Farmers body seek ban on trade in chemically produced Sago

Sago (commonly known as sabudana) is again under the scanner after Kalkurichi Vellalapatti Vevasaikal Munnatra Sangam (KVVMS), a Tamil Nadu-based farmers’ body, sought a ban on trade in sago, which has alleged been produced using chemicals, across India.

The association wrote a letter to consumer affairs, food and public distribution minister Ram Vilas Paswan, requesting him to ban it. Letters were also sent to other authorities in this regard. These included the prime minister’s office (PMO) and the ministries of commerce and industry and finance.

The farmers also filed a petition in the Madras High Court.

KVVMS’ members alleged that the sago was adulterated with rotten and decayed tapioca starch, adding that the same was being sold to the consumers with the approval of the authorities in Tamil Nadu’s food safety department, the Salem-based starch and sago manufacturer Sago Serve and traders in Tamil Nadu.

R Chandrasekaran, the body’s secretary and petitioner, said, “The manufacturers are selling sago which was manufactured three years ago. It has now expired, and if consumed, is harmful for human health, as it contains fungus and live insects.”

“The production of sago is the highest in the state of Tamil Nadu. Ninety per cent of the sago produced in the southern state is consumed in cities across Maharashtra, including Mumbai, Pune, Nashik and Nagpur. Ten to 15 per cent of it is consumed in Madhya Pradesh,” he added.

The Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) came in existences in 2011. Since 2012, KVVMS has been approaching it to look into the matter, wherein chemically-processed sago is being sold to the consumers.

Chandrasekaran said, “In 2015, KVVMS approached the Madras High Court with just one question: Is the processed sago fit for human consumption?”

“The court, in its decision, stated that if any trader was found selling chemically-processed sago, strict action would be taken against him,” he added.

“It urged FSSAI to issue standards and a testing methodology for sago. The apex regulator was ordered by the court to streamline the regulations for sago within two months,” Chandrasekharan said.

He added, “As directed by the Madras High Court, FSSAI issued the draft standards for tapioca or sago. A major part, dealing with testing, was missing in the draft. The method of analysis of sago and the tests that must be conducted to check the safety parameters to ensure that it is safe are also missing.”

FSSAI prescribed new norms for tapioca (sago) in the new draft it released . The draft regulations for starchy foods under tapioca sago or palm sago stated that they should be free from insect infestation, live/dead insects, dirt, extraneous  matter, added colouring matter, visible mould growth, bleaching whitening agents or optical whiteners, sweetening agents or any other adulterant.

“In February 2017, the court ordered that the new norms of the government order be adopted. However, no action has been taken in the matter to date,” stated Chandrasekharan.

An official from Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Maharashtra said, “We haven’t received any complaint in the matter so far.”

A food safety officer (FSO) from Nagpur, Maharashtra, denied the receipt of any complaint relating to expired or chemically-processed sago in the region so far.

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