The absence of prescribed limits on the use of chemical pesticides for various crops could hinder the government move to step up enforcement of food safety during the Onam festival season, experts feel.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has not prescribed the Maximum Residue Level (MRL) of many of the pesticides used on vegetables and fruits.
This, according to official sources, poses legal hurdles in cracking down on the indiscriminate use of pesticides by domestic farmers and curbing the import of pesticide-contaminated items from other States.
MRL is the legally permitted level of pesticide residue in food items. The MRL value is fixed on the basis of a rigorous evaluation. It acts as an indicator of the correct use of pesticides and ensures compliance with legal requirements for food safety.
“It is a matter of concern that the majority of pesticides that have been detected in vegetables, fruits, spices and condiments do not have MRL values,” says a senior scientist associated with pesticide safety.
“This makes a mockery of the periodic monitoring of food items for pesticide residue,” he said.
The State government conducts regular surveillance sample testing of food items and the reports are published on the official website. But in the absence of MRL values, officials are hamstrung in taking legal action.
“For example, Profenophos is a typical highly neurotoxic insecticide registered for use only in cotton. But it has been detected in chilli, chilli powder, curry leaf, coriander leaf, mint leaf, cardamom, cumin seed, fennel seed, and curry powders. The FSSAI has not fixed the MRL for this insecticide in any of these commodities, because its use is not approved in any of these crops,” says an official.
Vice Chancellor, Kerala Agricultural University (KAU), P. Rajendran said the multiplicity of pesticides used for various crops posed a problem in regulation. “Fixing the MRL value for a pesticide used on a crop is a complex, time- consuming process, often taking years. To complicate matters further, pesticide manufacturers come up with new products every now and then, by changing the formulation.”
Under a special food safety drive for the forthcoming Onam festival season, the Pesticide Residue Research and Analytical Laboratory under KAU is screening samples of vegetables and fruits collected from markets across the State