Vineyard owners of Maharashtra who export grapes are worried. The Euro-pean Union rejected their table grape consignments in mid-April as they were found containing traces of chlormequat chloride, a plant growth regulator. The export of table grapes (these are consumed directly unlike grapes that go into wine making) was halted immediately. The farmers are facing losses of about Rs 300 crore, media reported.
“My son-in-law had exported two containers (30 tonnes) of table grapes worth Rs 20 lakh. The thekedar (export agent) informed him the entire produce has been rejected and no payment would be made,” said Tukaram Nirgude Patil, a vineyard owner in Nashik.
Farmers pay for authority’s lapse
The EU’s maximum residue limit (mrl) for chlormequat chloride, commonly called lihocin, came into effect in 2000—0.05 mg/kg (or 0.05 ppm). But the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (apeda), under the Union Ministry of Commerce, did not include it in its list of chemicals and pesticides to be screened in export quality grapes. The list is revised every year and the latest one of January 13 mentioned 99 chemicals. There is no mention of lihocin in it. apeda general manager, R K Boyal, declined to comment.
“Use of chlormequat chloride is not regulated in India and there are no national studies to determine its safe limit. But EU regulates its use and has prescribed its permissible limit which the Indian government realized only after some consignments were rejected,” said P D Hendre of Krishi Vigyan Kendra, an agricultural research institute under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (icar).
Lihocin is recommended for grapes in India as it helps protect fruit buds. It is supposed to be sprayed 45 days after pruning in October; some farmers use it excessively and much later than October leaving high level residues, said Hendre.
India is a major exporter of table grapes and Maharashtra grows 80 per cent of it. In 2008-09, the country exported 124,627 tonnes of grapes, of which 40,000 tonnes were exported to EU. Indian grapes arrive in the European supermarkets between March 15 and May 15 and are randomly tested for banned pesticides and chemicals.
The European Food Safety Authority (efsa) that investigated the exported grapes said use of lihocin is not allowed in EU and no maximum limit has been specified. So, the lower limit of quantification of 0.05 mg/kg became applicable. “The efsa calculated the acute threshold limit for chlormequat chloride residue at 1.06 mg/kg,” said Ian Polambi, authority spokesperson.
|Use of lihocin is not regulated in India and there are no national studies to determine its safe limit. But EU regulates its use and has prescribed its permissible limit
— P D Hendre, horiticulture department, Krishi Vigyan Kendra
The efsa informed the European Commission on April 23 that consuming grapes with an mrl of 1.06 mg/kg “is not likely to pose short-term risk for public health”. But it also said that “if children were to eat, at one time, a large amount of grapes containing lihocin at levels above 1.06 mg/kg, health risks could not be excluded”.
The commerce ministry is trying to resolve the matter by arguing that the grape consignments are safe for consumption as lihocin residue in them is within the 1.06 mg/kg threshold limit of efsa. “The Indian Ambassador in the EU met the European Commission on this issue on April 20. Regular contacts at the working level are taking place,” said Frederic Vincent of the Directorate General for Health and Consumers at Brussels. But it is still not clear if the EU member countries are accepting the grape consignments.
The Indian government is in denial mode. “There is no question of rejection of Indian grapes by EU. We are regularly conducting the required chemical/ pesticide testing on grapes,” said P G Adsule of the National Research Centre for Grapes at Pune, the referral laboratory of icar for setting monitoring guidelines and mrl for grapes.
While farmers said their consignments have been rejected, grape own-ers’ associations played down the incident. “The EU has merely asked for clarifications which are being provided by the commerce ministry. There is no serious problem,” said Sopan Kanchan of Maharashtra Grapes Growers Co-op Society in Pune.
This is not the first time Indian produce has been rejected. In 2003, the European Commission issued 17 rapid alert notifications saying high levels of pesticide residues were found in Indian grapes.
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