New technology spells hope for farmers, exporters

Monday, 29 November 2004, 08:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) is awaiting approval for a technology that will cut down on heavy post-harvest losses of fruits, vegetables and food grains in an environment and health-friendly manner.

Due to poor handling facilities and infections, Indian agriculture loses nearly 15-50 percent of its produce. Food-borne diseases also cause the death of thousands.

But researchers at the Trombay-based (near Mumbai) nuclear research centre said their irradiation technology, which destroys bacteria and extends the shelf life of food products, was a boon for farmers and exporters.

"India is one of the few countries to have the irradiation technology, which is approved under global food safety laws, to inhibit sprouting, delay ripening, prevent insects and extend the shelf life of agricultural products," said A.K. Sharma, head of BARC's Food Technology Division.

And unlike fumigation, the technology does not affect the environment or workers' health, he said.

While irradiation is used across a range of products in the US, China and some other countries, India restricts it to mango, onion, potato, rice, semolina, powdered wheat, spices, meat, poultry and sea food.

"We are now asking for a generic approval for fruits, vegetable and food grains," Sharma told reporters here.

"Setting up an irradiation facility involves a lot of investment and most of the products being seasonal, operating the facility will not be viable otherwise."

The technology involves the controlled application of ionising radiations like gamma rays, x-rays and accelerated electrons.

Gamma rays are highly penetrative and can be used on large quantities of products even when they are packaged.

Accelerate electron processing units handle only smaller quantities, but are faster and cheaper, Sharma said.

BARC set up the first technology demonstration unit in 2002 using gamma radiation from a cobalt-60 source.

It is currently helping private investors, cooperatives and institutions set up around a dozen processing plants for various products.

Sharma said their application for a generic approval had already been screened by the National Monitoring Agency and an expert group.

"While seeking approval we have also given model regulations of the Philippines and have submitted a proposal to harmonise India's regulation with those of ASEAN countries to facilitate exports," said Sharma.

According to another BARC scientist, India has been able to retain its share in the international pets food market only with the help of irradiation technology since new safety regulations were enforced in Europe.

"India was facing problems from Germany due to the presence of salmonella in pet food. The availability of irradiation facilities in Maharashtra and West Bengal has opened up the export market for Indian pet food manufacturers and is helping farmers greatly," the scientist said.

Source: IANS
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