The Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) has decided to place a temporary ban on the import of all types of chillies after the detection of a banned pesticide in three types of imported Chillies from India.
The three imported Chillies are namely Hybrid, Terasani and Akashi which are currently available in the market and range from the smallest size to slightly bigger ones.
The Chillies were sent for testing after another variety of imported Indian Chilli called Poblano, that most resembles the Bhutanese chilli tested very high pesticide residue limits in May 2016 as was reported by The Bhutanese.
The three varieties of chillies showed the presence of 4-Bromo-2-Cholorophenol a pesticide belonging to the Organochlorine group as per the report by the Export Inspection Agency Laboratory in India where the samples were sent for further testing.
The pesticide according to the World Health Organization is a moderately toxic one and its use is not permitted in Bhutan and also most other countries in the world.
Gyem Bidha is the Food Focal Officer and head of the Food Safety Section under BAFRA that gets these tests done.
Gyem said that BAFRA does monthly testing of all fruits and vegetables that are imported into Bhutan.
She said that in tests where some traces are shown they are sent for further testing for confirmation and this is what happened with the Chillies.
She said that Bhutan imports around six varieties of Chillies. So with the current three and earlier one, so far, around four varieties have tested positive for pesticide residues. The other imported varieties are not yet in season and will also be tested.
However, Gyem said that to be on the safe side since the in-season three varieties of Chillies all tested positive then all import was temporarily banned.
The officer said that BAFRA officials would enforce the import ban at all major entry points like Phuentsholing, Gelephu, Samtse and Samdrup Jongkhar.
Gyem confirmed that these chillies mostly came from Falakata in West Bengal which is the main hub of supply of fruits and vegetables to Bhutan.
Meanwhile, Dr Thinlay, a Plant Protection Specialist in the National Plant Protection Center said that given the harmful effects to the body and the environment the Organochlorine group are of twelve types and so they are known as the ‘dirty dozen’ which is banned in many international countries.
He said that the chillies showed such residue as India is a big country and it is difficult to regulate the use of pesticides and also the number of times they are used. He said each state must also be having their own rules.
He said depending on the chemicals they usually affect the human endocrine system and reproduction system. Dr Thinlay at the same time said all pesticides are toxic to the human body and most of them have a cumulative effect on the body over time.
He said that the problem in Bhutan was that a lot of people eat Indian chillies raw along with their food as cooking may slightly degrade the pesticides.
According to international medical literature there are various medical effects of Organochlorine Group pesticides.
It is associated with a higher risk of cancer like pancreatic cancer etc. A study of women from an agricultural area in India showed that women with breast cancer had much higher total Organochlorine pesticide concentrations in their blood.
Organochlorine pesticide exposure is associated with neuro-developmental health effects in humans. Exposure has been linked to decreased psychomotor function and mental function, including memory, attention, and verbal skills in children. Children born in agricultural areas where pesticides were applied were found to have lower performance on numerous neurobehavioral assessments when compared to children not born in an agricultural region.
There are also reproductive effects on the human body as the chemicals lead to higher chances of pre-term birth and smaller baby sizes.
Many Organochlorine chemicals are known to produce anti-thyroid effects. Thyroid hormones are critical for normal growth and development in fetuses, infants, and small children. Thyroid deficiencies during pregnancy and post partum are known to cause altered development, retardation, decreased intellectual capacity, psychomotor delays, and deafness. Additionally, there is speculation that thyroid disrupting chemicals may play a role in the development of autism.
Neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease are more common in people with general pesticide exposures, including organochlorine pesticide exposure.
Since the problem at hand cannot be solved in the long term with just bans the Agriculture Minister Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji said that he would be visiting Falakata in winter to talk to and sensitize the growers on the use of pesticides.
Domestically the minister said that he has asked the Agriculture Department to come up with a plan and so the department is already coming up with a strategy to increase Bhutan’s internal production of vegetables in winter.