THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The curry powder makers blame indiscriminate use of pesticides by farmers for the high pesticide residues in chilli and coriander powders and other commonly used spices available in the market. Almost all brands have been listed in the reports of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) for having pesticides that can cause health problems.
The authorities at the state and national level differ on the standards to be followed in declaring a product safe or unsafe. In everyday business, the spice manufacturers said it was getting difficult to procure quality products from the farmers.“We can only buy what is available. We are not adding pesticides intentionally. Almost 90% of the chilli grown in the country are without any pesticide control. We have been asking the FSSAI to enforce a ban on 27 types of pesticides for the past three years. If their use goes unregulated, the future generation will suffer,” said Cherian Xavier, vice-chairman of All India Spices Exporters Forum (AISEF).
He said companies focused on exporting take extra effort to promote best farming practices among the farmer community. Even the packing materials are supplied to the farmers to comply with the regulations, he said.It would mean that the price-sensitive domestic market would be getting products from the unregulated market, where the manufacturer has little say in the quality of the produce used. The spice exports form less than 15% of the total production.
Notwithstanding the unregulated use of pesticides, the concerns expressed in the recent report were also due to different standards used to describe how much residue is safe.The experts in food standards said the pesticide residues in some brands are within the limits prescribed by the international standards. They have cited a recent order of FSSAI asking state food safety authorities to follow the Codex standards fixed by Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC), an international standards body established jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and World Health Organisation (WHO), for commodities whose MRL has not been fixed.
The issue has become complicated because the maximum pesticide residue (MRL) in different food products, especially spices and culinary herbs, is not specified due to lack of field trial data. “All pesticides without fixed MRLs have a default MRL of 0.01 parts per million (PPM) as per the FSSAI. As a result, Ethion in curry powder is considered unsafe if it is above 0.1 ppm. However,by Codex standard, up to 5 ppm is considered safe,” said Abdul Jalil, former senior food safety officer. “The FSSAI issued the directions to follow Codex after the officers in food safety labs equipped with better machines could easily detect pesticide residues over 0.1 ppm and declare it unsafe for consumption,” he added.
‘NEEDS NAT’L POLICY’
S Kannan, former director of Spices Board, said a national policy is the need of the hour as it has become a public health issue. “The agriculture departments concerned should enforce the standards to prevent toxic chemicals from going into the produce,” he said.