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Indian Economy

Maximum Residue Levels - A Reason for Lower Farm Produce Exports

  • 19 Jul 2018
  • 4 min read

India’s agri trade surplus has narrowed from $ 27.72 billion to $ 13.85 billion in the last four years.

  • Compared to 2013-14, India’s exports of agricultural produce were lower in 2017-18; whereas the imports of agricultural produce were higher.


  • In August 2014, the European Union (EU) imposed “specific conditions (i.e. every consignment has to be accompanied by a certificate stating that the produce has been sampled and analysed for the presence of individual pesticide residues within their stipulated maximum residue level (MRL) limits.)” on the import of okra and curry leaves from India.

Note: The Maximum Residue Limit is the maximum concentration for a pesticide on a crop or food commodity resulting from the use of pesticide according to Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), which is expressed in ppm.

  • Saudi Arabia has cited unacceptable pesticide levels (beyond its MRLs) to deny entry of green chillies and, more recently, cardamom shipments from India.
  • From January 2018, the EU has further disallowed the import of any rice having levels of tricyclazole, a common fungicide, beyond 0.01 ppm.

Indian Scenario

  • India has no comparable systems for checking pesticide residues in agricultural produce being imported by it.
  • Our ports have facilities only for plant quarantine inspection — to certify that imported produce or seeds do not carry insect pests, diseases and weeds detrimental to our agriculture.
  • None of the importing ports has state-of-the-art GC/MS (gas chromatography/ mass spectrometry) techniques to analyse pesticides and other contaminants at 1 ppm and lower.
  • This also has implications for agricultural produce imported by India. India annually uses only a fraction of pesticides as compared to China, the US or many European and Latin American countries. Yet, none of the imported consignments is tested by FSSAI for pesticide residue analysis.
  • The reason for this is simply that FSSAI has neither the necessary systems nor trained manpower to analyse pesticide residues (at ppm levels) in imported foods upon their arrival at Indian ports.
  • This implies that while India bends over backwards to comply with its importing countries’ pesticide MRLs, it doesn’t make those very countries meet its own standards.


  • The FSSAI should be made to have the infrastructure and manpower to test all imported food consignments for pesticide MRLs at every port of entry.
  • A proper coordination mechanism must be put in place among the FSSAI, Plant Quarantine and Customs department officials.
  • Ensure that India does not become a dumping ground for imported foods -  this will help neutralise the tarnishing of the image of Indian agriculture globally.
  • Improve scientific capability or Research & Development capability in the agricultural field.

Way Forward

These steps will ensure a level-playing field for Indian farmers and exporters - by preventing the use of pesticide MRLs as a non-tariff barrier by other countries to restrict India’s agricultural exports, even while allowing free entry to the produce of their farmers.

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