New Delhi: India will renegotiate with Russia, at this month’s bilateral talks scheduled to be held in Moscow, rules governing exports of rice to that country which have been under a question mark since December 2006—that month, Russia banned imports of Indian rice on the grounds that it contained Aflatoxin, a potential health hazard.
Aflatoxin B1 is a substance produced by the Aspergillus fungus, and it can be carcinogenic (causing cancer) and toxic. Besides, it can damage the liver, particularly among hepatitis B patients.
Killing the fungus requires pesticides, though completely destroying it could increase pesticide levels in the crop. Food regulatory authorities therefore settle for a compromise—a balance between the levels of fungi and pesticide.
“The Russian delegation visited India in March this year and we had hoped that Russia would lift the ban on rice as the content of Aflatoxin is quite low. Now ,the joint study group meeting being held in Russia led by the commerce ministry will renegotiate India’s position,” said a senior official at India’s agriculture ministry who did not wish to be named.
India has capped the Aflatoxin B1 level to 0.007mg/kg of rice, and many countries, such as the US, the UK, and some member states of the EU accept rice consignments with this level of the substance.
India exports 50,000 tonnes of rice a year to Russia. This is one-eighth of the country’s total rice exports of four million tonnes a year. However, the Indian government considers Russia an important market and will therefore renegotiate the issue. A senior official at Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority, a government body focused on food exports, said that Russia’s demand was not reasonable. “The Russian delegation which visited India in March wanted pesticide use documented at the farmer level, which is a little impractical,” he added requesting that he not be named. The official also said that the Russian delegation cut short its visit from the initially planned nine days to four days and therefore could not see enough rice-processing facilities to address their concern over the content of Aflatoxin.
According to P. Dureja, head, Division of Agricultural Chemicals, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, every country has specified its own limits of Aflatoxin B1. “Some countries don’t allow even a trace of it, whereas some countries allow levels higher than that permitted by India. There’s no universal standard, and countries arrive at their permissible limits based on their practical experience of the effects of certain toxins, on human health,” said Dureja.
Despite the ban, Russia had decided to honour the existing contracts with Indian suppliers till June. There is an immediacy to the issue because India can’t export rice from this month to Russia till such time the ban is in place.