Since 2005 Department of Agriculture, Cooperation & Farmers Welfare, Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare tests various food samples for contaminants under the central sector scheme. The report that the Department of Agriculture has released for 2014 -15 is no better than the report for 2013-2014. There seems to be an alarming amount of pesticide residues in the foods we eat including vegetables, fruits, spices, red chilli powder, curry leaves, rice, wheat, pulses, fish and marine foods, tea, milk and surface water. Only meat and eggs samples (444) showed no traces of pesticide residues at all.
In 2013 -14 a total of 16,790 samples were analysed and out of these 509 samples were found above Maximum Residue Limits (MRL) as prescribed under FSSAI. According to the 2014-15 report 20,618 samples were analysed and in 3,857 samples residues were detected in measurable amounts while 543 samples showed residues above MRL as prescribed by FSSAI. The worrying fact is that 12.5% samples showed that they contained residues of non-approved or banned pesticides. As many as 225 fruit samples especially grapes, pomegranates and apples were detected with the residues of non-approved pesticides such as cephate, acetamiprid, carbosulfan, cypermethrin, profenofos, quinalphos and metalaxyl. As many as 6.01 per cent samples of pulses were found with non-approved pesticide residues in measurable amounts.
Samples were picked up from various markets around the country from retail outlets and agricultural produce marketing committee (APMC) markets, farm gate and organic outlets. The 25 participating laboratories analysed the samples for the presence of pesticides like organo-chlorine, organo-phosphorous, synthetic pyrethroids, carbamates, herbicides.
The Food Safety and Standards (Contaminants, Toxins and Residues) Regulations, 2011 deals with compliance of various contaminants, toxins and residue standards prescribed in foods. The regulations also provide maximum limits of various metal contaminants, crop contaminants, residues of insecticides, antibiotic and pharmacologically active substances in different foods. Keeping these standards as guides it was found that the
- Chemical contamination above MRL as laid down by FSSAI was detected in 2.6 per cent of samples.
- Pesticide residue exceeding the MRL was found in 2.7% of the 8,342 vegetable samples of brinjal, okra, tomato, cabbage, cauliflower, green chilli, capsicum, cucumber, green pea, bitter gourd and coriander leaves. Out of these 3.7 per cent were farm-gate samples and 2 per cent from organic outlets.
- Out of the 2,239 fruit samples tested of apple, banana, pear, grapes, orange, pomegranate, guava, and mango, 18.8 per cent contained measurable residues. As many as 1.8% samples were detected for residues above MRL.
- Rice samples that were detected for pesticides, numbered 68 out of 1, 076 samples collected and tested.
- Spice samples collected numbered 1,299 samples and out of these 107 samples had pesticide residues above MRL. Spices included coriander, cardamom, fennel, black pepper, cumin, curry leaves and red chilli powder
- Out of 805 wheat samples, 17 were found to be carrying residues of deltamethrin pesticides above MRL.
Despite the dismal picture painted Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare has said that the pesticide residue levels are well in control in India as compared to other countries. In tea only four samples out of 174 showed residues above MRL while only one sample of pulses showed residues above MRL even though 59 samples showed traces of residues out of 715 collected. Fish and marine food, meat, eggs, milk and surface water samples did not show residues above MRL as prescribed in the FSSAI regulations.
However, the Agricultural Ministry is undertaking awareness programmes for farmers so that the food on the table can be free of all residues. The Ministry feels that they need to educate farmers more rigorously about the hazards of excessive use of pesticides on environment and humans. In foods sold under the ‘organic food’ label there should be no pesticides traced leave aside above MRL. The need to monitor pesticide usage and increasing awareness is important as pesticides can be carcinogens while others like organophosphates and carbamates can affect the nervous system and still others have an effect on hormones or endocrine system in the body besides immediate irritation of the skin and eyes.