Poison in Cardamom used for Shabarimala Prasadam – Pesticide Regulation at Fault
Press release | 6th January 2023
Food testing laboratory in Thiruvananthapuram found residues of hazardous pesticides in cardamom used in the Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple for preparing Prasadam, following a court direction to test the quality. Three pesticides, namely imidacloprid, tebuconazole and fipronil which are not approved for use in cardamom were reported in levels exceeding the permissible limit, indicating faulty pesticide regulation in the country.
It was reported in the media on 4th January, 2023 that a food testing laboratory in Thiruvananthapuram released a report wherein the presence of pesticides was detected beyond permissible levels in cardamom used in ‘Aravana Payasam’, the famous prasadam given to devotees at the Shabarimala Lord Ayyappa Temple. The study was done following the direction of Kerala High Court in response to a petition filed by ‘Ayyappa Spices’ for a quality analysis of cardamom used in aravana payasam, and the samples were drawn on 23rd December 2022. Kerala High court has now sought the views of the Union government.
Pesticides and pesticide residues are being found in food in Kerala more frequently these days. From a recent murder by giving refreshments and medicine laced with pesticide (Paraquat, a herbicide in the trade name Kapiq) that has shocked the Kerala populace beyond belief to the ‘Safe to eat food program’ analytical reports had shown pesticide residues in chilies and other vegetables, stories of pesticide are making an appearance in our daily life. Kerala Agricultural Minister, P. Prasad, in a meet-the-press program on 2nd September, 2022, declared that 40 % of the total food found in the local market had the presence of pesticides.
Studies have shown that pesticide application on Indian cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) crop, native to rain forest of western ghats to India, is very high compared to other crops and has made it a highly economical system for export and trade. Survey in the cardamom hills have shown an increased pesticide application.
Aravana payasam is made with parboiled red rice and jaggery, and is fried in ghee and garnished with cardamom at the end. The amount of ghee and boiled rice is considered a reason for higher shelf life of payasam. In 2019, a daily demand of two lakh containers was mentioned by Kerala Devaswam Board. Makara Masam and Mandala Masam are the two occasions which attract lakhs of pilgrims from all parts of India and the world to this pilgrimage at Pathanamthitta. Every devotee purchases aravana prasadham, as an offering to the Lord resulting in high demand.
According to the latest report released by the food testing laboratory in Thiruvananthapuram,
presence of three pesticides, imidacloprid, tebuconazole and fipronil in limits above MRL (Maximum Residue Limit) was found in cardamom. Our observations on these 3 pesticides:
- All these three pesticides are categorized as Highly Hazardous Pesticides according to PAN International standards
- As per registration, these pesticides are not recommended for use in cardamom
- They cause acute and chronic health effects in humans
Tebuconazole is a fungicide which is recommended for 10 crops nationally and available in 6 different formulations in India under different brand names such as Folicur, Orius, Tebustar, and AnCure. However, it is not recommended for use in cardamom. Recommended crops for Tebuconazole application are Wheat, groundnut, chickpea, chilli, rice, onion, soybean, black gram, cumin, and cabbage. It is found to cause carcinogenicity and reproductive disorders and is a suspected endocrine disruptor (hormone imbalance).
Imidacloprid is a neonicotinoid poisonous pesticide, recommended for 19 crops in India, but not for cardamom. It is commercially available in the name of Gaucho, Imdia, Atom, Imida Gold etc and in 9 different formulations. It is a suspected neurotoxicant.
Fipronil is abroad spectrum contact insecticide. It is recommended for 8 crops nationally which are rice, cabbage, chilli, sugar cane, wheat, grapes, onion, and cotton. Eight formulations of fipronil are available in India. Fipronil is banned in 38 countries across the world. It is also a possible carcinogen, potent neurotoxicant and endocrine disruptor.
It is apparent that there is inadequate regulation of pesticides in India. Despite increasing reports of pesticide residues in food, pesticide poisoning of farmers and farm workers in rural areas, extinction of birds and other forms of life poisoned by pesticides and loss of biodiversity, pesticide usage is continuing and is being encouraged. Prasadam, of a deity, is considered safe, auspicious, sacred and life nurturing food. Inadvertently, pesticide poisons have entered this sacred food, which is held in high esteem by devotees. This unquestioned intake of prasadam is getting challenged due to pesticide residues.
It is time we all work towards getting rid of these poisons. Prasadam without poisons should be the goal. Farmers should be encouraged and educated to avoid pesticides on cardamom, in general and on raw materials that are essential for prasadam in particular.
PAN India appeals to regulatory authorities in Kerala and outside to develop an action programme to realise this goal. This programme should deliver a win-win outcome for farmers and devotees. Kerala has been a pioneer in pesticide management in India. This tag can be used to get rid of pesticide usage in cardamom plantations. Even ghee and jaggery which is used for prasadam should be free of pesticides. Pesticide-free food is the right of every consumer. Government has to ensure that the consumer has a right to choose safe food.
Dr. Narasimha Reddy, Phone 90102 05742
A. D. Dileep Kumar, Phone 94473 40748
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