New Delhi: In response to the alert issued on 1 August to India by the European Commission—the executive branch of the European Union (EU)—on dangerous contamination in food grade guar gum exports, the commerce ministry has advised all exporters to test their products before despatch.
The contaminants, dioxin and pentachlorophenol, are well-known cancer-causing substances. Last year, India exported guar gum worth Rs1,275 crore. The ministry’s steps have come just ahead of the European Commission’s impending visit to inspect guar gum manufacturing units in India in the first week of October.
“The EU team was supposed to visit in September, but after we told them we are doing the preliminary testing ourselves, they deferred the visit to October,” says Rajiv Kher, joint secretary, commerce ministry.
The warning had come after a Swiss producer of food additives, Unipektin Ingredients AG, blamed Indian exporters for the contamination and recalled several batches of its food additive from the market, based on an analysis done by a German laboratory that showed higher amounts of contaminants than the EU limit.
India Glycols Ltd, the company involved in the incident, said in a reply to the commerce ministry that Unipektin’s senior auditor had come to visit and didn’t find anything amiss in the manufacturing process, though the final report is still awaited.
“Unipektin had not only inspected our plant, but a few others as well. But they didn’t find anything damaging and have put the information on the (web) site as well,” says Lalit Kumar Sharma, company secretary, India Glycols. According to the latest release, dated 21 August on the Unipektin website: “None of the deliveries” from India Glycols “complied with legal standards” according to first results. “For this reason, the situation for customers and consumers remains unchanged,” the release added. The release also said that the company wasn’t sure that “guar gum from suppliers other than India Glycols can be excluded from the contamination.”
The ministry has appointed Hyderabad-based Vimta Labs Ltd as the testing agency. Vimta is the only National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) accreditated laboratory in India which can test for dioxins and furans.
The Shellac and Forest Products Export Promotion Council, which is the nodal agency for guar and reports to the ministry, has appointed Vimta to conduct a study on the traceability of the poisonous substances.
Vimta will test samples from manufacturing units in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana. The majority of guar units are based in Jodhpur. The ministry has advised the units to cooperate with Vimta. “If something is found, it will be dealt with with a firm hand. Testing will be thorough right from the seed to the powder, the whole chain of process,” adds Kher.
Exporters claim that the costs for testing are prohibitive. “The cost of testing for one container can be anything from Rs50,000 to Rs1 lakh. But we are not testing everything right now. It is a buyer and seller arrangement. If the buyer mandates a sample test, then we do it,” says G.L. Sarda, president, Indian Guar Gum Manufacturers’ Association.