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|November 5, 1997||
Only 5 of 85 seafood processors in Kerala meet EU standards
D Jose in Thiruvananthapuram
Only five out of nearly 85 seafood processing units in Kerala have achieved the quality standards stipulated by the European Union for exports to Europe. These units were cleared by the Supervising Audit Team appointed by the Union commerce ministry to monitor the health standards following the ban on Indian seafood by the European Union.
The SAT is also understood to have given no-objection certificates to three more units -- two in Maharashtra and one in Andhra Pradesh. The names of all the units will be forwarded to the European Union shortly.
A team of veterinary experts from the European Union is expected to visit the country by the middle of November to inspect the units. Fifty more units in Kerala are preparing for the SAT inspection, whose certificate is mandatory for finding a place in the commerce ministry's list.
The sat is mainly concerned at the cleanliness of the surroundings and sanitary conditions, the hygiene and health of the workers, provisions for monitoring sanitation, waste disposal, effluents treatment system, and source of raw materials. Several existing units were finding it difficult to upgrade the facilities as per the EU standards which are very of a high level and costly.
The investment required for the purpose is in the range of Rs 50 million to Rs 80 million. To make matters worse for the exporters, banks and financial institutions are reluctant to fund these units following the EU ban and the Indian government's curbs on aquaculture in the coastal areas.
An Indian Seafood Exporters' Association source said the processing industry needed more than Rs 10 billion to upgrade their factories. He said that only a handful of the processors were able to mop up the required funds from their internal sources.
Some exporters feel that the conditions laid down by the European Union were "textbook rules" which are hard to implement. These exporters favour a one-to-one talk with the EU to reach an agreement on what norms they can possibly meet. They have urged the government to send a delegation of exporters to Europe before the Union undertakes its review on the ban.
The exporters also suspect that EU action of slapping a total ban on Indian exports was politically motivated. The exporters see little reason to impose a ban on the products from the entire country when cholera germs were found only in one consignment.
"The reports about the Indian factories poor condition are highly exaggerated," said Elias Sait, an exporter. He claimed that a number of factories in India were better than those in other developing countries. He claimed that a veterinary team of the European Union, which had visited some of the units in the country, had expressed satisfaction with the existing facilities.
India has been exporting to the EU for over 25 years and it never had faced a total ban on the entire industry. The EU ban is likely to affect exports this year, which had earned Rs 42 billion in 1996-97.
The Union minister for food processing is due to visit Cochin shortly to study the problem.
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