, scepticism persists among critics, who questioned whether the tested samples were genuinely from the two warehouses in Surin where the rice had been stored, reported Bangkok Post.

Critics proposed new testing, monitored by media outlets, to ensure transparency and authenticity.

ORIGINAL STORY: Thailand govt to auction decade-old stash after safety check

Thailand’s government will move forward with plans to auction off rice from Yingluck Shinawatra’s pledging scheme, stored in two Surin warehouses for a decade, following a laboratory test confirming its safety for consumption.

Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Phumtham Wechayachai, currently in Italy, announced that a private laboratory’s tests on samples from the Surin warehouses revealed no aflatoxins or other chemical residues. The samples were provided by a reporter from a private media outlet.

Phumtham said he was happy about the result, especially since the samples were sent in by journalists, noting that the samples were also sent to the Department of Medical Sciences (DMSc) for further examination. With the rice deemed safe, Phumtham directed the Public Warehouse Organisation to prepare the terms of reference and draft the contracts for the auction.

DMSc Director-General, Dr Yongyot Thammavudhi, stated yesterday, May 19, that the department completed its testing of the rice samples from the Commerce Ministry. The results will be disclosed at a press conference today.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has expressed that the government seeks a neutral agency to assess the rice’s quality to determine its suitability for export.

“If the buyers want us to check the rice’s quality, we are ready to do so. Rice that remains in good condition and is free of chemical contamination will fetch a high price,”

Loss-ridden rice-pledging scheme

Phumtham insisted that the government should auction off the 15,000 tonnes of rice remaining from the loss-ridden rice-pledging scheme initiated by former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration to generate revenue.

He estimated that the auction could yield about 270 million baht and reduce storage costs, which currently amount to up to 380,000 baht per month. The rice is anticipated to be exported to Africa.

Earlier this month, Phumtham, who is also the deputy leader of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, led officials and reporters to inspect the two rice warehouses in Surin, demonstrating that the rice stored there for 10 years is still edible.

The minister stated that the rice had been meticulously preserved, frequently fumigated, and the warehouses sealed to prevent pests and rainwater from entering.

Critics, however, argued that the rice appears in “good condition” due to multiple fumigation cycles over the decade. They raised concerns about potential health hazards, citing that if the rice has been fumigated every two months, it has undergone at least 60 fumigation cycles.

An organic chemistry expert, Weerachai Phutdhawong, tested samples from the Surin warehouses for a media outlet and claimed to have found aflatoxins on the rice. Aflatoxins are linked to an increased risk of liver cancer.

International markets

Critics also expressed concerns about the potential impact of the controversy on the reputation of Thai rice in international markets.

The Yingluck rice-pledging scheme, which operated from 2011 to 2014, was the largest rice market intervention programme in Thai history. The government bought grains from farmers at prices well above market value without any purchase limits.

This resulted in losses amounting to hundreds of billions of baht. Yingluck fled the country in 2017, just before the Supreme Court sentenced her to five years in prison for failing to prevent corruption in the rice sales.

When the scheme ended in May 2014, approximately 18.6 million tonnes of rice remained. On September 10, 2018, the administration of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha sold 17.8 million tonnes, or 95.7% of the stock, generating about 146 billion baht in revenue, reported Bangkok Post.

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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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