Fruits & Vegetables Are Slowly Poisoning Us
Indiscriminate use of chemicals are posing as serious health hazards requiring serious actions
Recently, the European Union and Saudi Arabia had slapped a ban for the exports of Alphanso mangoes and green chillies respectively from India, since these two agricultural produce did not conform to the stringent quality standards set in those countries. Interestingly, the rejected consignments found their way back in the Indian mandis resulting in a supply glut and consequently lowering the price, much to the delight of the Indian consumer in the last summer.
These two incidents, although not isolated ones, caused severe shock across the agri-exports community. These are every day phenomenon in the domestic Fruit & Vegetable (F&V) markets, where deceptively coloured green vegetables are often tinged with artificial and toxic chemicals to pass off as fresh ones and impress the buyer in metro–city-markets.
It has been squeamish to find that some of the scofflaw wholesalers, retailers are dipping Karela (Bitter Gourd), Parwal (Pointed Gourd) and Lauki (Bottle Gourd) in copper sulphate solution before selling. This manifests itself as thin green layer just under the outer skin of the vegetables – this is harmful to human consumption – is obvious. Likewise, other leafy vegetables, chillies, green capsicum, ladies finger are clandestinely dipped in malachite, which is a toxic textile dye used in coloring fabric.
Over the years, it has become a common malpractice to ripen the green banana into a marketable and readily eatable ripened form with the rampant use of Calcium Carbide. Despite of the clause banning the usage of Calcium Carbide in ripening the fruit as per the Prevention of Food Adulterations (PFA) Act, heaps of banana bunches are covered with plastic sheet and lumps of calcium carbide are placed underneath them. The lumps break down, emitting gas which permeates through the skin enhancing ripening of the banana. Consumption of such bananas ripened by carbide gas is known to cause cancer. This has been corroborated by a controlled sample study wherein prolonged feeding of carbide ripened banana skin to the cattle resulted in carcinogenic cell and tissue growth in them.
In south Indian villages, coconuts, which are relatively pesticide free, are broken and dried with the smoke of yellow sulphur to give a whitish appearance to the edible copra. Excessive exposure to sulphur can soften the cartilage, weaken lungs and even infect the throat with mucous. Often, there is more than the permissible level of sulphur in the coconut oil. Even the milk of the cattle is showing sulphur content as the deoiled cake containing sulphur is fed to them routinely.
Strawberry and apples are regularly treated with green Rhodamin B, to impart the resplendent pink colour. Mangoes and yellow capsicum are often treated with yellow Auramine, a textile dye with potentially carcinogenic effects, to give a shining yellow appearance. Dull carrots and tomatoes are made bright red when treated with Sudan Red I, classified as a category 3 carcinogen.
The newest miscreant in the block – is the surreptitious use of formalin – in Litchi and Mango – to give them a shining and smooth look. The mysterious death of ten children, who consumed formalin laced litchis, did not raise much hue and cry as the incident in the eastern state did not make a national headline during post-election commotion. Two separate cohort and case control experiments have shown that a prolonged cumulative exposure to formaldehyde over the years has a greater risk of myeloid leukemia.
Gone are the days, when fish market used to be thronging with the roaring flies and fishermen swatting them with wooden flappers. At places, fish is being treated now with formaldehyde and the flies do not dare to come close to the fish . A non-presence of flies around, therefore should be a case of suspected use of formalin in the fish.
Dairy sectors is not being spared either. Innovative skivvy brains have made urea-fomented spurious milk with soap and sold openly to unsuspecting consumers. To deter others, China, publicly shoot the miscreants who dare to adulterate the milk meant for the babies. India is quite lax in this matter.
It is not that only Indians are adding harmful chemicals. The situation is equally alarming with the overseas sellers dipping the apples in mineral wax even if it is not permitted as per the good manufacturing practices (GMP) standard. When consumed without cleaning the wax, the mineral wax can cause intestinal ailments, augmenting the onset of atherosclerosis.
Thus, the situation in fruits and vegetables is becoming alarmingly scary, and it invites serious attention at the policy formulation level immediately.
The malpractice of mixing toxic chemicals in foods has been increasing by the day, and it invites immediate and serious attention at the policy planning and enforcement level. The lacing of contraband chemicals is destroying the nutritional value and effecting the health of children, mothers and even older people, who are at greatest risk.
To counter the menace, caused by this indiscriminate and senseless misuse of dyes and pigments in foods across sectors, we need to add and amend the archaic Prevention of Food Adulteration( PFA) act by incorporating the clause mentioning the names of specific chemicals and banning the usage in agricultural, dairy, poultry and other food products. Empowerment of Foods and Drugs Authority (FDA) officials with stringent punitive legal action would deter the recalcitrant sellers . Random and exhaustive samples across diverse geographic markets should be drawn and the trade license should be permanently rescinded, if adulterants are detected.
Simultaneously, a mass awareness campaign in print, electronic and social media should be initiated by the government sensitizing people on the issue .
To avoid the scene at the international level, need of the hour is to call a fresh global conference and formulate one single standardized policy on the permissible pesticidal residue and allowable chemicals, so that our exports are not at the mercy of individual country’s whimsical local standards.
Every export consignment should have mandatory inspection by any of the accredited, independent inspection and quality certifying agencies, and should carry another mandatory certificate from APEDA, certifying the agreed international standard. These eco marks or eco labels would serve as quality assurance standards achievable only after strict scrutiny and mandatory checking.
Only a strong enactment and implementation of amended laws can stop us from this health hazard.
– Subrato Chaudhuri
The writer is an Agri Entrepreneur.