Talks planned with Japan over 'tainted' rice

By Achara Pongvutitham,
Petchanet Pratruangkrai
The Nation
Published on February 25, 2009

Source of Article:

The Foreign Trade Department

The Foreign Trade Department together with the Thai Rice Exporters Association will meet with Japan's Agriculture Ministry to try to solve export problems after Tokyo complained about aflatoxin- and cadmium-tainted Thai rice.

Chookiat Ophaswongse, president of the association, said yesterday that Thailand should urgently hold talks with Japanese agencies to convince them of Thai rice's quality.

Otherwise, the country may lose the lucrative market to the United States at a time when the global economic slump has taken the steam out of rice trading.

Japan bought 213,000 tonnes of Thai rice - consisting of white rice, broken rice and sticky rice - last year. However, it suspended imports of Thai rice last December because of the contamination problem.

Japan alerted Thailand of the quality problem back in 2004 and the Thai government sent an official to ease their concerns. However, the controversy was revived when a Japanese journalist reported on a growing problem after visiting Tak recently.

Chookiat pointed out that food exports to Japan are subjected to many stringent safety restrictions from the processing line through to shipment. Rice for Japan also has to pass quality checks until loading at port before shipment.

Japan requires inspections for more than 500 types of contamination.

"Thai rice exports to Japan have to be inspected for quality until the loading process. It is possible that the aflatoxin and cadmium could be introduced during the trip to Japan due to weather changes and the long distance," he said.

"We found aflatoxin affected only one bag of rice from a big-lot shipment of 10,000 tonnes," he said.

Cadmium contamination was also detected several years ago in Tak. The soil affects the quality of rice production, as some mining was established there. However, the government has imposed stringent quality restrictions on the area to ensure food safety standards.

As a result, the rice plantation area in the province has dropped sharply to no more than 1,000 rai. The province even has to bring rice in from nearby provinces to support its consumption.

"Even if rice were found with cadmium contamination higher than our standard, the rice would be burned immediately," Chookiat said.

It is impossible that rice from the province will be exported, he said.

The government has encouraged farmers in the province to grow other short-life plants and fuel crops, he said.

Rice quality has been raised as one of the sticky political issues regarding food safety in Japan, so the opposition party will use it to attack the government, he said.

The Japanese government has also turned to ordering medium-grain rice from the US to compensate for imported Thai rice, despite the quite high price, as it is afraid of genetically-modified-organism problems for long-grain rice.

Thailand has to keep the Japanese market open, as it is a big customer. It will also help boost exports of Thai rice during a predicted hard year for the trade.



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