Economy News

FSSAI ORDER ON PESTICIDE RESIDUES: Quality concerns can temper spices exports

India is the largest producer and consumer of spices, producing 11 million tonnes of spices annually.

FSSAI’s recent order raising pesticide residue ceilings for spices has drawn the ire of health activists. Banasree Purkayastha finds out how these are determined and whether this decision could impact India’s spices exports

l  What is the change FSSAI has proposed?

THE FOOD SAFETY and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has increased the default limit for certain pesticide residues in spices and culinary herbs produced in India. For pesticides not registered with the Central Insecticides Board & Registration Committee (CIB&RC), and thus maximum residue levels or MRLs not fixed by FSSAI, the MRL in spices has been increased to 0.1 mg/kg. Earlier, for such pesticides, the default MRL was 0.01 mg/kg. For pesticides registered with the CIB&RC and for which MRLs in spices are neither specified by FAO-WHO’s global food coding body Codex nor by FSSAI,
again MRLs of 0.1mg/ kg have been mandated.

The relaxed norms were issued on April 8, but with Hong Kong and Singapore banning spice mixes from MDH and Everest two weeks later, environmental and health groups have expressed concerns about the safety thresholds.

l  Why was this done?

THE REGULATOR SAYS the revision was based on recommendations by its Scientific Panel on Pesticide Residues after considering the adoption of MRLs in the range of 0.1mg/kg and above by Codex Alimantarius Commission on Pesticide Residues on spices during 2021-23 in a phased manner. MRLs fixed by Codex for spices and culinary herbs range from 0.1 to 80 mg/kg, it said. Alignment with international MRL standards reduces barriers to trade, minimising the risk of export rejections due to non-compliance with the importing countries’ pesticide residue regulations. The FSSAI order had mentioned that “various representations were received regarding the reconsideration and simplifications” of its previous orders. In its defence, the food safety regulator said the MRL of 0.01 mg/kg was earlier applicable to pesticides for which MRLs have not been fixed.

l  What are health activists saying?

THAT FSSAI HAS determined MRLs for pesticides that are not registered with Central Insecticides Board is at the heart of the controversy. A Down To Earth report quoting Narasimha Reddy Donthi, an independent researcher and environmental justice activist, said the food safety regulator should have set zero MRLs for pesticides that are not approved and 0.01 mg / kg for pesticides that are approved for usage by CIB&RC.

Activists argue that if the limit is being relaxed, it allows for more pesticides to be ingested into the human body with severe health implications. Detection of unregistered pesticides in exported spices can also lead to their rejection at any point in the value chain causing trade disruptions.

For the European Union, the default limit in case MRL is not specified for pesticide / commodity is 0.01 mg/kg.

l  How maximum residue levels are decided

THE MRLS ARE determined after assessing field trials data, pesticide usage patterns, toxicological evaluation and dietary exposure levels. These are different for different food commodities based on their risk assessments. However, the cost of generating the efficacy data for a specific pesticide-crop pest combination is prohibitive with the need to conduct multi-locational trials spread across at least three crop seasons. If a crop has limited cropping area, as in spices, it is not lucrative for pesticide makers to invest in developing bio-efficacy and pesticide residue data. This is one of the reasons why India-specific MRLs for many spices are missing. Around 295 pesticides are registered with CIB&RC, of which 139 are registered for use in spices. The FSSAI’s 2022 order had said that in India, in case of spices and culinary herbs, MRLs are not specified for most of the pesticides due to lack of field trial data as endorsed by CIB&RC.

l Impact on sales in India and abroad

FOLLOWING THE BAN on specific masala mixes sold by Everest and MDH, FSSAI had said it would test the products in question of both the companies. Meanwhile, it has stepped up surveillance, carrying out raids on spice processing units selling spurious products.

India is the largest producer and consumer of spices, producing 11 million tonnes of spices annually. It has around 12% share of global spices exports, with chilli the most exported item. Spices are consumed in very low quantities with a per capita consumption of less than 0.5% of total food intake and may pose negligible risk to the consumers. But quality concerns could affect spices shipments from India, as pointed out by economic think-tank Global Trade Research Initiative. Thus  transparent determination of pesticide residue ceilings for spices is essential to enhance food safety and protect the reputation of Indian spices at home and abroad.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *