Vegetables and fruits being sold without testing for pesticide contaminationThe government is more focused on ensuring the availability of food than its quality at this time, say officials.
Vegetables and fruits arriving at the Kalimati wholesale market are being sold to consumers without being checked for contamination with pesticide residues as the testing lab has been closed since March 24.
Officials said the lab was shut down for the safety of the technicians who had to perform their duties at great risk to themselves in the absence of basic facilities amid a virus pandemic.
Prakash Ghimire, plant protection officer at the lab, said that testing had been discontinued as the lab staff were put in direct contact with vegetable traders, farmers and wholesalers when collecting samples. The lab uses the rapid bioassay technique to detect pesticide residues in farm products.
Authorities had also previously debated whether to keep the Kalimati vegetable bazaar open or not, he said.
The lab at the Kalimati market conducts rapid bioassay of pesticide residues on vegetables and fruits coming from Kabhre, Dhading, Makwanpur and Chitwan districts, the largest suppliers of fresh produce to Kathmandu Valley.
According to Ghimire, the lab performs eight to 10 tests on fruits and vegetables on a daily basis.
The lab technicians live in various parts of the valley and it is not easy for them to commute to work amid the lockdown, he said. They have not been provided with proper facilities because of which it is difficult to operate the lab.
Vegetables imported from India are tested for pesticide residues at the provincial labs before they reach Kathmandu, Ghimire said. As most of the customs offices have shut down, and vegetable shipments arrive only infrequently, the labs are conducting tests as and when needed, he said.
Since the Kalimati market has been closed, and vegetables and fruits are being sold from other places, it is not possible to conduct market inspection at the retail level, added Ghimire.
The equipment is installed in the lab and not portable, so it is not possible to conduct tests from a van.
Seven rapid bioassay of pesticide residue labs have been established across the country—one each in five provinces (Provinces 1, 2, 3, 4, 7) and two in Province 5. There is no testing lab in Province 6.
The government is more focused on ensuring the availability of food than its quality at this time, he said.
Bishnu Prasad Timilsina, vice-general secretary of the Forum for the Protection of Consumer Rights, said that they would be filing a case at the Supreme Court on Monday for forcing the public to consume fruits and vegetables contaminated with pesticide.
Consuming tainted fruits and vegetables can be harmful to health, said Timilsina, adding that the government was allowing the health of the people to be compromised. “This is a huge negligence of the government,” he said.
According to the Plant Protection Directorate, more than 635 tonnes of 170 types of pesticides including insecticide, fungicide, herbicide and biopesticide enter the country annually.
Doctors said that long-term consumption of vegetables and fruits containing high levels of pesticide could create different health problems.
The rapid bioassay of pesticide residues lab has been conducting tests for two types of pesticides in vegetables and fruits—organophosphate and carbamate.