The Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) announced its findings after a carrying out a nine-day visit to India to assess aflatoxin control measures on exports.
The European Commission safety watchdog also found positives in India’s oversight systems - including a raft of administrative procedures, as well as mandatory sampling and analysis measures that met European standards.
It also highlighted that only one rice consignment from India had been rejected at EU borders over the last two years on aflatoxin compliance.
The body sent its experts to scrutinise Indian operations following a steep increase in notifications on the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) in 2007/08. As a result, India basmati rice was added to the EU’s priority list of imports that receive heightened inspections – with physical checks on 10 per cent of all shipments. However, the product was de-listed in October 2010 after the number of RASFF notification dropped dramatically.
Aflatoxins are mycotoxins produced by certain species of Aspergillas and develop as high temperatures and humidity that occur in a wide range of foods – including rice.
The FVO inspectors noted that the Indian group in charge of ensuring the quality of a large number of 'notified'commodities in Indian exports, the Export Inspection Agency (EIA), had put in place seven main measures for aflatoxin control of basmati rice.
But they were concerned that any legal basis for the pre-export controls was “not clear”.
“There is no legislation in place on the sampling procedure and analyses for aflatoxins in basmati rice,” said the report.
The guidance also fails to provide any reference about the sampling method needed.
HACCP and sampling procedures
Other concerns raised included a lack of compliance on storage procedures at farms and the absence of legal requirements for processors to apply HACCP principles.
Their investigations also revealed that no clear instructions had been laid down by Indian authorities in the event basmati rice was rejected by EU officials.
The FVO noted there are no standardised sampling or training procedures - although the sampling demonstration they observed was carried out correctly by an experienced official.
Only minor deficiencies were noted in operations at the single Government approved lab for vetting basmati exports to Europe.
The report also pointed out that despite these concerns the rejection rate for Basmati exports at European borders remains very low -with one in 2009 and none last year at the time of the mission.