EIA's Diktat: Seafood Exporters Plan EU Market Boycott

Kochi, September 25: | Updated: Sep 26 2002, 05:30am hrs
The decision of the Export Inspection Agency (EIA) directing five major seafood units in the country to stop production and export has left several seafood exporters agitated, forcing them to stop exports to Europe.

The units under ban are the the HLL plant in Chorwad, International Creative Foods, Vashi, Choice Canning Company Kochi, Integrated Rubian, Aroor and Victoria Marines, Chennai. These units accounted for 90 per cent of the value-added products. These units were showpiece factories. Seventeen other export houses have been placed under compulsory consignment inspection before export.

Choice company managing director Jose Thomas, who was also past president of the Kerala chapter of the Seafood Exporters Association of India said an informal meeting of seafood exporters was convened and it was decided that a move on boycotting the European market be taken.

The move to take action against the five companies came as a result of the recent finding of antibiotic residue in a few consignments exported to Europe and their rejection.

Mr Thomas said the as far as the European market was concerned, there was no chance for facility for re-inspection or recall. Interestingly, 80 per cent of the consignments sent back were material caught from the sea. The presence of antibiotics in such consignments was inexplicable and improbable. Also, in case there was antibiotic residue, the material would have been destroyed and not sent back.

The Choice group had such a rejection in February and the consignment was reinspected and re-exported. He added that there was no facility in the country to inspect the material as per EU norms. The EU standard level of antibiotics was 0.3 parts per billion. The EIA did not have the equipment to test this, he added. Such equipment would need an investment of over Rs 2 crore and it would not be possible for the individual units to have such a facility. The only unit that had such equipment was HLL which incidentally came under the EIA ban.

The share of the European market in the Rs 6,000-crore industry was a mere Rs 500 crore. There was no dearth of orders. As far as the Choice group was concerned, only 1 per cent of its exports went to Europe. The industry after the EU ban in the mid-90s had invested nearly 200 crore in upgrading the facilities to meet the EU norms. In Kerala, 47 units were upgraded at a cost of over Rs 70 crore. Incidentally, during his visit to Kerala last week, the commerce secretary had visited the Choice factory and was all praise for it, he added.

To add to the woes, there were only guidelines regarding the use of antibiotics and no regulations as in Vietnam, Thailand or China. There was no law in place and in such circumstances such a ban would do harm to the industry which only bought the material and processed it. There was no use of antibiotics during the process, he added.

A delegation of exporters has rushed to Delhi to deliberate on the matter with the authorities concerned.