Iranian Farmers Suffer over Imports Ban

Lack of Control and Poor Commitment to Safety Standards Endangers Iranian Agriculture

A farmer carries bundles of rice seedlings for workers to plant on his field near Amol, 220 km (137 miles) northeast of Tehran, May 6, 2008. REUTERS/Caren Firouz
A farmer carries bundles of rice seedlings for workers to plant on his field near Amol, 220 km (137 miles) northeast of Tehran, May 6, 2008. REUTERS/Caren Firouz

Iranian Farmers Suffer over Imports Ban

Many countries have banned the import of Iranian agricultural crops, whose quantities are estimated at thousands of tons. These countries include Russia, which has not accepted Iranian pepper, Uzbekistan, which refuses to import potatoes, India, which has banned the import of kiwi, as well as some Gulf countries that have decided to ban the import of red watermelons from Iran.

Kihosru Jankluay, head of the Plant Conservation Organization, said, “The main reasons that led Russia and other countries to ban Iranian agricultural crops is the use of 4 types of pesticides that do not comply with safety standards and the absence of an identification tag containing data such as the name of the product and the place of production.”

On the other hand, Kaveh Zarkaran, head of the Agriculture and Processing Industries Committee in the Tehran Chamber of Commerce, stated, “There are laws regarding the levels of pesticide residues, but they are not implemented, and there is no control over the levels of pesticide residues carried by crops in farms, and therefore these crops are taken out of farms and sold in the markets in the absence of audit about the quantity of pesticides that they carry.”

Majalla interviewed Azam Bahrami, an Iranian expert in environmental affairs residing in Italy, to discuss the ban on Iranian agricultural products, its causes and repercussions. 

Q. Are the levels of pesticide residues checked when exporting agricultural products in Iran? Are there laws in Iran that specify the maximum use of pesticides?

The Iranian regime uses the “Executive Regulations for the Handling and Payment of Plant Pesticides.” This regulation contains more than 60 articles that explain in detail these pesticides, how they are used, and the permissible standards, including their shelf life on crops. The regulation indicates what farm owners must do regarding the use of pesticide spraying equipment and the types of equipment available. This regulation also emphasizes the need to train farmers.

Many authorities supervise agricultural crops in different periods, namely planting, care and harvesting. The Plant Conservation Organization is overseeing part of the operation, and this organization is affiliated with the Ministry of Jihad and Agriculture, which directly oversees or through one of its affiliated bodies on the stage of distribution and use of agricultural pesticides, the schedule prepared for distribution and use, training of farmers and supervision of the quantity of pesticides distributed among farms.

We also have many bodies, including the Food and Drug Organization of the Ministry of Health that organizes the identification tag for agricultural crops and issues an endorsement for meeting the required standards for the product. The National Veterinary Quality Assurance Laboratory separately supervises poultry and livestock. Local laboratories in each governorate monitor the levels of antibiotics and other substances in meat in slaughterhouses and poultry farms.

This means that the process of supervision and scrutiny in Iran is distributed to many competent parties, but all this talk remains on paper and is not being implemented on the ground, and none of these institutions perform their duties well.

Reports on the ban on importing Iranian agricultural crops may have been published recently, but they have already existed for a long time, and we have multiple examples of banning Iranian exports by several countries for various reasons such as high pesticide residues, the use of invalid pesticides that do not conform to international standards or mold, especially processed foods and rotting nuts, and falsification of product certificates and documents.

Countries set more stringent standards every year to ensure the safety and quality of food products and are keen on more mechanisms to control them because countries are constantly developing standards and conditions for food products and crops and their safety.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is taking stricter measures every year and many countries in the world are bound by them. In any case, these authorities are taking precautions and strict measures due to the spread of globalized agriculture, the increase in the number of farms, increased production of food products and multinational companies that produce genetically modified seeds and equipment to control agricultural pests, pesticides and fertilizers polluting the environment.

Concerned organizations are constantly updating their standards and requirements for foodstuffs to reduce global warming, such as labeling genetically modified crops and promoting a low-carbon diet, with the aim of maintaining consumer health and the safety of agricultural products and promoting ecological agriculture. So we have a set of intertwined laws and interconnected international, regional and local organizations with the aim of preserving the environment.

