Friday, February 27, 2015

No banned pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables sold in Indian markets, so says the government!-How truthful is this assertion?

If we believe our ministers who rule us from time to time, irrespective of their party affiliations, Indian citizens should be the happiest lot in this world! Unfortunately by now every citizen knows that reality is totally different. Latest wisdom emanating from the health minister at Delhi is that vegetables marketed in India are safe with hardly 3% containing pesticide residues above the levels considered dangerous based on assessment of 25000 samples over a period of 3 years between 2011-2014 and further these produce did not contain any banned pesticide residues. Further he stated that only about 1.1% of 7500 fruit samples examined had such residues. Now we can go to sleep soundly after such an assurance was reiterated by the health minister of the country the other day, that too through our parliament! Let us see what he really said. The sample size used for estimating residue levels was slightly above 32 thousand during a span of 3 years when India produced over 240 million tons of fruits and 450 million tons of vegetables. Calculate yourself what is the percentage of production that was selected for residue analysis! Infinitely insignificant! Can the minister fool the people of this country with such misleading statements though he may qualify his statement implicating the previous regime under whom the bureaucrats collected this information!? Even assuming what he said was not a "cooked up" version of the real figures, is not his statement scientifically and statistically untenable? Read his "revelations" in the excerpts quoted below:   

"There has not been a single incidence in which residues of banned pesticides were found in vegetables and fruits in India, according to Dr Sanjeev Kumar Balyan, Minister of State for Agriculture. Ministry of Agriculture is implementing a program for 'Monitoring of Pesticide Residues at National Level' under which samples of vegetable and fruits are collected and analysed for the presence of pesticide residues. "No residues of banned pesticides have been detected in any of the samples collected under this program," said Dr Balyan in Lok Sabha on February 24, 2015. There have been reports in media about use of toxic substances like calcium carbide and oxytocin for early ripening of fruits and vegetables, he added. Clause 2.3.5 of Chapter 2 of Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition and Restrictions on sale) Regulations prohibits sale of fruits which have been artificially ripened by use of acetylene gas commonly known as carbide gas produced from calcium carbide. However, use of ethylene gas in low concentration exogenously to trigger ripening of fruits is considered safe. During 2011-2014, out of 25,664 vegetable samples, 764 (2.9%) samples were found to contain pesticide residues above the maximum permissible residues level (MRL). Out of 7,501 fruits samples, the residues above MRL were detected in 88 (1.1%) samples. However, none of the banned pesticides were detected, said Dr Balyan. The Registration Committee constituted under the provisions of the Insecticides Act, 1968 registers pesticides only after establishing their safety to human, animal and environmental health. Technical reviews are carried out from time to time and continued use of pesticides is permitted only if found safe. A 'Grow safe food' campaign has been initiated to carry the message of safe and judicious use of pesticides to farmers and other stakeholders. "A simple message on the five essential principles of judicious pesticide use - application of pesticides on the right crop, against pests for which the pesticide has been approved, at the right time, in approved doses, and as per approved method of application - is sought to be conveyed through hoardings, banners etc in regional languages in Gram Panchayats and rural areas," said Dr Sanjeev Kumar Balyan".

It may be worthwhile to recall two studies in the past on the same subject of pesticide residues in horticulture produce materials-one from Pune in 2014 and the other from Hyderabad in 2012. The Pune study found that during  April 2013 and January 2014, 96 samples of vegetables out of 345 analyzed had pesticide residues including banned ones like Chlordane, Carbofuron  and DDT while the Hyderabad study reported essentially the same with 18 pesticides being detected in fruits and vegetables sold in markets there. Interestingly the items analyzed included grapes, apples, brinjal, okra, bitter gourd, tomato, chilli, capsicum, cabbage and cucumber, all commonly consumed every day in this country. There have been hundreds of other studies also across the country most of them bringing out the bitter truth that pesticide residues are part of Indian life whether we like it or not! One expected from the present political dispensation ruling the country which claims it is party with a difference, not to sacrifice truth and cheat the poor citizen with such false assurances!


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