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EU’s overreaction truly unwarranted

The European Union is known for its overzealous reaction to the smallest of errant actions on the part of Asian and African countries, but banning the import of India’s famous Alphonso mangoes, along with eggplant and bitter gourd, really tops the chart. The 28-member EU imposed the ban, effective from 1 May, after non-European fruit flies and other ‘pests’ were discovered in 207 consignments. While the health and safety lapse on part of India is indeed extremely serious and merits strict action, the EU’s retaliation with a blanket ban on the top fruit and four other vegetables for one whole year is indeed unwarranted. The EU’s hyper-reaction comes despite India making testing and certification from Federation of Indian Export Organisation (FIEO) mandatory, a move that was indeed long due. However, the EU’s overlooking of the effort to rectify the problem, clearly at the Indian end, is evidence of the ritual highhandedness with which the Western markets and regulators react to minor hiccups in the Asian side, which can be easily fixed. While the EU maintains that ‘significant shortcomings in the phytosanitory certification system’ of products imported from India, evidence of staggering amount of food wastage that results from the Union’s unnecessarily high quality standards is well documented. Obviously, if ‘quarantine pests, insects, and non-European fruit flies’ were to be found even after the event of unfortunate contamination came to light, then the reaction could have been said to be in good stead. What the EU should have done was to sound alarm, extract a high fine as penalty and issue a strict warning, instead of putting a blanket ban on the export of the king-size mangoes, a market that is worth almost GBP six million only within the United Kingdom, with a yearly import of over 16 millions. 

While it is understandable that the British and European authorities would be naturally concerned about the potential agricultural catastrophe that could be unleashed in case a pest infestation did occur, with stark threats to British tomato and cucumber crops from the non-habitat pests, what has been overlooked by the Anglo-European ‘health fanatics’ is the embargo’s effect on thousands of Asian agro retailers, shopkeepers, restaurant and corner-store owners in the continent. Most of these small- and medium-sized entrepreneurs are highly dependent on these pet Indian food items, particularly the Alphonso, but also eggplant and bitter gourd, all of which are staple ingredients in Indian and South Asian recipes. Moreover, the salad industry too is bound to be hit hard by this unexpected censure under the aegis of EU, and the hospitality industry is estimated to lose millions in both Europe and UK. In addition, the unsent mangoes and other vegetables are bound to create a supply glut in India , with fears of most of the unexported items rotting in the inefficient warehouses of the country sending shivers down the government’s spine. Unlike scandals originating in EU, such as horsemeat row of last year, the West manages to bare its hypocritical face every time breach occurs from Asian side.           

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