The Commerce Ministry has brushed aside calls to control the price of medicinal herbs related to Covid-19 treatment, particularly fah talai jone, also known as green chiretta.
The ministry said tighter measures to control prices may result in a supply shortage as farmers will delay their harvest and eventually stop plantation.
Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit said on Thursday that the ministry aims to promote mass production of medicinal herbs related to Covid-19 treatment, particularly green chiretta to ensure supply can meet high demand.
“The ministry does not have any policies in place to control the prices of such medicinal herbs,” he said. “If we start controlling the prices, it will discourage farmers from harvesting or planting these herbs and eventually hurt patients. This matter must be carefully considered and the ministry is monitoring price movements.”
According to Mr Jurin, the ministry will take legal action against vendors found to be price-gouging.
He cited Section 29 of the Prices of Goods and Services Act of 1999, which prohibits business operators to take any action with the intent to unreasonably suppress the price, unreasonably inflate the price, or cause fluctuation of the price of any goods or services. Violators face up to seven years in jail or a fine of not more than 140,000 baht or both.
If somebody sells herbs as medicines without registration as a drug, the Food and Drug Administration can supervise the issue, Mr Jurin said.
“The Commerce Ministry has been working with the Public Health Ministry to monitor the prices, particularly of green chiretta,” Mr Jurin said. “The Commerce Ministry itself is formulating policies and measures to promote plantations of fah talai jone because of its benefits as herbal medicine.”
Mr Jurin said he has also ordered the Internal Trade Department and the permanent secretary on commerce to instruct provincial commerce officers to monitor the prices of other goods in the market.
Regional chambers of commerce in the country called on the government on Tuesday to carefully watch herbs related to Covid-19 treatment, particularly fah talai jone, and white galingale, as prices have risen significantly.
They proposed the government have agencies provide information about medical properties of herbs and encourage farmers to increase their cultivation while working to prevent a future oversupply.
Last week, the premier instructed authorities to set up a committee to study the use of green chiretta extracts to treat Covid-19 patients with mild symptoms.