PETALING JAYA: Malaysia is standing firm on its move to totally ban the toxic chemical paraquat, with growing concerns over food safety and human health.
There are many cases of poisoning or suicide at farms due to the quick-acting weedkiller.
There is no antidote or cure if the weedkiller is consumed, the Agriculture Department stated.
It described paraquat, a Class 1B poison, as being extremely toxic to humans and animals, citing harmful effects on human health such as kidney failure as well as liver and lung damage.
“Exposing the skin to paraquat can damage the fingernails because it can easily be absorbed by the skin. Excessive exposure to the spray mist while using paraquat can also cause nosebleeds, ” the department stated in a fact sheet.
“If ingested, paraquat can burn the mouth and throat followed by stomach aches, vomiting, diarrhoea, fainting spells and even death, ” it stated.
The Health Ministry proposed to ban the weedkiller in 1985 when statistics on poisoning cases reported by government clinics and hospitals pointed the finger at paraquat.
Malaysia banned the use of paraquat in 2002, but lifted it in 2006 following intense lobbying by agrochemical and plantation industries.
The government also eliminated the one-litre paraquat packaging, with only bottles of 20 litres and above permitted for sale.
“Outlets selling paraquat can only be given permission through the registrar, manufacturer and the respective states’ District Farmers’ Organisation, ” the fact sheet stated.
Those who intend to use or increase their stock of paraquat must also obtain the state licensing officer’s approval.
According to the fact sheet, glyphosate and glufosinate-ammonium, which have been identified as alternatives to paraquat, were widely registered for use at vegetable and fruit farms.
“A mixture of glyphosate with other active ingredients such as dicamba, fluroxypyr, imazapyr, diuron and metsulfuron-methyl will also provide an effect equivalent to paraquat, ” it stated.
Malaysia is among Asean countries Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines that have limited the use of paraquat. The others which have prohibited the use include Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
Paraquat is also banned by 28 countries in the European Union, China and some African nations.
The fact sheet also stated that by 2050, Malaysia aimed to be in the top 10 countries in the Global Food Security Index study conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit.
In the 2017 study, Malaysia ranked 41 out of 113 countries, down from 35 in 2016.
“For this reason, the element of food safety must be taken seriously and the national biosecurity programme must be strengthened, ” it added.
The Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry has placed national food safety as one of the three dimensions in the ministry’s direction for 2019 and 2020.
Towards this end, a programme to strengthen the national agrofood biosecurity was set up with an allocation of RM10mil (2019-2020) to purchase high-quality laboratory equipment to attain international standards.
Recently, concerned healthcare professionals from 31 medical associations, including the College of Physicians from the Academy of Medicine of Malaysia, asked for more details on the paraquat ban in view of it coming into force in less than two months.
They asked the government to disclose important details such as the enforcement mechanism of the ban and what would happen to the existing paraquat in the market.
“There is also insufficient dissemination of detailed information in the media of alternatives to paraquat to contain unwanted vegetation, ” it said.