Ministry to set maximum residue limits for 10 fruits and vegetablesThe maximum tolerated levels will be fixed as per international standards, officials say.
The cabinet on Wednesday gave the go-ahead to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development to set the maximum residue limits in 10 fruits and vegetables in a bid to prevent unsafe food from reaching markets.
The traces of pesticides left on treated farm products are called residues, and the maximum residue level is the legally permitted maximum.
The maximum tolerated levels will be fixed as per international standards, and will apply to both locally grown and imported products, officials said.
It will also allow the government to set the limits for mycotoxins in foodstuffs.
According to the World Health Organisation, mycotoxins are naturally occurring toxins produced by certain moulds (fungi) and can be found in food. The moulds grow on a variety of different crops and foodstuffs including cereals, nuts, spices, dried fruits, apples and coffee beans, often under warm and humid conditions.
Mycotoxins can cause a variety of adverse health effects and pose a serious health threat to both humans and livestock. The adverse health effects of mycotoxins range from acute poisoning to long-term effects such as immune deficiency and cancer.
But consumer rights activists doubt the government's capacity to implement regulation.
The Department of Food Technology and Quality Control had proposed to set the maximum residue limits in apple, banana, bitter gourd, eggplant, cabbage, cauliflower, okra, potato, tomato and tea for the first time.
Madhav Timilsina, president of the Consumer Rights Investigation Forum, said it was a welcome step to determine the residue level, but the implementation part seems always weak given the government’s track record.
“It's a pity. The government has become a mere spectator as importers and producers are playing with consumer health without any fear.”
The government has never taken strict action against traders engaging in malicious activities, and the government mechanism lacks proper investigation and testing of food products, he said.
“Unless new labs are established, the existing ones are updated with the latest technology, and sample collection is done on a fast track basis, the policies will remain on paper only,” he said.
Examining the products being sold in the market, there are quality issues in milk, water, sweets, packaged food, imported packaged foods, dried fruit, and fruits and vegetables imported from India and third countries, he said.
“The government's weakness in effective implementation of laws and regulation has emboldened traders to engage in unethical business practices,” he said.
The government has been bringing rules and regulations to protect the health of the public, but consumers have never felt the presence of the law and the government, he added.
Upendra Ray, director general at the Department of Food Technology and Quality Control, said that the department has been conducting sample collection and tests on food items. “We have filed cases against 26 firms in the first four months of the current fiscal year for various violations,” he said, adding that this was achieved by implementing the law effectively.
The number of consumers has increased with the varieties of food products available in the market, and the food technology and human resources need to be expanded accordingly, he said.
“The department requires 40 percent more manpower,” he said. The department has been sending out three teams to conduct market inspection.
"Unless the quality of the products sold in the market is inspected and regulated properly, consumers will be cheated price-wise and health-wise," Timilsina said.
The government must show its presence in all 753 local units and inspect and take strict action at the root level, he added.
"Food has a direct impact on human health, and the government should act responsibly in terms of securing consumer health," he said. "Not only this, lax implementation of the law will also have an effect on the packaged foods exported to the international market," he said.
According to Timilsina, fruits and vegetables that have been grown by using pesticides banned by the government are being sold openly in the market, and the government has not been able to stop it. “The officials concerned give the excuse that it is happening due to the open border,” he said.
The new provision regarding maximum residue limit will be sent to the Ministry of Law, and it will come into effect as soon it gets published in the Nepal Gazette.
Mohan Krishna Maharjan, spokesperson for the department, said that the maximum residue limit and mycotoxin limit will be applied to both domestically grown and imported fruits and vegetables.
A multilateral stakeholders meeting of government agencies held in February 2018 by the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies decided to direct the Ministry of Agriculture Development to implement the maximum residue limit in farm products.
The maximum residue limit in fruits and vegetables was passed by a Food Standardisation Committee comprising the secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, officials from concerned government agencies, representatives of the private sector and consumer rights activists.
As per the proposed provision, apple has 27 pesticides residue parameters set according to the international food standards Codex Alimentarius, or Food Code, a collection of standards, guidelines and codes of practice adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission established by the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation to protect consumer health and promote fair practices in food trade.
Similarly, banana has 42, bitter gourd one, eggplant 21, cabbage 35, cauliflower 13, okra three, potato 71, tomato 74 and tea including green tea, black tea, fermented and dried tea 19 pesticides residue parameters.
According to the World Health Organisation, there are more than 1,000 pesticides used around the world to ensure food is not damaged or destroyed by pests. Each pesticide has different properties and toxicological effects.
“Our labs are capable of testing the various pesticides residue available in the mentioned fruits and vegetables,” Ray told the Post.
Similarly, as per the proposed standards, the total aflatoxin and mycotoxin in processed almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, dried figs and pistachios should not be more than 15 micrograms per kilogram.
The aflatoxin M1 in milk should not exceed 0.5 micrograms per kilogram. In terms of apple juice and apple juice used as an ingredient in other beverages, the patulin should not be more than 50 micrograms per kilogram.
“Our labs are able to measure aflatoxin in food items,” Ray said.