To avoid the ban on Indian betel leaves by Europe (after the European Union [EU] reported alerts that they were contaminated), the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Exports Development Authority (APEDA) made several advisories to those exporting them to be undertake their pre-export testing.
One of them, signed by Vinod Kumar Kaul, deputy general manager, informed, “There have been reports of likelihood of betel leaves becoming the next product to be banned by EU. Exporters are hereby cautioned that they must immediately stop the export of betel leaves unless the consignment is tested through APEDA-recognised laboratories confirming compliance with EU norms.”
Prior to the ban on betel leaves, trade relations with the EU were already on a shaky ground, with the ban of mangoes, eggplant and bitter gourd. The EU accounts for about 20 per cent of betel leaves exports from India. Indian trade delegation is in constant touch with the European counterparts to avoid any ban.
For the same reasons, Bangladesh was banned from exporting betel leaves to European countries from 2012. In a recent meeting, the European Commission decided to extend the ban till 2015. The Indian market fear a similar ban on Indian consignments.
Betel leaves are primarily imported from India by EU countries with large Asian populations. Generally betel leaves are used as mouth fresheners served post-meals. Many retail stores and Asian culinary stores import betel leaves for sale. Betel leaves worth $6.60 million were exported by India in 2013-14. Of this, $0.14 million were exported to the EU, mainly the United Kingdom.
The EU’s Food and Feed Safety report said, “Concerning new listings, the following commodities would be added to the list of feed and food which are subject to reinforced border checks - enzymes (feed and food) from India at a control frequency of physical and identity checks of 50 per cent for their possible contamination with chloramphenicol, betel leaves from India for their possible contamination with Salmonella.”
Pankaj Jaiminy, assistant vice-president (food, health and beauty), TÜV SÜD South Asia, said, “The quality concerns associated with export of betel leaves is the detection of Salmonella bacteria. The organism is highly pathogenic, known to cause typhoid fever and food poisoning. Traditional farming practices, unhygienic handling and storage of harvested leaves add to high contamination levels.”
Jaiminy said, “Fresh produce is known to have high microbial presence but steps to reduce pathogen levels need to be initiated. Training and awareness programmes on handling fresh produce post-harvesting will reduce fresh cases of contamination.”
“Mandatory pre-export testing for pathogens in fresh produce would help in the identification of contaminated produce. The constant ban of Indian agricultural produce would affect the image of the country and have a negative impact on the exports in the long run,” he added.