An effort of the government’s trade promotion body Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA) to clamp down on a practice of shipping out shrimp with antibiotic residues which threatens India’s global shrimp trade has resulted in exporters threatening to stop sourcing shrimp from aquaculture farms.
One of the exporters said it was aquaculture farmers, and not processors or exporters who were to blame for antibiotic residues in shrimp.
In a letter to six major exporters, whose shipments were either detained or rejected by authorities in the European Union because their shrimp had antibiotic residues, MPEDA said it would be constrained to withdraw the registration granted to their processing plants and scrap their export licences if more of their shipments were rejected for the same reason.
The notices were sent to six companies in Andhra Pradesh earlier this month by MPEDA. The companies are Devi Fisheries Ltd, Devi Seafoods Ltd, Wellcome Fisheries Ltd, Surya Mitra Eximps Pvt. Ltd, Satya Sea Foods Ltd and Jagadeesh Marine Exports.
According to MPEDA’s letter, the use of antibiotics doesn’t just result in a loss for exporters—it also damages “the very name and image of the country”.
Europe accounted for 33% of India’s marine exports of $1.8 billion (Rs7,074 crore) in 2006-07. There have been reports of rampant use of antibiotics such as chloramphenicol and nitrofuran in aquaculture farms, which account for almost half the shrimp India exports. MPEDA said exporters have been warned to source aquaculture produce for processing and export only after testing for antibiotics because of strict legislation in Europe and other parts of the world.
A couple of recent rejections have been owing to the processors and exporters “not paying importance to our repeated instruction”, wrote MPEDA.
Y. Surya Rao, chief executive officer of Devi Fisheries, one of the companies that has been issued the notice, said exporters have written to MPEDA clarifying that they were not responsible for the presence of antibiotics.
“There is little exporters or processors can do in this matter since the use of antibiotics is at the farm level and we cannot be penalized for this. As exporters, we do not like to lose our reputation with our buyers and also do not like to incur huge financial losses on account of exports, more than anybody else,” he added.
MPEDA is the apex authority in charge of monitoring aquaculture farms, hatcheries and feed plants. The body, which acts as a coordinating agency with different Central and state government establishments, is also expected to check samples for antibiotic residue.
While most importing countries have the most modern testing methods such as high- performance liquid chromatography to check shrimp for antibiotic residues, MPEDA and the government’s Export Inspection Agency, which also does such tests, should set up more such testing laboratories to help processors and exporters source products without antibiotics, Rao added.
It is for the government authorities to take action against farms producing contaminated products since farms and hatcheries are not registered with the Seafood Exporters Association of India (SEAI).
“If MPEDA does not withdraw its notices to the processors and exporters and does not take steps to ensure supply of antibiotic-free material from the farms, the SEAI will be forced to stop the sourcing of shrimp from the farms,” Rao said, after a meeting of exporters on Tuesday. Executives at MPEDA said they would look into this issue.