Plant Quarantine & Climate Change

India is the largest importer of pulses in spite of being the second largest producer of pulses. Import of food and agriculture products are subject to strict plant quarantine restrictions.  Plant related diseases are very difficult to contain because they spread rapidly through air and various other vectors. Moreover they are region specific and travel borders through trade between such borders. Countries have huge financial budgets only to develop disease resistant food crops and hence in event of this limitation, countries cannot afford to invite new disease forms through import of food and agriculture products. Foreign consignment of pulses when reaches the Indian shores, may spread pests in the air which can reach Indian farms and it is a huge exercise to deal with such infestations. Importing absolutely pest free farm produce to India needs treatment such as fumigation and irradiation. These treatments are termed as phytosanitary treatments. The main constituent used in fumigation is the MeBr treatment. The Me Br or methyl bromide gains weight over many others due to its non-inflammable and non-explosive property under ordinary circumstances. It is also less toxic than the other fumigants. However, serious demerit of Methyl bromide is that it is readily photolyzed in the atmosphere to release elemental bromine, which is far more destructive to stratospheric ozone than chlorine. As such, it is subject to phase-out requirements of the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances. Ozone level depletion has had very serious effects of global warming leading to climate change. Moreover, In India farmers are the worst affected by climate change. Irregularity in moisture balance has led to confusion in planting crops which could yield steady returns. This has led large number of farming communities move towards cities in search of steady income and jobs. Thus, Methyl bromide (MB), a chemical fumigant that is highly effective against pests, its identification as an important atmospheric ozone-depleting substance has made the industry look seriously for an alternative. A probable alternate is the irradiation treatment.

Every country conducts Import Risk Analysis (PRA) of a commodity before allowing its import from a specific country. Under this Pest Risk Analysis (PRA), identifies the pests of quarantine importance that is likely to enter into their country. Further analysis is made to identify measures or treatments which could mitigate these pests, if possible. Such treatments, one or more, are specified to be carried out offshore to keep the pests at bay.

The National Standard for Phytosanitary Measures No. 11 (NSPM 11) – Quarantine Treatments and Application Procedures has suggested Methyl Bromide Fumigation which has been developed by Government of India to provide guidance on quarantine treatments and application procedures for the approved fumigation agencies (Pest Control Operators). National Standard (NSPM 12) has also been developed for accreditation of these Phytosanitary Treatment Providers who have been authorized to undertake fumigation with Methyl bromide.  

In  2004, India  imposed  a  non-tariff  barrier  requiring  all  imported legumes  to  be  fumigated  with  MeBr  and  certified  free  of bruchids.  However,  most  phytosanitary  uses  of  MeBr  were phased  out  in  2005  by  the  U.S.  Environmental  Protection Agency  (EPA)  under  the  Federal  Clean  Air  Act  and  the Montreal  Protocol.  In addition, MeBr fumigation is only practical at treatment temperatures ≥5oC.  This issue is concerned with climate change. Slow process of testing and implementing an alternative to comply with such phytosanitary measures is proving to be another issue. The irradiation treatment needs to be looked into seriously which offers several benefits over chemical fumigation. Moreover, Irradiation reaches the very nuclear material of the microorganism killing not only the anti-nutritional content of the grains but at the same time stopping any form of replication of the microorganism.

More than 100 countries have adopted irradiation technology and about 60 different irradiated food products. Food  irradiation  of foods  has  been  approved  by  the  CODEX,  Food  Safety  and Standards  Authority  of  India  (FSSAI),  Food  Standards Australia  New  Zealand,  American  Medical  Association,  the Institute of  Food Technologists,  International  Atomic Energy Agency  (IAEA),  Food  and  Agriculture  Organization  (FAO),World  Health Organization  (WHO). As per  the CODEX,  the foods  having  moisture  content  of  less  than  12%  can be  re-irradiated if the objective was not achieved. The CODEX and FAO recommends the use of gamma irradiation for cereals.

Thus application of irradiation has shown promising results in  extending  the  shelf  life  of  cereals  and  pulses  by disinfestation and preventing microbial growth. Irradiation has also  resulted  in  increased  antioxidant  properties  besides decreasing  the  anti-nutritional  content  of  the  grains. The food industry tends to be reluctant to use the technology in view of uncertainties regarding consumer acceptance of treated foods. This includes trust in regulators and producers and risk perception associated with the use of ionizing radiation in food processing. Awareness campaigns could help make consumers willing to accept irradiated foods. Considering its potential role in the reduction of post-harvest losses, providing safe supply of food and overcoming quarantine barriers, food irradiation has received wider government approvals during the last decade. Currently, there are 47 irradiation facilities in some 23 countries being used for treating foods for commercial purposes. Irradiation seems to be one of the promising techniques  of  future  to  be  used  to  meet  the  ever  growing consumer demands  for safe food, food  security and  enhanced food  shelf  life  so  as  to  feed  the  huge  population  and  to approach the distant markets while maintaining high quality of the food. At the same time, solve a major issue of climate change.

Fssai & Imports

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has been established under Food Safety and Standards , 2006 which consolidates various acts & orders that have hitherto handled food related issues in various Ministries and Departments. FSSAI has been created for laying down science based standards for articles of food and to regulate their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import to ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption. In line with the FSS Act, the Food Authority is required to provide scientific and technical assistance to the Central Government and the State Governments for improving co-operation with international organizations. The Food Authority shall also promote co-ordination of work on food standards undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental organizations and promote consistency between international technical standards and domestic food standards. FSSAI is also the national enquiry point for SPS (Sanitary and Phytosanitary) issues and, thus, regularly participates in various bilateral meetings for co-operation in the area of food standards, food safety and capacity building of labs.

The Food Import Clearance System (FICS) is an online system to enable importers to seek No Objection Certificates (NOC) for imported food items. It is a 100% online system

  1. Allowing the importer to file an application for import clearance with the customs on ICEGate which is seamlessly integrated with FICS to allow a single window interface.
  2. Registration of Importers / CHAs on FICS.
  3. Respond to queries/clarifications raised by the authorized officers.
  4. Make online payment of testing fees.
  5. Visual inspection and sampling of imported food items.
  6. Lab testing.
  7. Generation of No Objection Certificate/Non Conformance Certificate.

For further details,