Countries around the world take strict policies on importing food products. Is Iran adopting strict measures regarding safety requirements for imported food products?

Available data indicate that the rate of control over imports and exports in Iran is very weak and this is the reason for the many problems in the export and import of adulterated, poor-quality and moldy food products, which caused food poisoning on a large scale similar to rice imported from China and India, frozen Brazilian meat and even spoiled skincare products, make-up products and cosmetics. The Iranian Ministry of Health does not have any control over the import of these cosmetic products and medicines that are packaged and sold on the black market.

The Oil-for-Food Programme has led to some forms of exploitation and harmful practices by the powerful mafia on the black market. They are importing poor quality foodstuffs without any supervision on the one hand, and on the other hand we see that Iran's economy is in isolation. Therefore, the Iranian regime has no way but to seek to strengthen its economic relations with a few countries such as China and India, which leads to acceptance of the products offered by these countries for sale to Iran, regardless of their poor quality or not meeting the necessary standards.

Production, regardless of quality, is the main goal of the Iranian regime to achieve the goals of the “resistance economy” and reach “self-sufficiency.” Here we are talking about production “whatever the price”, which leads to weak oversight. Producers and factories try to reduce the cost of production as much as possible. 

Reducing the cost of production, in turn, leads to ignoring many of the specifications and conditions necessary in the stages of selecting and purchasing raw materials and packaging. Thus, all these factors result in selling the inferior product at a higher price than its real price in the market.

All of these practices exist in Iran. It can be said that consumers in Iran are being oppressed and their rights are lost, especially in food products with short shelf life. These products are experiencing poor quality and packaging and a decrease in quantity in Iran because huge amounts of materials used in food packaging, from plastic to paper, are not recycled.

As we note, there are many factors that contribute to good production practices. Iran has good soil and abundant water resources through which to carry out the best production practices for food products, but the authorities today are going against this trend due to the absence of control and supervision overall production stages in Iran.

What are the most prominent health risks resulting from the indiscriminate and uncontrolled use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers on Iranians?

There are direct and indirect effects due to the extent of the use of pesticides as chemical poisons and the rest of them on the surface or inside agricultural products. If Iran does not adhere to these standards, this will negatively affect agriculture in the long term, because the soil will absorb these toxins, which will lead to its pollution and will result in health problems for consumers, including short-term ones such as dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, skin allergies, eye allergies and other allergies.

The other is long-term effects similar to cancer types such as rectal and colon cancer, stomach cancer, leukemia and reproductive problems. Even reports issued by the FAO during the past ten years indicated that the indiscriminate use of pesticides in agriculture may lead to Parkinson's disease. Indiscriminate use of pesticides has indirect consequences such as water and soil pollution. These toxins enter the groundwater, which may not only be for agricultural purposes, but also for human consumption.

Farmers in the northern part of the country face many challenges, such as the use of poor quality pesticides and the absence of an efficient irrigation system in farms, especially in rice fields. These toxins also may enter the body of fish that retain large amounts of lead and heavy metals in their bodies for a long time, and this leads to serious diseases in children and the elderly when eating these contaminated fish.

The proportion of antibiotics and medicines given to birds and livestock is of great importance because quantities greater than the ceiling set in international standards may remain in the meat and lead to the growth of bacteria resistant to the antibiotics we take and thus the body does not respond to the antibiotics we need in the event of a disease. These are some of the indirect consequences of the indiscriminate and uncontrolled use of pesticides.

There is an important matter in this regard, which is if farmers become accustomed to the indiscriminate use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, which leads to a rapid increase in crop yields, this may lead to the prosperity and spread of companies producing and promoting these pesticides and fertilizers, and to completely ignoring organic farming systems and organic pesticides, which will result in a significant increase in the prices of organic products and the inability of farmers to purchase them in Iran. Therefore, the agricultural sector in Iran faces major challenges and problems that lead to poor quality and safety standards, and the biggest loser is the consumer.


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