As we’ve seen endlessly in the tech markets there’s nothing like sowing a bit of fear, uncertainty and doubt to make sure that people don’t stray off the desired path. So we might think it is with this latest little deliciousness in the Indian market for pulses – dried peas, lentils, that sort of thing. For locals are being regaled with stories of foreign imports being laced with terribly dangerous pesticides. You know, to make sure they desire and choose the local equivalents?
Despite there being no controls on the levels of those same pesticides in that local produce.
The pulse market has long been a subject of contention in India:
Having just praised the Modi Government for the manner in which it is deregulating the Indian economy it is now necessary to point out that they’ve made exactly the wrong decision here. Government to government contracts are simply not the way to deal with food supplies. The use of private markets and mechanisms is. But in their decision to try to deal with the current price rises and lack of supply of pulses (arhar, urad and the like) the Indian government has gone the wrong route. They have decided to sign a government to government contract with Mozambique rather than the very much more sensible route of using private sector actors in Myanmar. Worse, they have locked themselves into having to take the entire crop.
When the national government of 1.3 billion people signs direct contracts for the supply of peas you know that people are taking this humble comestible a bit too seriously. They’ve also managed to ban one of the best manners of calming price variations:
It’s a not unusual mistake that people make: when markets prices aren’t what people would like them to be blame the market itself for what market prices are. The prices of pulses in India are not what some number of people would like the price of pulses to be in India. Thus a number of actions are being proposed. More regulation of importers for example, a reduction in the taxes charged on those comestibles and possibly a ban on the trading of chickpea futures. All of these are entirely the wrong things to be doing of course. A reduction in taxes will, momentarily, make the foods cheaper: which means more demand for them and thus a greater shortage. Regulation of importers won’t make much difference either way except to increase the amount of bureaucracy they must swim through: not something that India really ever needs, more bureaucracy. And the banning of futures trading is simply ridiculous: futures do not, in the absence of hoarding, increase spot prices. And a rising futures price is something that will reduce future shortages by encouraging more production in said future. We also have solid evidence that banning futures trading increases (yes, increases) price volatility.
Things do work rather better when just left alone:
One of the little stories that you may or may not have been paying attention to was the manner in which pulse prices–peas, lentils and so on–were rising strongly in India. This caused some consternation and became a political problem given the portion of the population which lives close to the subsistence diet line. There have been negotiations with Mozambique that that country should grow the India specific cultivars for example, there have been talks of subsidies, of import arrangements, of export bans and all the usual plethora of bureaucratic intervention.
All of which appear to have been entirely unnecessary–we’ve now got the advance estimates of the current harvest and production is up some 57%. The shortage is rather over that is.
None of that is directly relevant to this little story, it’s really just background. Background to show that pulses are politically important in India, something that national government concerns itself with. Which leads us to this:
New studies conducted by national food safety authorities have proved that the pulses getting imported in India from countries like Canada and Australia – where the production is at an all time high – that fin their way into our kitchen are seriously laced with toxic ingredients.
Really? Gosh. The idea that Oz and Canada are going to have lower food safety standards than India is an interesting one. They’re talking about glycophosphate – Roundup. The thing being that India doesn’t actually have any such standards so no one knows what is in Indian production. So to point at the imports is a little cheeky.
But it gets worse. We’re told that:
…thousands of samples of lentils like moong daal produced by farmers in Canada and Australia found an average 282 parts per billion (ppb) and 1,000 parts per billion of glycophosphate respectively, which is extremely high by any standards.
Well, most of us don’t know, is that high or not? So, let’s look it up:
EPA Glyphosate List: Allowable Levels on our FOOD
FROM EPA WEBSITE
Allowable levels of glyphosate on food and feeds crops in the United State of America. Brought to you by the Environmental Protection Agency:
Pea, dry 8.0
That’s the closest I can find to a lentil on the list. So, 8, and these levels are 1,000? My! Except, the allowable level is 8 parts per million, what has been found is 1,000 parts per billion. Or, the Canadian level is 0.282 compared to an allowed 8, the Australian level 1 to an allowed 8. We’d actually say these levels are pretty low in fact.
Our best bet is therefore that this is just another sally in India’s pulse wars. Here, domestic producers hoping to scare a few off imports. Why else would anyone be whining about barely detectable levels of something that has near no effect on humans anyway?