EU team to inspect sesame seed-processing units

The experts are said to be likely to be in India starting 9 December, inspecting units and laboratories mostly in Gujarat and Maharashtra


Citing the presence of pesticides, the EU had banned the import of Alphonso mangoes, brinjal, taro, bitter gourd and snake gourd from 1 May to December 2015. Photo: HT
Citing the presence of pesticides, the EU had banned the import of Alphonso mangoes, brinjal, taro, bitter gourd and snake gourd from 1 May to December 2015. Photo: HT

New Delhi: After indicating to revoke the import ban on mangoes and four other farm produce from India, a team of European experts will visit the country next week to inspect pesticide levels in sesame seeds used in confectionery.

The experts are likely to visit India starting 9 December, a government official said. “They want to inspect our processing units and laboratories, mostly in Gujarat and Maharashtra, to test the phytosanitary certification system,” he said, requesting anonymity. “It is a good thing they are coming. We are confident of the facilities available.”

Phytosanitary refers to the health of plants, especially with respect to the requirements of international trade.

The European Union (EU) and Japan could provide a big business opportunity for sesame seed producers in India, the official said. “Japan and the EU put together provide a market of around $600 million for sesame seeds. Japan wants organic sesame seeds while the EU wants pest-free sesame seeds. Japan is currently saying that sesame seeds produced by India has too much pesticides. So they don’t want to import from India. But the same Indian sesame seed is going to Japan through Vietnam and South Korea and they have no problem with that,” he said. “If the EU buys from us, then Japan will be forced to open up their market. So, it is in our interest that the EU officials are visiting India.”

Citing the presence of pesticides, the EU had banned the import of Alphonso mangoes, brinjal, taro, bitter gourd and snake gourd from 1 May to December 2015.

The decision by the grouping’s standing committee on plant health came after 207 consignments of fruits and vegetables from India imported into the EU in 2013 were found to be contaminated by pests, including fruit flies, the Press Trust of India had reported from London.

Although the prohibited commodities represent less than 5% of fresh fruits and vegetables exported to the EU from India, the potential introduction of new pests could pose a threat to EU agriculture and production, the committee noted. The UK’s department for environment, food and rural affairs, which backs the ban, said it was necessary because pests could threaten the country’s £321 million salad crop industry of tomato and cucumber. The UK imports nearly 16 million mangoes from India and the market for the fruit is worth nearly £6 million a year.

After a strong protest by India, a team of experts from the Food and Veterinary Office of the EU visited Indian facilities in September. The EU experts made a favourable report and are expected to revoke the ban soon, the official said.

“They wrote to us saying they are satisfied with the visit with the inspection and packaging facilities. The decision has not yet come,” he said. “Now we have made it mandatory that every export of food product to the EU will go through a standard inspection process.”

Sesame seed is a high-value cash crop that is used in bread and cakes in Europe. In Japan, the seed is added to salads and baked snacks. Japan is the world’s largest sesame seed importer.

Suresh Chandarana, president of Dhaval Agri Exports that ships sesame seeds and other farm produce, said that though his company did not face any problem in exporting to European countries, the EU seems to be taking precautionary measures to ensure higher food standards. “It will benefit us if they visit some facilities and certify their compliance,” Chandarana said. “It will also benefit us if Japan opens up to our exports of sesame seed.”

Sesame seed production in the current crop year 2014-15 is expected to rise by around 130% to 0.43 million tonnes on high acreage and increase in yield, according to estimates by the Shellac And Forest Products Export Promotion Council. India exported 299,482 tonnes of sesame seeds in 2013-14 against 389,153 tonnes in 2012-13, the council’s data shows.

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