Among the 497 samples of vegetables taken from different sources, KAU found pesticide residue in only 5.6% vegetables.

Kerala Agricultural University study finds pesticide residue in organic vegetablesSreekesh Raveendran Nair
news Agriculture Monday, November 19, 2018 - 18:27

A study of vegetables conducted by the Pesticide Residue Analytical Laboratory (PRAL) of Kerala Agriculture University at the College of Agriculture at Vellayani in Thiruvananthapuram, has intriguing findings about pesticide contamination levels of the vegetables we eat. Of the 5.6% vegetables found to have pesticide residue from its sample, 11.2% were those labelled ‘organic’, and had traces of chemical contamination from pesticides and insecticides. 

Incidentally, Dr Ambily, who headed this study conducted between the period of January 2018 to June 2018, told TNM that of the four categories of vegetables studied, it was the vegetables labelled ‘organic’ that actually showed the highest rates of contamination. 

“We were studying the ordinary kinds of vegetables that make up the average person’s diet in Kerala. These included cucumber, chilly, coriander, red amaranth, beans, green chilly, snake gourd, beetroot, and curry leaves, among others,” Dr Ambily said. They had taken 497 samples altogether of different vegetables which were divided into four categories: samples from the open market, samples directly from the farms or farm-based samples, organically labelled vegetables or organic samples, and from government-run eco-shops. 

“Of all the vegetables studied, the total percentage of vegetables found with pesticide residue was only 5.4%. Of the different kinds of vegetables we studied, in the open market samples, we found 7.6% contamination. From eco-shops, which are run by Department of Agriculture department officials, it is 6.4%. From organic labeled vegetables it was 11.1%, whereas from farm-based samples it was only 3.8%,” Dr Ambily points out. 

Ironically, she observes, organic labeled vegetables are usually sold at nearly twice the cost of other vegetables. She continued, “Fruits are 99% free from pesticide residue. The only fruits that tend to commonly be contaminated are grapes.” 

Worryingly, the study also revealed that traces of 18 toxic pesticides, which were banned in 2011, continue to be found in vegetables sold at different sources even today. 

Dr Ambily stresses that these are the findings from a limited number of samples in the January-June 2018 edition of this study, and that the findings are likely to change with each study. While the latest edition of this study spanned six months, it has usually been releasing every three months since 2013. 

TNM contacted Kerala Minister for Agriculture, Advocate VS Sunil Kumar, to ask about the high number of ‘organic’ labelled vegetables being sold in the market while bearing pesticide residue, and about the Ministry’s statement and future plans to rectify the same. He responded heatedly, “You have already spoken to the madam concerned. Why are you calling me then?” before disconnecting abruptly. 

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