A recent government report for 2013 -14 says that a high level of pesticides residues have been found in 509 samples of vegetables, spices, rice, wheat and other food items.
Though the samples of milk, meat and surface water did not contain pesticides above the Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) but six out of 776 fish samples were found to have pesticides above MRLs.
Almost all vegetables showed high MRLs throughout the year especially so in the rainy season. Among vegetables; capsicum, green chilli and cauliflower had higher levels of MRLs while cabbage, brinjal, tomato, okra, bitter gourd, cucumber, green pea and coriander leaves had pesticide residues but not as high. Among fruits it was grapes that had the highest levels of pesticide residues with the most common being chlorpyrifos, ethion, acetamiprid, dichlorvos and cypermethrin.
The Food Safety and Standards (Contaminants, Toxins and Residues) Regulations, 2011 deals with compliance of various contaminants, toxins and residue standards prescribed in foods. Chapter 2 of these regulations provides maximum limits of various metal contaminants, crop contaminants, residues of insecticides, antibiotic and pharmacologically active substances in different foods.
The study was conducted as part of the central scheme ‘Monitoring of Pesticide Residues at National Level’, operational since 2005. According to their report a total of 16,790 samples have been analysed and out of these 509 samples were found above MRLs as prescribed under FSSAI and CODEX.
Since trace chemicals, particularly pesticides can find their way into the food cycle it can affect the health of consumers and also disturb the eco-system. Food Safety Regulations require that foods are tested regularly for pesticides.
The samples were collected from various wholesale and retail markets located at different parts of the country and analysed by 25 laboratories. Among spice samples 128 were found to be contaminated with cardamom having the highest levels of residues like quinalphos, cyhalothrin-L, profenofos, bifenthrin, triazophos and cypermethrin. Many cereals, wheat, rice, tea and pulses samples showed that they contained high MRLs of pesticides in a large number of samples. It seems that almost all foods which consumers eat seem to be contaminated.