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Imported lentils toxic: FSSAI

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Imported lentils toxic: FSSAI

Friday, 19 October 2018 | Archana Jyoti | New Delhi

Food regulator asks people not to eat masoor, moong dal as they are induced with hazardous herbicide Glyphosate

India’s apex food regulator, the Food Safety and Standards of India (FSSAI) has finally woken up to ensure Indians do not consume the highly toxic lentils imported from countries like Canada and Australia. The lentils such as masoor dal and moong dal are said to be induced with hazardous herbicide Glyphosate which is being used indiscriminately by farmers in some countries to clear weeds in the crop.

While India is yet to have its own standards for herbicide Glyphosate residues in lentils despite importing over 5 million tonnes of pulses, it has now, for the time being, decided to follow the international parameters to ensure that the pulses being sold and imported in the country  are safe for consumption.

"There is a possibility of higher levels of residues of the herbicide Glyphosate in pulses which could adversely affect the health of consumers here. Since the maximum residual limits (MRL) for Glyphosate in pulses has not been specified in the FSSAI regulations, we have asked the concerned officials to follow the MRL for the herbicide as specified in the Codex standards.

Since 1961, the Codex Alimentarius international food standards, guidelines and codes of practice has been providing a common set of standards for food safety, ranging from nutrition labelling to maximum residue limits (MRLs) for pesticides. However, countries can develop their own separate standards.

"This MRL (as specified in Codex) will also be taken into consideration for the purpose of import clearance (see box)," said an official from the top food regulator. 

The FSSAI, in a recent order in this regard has also directed the authorised officers to instruct laboratories to test for the presence of herbicide 'Glyphosate" along with other parameters when the samples for pulses are forwarded for testing.

Known to be highly toxic and harmful to health, Glyphosate can adversely affect immunity to serious diseases and the absorption of mineral and vitamin nutrients, apart from disrupting protein-related functions.

The FSSAI action came after Indian-born Canadian food security activist Santanu (Tony) Mitra alleged that Australian moong dal and Canadian masoor dal contain high residues of Glyphosate. Food safety and agricultural scientists too are warning that the use of glyphosate may prove dangerous as in Sri Lanka, where many sugarcane farmers died due to renal failure after being overexposed to the herbicide.

Mitra thinks that the Indian diet might have become overly contaminated from imported pulses. The pulses need to be tested for glyphosate residue at every entry point which is not being carried out presently, said the FSSAI official.

Till 2015, the herbicide was considered to be safe but then the World Health Organisation's IARC classified it as a probable human carcinogen. In India, it seems that Glyphosate is being used as a pre-harvest desiccant in several crops resulting in high residues in food.

Dr GV Ramanjaneyulu, agricultural scientist and founder of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture said in a report that while it is mandatory to label organic products, imported pulses are not labelled. "It's very difficult to find out if we are consuming Canadian pulses or locally grown ones, if they are sold in loose," he warned.

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