Case study of Pesticide Residues in Agricultural products in the City of Guwahati, Assam
The agri-to-food supply chain-AFSC refers to the series of activities that are involved in producing, processing, distributing, and consuming food. It includes all of the steps involved in bringing food from the farm to the consumer, including growing or raising the raw materials, processing them into finished products, distributing the products to retailers or other outlets, and finally, selling the products to consumers. The agri-to-food value chain involves a range of stakeholders, including farmers, processors, distributors, retailers, and consumers. It also involves a number of different technologies and systems, such as transportation, storage, and food safety systems, that are used to ensure that food is produced and distributed efficiently and safely.
Traceability is an important aspect of the agri-to-food value chain, as it allows stakeholders to track the movement of food products through the supply chain and identify any potential problems or issues. This can help improve the efficiency and sustainability of the food system, as well as protect the safety and quality of food products for consumers. Consumers are increasingly interested in knowing where their food originates from and how it is produced. Food traceability can help provide transparency and build consumer confidence in the food supply and finally support ‘food recall,’ a procedure in which a food product is removed from the market due to concerns about its safety, quality, or authenticity. Food recalls can be initiated by food companies, government agencies, or other organizations. Technology has been used to improve traceability in the Indian agri-to-food supply chain, including the use of barcodes, QR codes, RFID tags, and blockchain technology. This has helped to increase transparency and improve the quality and safety of food products.
Pesticide Residues-PIL-Agricultural Products-City of Guwahati
The Guwahati High Court is hearing a case (PIL/18/2018) regarding pesticide residues in vegetables entering Guwahati city. Ms. Seema Bhuyan filed a case against the Union of India and others regarding the use of pesticides and fertilizers in the agricultural produce being made available in the city of Guwahati. The court ordered the constitution of a team to survey and report on the use of pesticides and insecticides in various agricultural products. The use of agrochemicals is associated with chemically induced injuries to health, and their abuse is likely to permanently contaminate groundwater affecting all crops where such water is used for irrigation.
The Government of Assam took upon itself the seriousness regarding ‘Food Safety’ and held a meeting chaired by the Chief Secretary to discuss the matter with officials from various departments and organizations. The meeting resulted in ground breaking decisions being made, including setting up random testing arrangements at entry points for vegetables carrying vehicles and exploring the availability of rapid testing kits for pesticides.
Six teams will be formed consisting of representatives from the Agriculture Department, Guwahati Municipal Corporation, Commissioner of Police, Transport Department with the support of FSSAI to do random sample collection and tending on the three major routes entering Guwahati city. Guwahati Municipal Corporation shall provide a list of wholesalers and aggregators of vegetables from the major growing areas of Assam to enable sampling.
As advised by the Plant Protection Advisor, Government of India awareness exercise shall be started by the Agriculture Department in all the districts of Assam. Checking of fertilizers and pesticide dealers for a possible sale of banned/restricted chemicals shall be taken up on priority with a special focus on major vegetable producing areas of the State.
Representatives from the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs to address issues related to home segregation of waste for avoiding heavy metals contamination. Representatives from FSSAI, Transport and Public Health Engineering Departments and Assam State Agricultural Marketing Board shall be co-opted.
IT-based system to be put in place for real-time information gathering for the flow of pesticides in the state. A training programme for pesticide dealers and Agriculture Department officials may be organized through a Regional Centre of IPM to bring awareness about the adverse health impact of usage of non-recommended pesticides and fertilizers. Insist on zero heavy metals for procurement of all agri inputs, especially micro-nutrients/bio fertilizers and phosphate fertilizers. A protocol for disposal of the items detected with heavy metals and pesticides beyond permissible limits as well as withdrawal/cancellation of licenses of dealers from where the non-recommended pesticides/fertilizers has been procured shall be prepared.
Long term Study shall be conducted by Assam Agriculture University on the possible source of heavy metals in the soil and water. A similar study on the source of metals and pesticides in tea shall be carried out by the Tea Board of India. The committee recommended that a proposal be sent for setting up an ICAR lab for testing of pesticides and metals by way of the inclusion of Assam in the ICAR schemes for setting up such labs. Approaching FSSAI to explore the feasibility of a mobile testing van being stationed in Guwahati is also being considered.
It has long been felt by large sections of consumers that the best agricultural produce finds its way to export after testing for quality and safety. However, products available in the domestic market are not subjected to testing and hence, consumers are unaware of the presence of residues of pesticides and heavy metals above or below the permissible limits. In the recent past, FSSAI has been conducting a Surveillance program, which is the first step in identifying geographical ‘Hotspots’ where ‘unsafe’ foods are prevalent so that they can take appropriate enforcement measures subsequently. The immediate and long-term activities envisaged by the Government of Assam, in pursuance of Guwahati High Court orders, is a welcome step in the right direction for ensuring ‘Safe and Wholesome’ food for its citizens. Hope the results of the random sample testing shall be analysed for putting in place protocols for the entire State of Assam and eventually the whole of India.
By Dr. Ganesh Ramamurthi
Author is a renowned professional in the field of agri-food research and development, with over 25 years of experience. He is currently the CEO of Auriga Research, a leading research organization in the agri-food sector. Prior to this, he served as the COO of NCML and was responsible for creating one of the largest pan-India Agri-Food Laboratories and IoT-based Automatic Weather Station Networks. He has a Masters in Microbiology from G.B Pant University and PhD in Botany from Osmania University. Dr. Ramamurthi has published numerous research papers in international journals and has been a part of several national and international committees on food safety and agriculture.