Study finds high levels of pesticide residue in vegetables sold as organic in the city

“Organically grown” is the watchword these days. The scare created by the high levels of pesticides in vegetables available in the market has people scampering to buy anything with the ‘organic’ label. Unfortunately, in many instances, the label ‘organic’ might not even worth the paper on which it is printed.

A sample study of the ‘organic’ vegetables collected from a few shops selling organically grown produce in the city, by the Pesticide Residue Research and Analytical Lab of the College of Agriculture, Vellayani, has found many ‘organic’ vegetables are as contaminated with pesticide residues as the ones in the general market.

The latest findings from samples collected in August-September were revealed at a seminar on Safe Food Business Practices organised by the Commissionerate of Food Safety here on Wednesday.

“We had identified 14 items of vegetables in the general market as heavily contaminated. Some – curry leaves, mint and coriander leaves, green chilli, okra (lady’s finger), capsicum, carrots, snake gourd – with the organic label were found to be contaminated with the same pesticides, indicating that these are also probably sourced from the same producer or agent,” says Thomas Biju Mathew, professor, KAU, who has taken up the periodical analysis of vegetable sample as part of a project funded by the Agriculture Department.

The pesticide contaminants found in the ‘organic’ vegetables were Profenaphos and Bifethrin, for both of which, no maximum residue limit (MRL) has been fixed by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India. Hence the samples were compared with the MRL fixed by the European Union for these pesticides.

Dr. Mathew said there was no point in blaming shopkeepers because there was no sure-fire way of identifying pure organically grown vegetables. It was difficult and not viable for farmers to produce vegetables for mass consumption without using pesticides at all. Creating more awareness among farmers on the judicious use of pesticides and giving adequate withdrawal period for pesticide residues to vanish before harvesting the produce might be the only practical solutions.

Case of cardamom

Thomas George, Associate Professor, KAU, in his presentation on pesticide residues said that cardamom was one of the most highly contaminated produce in the State. Every farmer seemed to use at least at least four pesticides for the crop. The levels of pesticide residues in cardamom had been going up in recent years and in some samples tested by KAU, a cocktail of residues of 12 pesticides had been found. Quinalphos, belonging to the organophosphates group, was the biggest contaminant in cardamom, followed by profenophos, methyl parathion and triazophos.

However, almost 80 per cent of the pesticide residues in cardamom were limited to the outer pod of the spice. Using just the seeds was a safer option. The seminar discussed the safety of meat and dairy products, trans fat content in bakery goods, and the microbial quality of various ready-to-eat food items in the market.

Health Minister V.S. Sivakumar inaugurated the seminar. Commissioner of Food Safety Biju Prabhakar; Joint Commissioner K. Anilkumar; and Mayor K. Chandrika spoke.