KARACHI, Dec 2: Vegetable and fruit samples tested by the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (Parc) over the past three years have been found highly contaminated with pesticide residues.
Samples of animal feed, corn, brown rice, dry fruit and chillies were also found contaminated with aflatoxin (a kind of naturally occurring toxin).
The Parc laboratory tested 115 samples of apples, 226 of citrus, 189 of mango, 85 of spinach, 195 of cauliflower, 59 each of lady finger and brinjal, 44 of tomato and 76 samples of chillies.
The percentage of samples exceeding maximum residue limits (MRL) were; apples (19pc), citrus (28pc), (34pc), spinach (28pc), cauliflower (42pc), lady finger (39pc), brinjal (34pc), tomato (25pc) and chillies (76).
More than 200 samples of chillies, 75 of dry fruit, 20 of brown rice, 189 of wheat, 50 of corn and 30 samples of animal feed were tested for aflatoxin contamination (according to the EU and US limits).
Samples exceeding EU limits were found to be chillies (23pc), dry fruit (7pc), brown rice (40pc), wheat (nil), corn (36pc) and animal feed (40pc).
Samples exceeding US limits were found to be chillies (9.2pc), dry fruit (1.3pc), brown rice (10pc), wheat (nil), corn (6pc) and animal feed (13.3pc).
Samples of agricultural products, wheat, rice, pumpkins, chillies, tomato, spinach, lady finger, mango, citrus and date did not show any toxic metal contamination. Samples of rice and wheat were not found contaminated with pesticide residues.
Dr Mubarik Ahmed, director general of Parc, said that food contamination was a major issue that had not only endangered public health but also badly affected the country’s exports.
According to him, 122 exportable Pakistani food products were rejected in 2002 on account of food contamination. Their number increased to 135 in 2003, 146 in 2004 and 162 in 2005. The number of rejections, however, dropped in 2006 as 127 food products were rejected.
“But, again there was a steep rise in rejections in the following year as 169 food products were rejected in 2007. There were 97 rejections the next year,” he explained while giving a year-wise break-up.
These food products, he said, were rejected by the United States, the European Union and Australia and statistics showed that mycotoxins were the major reason for rejection (in 35pc cases) followed by product composition (34.38pc), unauthorised additives (12pc), microbiological contaminants (6.25pc), organoleptic properties (aspects of food and other substances as experienced by the senses, 3.75pc), veterinary drug residues (2.5pc), heavy metals (2pc), foreign bodies (2pc), pesticide residues (0.63pc), labelling (0.63) and allergens (0.63).
Pakistan has also received alert notifications by EU member states over the past five years. Objections were raised over traces of rodent faeces in chickpeas and lentils, mycotoxins (toxin produced in fungi), colour Sudan 1 and colour Sudan 4 (textile dyes which are carcinogenic) in spice mixes, uric acid in chilli pickle and mixed pickle, ochratoxins (a group of mycotoxins) and aflatoxins in extra hot chilli powder, hydrocyanic acid in bitter apricot kernels, salmonella Edinburgh and too high count of enterobacteriaceae (a family of bacteria) in chilli powder and sesame seeds.
Currently, Pakistan faces export restrictions by Iran (wheat), Saudi Arabia (honey), Sri Lanka (onion), Japan (mangoes), Egypt (rice), The Philippines (citrus fruit) and the EU (fish and livestock). These restrictions are related to pesticide, insecticide contamination and quarantine issues.
“We can address local and international concerns over food products only by adopting good manufacturing practices, quality assurance systems and a food control system for import and exports with efficient regulatory structure to ensure consumers protection,” Dr Ahmed said.
At present, he said, Pakistan did not have any food safety authority to check concerns over food quality.
The National Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service project which was set up five years ago was initially envisaged to turn into a food-safety authority but the plan did not materialise while a draft bill prepared to legislate for such a body has not been be tabled in the assembly so far.
“This body would work at the federal level in collaboration with provincial partners. The objective is to ensure compliance with international sanitary, phytosanitary and food safety standards and, at the same time, attend to local concerns.
“We also need to update our food laws which are decades old,” Dr Ahmed said, adding that the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority lacked the authority to enforce food laws.