At a time when the residue level in Indian teas is being debated, the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) Inter-governmental Group on tea has found that, in general, food safety standards might have a deterring effect on trade if exporters fail to comply with regulations.
The implications of MRLs (maximum residue levels) on tea trade were discussed by the Inter-governmental Group at its recent meeting in Indonesia. It is a forum for inter-governmental consultation and exchange on trends in production, consumption, trade and price of tea.
The FAO felt that the MRL standards had a much larger effect on trade than import tariffs, and any cost-related disruption in supply could increase prices, leading to price volatility.
As one of the food safety standards, MRLs set the maximum level of pesticide residue that can be traced in food and food products to ensure food safety.
MRL regulations vary across countries, and there is no international agreement on harmonisation of regulations. The European Union has increased the number of pesticides regulated for tea. The number is now 45.
The FAO study found that China’s export to major European partners decreased significantly after 2000, most likely due to the regulations. The FAO also noted that if the importing country was large enough, prices would rise in that particular import market following the supply-disruption It might also have a negative impact for employment and gender, especially in developing countries.
India recently came under attack from Greenpeace which alleged that Indian teas were laced with banned pesticides.
The Tea Board of India maintains that Indian tea is subject to some of the most stringent standards globally, and 37 Plant Protection Codes (PCC) (chemicals) have been identified as permissible for use in Indian tea growth. MRLs are also in place.
The PPC is a comprehensive document, which lays down the manner in which chemicals are going to be used safely in tea cultivation.