Pesticide Surveillance pays off

KOCHI: People in Kerala are consuming vegetables and fruits with lesser pesticide residues in the last couple of years, thanks to the initiatives of state departments of agriculture and food safety departments.
According to agriculture department officials, in the last four years, there has been a reduction in the percentage of pesticide contamination. The total percentage of contamination has come down from 18 per cent in 2013 to eight per cent in 2016. “These figures are based on the concept of presence of pesticide residue rather than magnitude, quantity or toxicity. We went by the simple principle that the pesticide should not be present in it,” said Dr Thomas Biju Mathew, project coordinator and head, Pesticide Residue Research and Analytical Laboratory (PRAAL), College of Agriculture, Vellayani.
He said that highest quantum of pesticide residues were seen in chillies, mint, coriander, curry leaves, leafy vegetables, carrots and cauliflower,
“One of the most important lessons that people learnt was to cultivate something of their own in their backyard.When we started off, almost 75% of the produce came from outside the state.Now this has come down drastically ,” he added.

However, the concern remains over the contamination seen in condiments and spices. The samples were collected from the second year and even now there is no drop in the residue seen in many of the powders. The common pesticide residues found were Chlorpyriphos, Cypermethrin, Fenvalerate, Bifenthrin, Lambda Cyhalothrin, Dimethoate, Profenophos, Malathion and Ethion.
Interestingly , rice, be it from Kerala or outside, does not seem to have been affected by pesticides. “The integrated pest management is in place in case of paddy . Also, even if there is some kind of spraying, it is done within 60 days while the harvest is in 90 days. Later, there is a process of drying to milling which will further clear any kind of residues,” he added.
In many cases, apart from increased surveillance, officials of the food safety and PRAAL who collected samples from super markets and high-end shops which were selling pesticide-ridden produce under the guise of organic products were alerted and warned. They were told to monitor and correct their methods of acquisition and monitoring if they were selling it as `organic’ brands.
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