India tops list of countries to export pest-infested fruit

The European Union and the United Kingdom will not reverse the ban on mangos imposed from May 1 until India meets the phytosanitary standards that will ensure they are pest-free.

The government was responding in an adjournment debate in Parliament secured by Keith Vaz, Labour MP from Leicester East, who has been leading a campaign against the ban.

Prime Minister David Cameron said in a reply to Mr. Vaz during question hour in Parliament that he looked forward to discussing the issue with the newly elected Indian Prime Minister.

Spelling out in Parliament the poor phytosanitary compliance standards that Indian exporters of fruit and vegetables to the E.U. had shown, and the deadly impact that pest-carrying food products could have on local agriculture, a spokesperson from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs presented a sobering response to why Mr. Vaz’s emotional appeal to the government to “reverse this painful and unnecessary decision” could not be met.

In the last couple of years India has topped the list of countries from where intercepted fruit and vegetable export consignments were found contaminated with pests that could pose “a threat to glasshouse production in the U.K. and across the E.U.”, Parliament was informed.

In addition to mango, the E.U. has banned aubergine, momordica or bitter gourd, snake gourd and patra leaves from import. The highest number of insect pests was recorded in import inspections by E.U. member States on these five species.

Bitter gourds carry Thrips palmi, and patra leaves carry tobacco whitefly, “pests that carry more than 100 viruses which could threaten production of U.K. salad crops,” the Defra official said.

If the fruit flies found with the mangos were even temporarily to establish themselves, they could undermine the U.K.’s pest status for its own exports.

The European Commission’s auditors, the Food and Veterinary Office, who visited India in both 2010 and 2013 identified major shortcomings with the export certification system in India.

Mr. Vaz earlier made a strong plea for reversing the ban which could result in a loss of £10 million.

He said that the ban would be a setback for the larger India-U.K. trade relationship, adding that the ban showed the E.U.’s “disrespect” for one-sixth of the globe.