From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Edible Oil imports of India
Mains level : NA
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India had decided this on March 31. This would end the practice to add other edible oil (like palms, rice bran, etc) to mustard oil.
Why such move?
- This is good news for mustard farmers whose fortunes were adversely hit as up to a fifth of mustard oil volume could earlier be blends of other oils.
- But why did India start the practice in the first place? And how has it affected consumer health?
Answer this question from CSP 2018:
Q.Consider the following statements:
- The quantity of imported edible oils is more than the domestic production of edible oils in the last five years.
- The Government does not impose any customs duty on all the imported edible oils as a special case.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2
Why did the blending begin?
- The Union health ministry had allowed blending in edible vegetable oil in a notification in 1990.
- In 1998, Delhi and other north Indian states witnessed the dropsy epidemic — a disease that caused swelling in the body due to the build-up of fluid in tissues.
- At least 60 people died and 3,000 were hospitalized in the national capital.
- Researchers believed the consumption of mustard oil caused the disease.
Adulteration is hazardous
- Upon investigation, it was found to be adulterated with Argemone Mexicana, a kind of weed that grows with yellow flowers.
- The adulteration, however, was highly suspicious: While mustard is a rabi crop that is cultivated in the winters, Argemone Mexicana grows in April-May.
- This meant that the possibility of mixing mustard seeds with that Argemone mexicana was rare.
- The suspicious adulteration stoked fear among the masses. It started a campaign against the consumption of oil.
- Several studies have found mustard oil unsafe for consumption.
The 1990 decision
- Experts have claimed that the blending of mustard oil was not only dangerous to health but also adversely impacted mustard farming.
- Some groups have also flagged the blending of refined oil.
- Following the Union health ministry’s 1990 notification allowing for the blending of edible vegetable oil, the FSSAI rolled out regulations in the regard in 2006.
- Producers and other companies involved in blending were regularised through the Agriculture Produce (Grading and Marking) Act (AGMARK).
- It also made it mandatory to write the kind of oil used for blending over the packet.
- The companies involved in blending strongly advocated for the cause, despite reports about its excess and unregulated use. The governments over the years have been tight-lipped about it.
Has blending led to dependence over the import of oil?
- In 1990-91, India was self-reliant in mustard oil production and produced 98 percent of the oil needed.
- Blending mustard oil with other edible oils considered to bolster nutritional profile, taste, and quality.
- Despite the harmful effects, the processing industry took advantage of blending.
- Cheap palm oil would be blended up to 80 percent in mustard oil sometimes.
- As a result, profits of mustard farmers dried up, which discouraged them from cultivating the crop.
- This could be one of the reasons behind India’s increasing dependency on oil imports over the last two decades.