India begins testing for glyphosate

Exporters see residue standards as a positive development because now they know what the country will tolerate

Exporters are facing yet another risk factor when shipping pulses to India.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has ordered its officers to direct laboratories to test imported pulses for glyphosate residue.

“There is a possibility of higher levels of residues of (the) herbicide glyphosate in pulses, thereby adversely affecting the health of consumers,” the agency said in its order dated Oct. 12.

India does not have its own maximum residue limits (MRL) for the herbicide, so it is using Codex levels of two milligrams per kilogram for beans and five milligrams per kg for peas and lentils.

Gord Bacon, chief executive officer of Pulse Canada, sees it as a positive development because before India had no MRL in place and when that is the case, the default is zero tolerance. It created uncertainty for exporters.

“Now we know,” he said.

Bacon can only speculate why India is suddenly going to test pulse imports for glyphosate residue.

“There is a glyphosate activist who was successful in getting some newsprint articles on glyphosate in the Indian media,” he said.

The activist noted in the articles that glyphosate has been identified as a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

What he failed to mention is that there are more than 900 other compounds on that list including caffeine and alcohol and that IARC failed to identify at what level of exposure glyphosate becomes a health risk.

Bacon doesn’t think Canadian exporters will have any problem meeting the Codex MRLs, so it will be business as usual to India. Unfortunately, that business is nearly non-existent these days.

Greg Kostal, president of Kostal Ag Consulting, said the glyphosate testing is just another potential trade barrier that came out of the blue.

“Certainly that can be perceived as just another layer of bureaucracy designed to slow, discourage, impair imports,” he said. “Not that they were going to happen anyway.”

Pulses are already facing punitive tariffs, quotas and fumigation penalties in the Indian market.

“It’s just another layer of headaches that exporters have to abide by,” said Kostal.

If Indian farmers meet the government’s target for pulse production there may be no exports to speak of. The government has set a target for 24 million tonnes of pulse production in 2018-19, which would be the second biggest crop on record next to last year’s 25 million tonne harvest.

China has increased its purchase of Canadian peas in the absence of India. The country bought one million tonnes in the last five months of 2017-18.

“I’m not optimistic we’re going to replicate that,” said Kostal.

China bought peas because soybean prices were high but with a bin-busting U.S. crop and big acres being planted in South America, peas are going to have a tougher time competing against soybeans this year.

Kostal said there has been no saviour for lentils.

“I don’t see any brand new demand,” he said.

The only way pulse markets will become balanced again is through a contraction in supply and that often requires two years. Peas and red lentils have been through one year of contraction but green lentils and chickpeas have not.

Kostal thinks Canadian pea carryout could be “snug” at the end of 2018-19 but he believes lentil carryout will be “healthy.”

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