How exposed are we?

The Centre for Science and Environment estimates the exposure of Indians to pesticides

Published: Wednesday 31 December 2003

How exposed are we?

Every nation that registers and uses pesticides must do its own homework and ensure that exposure to each pesticide, under no circumstances, exceeds the acceptable daily intake. Keeping toxins within strict limits not injurious to health is the true mandate of safety. Without this, the use of pesticides would be deadly.

But India does not regulate its use of pesticides through ADI -- the safety threshold. Where, then, do we stand? If we were to estimate our exposure to pesticides through food, would it be within the ADI of the pesticides? We wanted to know. We needed to know.

We decided to calculate exposure
STEP 1: We checked the ADI of key pesticides used in India. JMPR apart, ADI is also fixed by the US' EPA and the Australian government's Department of Health and Aging. Within them, the ADI varied for many key pesticides. So we decided to estimate exposure twice -- using the ADI of JMPR and then using the USEPA threshold. (see table: Differing thresholds)

Differing thresholds of safety
ADIs for 8 key pesticides used in India
Pesticide JMPR
(mg/kg bw)
(mg/kg bw)
DDT 0.005 0.0005 0.002
Malathion 0.3 0.024 Not in the list
Monocrotophos 0.0006 0.00005 0.0003
Phorate 0.0005 0.00017 0.0005
Endosulphan 0.006 0.006 0.006
Chlorpyriphos 0.01 0.0001 0.003
Lindane 0.005 0.005 0.003
Carbofuran 0.002 0.005 0.003
Source: Codex website, USEPA's website and ANZFA website

STEP 2: We had to have data on what, and how much, Indians were eating. We decided to estimate the daily per capita consumption of various food commodities for India. For this, we used the FAO's Food Balance Sheet (FBS) 2001 data for India (see table: What we eat, and how much). We reckoned we could. JMPR uses the same source to assess dietary intake. Also, this data is the most recent data (the Indian government's published data on dietary patterns is valid only for the 1990s).

What we eat, and how much
Average daily per capita intake of food commodities in India, 2001
Product Daily per capita
consumption (gms/day)
Percentage of
total daily diet
Total Cereals 445 37.1
Total Pulses 29 2.4
Total Vegetables 239 19.9
Total Spices 5.4 0.4
Total Fruits 111 9.3
Total Meat 14.2 1.2
Eggs 4 0.4
Fish 12 1.0
Milk - Excluding Butter 179 15.0
Total Sugar & Honey 105.0 8.7
Animal Fats including ghee, butter 6 0.5
Vegetable Oils 26 2.2
Oil Crops 19 1.6
Treenuts 2 0.2
Total coffee, tea & cocoa 2.0 0.2
Average 1,200.0  
Source: CSE's estimation, based on food balance sheet, 2001, FAO

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