04 October 2011

Cycle of Greed

Prior to coming to Thailand, I viewed food safety as something the U.S Government took care of. As a country, I was aware that we had banned agriculture chemicals from our soils to not only ensure the safety of the workers but the consumers as well. Never had it crossed my mind that the chemicals were banned from use, not production.

The exhaustive issue of chemical use on products externally from the States that are then imported in stuns me. This had been a topic long removed from my thought. I knew of complexities in food issues, but I never thought I had to worry about banned chemicals still ending up in my food.

Exchanging with organic farmers throughout the Issan provence of Thailand with CIEE, we were continually ask to take action against U.S chemical companies importing banned chemicals into Thailand. It was through this that I came to understand the worldly impact of a ban on a chemical. “There are many banned chemicals from the United States for sale in Thailand,” describes the Alternative Agriculture Network (AAN), a national NGO that assists farmers in transitioning into the organic market. With growing awareness of food systems within the U.S., chemicals now seen as unfit have found new residence in developing countries that lack the governing restrictions.

Corporations have been able to successfully make deals with the government to support and encourage the use of chemicals on crops. “From 1991 onward, imported pesticides were exempted from all taxes and levies,” states Vitoon Panyakul in a study of Thai rice by Green Peace South East Asia. Through this transaction, corporations have an outlet to distribute product and governments can now hope for higher yield and production.

Yet, these products create vas health issues. “I feel that they are trying to destroy us,” says Meo a small farmer who has switched to organic production since witnessing health effects from chemicals. “Thailand is amongst the countries with the worst records of pesticide abuses, especially from over use,” state Panyakul. Currently the Thai Government is in the works of allowing four new chemicals to be introduced for agriculture use. A protest held to rally against this had a span of multiple generations of farmers who voiced their voices against the chemical industry.

In an exchange with the AAN, regional leaders left us with this, “Although the chemical is used in Thailand, please remember that the products that are produced in Thailand are being exported to your country. This chemical is bad in the States and is used in Thailand. But you go back home and you still have a chance of consuming a product that has been contaminated by the chemical. So in order to stop this, Thailand cannot fight on its own, it needs allies from other people and other countries as well.” The small scale farmers have switched to organic farming for a reason, “It isnʼt right to grow food that isnʼt safe for consumers to eat,” explains Anon Nieulai, a Green Market Farmer.

Itʼs been asked for us to take action against this violation of well-being. Itʼs our role as students, itʼs our role as Americans, itʼs our role as humanitarians. Stop the suffering from these harsh chemicals of the producers and the consumers, they were banned from the U.S for a reason.

Sara Stiehl
Pacific Lutheran University


Amelia Evans said...

As an American citizen, it’s astounding that even in the “developed” world the government still fails to protect our health. What benefit does the government gain from allowing toxic chemical use to continue when its people are at risk? Are the profits gained by corporations really worth the health costs our society will likely incur in the not-so-distant future? Unfortunately, as far as I know, the “real cost” of chemical use abroad (since as Sara explained, abroad use still means problems for the United States), has yet to be calculated. I’m not sure what a project like this would entail—I’m no economist—but I do know it would be greater than any single individual could take on. As an individual, however, I believe my part will be continuing to inform my fellow Americans about the current situation. The government has failed to be transparent in decisions that affect our health, and awareness on our part will be the first step toward combating that.

Mariko Powers said...

Many times this semester, I've been reminded of the saying "ignorance is bliss." In general, people feel secure that the food in the United States is "safe" but rarely question where the food comes from or what happened to get it from the field to the table. Yet, in our globalized world, it seems we can't assume anything confidently anymore. While I was just as surprised as the rest of the students to discover that the US imports produce treated with US-banned chemicals from Thailand, I realized shortly afterward that this disconnect—the fact that people don’t actually know where their food comes from—is exactly why the industrial food system is able to operate without sufficient scrutiny. Learning things like this on Unit One has prompted me to try to bridge that divide between producer and consumer wherever possible, not only for the sake of the environment (because local food means less energy expended on transportation), but also so that I can be better informed about the process that went into making that food.

Jenny Vainberg said...

Sara, I think you present an interesting point that many Americans probably aren’t aware of. To shed light on such a topic is critical in reminding us of just how much power America still wields in the world market, and how much of a representation we are of this power abroad despite what we may think.

However, I do want to point out that the U.S. agricultural system does use certain Monsanto created pesticides, and thus that it is not only in Thailand that such inputs are used. However, this aside, I’d like to direct your attention to the biotech industry--also largely led by Monsanto. I agree that it is far from being in Thailand’s best, or any, interest to use U.S. produced pesticides, another agri-monster lurks in the shadows. Right now, the Thai government is not allowing Monsanto to bring in any GMOs; but I fear that the governments’ ability to put off letting Monsanto into Thailand is short-lived.

We as students and global citizens should not only do what we can in terms of voicing our opinions against exporting of U.S. produced pesticides, but also think of what we can do in terms of keeping GMOs out of Thailand, whether this be inform people back home, inform Thai farmers and citizens, inform the Thai government, etc. How feasible is this? I like to think it is quite feasible, given how much power Monsanto wields once it establishes itself in a society (as we have seen in the U.S.). As an aside, here’s an applicable article about the latest problems with Monsanto: http://www.forbes.com/sites/nathanielparishflannery/2011/09/03/monsantos-pesticide-problems-raise-awareness-for-corporate-environmental-responsibility/

Lisa Goese said...

Hey Sara! It’s appropriate that you focus on so specific an issue, because it is an important one that embodies a lot of other issues. Now that we are much further along in this program, I wonder how you see the issue of chem-ee. Can you see even more connections to America and other types of issues we have studied? How is it possible that such an awful situation is able to persist? Why don’t all Thai farmers scramble to go organic?
I also find it interesting that you had felt before that American food was guaranteed to be safe by the government. I have never felt the same myself, perhaps because I was raised by an extremely neurotic mother who was constantly telling me what foods to avoid because they cause cancer or x disease. I know that in America’s history, substances deemed safe in the past were later discovered to be toxic or terrible for your health. For instance, food scientists reveled their genious invention of a cheaper way to make oil and fat: through hydrogenation. If you’ve ever seen anything qualified by “partially hydroginated,” that something contains trans fat. Trans fat is now known to highly increase the occurance of coronary heart disease, and is recommended to only be consumed in trace amounts, if at all. Yet, I check labels of any packaged food, and most of the time notice that there is trans fat in the food. I warn people but no one believes me because they trust the government too. Unfortunately, this industrial food industry really is not out for the people, despite the fact that they are producing literally what humans need to live. So bizarre.
Thanks for writing!

Anonymous said...

Talia Brock, CIEE Service Learning Student, Dominican Republic

More and more I hear stories of issues occurring in under-developed countries, and so often the US is the source of the problem. We have a responsibility as Americans to call out injustices that we see, especially when they are caused by our own government. We should not be causing health issues in the Thai public because of the needs of our country. The trade off should never be something at the expense of others, and the government so very often makes decisions like this one. We need to keep our eyes open for injustices such as this one, although it is so easy to turn a blind eye when you feel so far away from the conflict. Nevertheless, due to the US governments involvement, we are much closer to the conflict than we might realize. Just as I have been inspired into action this semester in the Dominican Republic, I hope that others are inspired by the experiences that challenge them in Thailand as well.