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Junta Committee Backtracks on Controversial Rice Seed Bill After Fierce Public Resistance

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BANGKOK  – A a committee of the Junta’s National Legislative Assembly (NLA) has backed down on revising a controversial rice seed bill following fierce public resistance.

Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Grisada Boonrach said yesterday that the committee has removed a controversial section of the bill based on the recommendation of the ministry.

Section 27 prohibited the trade of rice seeds which are not approved under requirements set by the bill. Violators were liable to a jail term of one year and/ or a fine of up to 100,000 baht.

Critics said that the section was designed to benefit large-scale commercial rice seed producers.

This meant that farmers who stored rice seeds for growing and exchange under traditional practices could not do so under the section.

The bill passed the first reading of commissioners under the NLA late last month and it is expected to head to the NLA for second and third readings next week.

Rice industry employers and academics have opposed the rice bill, claiming it would harm the Thai rice industry.

Deputy Commerce Minister Chutima Bunyapraphasara said that there are some issues which the Commerce Ministry, academics and the private sector have disagreed with.

“The committee was so hasty in proposing the bill that the government could not propose its own version of the bill to compare with it,” she said.

However, she believed that the bill would not pass the NLA if it is not revised to gain acceptance from all sides, she said.

Ms Chutima also said she wanted all the involved parties to speed up efforts to address the shortcomings of the bill so that all sides agree to it before it goes before the NLA.

She said that the bill was initiated by representatives of the Finance Ministry and members of the NLA and that it was not proposed by people from diverse groups.

Ms Chutima noted that the bill focuses on regulatory measures rather than the development and promotion of the rice industry.

A source on the NLA committee said that the panel held a meeting behind closed doors yesterday and agreed to revise the bill by taking into account all of the concerns expressed by academics and representatives from the rice industry.

The committee agreed to back down by removing some provisions considered to be problematic and the revised bill would not focus on regulatory measures.

The committee will ensure that the revised bill would not have an adverse impact on farmers’ production of rice seeds, the source said.

The source said that currently about 1 million tonnes of rice seeds are in demand during the main crop planting season.

Of them, 100,000 tonnes are produced by the Rice Department’s rice seed centre; 400,000 tonnes by private companies and the rest by farmers.

The source said that the panel has removed Section 27 of the bill, a controversial provision which bars farmers from storing rice seeds for growing. They can now continue to do so, the source said.

The section prohibited the trade of rice seeds which are not approved under requirements set by the bill. Critics said that the section was designed to benefit large-scale commercial rice producers.

This meant that farmers who stored rice seeds for growing could not do so. However, the source said that producers of rice seeds for commercial purposes are required to register rice seeds with the Rice Department.

By Phusadee Arunmas
The Bangkok Post