Certify that your basmati doesn't have bugs: US to India

New York: Indian rice exporters will have to jump through hoops to get their product into America as customs officials at Chicago's O'Hare airport were spooked to find Khapra beetle larvae in bags of rice which had traveled from India.

"Chicago agriculture specialists working in the O'Hare cargo located two 10 pound bags of rice among a shipment from India of household items and upon examination found a Khapra beetle cast skin and larvae," Cherise Miles, spokesperson for Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), told Firstpost.

The Indian shipment was later destroyed.

 Certify that your basmati doesnt have bugs: US to India

A Khapra beetle found in a shipment of rice sent to the US. CBP

The clamour about the Khapra beetle is bad news for India which is the second-largest rice producer in the world after China. India usually exports more than two million tonnes of rice a year despite a government ban on non-basmati rice to try and control soaring domestic food costs. India earned Rs 10,838 crore last year by exporting rice chiefly to the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Europe and the United States.

India will now have to fight the Khapra beetle to make sure its rice exports are not tarnished. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has already branded the Khapra beetle as one of the world's 'most destructive pests' and ordered customs to confiscate any rice being carried into the US by passengers. If you are thinking of travelling to the US with a nice packet of aromatic basmati rice as a gift for someone just remember that it is not worth the grief in the airport.

The US said the number of interceptions of the Khapra beetle have increased dramatically so it is leaving nothing to chance. The Customs Office said it would begin enforcing a federal quarantine order that restricts the commercial import of rice into the US from countries with Khapra beetle infestations.

This means that it could now take weeks for rice coming from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates to clear US quarantine measures.

'Even though they are tiny creatures and can easily hide, the good news is that CBP agriculture specialists have the skills and fortitude to discover, isolate, and identify these pests,' said Steve Artino, Acting CBP Director of Field Operations in Chicago.

As of July, the unwanted Khapra beetle has been intercepted 100 times at US ports of entry, compared to an average 15 times in 2007-2009 and only six times in 2006, said Miles.

The Customs Office said that commercial shipments of rice originating from South Asia where the Khapra beetle is known to occur must now be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate. 'We need an additional declaration stating that the shipment was inspected and found free of the Khapra beetle,' said the Customs Office.

A phytosanitary certificate will be required even if the rice originating from South Asia, northern Africa and the Middle East is re-exported to the US from a third country which is not under the scanner.

A rice bag from India. CBP

USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and India's National Plant Protection Organisation (NPPO) are now planning to jointly set up an agency to inspect rice exporting units and issue phytosanitary certificates.

'Rice processing and milling units geared towards US exports will have to register with the agency. They will be subject to audits by NPPO officials who will also ensure containers are vacuum cleaned before loading rice,' said an official.

The US fears that the Khapra beetle, about 2 to 3 mm long, can cause intestinal problems if eaten. Infestations are difficult to control because the beetle can survive for long periods of time without food or moisture and is resistant to chemicals.

Meanwhile, in what could be better news for Indian exporters, Food Minister KV Thomas, who took independent charge of the portfolio in July recently indicated that India could consider allowing an extra one million tonnes of rice exports at the next meeting of a panel of ministers.

The All India Rice Exporters' Association is calling for exports as supply outstrips demand and stocks - used for the government's subsidised food programmes - are far higher than targeted.

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Updated Date: Dec 20, 2014 05:35:48 IST