Tea planters body North Eastern Tea Association (NETA) has urged the Assam government and the Centre to take immediate measures such as prohibiting the sale of certain pesticides and approving two other pesticides for use in tea cultivation to ensure that all teas produced in Assam are compliant with Food and Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).

“You are well aware of the fact that 50 per cent of the total green leaf is produced by the Small Tea Growers (STGs). Due to a lack of awareness, the STGs spray some pesticides that are not approved for use in tea. However, these pesticides, which are not approved for use in tea, are available on the open market because they can be used in other crops. Tea is the lifeline industry of Assam; 90 per cent of total exports from Assam are tea alone; lakhs and lakhs of people’s livelihoods are dependent upon this industry,” NETA, which submitted a memorandum to Assam Agriculture Minister Atul Bora, said.

According to the memorandum of the tea planters body, in recent days, during testing of teas, it was found that six pesticides — Cypermethrin, Acephate, Imidacloprid, Acetamiprid, Dinotefuran, and Fipronil — which are not approved for use in tea, have sometimes crossed the Maximum Residue Limit (MRL). The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), vide a directive dated March 4, 2024, made it mandatory to test these pesticides. “We envisage that 90 per cent of our FSSAI compliance issue in tea would get resolved if these six pesticides are prohibited from selling to tea growers...,” it said.

Confidence over compliance

A delegation of NETA, led by its chairman Ajay Dhandharia, met Bora on Sunday and submitted the memorandum on ways and means to resolve the present crisis on “FSSAI compliance in tea”.

NETA has also said the Tea Research Association (TRA) has submitted a dossier to Central Insecticides Board & Registration Committee (CIB&RC) for extension of label claim of Acetamiprid and Imidacloprid for tea. “TRA has also submitted copies of the dossier to the Director of Agriculture, Assam, seeking necessary help. Once MRLs are fixed for Acetamiprid and Imidacloprid, we are confident that 90 per cent of the teas (if not 100 per cent) produced in Assam will become FSSAI compliant,” it said.

“We solicit your help in getting the extension of label claim of Acetamiprid and Imidacloprid for tea from CIB&RC and finally declaration of MRL by FSSAI, for which we remain ever grateful to you,” NETA advisor Bidyananda Barkakoty wrote in a letter to the Assam Agriculture Minister.

FSSAI compliance is a sensitive subject which needs to be handled with utmost care, Barkakoty added.