Vegetables: Tests results for chemical content of 12 imported rice varieties from India showed that they are safe for consumption, agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji said yesterday at the 24th Meet the Press session.

Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) randomly selected samples of rice from the market and carried out rapid tests.

Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji said the temporary ban implemented sometime in the second week of May on cauliflower and beans will continue.

The ministry officials would be validating with further tests.

BAFRA officials tested 15 vegetables and three fruits a month ago. Initial rapid tests showed abnormal chemical contents in chilli, cauliflower and beans. The tests results were confirmed from laboratories in Thailand and India.

Of the seven varieties of chillies that were imported, only the one similar to a local variety had high content of pesticides. The chilli is out of season in India, which is why it is not banned.

DAMC, DOA and BAFRA formed a committee and vegetables vendors were consulted before the ban came in to effect, the minister said.

He said that from what the vendors shared with the ministry, the growers were using chemicals to for early maturing of the vegetables.

BAFRA conducts tests on random samples from all imported food items, including meat, said the minister.

The minister said that the temporary ban on imports could increase the price of local vegetables.

BAFRA has procured more rapid testing kits and testing is done in the main entry points, including Sibsoo in Samtse, said agriculture minister.

Agriculture minister said that there are measures put in place to ensure import of pesticides or chemicals for agriculture is strictly monitored and restricted at entry points. “What we have is weedicides Butachlor, which is heavily used in Paro, Punakha and Wangdue for rice,” he said.

Some chemicals are imported for vegetable only during outbreaks of pests.

“I can assure that vegetables grown by our farmers, though may not be 100 percent chemical-free, they are within the permissible limit because they are naturally grown vegetables.”

Tshering Palden