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The five pesticides are emamectin, benzoate, fenpyroximate, hexaconazole, propiconazole, and quinalphos
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has operationalised the maximum residue limit (MRL) for five pesticides used in tea.
The five pesticides are emamectin, benzoate, fenpyroximate, hexaconazole, propiconazole, and quinalphos.
A notification issued on April 27 mentions that the FSSAI had notified the draft FSS (Contaminants, Toxins and Residues) Amendment Regulations on August 20, 2020, relating to the revision of MRL of pesticides used in tea along with other crops and commodities. The draft amendment regulations were in the process of inter-ministerial consultations, thus, the finalisation of these norms was likely to take some time, it said.
However, based on representation received and considering the fact that five pesticides were widely used for tea crop protection and that the MRL of these pesticides were revised upwards on the basis of data through draft notification in 2020, the FSSAI decided to operationalise the MRL for these pesticides for tea. This was being pursued by producers and would be beneficial for the domestic market.
Joydeep Phukan, secretary of Tea Research Association, said, “We have been pursuing this matter for the past three-four years. In 2018, the FSSAI came out with a notification which lowered the MRL for certain compounds which affected the industry. Some are old chemicals and there was no data. So, the CIBRC (Central Insecticides Board and Registration Committee) and FSSAI wanted the residue data.”
“We conducted trials for Quinalphos and a few other compounds and generated new data which was submitted in 2019. In 2020, a draft was notified, but it was not implemented.”
Quinalphos is considered to be important for pest control under the integrated pest management programme. However, the Assam government recently prohibited the sale, distribution, and use of four insecticides, including quinalphos with relevance to tea cultivation for a period of 60 days.
Arijit Raha, secretary general of Indian Tea Association (ITA), said the MRLs of the important plant protection formulations being revised to realistic levels from the erstwhile LOD (limits of detection) level would help the tea sector. But even as it brings relief to the domestic market, whether relaxing norms is beneficial for exports is being debated.
“We are worried about this notification because it will hamper exports,” Anshuman Kanoria, chairman of Indian Tea Exporters Association, said. “What is particularly worrying is that the level for hexaconazole has been raised where we were having a lot of rejections particularly from Japan,” Kanoria said.
Indian tea exports got a boost in 2022 on the back of supply disruptions in Sri Lanka and inroads into newer markets. Compared to January to December 2021, export volume during January to December 2022 increased by 15.49 per cent from 196.54 million kg (mkg) to 226.98 mkg.
Ajay Jalan, president of Tea Association of India, said the accepted residual levels in most of the countries for many of the pesticides that have been allowed is very low. ITA’s Raha, however, said each country has its own levels and exports need to conform to the changing needs of the importing country.
"Of the total tea production of around 1,365.23 mkg in 2022, domestic consumption accounted for about 83 per cent. Himanshu Shah, chairman of M K Shah Exports, said producers were finding it difficult to control pests with limited application of pesticides and made representations to FSSAI which have been partly considered. “It is a relief to producers for selling tea in the domestic market without issues from the FSSAI.”
Rising temperature and prolonged dry spell due to climate change had led to widespread pest attacks, particularly in North India for a while, leading to revenue and crop loss on an annual basis.
Shah, however, pointed out that the EU authorities would not recognise the amendments. "Those exporting to the EU, US, and many countries that are designing regulations around the EU norms, would have to remain compliant with the strict MRL norms."
M K Shah is one of the largest producers and exporters of orthodox tea.
But Shah also said the norms in major export destinations for Indian tea were not so stringent. “It is largely the developed countries that have strict MRL norms.”