Agriculture Ministry seeks Rs250 million to upgrade testing labsNone of the border points is properly equipped to test imported vegetables and fruits for chemical contamination
The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development has sought Rs250 million from the government to upgrade the existing plant quarantine facilities and chemical testing labs in a bid to make life easier for vegetable and fruit importers.
The government has made it mandatory for imported farm products to be tested for chemical contamination, but none of the border points is appropriately equipped to conduct such checks. So samples of imported farm products have to be sent to one of the seven facilities in the country which have the proper equipment and personnel. For this reason, hundreds of trucks loaded with imported vegetables and fruits are stranded at the border as they wait for the test results to come back.
“The Agriculture Ministry has asked the Finance Ministry to provide the necessary funds with the aim of upgrading the chemical testing laboratories at all plant quarantine facilities,” said Netra Kaphle, a senior officer of the Agriculture Ministry.
According to the Agriculture Ministry, plant quarantine facilities are available at 15 customs points—11 on the Nepal-India border (Kakarbhitta, Biratnagar, Bhantabari, Jaleshwor, Malangwa, Birgunj, Bhairahawa, Krishna Nagar, Rupaidiya, Gaddachauki and one more); three on the Nepal-China border (Tatopani, Lo Manthang and Kerung) and one at Tribhuvan International Airport.
Currently, the labs can only test imported farm products for disease. They lack the equipment and technical manpower to test for chemical residues in imported edibles. Tej Bahadur Subedi, spokesperson for the Agriculture Ministry, said they plan to train manpower for the quarantine labs besides installing the necessary equipment.
There are Rapid Bioassay for Pesticide Residue Laboratories at seven locations—Kalimati, Birtamod, Malangwa, Nepalgunj, Attariya, Butwal and Pokhara. These labs can test for the presence of chemicals in vegetables and fruits, but they can test for chemicals only under two variants—organophosphate and carbamate.
Subedi said the ministry was coordinating with provincial authorities to upgrade the Rapid Bioassay for Pesticide Residue Laboratories. “We will soon provide these laboratories with enhanced capacity to test for other types of chemicals too.”
The government has been issuing chemical-free certification to farm products after they are tested at these poorly equipped labs. “This has raised questions about the validity of even government issued certification,” said Dilli Ram Sharma, chief of the Plant Quarantine and Pesticide Management Centre.
Sharma said there would be big trouble if consumer health was affected by government certified products. According to him, many vegetable and fruit producers and traders have been using new types of chemicals to grow plants and store edibles. Sharma also urged the government to set the maximum residue limit.
“A mechanism should be developed for precise specification for both domestic and imported edibles,” said Sharma, stressing the need to bring gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, a modern equipment that ensures quick testing of a wide range of chemical variants at once.
Posh Raj Pandey, executive chairman of South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment, said the government should enforce separate laws for the entire value chain regarding the use of chemicals in production, import, usage, storage and disposal. Pandey also urged the government to implement a stern policy on the use of chemicals in local farm products.