Testing of pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables halted for months

  • The Kalimati market has reduced its number of samples due to an insufficiency in reagents required for testing. Post file Photo
- Arjun Poudel, Kathmandu

Mar 9, 2019-

Testing for pesticides on fruits and vegetables has been halted for months now since the authorities have failed to supply kits and technical manpower to the rapid bioassay of pesticide residue labs spread across the country.

Of the seven rapid bioassay of pesticide residue (RBPP) labs operating throughout the country, three laboratories in Pokhara, Butwal and Nepalgunj stopped testing fruits and vegetables for pesticides five months ago. Other laboratories have reduced the number of samples of vegetables and fruits for testing due to a lack of testing kits and technical manpower.

Doctors say high levels of pesticides in fruits and vegetables cause nausea, diarrhoea, abdominal cramp, dizziness and anxiety.

Long-term consumption of fruits and vegetables with high levels of pesticides can lead to kidney failure, lung disease and mental health problems, and can even cause cancer. According to health experts, consumption of such fruits and vegetables may also affect pregnant women and harm the foetus.

But the authorities concerned seem to be turning a blind eye to the health hazards posed by pesticide use in fruits and vegetables.

“Use of pesticides increases in spring and summer seasons but we have stopped testing for pesticide residue in fruits and vegetables,” Ramhari Khatri, who serves at the RBPP lab in Butwal, said. He said that his facility hasn’t tested samples since October due to lack of staff.

RBPP is the sole agency set up to monitor residues of pesticides in fruits and vegetables in the country.

Sakil Ahmad, a staff member at the lab, said there is no electricity supply to the RBPP lab, Nepalgunj since it has accumulated unpaid electricity bill starting fiscal year 2018/19. A staffer hired on a contract basis also quit when the office failed to pay him his salary for three months in a row.  Dhan Bahadur Rana serving at the RBPP lab in Pokhara said that his lab has not tested samples for pesticides since October 2018.

“How can we run the lab without a budget, test kits and manpower?” asked Rana. The government has not sent either technical support staff or the funds necessary to run the lab, he added.

The RBPP lab for Province 3, set up on the premises of the Kalimati Fruits and Vegetable Market, has reduced the number of samples of fruits and vegetables due to an insufficiency in reagents required for testing.

“We have reduced the samples of vegetables we test because we do not have sufficient testing kits and manpower to conduct the tests,” Jageshor Sharma, a technician at the lab, said. He said that his lab has been testing five samples of vegetables per day, randomly collected from the wholesale market, and has resources to conduct these tests for the next 15 days only.

Three weeks ago, the laboratory destroyed 22 kg broccoli produced by a farmer in Dhading after residues of organophosphate (insecticide) were found present in hazardous level. Sharma said that his lab does not test samples of fruits due to a crunch in human resource.

“We have only tested 10 or fewer samples of fruits from the beginning of the fiscal year 2018/19,” said Sharma.

RBPP labs across the country are unable to operate smoothly and conduct pesticide tests. Anju Acharya, serving at the RBPP lab in Jhapa, said that her lab is running out of testing kits. Gokarna Poudel, serving at the RBPP lab in Sarlahi,  complained that he has not received his salary for the last eight months. Jit Bahadur Thapa, at the Kailali RBPP lab, said that his lab has reduced the number of vegetable samples for testing due to a short staff.

The Central Agriculture Laboratory (CAL), which operates RBPP labs across the country, concedes a lack of reagents and manpower in the laboratories.

“Earlier, there was a lot of confusion over whose responsibility it was to run the labs. But now that it’s come under our jurisdiction, we are serious about tackling the problems,” said Rajiv Das Rajbhandari, spokesperson for the CAL.

He said that his office would allocate budget, and manage and send manpower to the RBPP labs in various districts.

Pesticides are commonly used to kill insects, fungi, weed and other diseases, which damage plants and crops. Every year over 635 metric tons of 170 types of pesticide including insecticide, pesticide, fungicide, herbicide and biopesticide are brought into Nepal, according to Manoj Pokhrel, plant protection officer at the Plant Protection Directorate of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development.

Published: 09-03-2019 09:34

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