Kerala beware: Study finds high levels of banned pesticides in spices and condiments

While Kerala has been battling high levels of pesticide and insecticide residue in vegetables and fruits for several years, a new study has found that what we should be worried about are spices and condiments.

A team from the Kerala Agricultural University (KAU) headed by Thomas Biju Mathew, Professor and Associate Director at KAU, sampled vegetables, fruits, spices and condiments from vegetable shops, super and hyper markets and vegetable fairs and organic shops from Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Idukki, Pathanamthitta and Thrissur.

And what they found was shocking. While 30 sample of 13 types of spices and masalas were found to be safe, 25 samples of 12 items were found unsafe.

Not only did they have a higher than permissible residue of pesticides and insecticides, the team found that many of the samples had two pesticides that were banned by the Kerala government in 2011: Profenofos and Methyl Parathion, also called cotton poison.

In fact, one sample of cardamom has 3.39 ppm (parts per million) of Profenofos – the permitted quantity of residue where this pesticide is not banned stands at 0.01 ppm. Profenofos was also found in chillies (long dry), cumin powder and cumin seeds.

A sample of dry ginger powder had 4.85 ppm of Methyl Parathion – permitted at 1 ppm where it isn’t banned. All other samples of this condiment were found to contain 3.52 ppm of the chemical.

Insecticide and pesticide residues were found in samples of cardamom, chilli (long dry), chilli powder, cumin powder, cumin seeds, curry masala, dry ginger powder, fennel powder, garam masala, Kashmiri chilli powder, kasuri methi and tea powder. All of them are inevitably used in Kerala cuisine.

Cardamom was among the spices with the highest residues – nine different types of chemicals were found in the seven samples of the spice.

Speaking to The News Minute, Prof Thomas Biju said, “We have mentioned the amount of pesticides or insecticides present in the samples. But since the Food Safety Department has not yet declared the allowed measurements of these pesticides in each species, we cannot say how dangerous it is. Setting up those standards is a long process and we need that at the earliest as almost all the species has been contaminated with pesticides.”

“The trend is dangerous in case of spices, more government attention is needed,” he added.

This study comes after months of concern in Kerala over high levels of pesticide and insecticide residues in fruits and vegetables – which were also included in this study by KAU. Of the samples examined, 36 fruits, vegetables and greens were found to be safe. However, green chillies and coriander also had high levels of chemical residue – with Profenofos found in the coriander sample.

The study was done with 75 samples in 25 types of spices and condiments, and a majority had pesticide presence. Profenofos, Ethion, Bifenthrin, Cypermethrin, Quinalphos, Lambda Cyhalothrin, Chlorpyriphos and Methyl Parathion were the identified pesticides or insecticides in the examined samples.

The samples were collected in a time frame of January 2017 to March 2017.

Article Originally Published at The News Minute

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