Phos­phine is a safe and ef­fec­tive fu­mi­gant, claims study

The Hindu Business Line - - COMMODITIE­S - TV JAYAN

Phos­phine may be as ef­fec­tive as the ozone-de­plet­ing methyl bro­mide (MB) in killing in­sect pests and can be used as quar­an­tine fu­mi­gant at ports, ac­cord­ing to a study by the In­dian Coun­cil of Agri­cul­tural Re­search (ICAR) sci­en­tists.

Ac­cord­ing to Su­mi­tra Arora, Direc­tor of the New Delhi-based Na­tional Cen­tre for In­te­grated Pest Man­age­ment, a lab af­fil­i­ated to the ICAR, who led the two-year­long study, the re­sults have al­ready been sub­mit­ted to the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, which spon­sored the study.

Thor­ough study

Sci­en­tists from NCIPM and other ICAR in­sti­tutes con­ducted ex­per­i­ments in four dif­fer­ent agro-cli­matic lo­ca­tions us­ing grains such as wheat and rice as well as pulses. “We found that phos­phine is 100 per cent ef­fec­tive against the pests,” she told a con­fer­ence here last week. Phos­phine, a fu­mi­gant in a gaseous form, is nor­mally pro­duced us­ing alu­minium phos­phate as sub­strate.

Even though In­dia, un­der the Mon­treal Pro­to­col it signed and rat­i­fied, was com­mit­ted to phase out MB and other ozone-de­plet­ing sub­stances (ODS) by 2015, the fu­mi­gant is still used at In­dian ports for treat­ing ce­re­als and pulses im­ported from other coun­tries to quar­an­tine in­sect pests.

“The gov­ern­ment has been ex­tend­ing the permission to use MB at In­dian ports ev­ery six months and the ap­proval is cur­rently valid till June 20 this year,” said Ujjwal Ku­mar, a se­nior of­fi­cial with the chem­i­cal firm UPL at the con­fer­ence. The study found that phos­phine is 100 per cent ef­fec­tive against in­sect pests

Ku­mar, who is head of fu­mi­gant busi­ness for In­dia and South East Asia at UPL, said 95 per cent of the coun­tries in the world have phased out MB and only In­dia and a few South East Asian coun­tries cur­rently per­mit the use of MB. The fu­mi­gant is said to have 60 times ozone-de­plet­ing po­ten­tial than re­frig­er­ant chlo­rofluro­car­bons, which has al­ready been phased out glob­ally.

“In­dia has been pe­nal­is­ing those who are ex­port­ing food prod­ucts with­out treat­ing them with MB and this has been an is­sue of con­tention in many bi­lat­eral trade deals,” Ku­mar said.

Ac­cord­ing to him, ship­ments to In­dia not pre­treated with MB are fu­mi­gated with MB off­shore or on­shore, but by levy­ing five times the cost of fu­mi­ga­tion from ex­porters as penalty. “While many ma­jor economies were get­ting away with putting pres­sure on New Delhi, oth­ers have no choice but pay the penalty,” Ku­mar said.

Cur­rent phos­phine use

It is not that In­dia has not been us­ing phos­phine as fu­mi­gant. As it banned the use of MB in do­mes­tic ware­houses, phos­phine is used in its place. This is be­cause of MB is not good for re­peated use as it leaves residues in the grains.

“The grains stored in ware­houses need to be fu­mi­gated ev­ery three months and phos­phine, which has no resid­ual buildup is pre­ferred for this,” said Chi­tra Sri­vas­tava, pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of entomology at the In­dian Agri­cul­tural Re­search In­sti­tute in New Delhi.

Ac­cord­ing to S Ra­jen­dran, for­mer sci­en­tist at the My­suru-based Cen­tral Food Tech­no­log­i­cal Re­search In­sti­tute, one of the rea­sons why MB is pre­ferred as quar­an­tine pest fu­mi­gant is that it is fast-act­ing. “While MB is ca­pa­ble of killing pests like grain bor­ers, bee­tles and wee­vils in less than 24 hours, phos­phine takes al­most five days. Time is money in ex­port-im­port busi­ness,” Ra­jen­dran said.

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