by LAUREN CODLING
BASMATI rice could be banned in the UK from the new year if a resolution is not found over the use of a pesticide used by farmers in India.
Conservative MEP Syed Kamall warned last Sunday (15) of a price rise as well as a “disastrous” impact on basmati farmers in India if the matter was not sorted out soon.
The controversy is over the use of tricyclazole pesticide after the EU commission ordered manufacturers to reduce the amount being used. The limit is due to be slashed from one milligram to 0.01 milligram per kilo, a hundredth of its current legal level.
India produces 60 per cent of the world’s basmati rice and accounts for 80 per cent of the EU’s imports, Kamall said.
Approximately 360,000 tons of the fragrant rice are imported each year by the EU, 150,000 of which come to Britain.
Earlier this summer, Indian government officials said they needed at least two crop cycles to adopt the new EU guidelines on tricyclazole.
However, if no resolution is found in the next few weeks, basmati from India could be banned in this country from as early as January 2018.
Kamall said: “You don’t need a PhD in business and economics to realise that if you ban imports from a country that grows 60 per cent of the world’s basmati rice, the price will go up.
“This could have a disastrous effect on farmers’ livelihoods in India – and at the same time we in Britain will end up paying more for our favourite rice.”
A spokesperson for one of Britain’s leading rice brands told Eastern Eye on Tuesday (17) that the import of the distinctive long-grained fragrant rice was going to be “tricky” in three months’ time.
“We have known about this issue for a long time and we have taken action accordingly,” the spokesperson said. “The imports from India are going to be quite tricky from January 2018 and it’ll be very difficult to import basmati rice from India because of tricyclazole concerns.”
The spokesperson added that there was uncertainty about revising the limits, although
there was an expectation that the evaluation process by the EU commission and Food Safety Agency (FSA) could take up to 18 months.
“We are expecting the limits to be revised down in June 2019. That is a huge amount of issue for the trade because you have to either import basmati rice from India now or you can’t supply any basmati and you have to go depend on Pakistan – which increases the price for the product,” the spokesperson explained.
The spokesperson also confirmed that prices of rice would increase due to the interest and storage cost of reimporting the product from India in 2017 to then supply it in 2018 and 2019.
India is arguing that the new restrictions for the use of the pesticide, used to combat rice blast disease, are “drastic” in contrast to other markets. In the US and Japan, the limits are 3mg/kg compared to the EU restrictions of 1mg/kg.
The Indian government said the limited time in which rules have been implemented is not enough for farmers to adapt their procedures.
Kamall called on the EU commission to delay the regulations, in order to make sure Indian farmers had time to make their crops conform, “especially since no-one is seriously claiming that Indian basmati rice had suddenly become unsafe to eat”.
Baroness Sheehan, a spokesperson on international development for the Liberal Democrats, said if the review concluded the measure should still be executed, enough time should be given to allow adaptation by Indian farmers.
She added that while the UK is still a member of the EU, asserting influence on the commission would be viable.
However, she went on: “Once we leave, there will be very little we can do to support Indian farmers and ensure this is done properly”
The Indian High Commission in London did not respond for a comment as Eastern Eye went to press.
Muneer Ahmad, first secretary from the Pakistan High Commission, confirmed to Eastern Eye that Pakistan exports of basmati rice are expected to increase in the EU markets.
Alex Waugh, the association secretary for UK Rice Association, said the issue has been under discussion for “quite a long time”.
“The government in India has been working hard to educate farmers and there has been quite a discussion over here on how to manage things,” he said.
A spokesperson at Indo European Foods Ltd confirmed that the company is taking necessary steps to ensure the product – Kohinoor basmati – they offer is “compliant” with EU standards.
“The issue will not affect our company adversely,” the spokesperson said. “We have always sourced basmati from both India and Pakistan and offer different products under different brands/labels in our portfolio. This strategy will continue.”
Surya Foods managing director Harry Dulai said the news was “great” as it ensured more diligence and care within the supply chain, as well as commenting consumers would not be subjected to high levels of pesticides.
Dulai also confirmed the pending EU regulation changes would have no bearing on the food chain. “We fully endorse these changes for improvement on farming methods and a credible sustainability path across the supply chain for the safety of our customers,” he added.
In the summer, Indian grain exporters had previously raised concerns about the EU regulations and said the trade could shift to Pakistan.
Earlier this year, Gurnam Arora, Kohinoor Foods Joint managing director, was quoted in
Indian media reports as saying that the EU norms are “unjust, one-sided and not in the interest of farmers,” and raised concerns the trade would shift over to Pakistan, which does not use the pesticide on its rice supplies.
A joint statement from the European Commission following the 14th India-EU Summit in New Delhi on October 6 said: “With regard to import tolerance level of tricyclazole in rice (Commission Regulation (EU) 2017/983) the relevant plant protection companies will be invited to present new scientific data in order for the European Food Safety Authority to carry out an additional risk assessment without delay.
“On this basis, the European Commission would expeditiously consider whether to review the above mentioned regulation.”
Kamall said: “Like most Brits I love a curry – and I like it with basmati rice. Nothing else is as aromatic and tasty. I don’t really think we need the EU banning imports because of scientific measurements rather than any overnight health concerns.”