Kochi: The European Union (EU) has rejected some consignments of Indian black tiger shrimp, cuttle and squid fish blaming widespread use of antibiotics by aquaculture farms.

Officials of Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA) and Seafood Exporters Association of India (SEAI) confirmed that there have been a few rejections, but said there was no cause for alarm.

Safety concerns: Shrimps at a seafood restaurant in Guangzhou, China. In 2006-07, Europe was the largest market for Indian marine exports, accounting for nearly 33% of the total exports worth $1.8 billion.

A.J. Tharakan, national president of SEAI and vice-chairman of MPEDA, said the consignments rejected were mainly from Andhra Pradesh. The trade promotion body has initiated steps to ensure quality at the farm level, he said.

With Indian shrimp exports attracting anti-dumping duty in the US, Europe is fast emerging as a major destination for marine exports from the country.

In 2006-07, Europe was the largest market for Indian marine exports, accounting for nearly 33% of the total exports worth $1.8 billion (Rs7,074 crore). Aquaculture contributed 45% of the total exports.

According to the EU, it is possible to define a limit below which food containing such residue could be considered safe, but the commonly used antibiotics in aquaculture farms—chloramphenicol and nitrofuran—are considered potentially harmful at any level. Chloramphenicol could be fatal while nitrofuran is believed to cause damage to genes, which could lead to cancer.

Exporters want testing facilities at the farms so that the marine produce—the raw material for processing—collected by them is free of antibiotic residue. They say the entire chain—from shrimp seed being bought by farmers to harvesting and processing—be inspected.

There is also the need to bring hatcheries and aqua farms under some form of control. Although this has been agreed to in principle, little has been done so far, Tharakan said.

After the US anti-dumping duty on Indian shrimp exports, Europe is fas emerging as a major marketElias Sait, secretary general of SEAI, has taken up the issue of rejections with officials of the Export Inspection Agency. According to him, although there have been a few rejections, the consignments would not be destroyed.

“There is no cause for alarm. However, steps would be taken to ensure that residue levels were brought to the minimum," he said.

MPEDA has held a series of meetings with exporters over the past two months. The trade promotion body suggested a code of conduct for exporters, especially for those from Andhra Pradesh. It said it would support the exporters in setting up testing facilities at the farms, but if they fail to do so and rejections continue, the blame would be fixed on the exporters.

But exporters say the control at the farm level is the responsibility of government bodies, such as the fisheries department.

The farms must be registered with government bodies and the exporters’ association has no legal authority in this regard. Unless steps are taken immediately to put a check on the use of antibiotics, India would lose yet another market it has built lately, they said.