Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Poison in Tamilnadu grown vegetables-Kerala's complaint

Tamilnadu and Kerala are locked in a tussle over the issue of Mullaperiyar dam and this has been going on for several decades with the judiciary trying to find a solution from legal angle. Passions are running high because each party to this dispute believes the other one is unreasonable and insensitive to its fears. Against this backdrop comes the news that Kerala is agitated over the safety of vegetables coming from Tamilnadu which is claimed to be causing health problems to its citizens. Kerala is peculiar state which does not produce any thing in quantities sufficient to feed its population and hence depends on getting these supplies from the neighboring states of Tamilnadu and Karnataka. Its anxiety is understandable as the government has the responsibility to safeguard the health of its population and no  cost is considered too high for fulfilling this responsibility. How much truth is there in the claim that vegetables are dangerous because the farmers there use dangerous chemical pesticides to increase the yield with no control on application, is difficult to gauge at present unless a thorough and unbiased investigation is carried out by FSSAI immediately. Here is a report about this unsavory episode which will further create tension between these two warring southern states of the country.

The letter has specially raised concern over the addition of poison in polyhouse farms, which the Tamil Nadu government encourages by giving subsidies. The letter requesting intervention against the use of poison in farms was sent as per the instruction of the Chief Minister of Kerala.When a team, including joint commissioner of food safety division K. Anil Kumar, assistant food safety commissioner D. Shiva Kumar and technical assistant V. Gopakumar, visited polyhouse farms in Tamil Nadu, they found out how vegetables mixed with dangerous levels of poison were coming to Kerala. Most of the cucumber used in salads in Kerala comes from polyhouse farms in Tamil Nadu. An artificial climate that suits agriculture is created in polyhouse farming to take yield every day. But its problem is a surge in insects that attack plants. So the use of insecticides in these farms is ten times the normal. Twelve types of insecticides are used in cucumber farming. In this way, 21 types of vegetables come to Kerala from farms in Tamil Nadu. Farmers in Tamil Nadu told the Kerala team that there was no cucumber for sale in Tamil Nadu because all the produce is sent to Kerala because of the demand. While Furadan is applied on red banana, which is widely used in Kerala, beetroot, carrot and potato are grown in soil mixed with the powder of Forite, an extremely poisonous insecticide. It was found that insecticides are applied on cabbage, cauliflower and brinjal not only when they are growing but also before loading them on to trucks going to Kerala."

While the problem may be genuine, the way it is proposed to be addressed cannot be considered correct. A junior officer of the state sending an official letter to the Tamilnadu government on"instructions" from the Chief Minister is not the way interstate disputes are addressed and instead the CMs of both states could have met for sorting out this issue. Besides FSSAI should have been first consulted whose officers could have undertaken inspection of polyhouses in Tamilnadu for hauling up the wrong doers before making it a public issue. It is interesting to hear that these vegetables grown in that state are not sold locally but exported to Kerala 100%! This reminds us of the practice by many farmers in some parts of the country to cultivate a small plot of land for growing vegetables for self consumption without using pesticides while for commercial purpose heavy dose of pesticides are routinely used! In the present case too that could be the explanation for presence high levels of dangerous chemical pesticides in consignment destined for Kerala. Whatever it is FSSAI can take a suo motu notice of this issue for resolving the issue amicably.


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