The government plans to hire an independent third party to study pesticides residues content in rice, particularly in basmati variety, as it wants to ensure that food safety norms are strictly adhered to and its reputation as a basmati exporter is protected.
The plan comes amidst reports of arsenic content in rice. Sources said India exported over Rs 22,000 crore of basmati rice last year, which goes on to clear doubts, if any.
The agriculture ministry will soon hire an independent third party agency to undertake a study “to clear the air,” source said. The agency will basically look into pesticides residues in rice, including basmati varieties in Punjab. Some reports had said rice produced in the state was causing cancer.
The agency will also conduct a study on methyl bromide issue, the source added. Fumigation is a common practice to disinfest rice during storage. Basmati is fumigated by methyl bromide for 24 hours by government-approved agencies.
While the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) has detailed guidelines on pesticides and fumigation, its primary responsibility is only for exported items, sources said.
So, the study by an independent agency will also help the government ensure safety of rice sold in the local market, the source added.
Arsenic, which is known to cause cancer, is present in water, air and soil, coming from natural sources as well as industrial pollution. Since rice is grown in waterlogged conditions, excessive use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides in parts of Punjab are blamed for rising cases of cancer. Rice contains 20 times more arsenic than other crops like wheat or maize.
Last month, a delegation of Indian rice exporters had travelled to Iran to dispel any misconception about the quality of Indian rice. As Pakistan is the only other country that grows basmati rice, some negative reports about the quality of the rice produced in India had appeared in local media in Iran.
Iranian officials are satisfied with the quality of Indian basmati as they have been inspecting units in Punjab and Haryana from time to time. The delegation reached out to the importers and consumers there through conferences, officials said.
The arsenic issue is nothing new to India. In 1980, the government had introduced compulsory quality control and pre-shipment inspection of basmati rice. Later in 1990, the government changed the rules and started “consignment wise inspection” and “in-process quality control” systems of certifications for basmati rice.
Under CWI, each consignment is inspected and tested by an approved export inspection agency. While, under the IPQC, units having all the prescribed facilities are approved for processing and packing basmati rice for export under their own supervision and control. EIA ensures that these units follow the norms.
A recent BBC report had said soaking the rice overnight before cooking it in a 5:1 water-to-rice ratio cuts arsenic levels by 80 per cent. Using lots of water – the 5:1 ratio – without pre-soaking also reduced arsenic levels, but not by as much as the pre-soaking levels, it said.
India exported 2.30 mt of basmati rice in April-October of FY17 against 2.39 mt in the year-ago period. Exporters estimate that the total shipments in FY17 will reach at the same level as last year. The country had exported 4.04 mt of basmati rice and 6.36 mt of non-basmati rice in FY16.