India has one of the most stringent standards of maximum residue limits in the world: FSSAI

  • The development came as some media reports claimed that FSSAI allowed 10 times more pesticide residue in herbs and spices.

Puja Das
First Published5 May 2024
In an order issued on 8 April, FSSAI raised the MRL for a pesticide in herbs and spices to 0.1mg/kg from the previous 0.01mg/kg. The regulator cited “various representations” as the reason for this upward revision.
In an order issued on 8 April, FSSAI raised the MRL for a pesticide in herbs and spices to 0.1mg/kg from the previous 0.01mg/kg. The regulator cited “various representations” as the reason for this upward revision.

Claiming some media reports to be false and malicious, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) on Sunday said that India has one of the most stringent standards of maximum residue limits (MRLs) in the world, and that these are fixed at different levels for different food commodities based on risk assessments.

MRL is the maximum amount of pesticide residue expected to remain on food products when a pesticide is used according to label directions and is not a health concern for humans, the Indian food regulator said in a press statement.

The development came as some media reports claimed that FSSAI allowed 10 times more pesticide residue in herbs and spices. As per a report in The Economic Times, India diluted its pesticide norms for herbs and spices by increasing the maximum level of a pesticide residue allowed by 10 times. In an order issued on 8 April, FSSAI raised the MRL for a pesticide in herbs and spices to 0.1mg/kg from 0.01mg/kg. The regulator cited “various representations” as the reason for this upward revision.

Pesticides regulation

This assumes significance as the food safety authorities in Hong Kong and Singapore last month, banned four products of two popular Indian spice brands—Mahashian Di Hatti (MDH) and Everest, citing the presence of ethylene oxide, a cancer-causing agent which raises the risk of breast cancer and lymphoma, and the European Union’s food safety authorities flagged the presence of cancer-causing chemicals in 527 food products originating from India.

Also Read | Do MDH, Everest masala cause cancer? Explained

Pesticides are regulated by the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare through the Central Insecticide Board and Registration Committee (CIB & RC) constituted under the Insecticide Act, 1968, FSSAI said in the statement. "The CIB & RC regulate the manufacturing, import, transport, storage of pesticides and accordingly the pesticides are registered/banned/restricted by CIB & RC,” it said. The Scientific Panel on Pesticides Residues of FSSAI examines the data received through CIB & RC and recommends the MRLs after performing risk assessment considering the dietary consumption of the Indian population and health concerns in respect of all age groups.

The total pesticides registered by CIB & RC in India are more than 295, of which 139 pesticides are registered for use in spices. The Codex Alimantarius Commission on Pesticide Residues, an international body, has adopted 243 pesticides, of which 75 are applicable for spices. The Codex panel has been set up to develop food standards under the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme.

The Codex Alimentarius is a collection of internationally recognized standards, codes of practice, guidelines, and other recommendations published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations relating to food, food production, food labeling, and food safety.

There are different maximum residue limits of pesticides allowed for many food commodities based on risk assessment data. For instance, the use of pesticide monocrotophos is allowed on many crops with different MRLs such as rice at 0.03mg/kg, citrus fruits at 0.2mg/kg, coffee beans at 0.1 mg/kg and cardamom 0.5mg/kg, chilli at 0.2mg/kg. The MRL of 0.01mg/kg was applicable in case of pesticides for which MRLs have not been fixed. This limit was increased to 0.1mg/kg only in cases of spices and is applicable only for those pesticides which are not registered in India by CIB & RC, FSSAI clarified.

It further said that the limit was recommended by the Scientific Panel on Pesticide Residues which includes member from CIB & RC and project coordinator of Monitoring of Pesticide Residue at National Level (MPRNL), under the agriculture ministry, after considering the adoption of MRLs in the range 0.1 mg/kg and above by the Codex panel on spices during 2021-23 for spices used across the world. MRLs fixed by Codex for spices & culinary herbs range from 0.1 to 80mg/kg.

Usage of pesticides

One pesticide or insecticide is used in more than 10 crops with different MRLs. For example, flubendiamide is used in brinjal with an MRL of 0.1mg/kg whereas for Bengal gram the MRL is 1.0mg/kg, for cabbage 4mg/kg, for tomato 2mg/kg and for tea it is 50mg/kg. Similarly, monocrotophos is used for food grains with MRLs at 0.03mg/kg, for citrus fruits 0.2mg/kg, for dried chilli it is 2mg/kg and for cardamom at 0.5mg/kg.

The MRLs fixed by Codex for myclobutanil used for chilli is 20mg/kg whereas limit set by FSSAI is 2mg/kg. For spiromesifen, used for chilli, Codex limit is 5mg/kg while FSSAI limit is 1mg/kg. Similarly, Codex standards for metalaxyl and metalaxyl-M used for black pepper is 2mg/kg whereas the limit set by FSSAI is 0.5mg/kg.

“The new Codex MRLs for Dithiocarbamates, Phorate, Triazophos and Profenophos for Fennel is 0.1mg/kg. FSSAI aligns with the updated standards of MRLs set by Codex Alimentarius Commission and International Food Safety and Quality Standard setting body created by WHO and FAO of UN and the European Union," the FSSAI statement said. 

Also Read: FSSAI to probe allegations of high sugar in Nestlé's baby food

The MRLs are dynamic and regularly revised based on scientific data. This practice follows global standards and ensures that MRL are revised on a scientifically valid basis, reflecting the latest findings and international norms, FSSAI said.

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