Spotted rice gets clean chit

The fate of 400,000 tonnes of rice hung in balance for more than a year

By Jyotika Sood
Last Updated: Thursday 17 September 2015

imageThe Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has certified the controversial rice variety PAU-201 as fit for human consumption.

The fate of 400,000 tonnes of rice, costing Rs 4,000 crore, was hanging in balance for more than a year; Food Corporation of India (FCI), the Central procurement agency, and the Punjab government could not reach an agreement on PAU-201, named after Punjab Agriculture University that developed it. FCI said the rice variety had black spots on its grains and in some instances exceeded permissible percentage of damage and the grains were broken. It said these factors made the rice unfit for consumption. The agriculture university claimed the spots were due to iron in the rice.

ICMR submitted its report to the Government of India in the last week of September stating that levels of aflatoxin, toxic metabolites produced by certain fungi, in the rice samples were within safe limits, less that 30µ/kg. It said there was no fungus in the rice. The report dismissed the agriculture university’s claim that the spots on the rice were due to high iron content.

The ICMR committee headed by the medical council’s deputy director general, G S Toteja, collected 35 paddy samples from mills in six districts of Punjab from August 21 to August 23. These samples were analysed at National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad, Exports Inspection Agency in Kochi and Vimta Lab in Hyderabad.

Farmers took to the rice for four reasons: higher grain yield, resistance to bacterial disease late blight, early maturity (it matures 15 days before others) and 10 to 15 per cent less water requirement. In three years 35 per cent of the 26 million hectares under paddy farming in Punjab were growing this variety.

imageBut on August 31, PAU- 201 rocked the Lok Sabha when members of Parliament belonging to Shiromani Akali Dal, ruling party in Punjab, called an attention motion. The rice costs around Rs 4,000 crore and the government is paying no heed to it, they said. The experts have proved that it is fit for consumption. “If the spots are a problem, the rice could be distributed to the poor at subsidised rates,” Gurdaspur MP Pratap Singh Bajwa told Down To Earth (DTE).

The controversy over the rice variety kicked off last year when newspapers in Punjab published reports that PAU-201 was toxic. The state’s rice mill owners followed with a chorus of complaints about the grain breaking while milling. In December 2009, FCI and the Food and Public Distribution department announced the PAU-201 variety of paddy milled in Punjab had higher incidence of damaged grains than the permitted 4.75 per cent. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research then formed a committee headed by R T Patil, director of the Central Institute of Post-Harvest Engineering and Technology, in Ludhiana. The team was asked to submit a report within five days.

The report said the variety was fit for consumption. Talking to DTE, Patil said, “We found that iron content in the spotted rice was higher than in normal rice of the same sample and overall iron content in PAU- 201 is higher than conventional rice.” This conformed with the results obtained earlier for Phalguna variety in 1982, in Andhra Pradesh. “So one of the reasons of blackening may be iron, but this needs to be authenticated by detailed studies which have now been taken up at the Directorate of Rice Research,” he added.

PAU director of research S S Gosal said, “The black and brown spots on rice are the result of the plant’s genetic character; it could be induced by the presence of phenolics, an anti-oxidant. Only eight to 10 per cent of the grains have spots.” As for the claim that the rice is rich in iron, it is based on the report submitted by the Central Institute of Post-Harvest Engineering and Technology which ICMR has rejected.


ICMR report on spotted rice

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  • For the last one year PAU and

    For the last one year PAU and Punjab government has been battling for this rice variety. And I'm really amazed that they had to wait for expertise from centre to give clean chit to the rice.

    The Punjab Agricultural University has world-class labs and its a name we Punjabi farmers depend upon. But they seemed to be least bothered to fight for this variety.

    My father is a farmer and we had sown this variety for the last two years. We were happy, but this year suddenly Punjab government ordered not to sow this variety.

    Can you please tell us what is the faith of this rice variety? Will we be allowed to grow it or not, because we have huge stacks of PAU-201 seed stored with us.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 10 years ago | Reply
  • Being a farmer i feel PAU-201

    Being a farmer i feel PAU-201 rice variety was a magic variety at a time when India was facing food crisis. When in 2006-07 India imported more than 6 million tonnes of wheat , it was in the news that the wheat imported was infected with fungal diseases and toxic weeds. Nobody cared for that that time.We , the farmers of Punjab worked hard, played havoc with our natural resources and compromised with our health by exposing ourselves to poisous agrochemicals while controling pest to save our crops and produce more to feed our country . The education of our kids was badly effected as we failed to pay proper attention to our kids and worked day and night to produce more food.I think it is not the fault with the variety PAU 201, it is the fault of the we people , the farmers of Punjab ,that we are loosing ourselves in producing more food and always look helplessly towards the govt of India. It is the time that farmers of Punjab should stop overmining the natural resources of our state meant for coming generations.Whenever we produce more we are exploited by related industry. It is only when the production is low , we get the bonus by GOI.As for as PAU-201 is concerned , it proved excellent in the fields of farmers. It has many plus points: it is less photosensitive variety and proves well in cloudy weather,it can uptake micronutrients even in problematic soils and farmers need not foliar application of micronutrients and it saves water, the most critical input meant for agri.Being a farmer I fear it can exhaust our soils because of its maximum biomass, but it is the only variety that can feed the nation.In the battle of this variety ,the scientists of PAU suffered more than the farmers. They faced unjustified injustice.This is not the way to reward PAU for giving such a excellent variety.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 10 years ago | Reply
  • Respected Mr Brar I respect

    Respected Mr Brar

    I respect your feelings. It's true that Punjab's agriculture has been exploited in the name of Green Revolution, price of which is being paid today by farmers and their families. Even the coming generations in Punjab are prone to cancer due to over use of pesticides which is an alarm that it's time to take up organic farming in the area.

    As far as PAU-201 rice variety is concerned, I'm sorry to say that university never tried to fight a battle. The university has a Home Science College and Food and Technology department, but they never got nutritional analysis of the variety PAU-201 done.

    The university has so many experts and collaborations, they could have collected hundreds of evidences to prove that variety is fit for human consumption, but they kept waiting.

    The story in anyway does not try to defame the university.

    Besides, I wish to tell you that Punjab Agricultural University is my alma matar and I have spent five years in the university. Whatever I'm today is because of the varsity. I have no intention to blame or defame the university scientists.


    Posted by: Anonymous | 10 years ago | Reply
  • Respected Mr Lakhbir No

    Respected Mr Lakhbir

    No decision on whether the rice variety PAU-201 should be grown or not has yet come from Punjab government or ICAR. As soon as it come we'll publish an article on it and let you know.


    Posted by: Anonymous | 10 years ago | Reply