Quarantine check posts to be fitted with advanced testing equipmentGas chromatography-mass spectrometry method will be used to check for chemical residues, official says.
The Department of Food Technology and Quality Control is planning to install advanced pesticide testing labs at the quarantine check posts in Biratnagar, Bhairahawa and Birgunj.
Matina Joshi, director general of the department, said that they had requested the Ministry of Finance to provide the necessary funds to upgrade the laboratories at the three quarantine check posts. “The department has planned to install a modern analysis lab that will use gas chromatography-mass spectrometry method to test for chemical residues in imported farm items,” said Joshi.
The department moved to build the infrastructure following criticism that it had remained inadequately equipped to test for pesticide residues even after the government made it mandatory for imported vegetables and fruits to be tested.
On June 17, the Cabinet had issued an order requiring all imported farm products to be tested for chemical residues, but it was forced to backtrack after it was revealed that the quarantine check posts at the border points lacked the proper equipment to do so. Subsequently, the Supreme Court ruled that the tests should be continued.
The Department of Food Technology and Quality Control has set maximum residue limits for apple, banana, bitter gourd, eggplant, cabbage, cauliflower, okra, potato, tomato and tea for the first time. It plans to set maximum residue limits for all vegetables and fruits gradually.
Department spokesperson Mohan Krishna Maharjan said they had asked the Finance Ministry for Rs30-40 million to construct the labs. He added that they had also sought funding to install Rapid Bioassay for Pesticide Residue Laboratories in five more locations.
Currently, the government maintains Rapid Bioassay for Pesticide Residue Laboratories at seven locations—Kalimati, Birtamod, Malangwa, Nepalgunj, Attariya, Butwal and Pokhara.
The department said it had speeded up capacity building of the personnel at the quarantine check posts and residue testing laboratories.
Tej Bahadur Subedi, spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, said the ministry had asked the authorities to provide a larger quantity of samples for testing as chemical contamination was discovered in many imported vegetables and fruits.
The country has quarantine facilities capable of testing for diseases in imported plant and animal products at 15 customs points. According to the Agriculture Ministry, 11 customs points on the Nepal-India border—Kakarbhitta, Biratnagar, Bhantabari, Jaleshwor, Malangwa, Birgunj, Bhairahawa, Krishna Nagar, Rupaidiya and Gaddachauki—have quarantine facilities.
These labs can test for the presence of chemicals in vegetables and fruits, but they can test for only two groups of chemicals—organophosphate and carbamate—out of the more than two dozen types of chemicals mixed in farm products along the supply chain.
The government chemical testing labs have been half-heartedly operating without proper equipment and necessary manpower. Authorities scrambled to install the necessary machines following wide public criticism that the government was not doing enough to prevent food containing chemical contaminants from reaching store shelves.