Campaigner for Indian mangoes heads to U.K. Parliament

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Campaigner for Indian mangoes heads to U.K. Parliament

With just a few days left before the official ban on Indian mangoes into the EU comes into effect, much work is going on behind the scenes to try to reverse the prohibition or at least find an alternative solution that will not have such a devastating impact on Indian farmers, exporters, importers and the retail trade who would ordinarily be embarking on the mango-selling season right now.

Monica Bhandari, of London-based importers Fruity Fresh, is leading a campaign to 'reverse the mango ban' alongside Leicester East MP Keith Vaz. She started an e-petition a few weeks ago which has already received more than 1,000 signatures, and spoke with tiday whilst she was at U.K. Parliament for a meeting with the British politician who is hoping to present Indian mangoes to British Prime Minister David Cameron to highlight just how widespread the effects of the ban would be.

"We are meeting with MP Keith Vaz who wants to take the mangoes to Downing Street (U.K. Prime Minister's office) to highlight the problem and to say that these are the last mangoes we’ll be getting this season," Bhandari said.

"The latest is that we are really trying hard to reverse the ban. We've been promised an audience with Parliament but ultimately things have to be pushed much more quickly.

"We have reached more than 1,000 signatures on our petition which is great but the petition is really about raising the profile of this issue because there are still some people who just don't know about it – but they will find out next week when they go into the shops and don't find any Indian mangoes for sale."

Photo: Wendyfairy, via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo: Wendyfairy, via Flickr Creative Commons

Today we published a story focusing on British politician Keith Vaz who has branded the ban as 'Euro-nonsense gone mad'. While Bhandari did not share this sentiment precisely, she wanted to find a solution that will appease the European Commission and keep trade between India and the European market flowing.

"I don't want to say its Euro-nonsense because ultimately if the EU commission has a problem with pests like fruit flies then we have to take that seriously whether or not we buy into it and we are taking it seriously," Bandhari said.

"India has taken measures to tighten things up and we ourselves as importers have voluntarily taken measures by putting in place heat treatment measures.

"From all of our mangoes coming in from India this year, we’ve had no incidences of the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) finding pests in our mangoes so ultimately what we want is for heat treatment to be recognized and authorized by the EU - even if they say 'All mangoes coming from India have to be subjected to this treatment' that would be sufficient."

She said such a move toward heat treatment may slow trade down a little but it would ultimately be better than an outright ban.

"It might mean that some people don’t want to export or import but it would keep the trade going and keep the flow of mangoes from India into this country," she said.

"We are asking the commission to give the industry another option the same way as other government departments have done with different products from India and around the world; it’s about working with a country to say 'this is what you need to do'.

"India has those types of treatments in place and they already have arrangements with countries like Australia, New Zealand and Japan which all allow imports of Indian mangoes as long as they have been subjected to the proper treatments so why can't we?"

She said this was a scientifically proven method of eradicating any risks associated with fruit flies, which are the pests the European Commission was worried about.

"We don't want to harm U.K. agriculture, we are wholesalers, not just importers, we wholesale salad and we have no interest in destroying U.K. agriculture. We’re not saying we want to import produce whenever we want under any conditions.

"What we are saying is that rather than a ban surely we can come up with a more constructive solution."

Impact on U.K. trade

Aside from the fact that Indian mangoes will not be available on the shelves, British independent retailers will feel a 'huge loss' because revenue from mango sales usually boost profits for quieter periods of the year.

"It's the importers who are going to suffer as well as the small retailers because we're not taking about a product that is stocked in the massive supermarkets as such; mangoes are stocked in the high street and it's these types of traders who are going to lose out," Bhandari said.

"When you have someone saying it’s only a tiny percentage of businesses that will be affected, well yes that may be true but this is their livelihood and that means families will be losing.

"Because mangoes are a high value item and they sell in such quantity – people don't buy a box of apples but they will buy a box of mangoes – mangoes sell by the box to retail so because they are a high volume, high value item this means they keep people going.

The European Commission voted for a ban in March amid serious concerns about pest contamination, mainly from non-European fruit flies. The EC said such pests were found in 207 consignments from India imported into the EU last year. It is due to start on May 1 and run until Dec. 31, 2015.

Following the announcement in late March, Indian farmers have been left with high volumes of the fruit which, if the ban remains, will have to be sold elsewhere. Many growers and exporters have export deals outside of the EU, but many will be left to sell at lower prices to the domestic market.

"The types of mangoes we get from India only come from India. The quality and characteristics they have, only come from there and Britain has been enjoying them for such a long time," Bhandari said.

"The impact in India is going to be huge. Whilst some people say the local market can absorb the quantity that is being grown, the point is the growers cannot make money from the local market so they cannot sustain their businesses if they can only sell domestically.

"So it’s the farmers and growers who will lose out the most. Who knows if the growers will be able to continue to support their own industry if they cannot export."

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