Local tea industry draws up new standards on exports to Japan

June 05 (LBO) – After pressure from Japan, the Sri Lankan tea trade is drawing up a uniform declaration for exporters to clear their tea shipments as free from chemical residues.

The herbicide is considered to be the only effective chemical against certain weeds on tea plantations, with the only alternative being costly mechanical weeding.

“What we are trying to do is issue one document that encompasses the research side of it and the assurance from growers through a single body in the industry,” Avi de Silva, Vice Chairman of the CTTA told LBO on Monday.

The Tea Research Institute is trying to get Japan to revise its maximum residue limit on 2,4-D, with field data showing that it has no toxicological effects.

In the meanwhile however, exporters with sizeable business in Japan are encouraged to avoid using the herbicide in cultivation.

“The TRI cannot issue a national directive not to use 2,4-D because the data does not show that it is harmful. But exporters who do not want to take a chance in exporting to Japan, are avoiding it,” de Silva said.

Tea is among Sri Lanka’s top exports, selling 309 million kilos last year. Russia is the largest buyer of Sri Lankan tea, followed by the United Arab Emirates and Syria.

A few recent shipments with higher than maximum levels of a herbicide called 2,4-D sparked concern, with most buyers now wanting detailed questionnaires filled by exporters.

“The Ceylon Tea Traders Association (CTTA) is compiling a uniform declaration, endorsed by all relevant authorities, which would be applicable to all consignments of Ceylon tea destined for Japan,” the CTTA said in a statement on Monday.

The uniform declaration would also do away with the need to get individual declarations for each and every export consignment of tea from Sri Lanka to Japan.

“This would also provide unquestionable validation of their compliance with the Japanese Food Sanitation Laws.” Japan imports about 60 percent of its tea consumption or nine million kilos from Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka uses about 31 agrochemicals during various stages of growing tea. Residue limits for most of them are clearly laid down by the local Tea Research Institute and importing countries.

Where insufficient data on the chemicals and toxicity levels are available like for 2,4-D, the lowest enforceable limit of 0.01 parts per million is laid down.

Japanese buyers are noted for being fastidious, with European Union maximum residue levels for 2,4-D set at a higher 0.1 parts per million.