CHANDIGARH – The most prestigious market for Indian basmati rice, the USA, has put on hold all consignments of the rice being imported there. In a major setback to Indian basmati exporters, the US Food and Drug Authority has refused to accept basmati being exported to that country, on account of traces of pesticides found in the food grain.
It is learnt that the FDA has refused to allow these basmati consignments to be released to traders for onward distribution to retailers. These consignments, consisting of over 100 containers, have been offloaded and kept at various US ports, while the authorities there analyze the pesticide content in the rice and assess the likely health hazards on its consumption.
This has been done after the FDA seized some samples from 30 containers of basmati rice sent to the US by an Amritsar-based exporter, and found traces of tricyclazole in the grains. The authorities there claimed the food grain had pesticide traces of around 0.02-0.04 ppm (parts per million). Following this, the basmati shipments sent by three other Indian exporters were tested on arrival in the US, and the same amount of pesticide residue was found in those consignments, too. According to sources, not only have the US authorities held up these basmati consignments, but also put the four Indian basmati exporters on the FDA Import Alert 99-08.
The Commerce Ministry is now seized of the matter, and has assured exporters to take up the matter with US authorities. Exporters said unless the Indian Government put pressure on the US government, the Indian basmati could be recalled from retail stores across the US. Their main worry is that the Indian basmati could be included in the product-specific import alert, which could lead to a complete import ban on Indian basmati to the US (India exports about 1 lakh tonnes of basmati to the USA annually). They are equally concerned that this holding up of Indian basmati in the USA, could also have its repercussions on the export of Indian basmati to their largest markets in West Asia.
Exporters here say the USFDA is unneccesarily creating a hue and cry over the issue. “The traces of tricyclazole found in basmati exported to the US, is just 0.02-0.04 ppm. In comparison, the European Union allows a maximum residual level (MRL) of 1 ppm, and Japan allows the MRL of 3 ppm. Indian basmati, with its low MRL, is widely accepted in these countries. Tricyclazole is widely used as a pesticide in most rice-growing countries including India, Thailand, Japan and China,” said a top exporter from Punjab.