The Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) moved to mandate testing of imported pesticides upon arrival, arguing that substandard pesticides with heavy metals are seriously contaminating agro produce.
According to the move, all imported pesticide items were supposed to be tested at ports from July 1, before making their way to the local market.
However, the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) has barred the initiative, claiming that testing the imported chemicals at ports will affect the country's agriculture.
A high official of the food safety authority alleged that a vested quarter in the DAE allows substandard and heavy metals contaminated pesticide imports. The group is obstructing the testing initiative for their own interest.
"Most of the imported items go through testing at the port. For those products, testing neither obstructs nor slows down the import," the food safety official preferring anonymity argued.
The DAE in a recent letter to the agriculture ministry said, "Testing the imported pesticides will hamper agricultural production of the country. Therefore, we request that the move be scrapped."
When contacted, the secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Mohammad Nasiruzzaman, told The Business Standard that they have requested the food ministry to cancel the pesticide testing initiative.
The Food Safety Authority is an autonomous national food safety regulatory agency which works under the Ministry of Food.
Defending the DAE, the agriculture secretary added, "The BFSA is supposed to work on food safety. They could have suggested this to us about pesticides if they could show how the imported pesticides were contaminating food items. But they did not conduct such an investigation."
The BFSA last year tested 47 imported pesticides at its laboratory and found 42 of them to have high-levels of heavy metals like lead, cadmium and chromium. The BFSA said those contaminated pesticides are polluting land and harvested crops. Agro produce with the heavy metals can end up causing numerous health issues too.
The BFSA notified the DAE and National Board of Revenue (NBR) about the findings. The authority requested the NBR to task the Atomic Energy Centre to test every imported pesticide consignment before releasing them from the ports.
In a separate letter to the DAE, BFSA requested cancellation of the licenses of the importers who are found to be bringing in health-hazard agro chemicals.
The DAE then said importers must be made aware of the health risks first before mandating the tests. A meeting of the DAE, Food Safety Authority and pesticide importers decided to implement testing from July 1 next.
But the DAE took an opposite stance at the last moment by advocating cancellation of tests for imported pesticides instead of implementing the previous decision.
Md Mahbub Kabir, former acting chairman of the BFSA, said the Food Safety Authority has the jurisdiction to look into any issue in the food production and supply chain.
"Pesticide tests at ports will neither hamper import nor crop production. This is because all other imported products come to the local market once they pass tests at ports," added Mahbub.