Unacceptable levels of pesticide residues have been found on imported cauliflowers, beans and chillies

Agriculture: The agriculture and forests ministry has asked the Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) to place a temporary ban on the import of beans and cauliflowers last week.

The ministry also asked BAFRA to introduce an import permit system to streamline and monitor the import of fruits and vegetables.

The order was issued based on the outcome of laboratory tests conducted by BAFRA and the findings of a task-force. Test results of vegetable samples showed pesticide residues beyond permissible limits.

“Following the recent positive test results confirmed through use of the test kits for imported fruits and vegetables, the samples of selected 10 imported fruits and vegetables have been tested in three reference food laboratories in India and Thailand,” a press release from the ministry said.

The samples were tested against four major groups of pesticides.

“As per the laboratory report, the pesticide residues detected in chillies, beans and cauliflowers are above the maximum residue limits (MRLs) for human consumption,” agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji said yesterday.

The agriculture ministry has been carrying out regular surveillance of pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables through use of test kits and laboratory testing to ensure food safety.

“To address the issue of high contents of pesticide residues confirmed through laboratory testing, the ministry immediately formed a technical task-force to study the report submitted by BAFRA and propose possible remedial measures,” Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji said.

The ministry discussed and created awareness amongst wholesale importers and vendors on the issue of high contents of pesticide residues in chillies, beans and cauliflowers, he said.

Meanwhile, vegetable vendors in Phuentsholing, especially non-Bhutanese vendors have stopped selling beans and cauliflower. It has been about five days since they stopped selling the two vegetables.

On the other hand, BAFRA officials are inspecting the vegetable market in Phuentsholing twice a day.

One non-Bhutanese vendor said that BAFRA officials must also consider checking Bhutanese who may buy these vegetables from the border town of Jaigaon. At present only local beans and cauliflowers are available in the vegetable market in town.

“BAFRA must also monitor pesticide residue in mangoes,” one vendor, requesting anonymity, said. “Mangoes during this time could have high chemical content.”

Vegetables and fruits that people in the country import are fetched from Falakatta in India, some 60km away from Jaigaon. Since cauliflowers and beans are prone to pests from early stages, growers use carbide to kill the pests.

One non-Bhutanese vendor said that produces were gathered in huge masses and carbide gas was used to kill pests.

Meanwhile, sales have drastically dropped in the stalls these days, vegetable vendors pointed out to this paper.

Non-Bhutanese vegetable vendors were also worried about the permit system that BAFRA has put in place recently. According to them, vendors now have to provide details of the volume of vegetables and types they plan to import, following which permits would be issued.

Vendors will also have to bring in the requested or specified amount and the types of vegetables that they receive a permit for. Given the fluctuation in demand from the people, non-Bhutanese vendors worry that the system may affect their sales.

Tshering Palden and Rajesh Rai