But shops continue sales of the product

Food: Citing toxic levels of heavy metals in seaweed products, the Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) banned the import and sale of all forms of seaweed through a public notification on November 14.

The director general of BAFRA, Namgay Wangchuk issued the public notification for immediate effect and for strict compliance.

However, shops were found selling seaweed products in Thimphu yesterday afternoon.

Popular stores in town selling the imported products were not aware of the notification.

“If the goods are causing adverse health impacts we won’t sell but no one informed us,” Eight Eleven shop manager, Sagar said.

Sangay Tshongkhang proprietor in Sabji Bazaar said she only heard about the ban informally from a customer.

BAFRA’s Senior Food Safety Officer, Kubir Nath Bhattarai said tests within and outside the country revealed toxic levels of inorganic Arsenic and Cadmium above the Maximum Residue Limits (MRL) permitted in food.

The heavy metals have been identified as hazardous for public health. Prolonged exposure to these carcinogenic agents could cause cancer according to the World Health Organisation.

The seaweed products which are already in the market shall be seized and destroyed or the importer may also re-export the seaweed products after informing the authority, the notification said.

Kubir N Bhatarai said these products have been imported only for the past few years. “So people were not exposed to the carcenogenic substances for long enough to cause a threat to human life,” he said.

The authority has prioritised to test products for heavy metals and pesticide residue of food items derived from crops that use a lot of water.

The officials tested rice and dry fish for heavy metals and found the contents to be within the permissible limits.

The authority’s ban on import of cauliflower and beans in May and chilies in July this year still holds. The vegetables were banned after laboratory tests showed huge amounts of pesticide residues in the vegetables.

Tshering Palden