Menace of adulteration

Time to wake up
Last Updated : 03 August 2009, 16:59 IST

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From fruits to vegetables, from milk to cold drinks, from ghee to edible oils, from wheat atta to common dal, from spices to sweets, the chances are that you are consuming ‘poison.’ Almost every eatable that you buy from the market is probably adulterated.

Food has now become your enemy. The juicy mango is no longer your favourite fruit. It has been ripened with calcium carbide, the same chemical that is used in making crackers and cheap bombs. Calcium carbide contains traces of arsenic and phosphorous, and releases acetylene gas, which hastens the ripening of fruits. The fruit is then dipped in a solution of a growth hormone, which should not be used in food products and need to be kept out of reach of children.

For several generations in your family you have the habit of drinking a glass of milk before you hit the bed. You always thought that it was your primary source of daily intake of nutrition. But for several years now, you have read that the milk you drink is most likely contaminated with its synthetic variant — a cocktail of urea, detergents and cheap edible oil.

Artificial colour
Most of the vegetables you buy from the market are treated with a heavy dose of pesticides. Some have even been dipped in harmful chemical solutions to make them look fresh and attractive. Many vegetables are given a dose of artificial colour to suit your eyes.

The chances are the desi ghee you buy too is adulterated. You pay a hefty price and what you get in return has no nutrition but animal fat, crushed animal bones and mineral oil. For those who can’t afford desi ghee, the vanaspati too is laced with adulterants. It comes laced with stearin, a by-product of palm oil used in soap manufacture. A recent news report from Panipat in Haryana said that the police had raided a godown and recovered 3,000 kg of adulterated ghee.

This is not an isolated incident. Such ghee manufacturing units abound in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. It is believed that 90 per cent of the vanaspati being sold in the market violates the specifications of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act.

Such is the extent of adulteration, that even pistachio used in sweets is not spared. Unscrupulous traders instead use inferior quality peanuts, cut into small pieces and then coloured with artificial colouring agents. Milk products made from synthetic milk are, of course, very common. Again, the north-western parts of the country dominate the trade in adulterated milk and milk products.

Let me now illustrate as to what happens when you eat these adulterated food products. Adulterated foods can cause all kinds of ailments and diseases. Although the doctors are unable to point to the specific after-effects unless they know for sure that you consumed an adulterated food product, the general symptoms can be confusing. This is the main reason why generally consumers remain unconcerned at the damage food adulteration can cause to their health.

From adulterated pistachio, for instance, you can show symptoms of acidity, severe headache, vomiting, and in severe cases it can leave behind a terrible impact for the pregnant women. But by the time the child is born with deformities, it may be practically impossible to link it with food adulteration.

Irreparable damage
Synthetic milk causes irreparable damage to your body organs. It is of course a health hazard but if you are suffering from heart and kidney ailments, it will acerbate your problem. Urea is particularly harmful for kidneys, and caustic soda is a slow poison for people suffering from hypertension and heart ailments.

Calcium carbide ripened mangoes and banana can lead to headache, dizziness, sleepiness and in severe cases mental abnormalities. Excess of lead in food can lead to brain related problems; cadmium can cause kidney ailments and cancer. The list of damages from harmful chemicals is long.

What is however disturbing is the complete indifference being shown by the regulatory bodies in checking the menace of adulterated food products, fruits and vegetables. Except for some routine raids and arrests, nothing meaningful has been attempted.
What is urgently needed is a massive and widespread clampdown against the unscrupulous traders and farmers. Often the adulteration begins at the farmer’s level, and it is high time the farmers are also brought to book. Since greed is driving farmers and traders to poison food, the basic necessity of life, there is a need to make the laws more stringent by introducing life-imprisonment and death penalty.

At the same time, the ministry for food and consumer affairs and the ministry for food and agriculture should launch a joint initiative to create wider awareness and a public discourse. There is a need for a collaborative initiative from the concerned ministries. I fail to understand when the prime minister does not fail to set up a Group of Ministers (GoM) for every business activity, why isn’t such a priority accorded to the ensure safe and healthy food for the people?

Published 03 August 2009, 16:59 IST

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