TEA WATCH: Tea test near home before export – the stamp of Siliguri on Darjeeling or vice versa or simply a ploy at brand dilution ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY VIVEK CHHETRI
Darjeeling, Oct. 25: The Tea Board of India has decided to set up a laboratory in Siliguri to control the export quality of brew and test it to see if it meets international standards, a first-of-its-kind government initiative in the country that is expected to be a major boon for the export-driven Darjeeling tea industry.
India, according to Tea Board figures, exports around 200 million kg of tea annually, which is around Rs 2300 crore.
The laboratory will be set up at a cost of Rs 9.4 crore by Eurofins, a Germany-based company, and will be funded by the Union ministry of commerce. The project is expected to become functional by March 2012.
“Various quality parameters like minimum residual levels (of pesticides) in tea can be checked at the laboratory. Checks on bio-fertilisers and its components can also be evaluated and the facilities can be used not just by the tea industry but by other agricultural sectors as well,” said Amalkanti Roy Chowdhury, joint director of the Tea Board.
Setting up such a facility is significant because all export commodities have to comply with international standards on food safety.
“Every country has their own standards on issues like permissible MRLs and the facility will play a role in ensuring that export is not rejected in the international market,” said Chowdhury.
Sanjay Prakash Bansal, chairperson of the Darjeeling Tea Association, told The Telegraph over the phone from Calcutta that the association had been demanding such a facility since 2004. Once the project is completed, the DTA would be running it.
“This is a significant project for the industry and is a major investment by the government to ensure quality product as almost 70 per cent (of the 9 million kg of made tea) of the Darjeeling produce is exported annually. This will also facilitate continuous market access,” said Bansal. There have been instances when orders for tea exported from India, not necessarily Darjeeling tea, were cancelled after they reached offshore because of poor quality.
Bansal, who owns one of the highest numbers of gardens in the Darjeeling hills, said most exporters sent their tea samples abroad for testing. “This means a delay of almost two months to get the result and that is a significant amount of time,” said Bansal.
The Siliguri facility will be set up at the Tea Park. “Eurofins has 146 such centres across the world. In India there are only three such private facilities located in Hyderabad, Gurgaon and Delhi,” said Bansal.
Such is the international focus on food safety that a garden official said “countries like Japan are not very comfortable about using even plants like neem instead of pesticides in organic gardens. They believe that even neem is toxic”.
Sandeep Mukherjee, secretary of the DTA, said exporters of other commodities like mango and pineapple can also get their product tested at the Centre.
“The laboratory will be set up on a public-private partnership basis where the DTA will be the private component of the partnership,” said Mukherjee.