“Pulses and beans imported into India are safe. There is no concern regarding the presence of glyphosate in these commodities,” said the official FSSAI release on the matter.
“This is based on results of testing of these products over the past one month [since] FSSAI instructed its import offices at ports to start monitoring for presence of glyphosate for pulses and beans last month.”
Last month, FSSAI ordered the testing, monitoring and sharing of data with headquarters every 15 days, with regard to the presence of glyphosate in imported pulses.
The main pulses affected were beans, lentils, peas and soya beans. Canada and Australia were specifically mentioned as countries with possibly ‘toxic’ pulse imports.
“Monthly data pertaining to glyphosate level in pulses received from ports directly handled by FSSAI was analysed. [It] has been observed that of the 319 consignments tested, glyphosate residues were found in only 7 consignments and that too were within the prescribed MRLs,” it added.
“So, it may be observed from above that there is no concern of any kind”
FSSAI CEO Pawan Agarwal added that: “Such monitoring of pulses for glyphosate will continue for some more time till it is established for sure that there are no residues of glyphosate in imported pulses.”
Too much hype?
Agarwal also voiced concerns that the previous glyphosate-testing order had been ‘misreported by certain sections of media which creates a scare among public at large about safety of pulses’.
According to the release, he expects the media to be ‘more circumspect’ when reporting on food safety issues, so as to ensure that public confidence in ‘food available’ is not shaken.
"We have residue levels for pesticides, which we keep on notifying. Glyphosate is a pesticide that is permitted for use in India. The residue levels are decided according to crops. Even in India we have it for other commodities, but for pulses it was not there," he said to NDTV.
Protests against ‘hasty’ statement
Indian-Canadian food security activist Santanu Mitra has written an open letter to Agarwal protesting the ‘hasty’ conclusions being made. Mitra’s allegations were what led FSSAI to take action in the first place.
“I would advise against arriving at such a hasty statement (that imported pulses are safe from glyphosate) based on evidence that might deserve a lot more scrutiny,” said Mitra.
He expressed suspicion about the fact that very few samples were found to contain glyphosate.
“Countries such as Canada and Australia do not use glyphosate only for weed control. They use it to desiccate […] crops just before harvesting [and the process] guarantees presence of and high concentration of glyphosate in harvested seeds,” he claimed.
“Any crop that is desiccated with glyphosate prior harvesting cannot have no glyphosate. Therefore, if tests in India show no glyphosate in those crops, the quality of those tests are suspect.”
Mitra also pointed out the necessity for lab technicians to be ‘highly skilled’ to properly use the High pressure liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (HPLC-MSMS) method when detecting glyphosate.
“[If] the lab assistants are not sufficiently trained […], the results can be less than perfect. This method is not something where the sample is shoved inside a machine, and the lab attendant then watches his smart phone and awaits accurate results to be spewed out by the machine,” he said.
He also suggested that India obtain further guarantees as well as show more transparency in dealing with the issue.
“I would strongly suggest that the Government of India obtains a written guarantee from all exporting nations such as Canada and Australia, that they do not use glyphosate, or any other poison, for desiccation of the crops before harvest.
“I would suggest FSSAI investigates reliability of these tests and to explain how crops desiccated with glyphosate can have no presence detected. Further, these results should be disclosed to the people so that they can stand public scrutiny.
“I would also recommend that you arrange for tests of the seeds grown in Canada and earmarked for shipment to India, be independently tested in certified labs in Canada and results submitted to you prior shipment.”
Mitra also decried the glyphosate safe limits used in the testing, and pushed for India to set its own standards.
“India has not set a safe limit for glyphosate. Further, India has not approved glyphosate for use in agriculture at all. Therefore, no glyphosate can or should be considered as ‘within limit’,” said Mitra.
“There is a possibility that FSSAI has been coaxed to accept limits set by Codex Alimentarius, which is very high and influenced by the toxic chemical lobby, to hoodwink innocent third world countries into importing toxic foods.
“India needs to reset limits set by external entities [and] is more than able to carry out honest tests and set its own safety limits.”