A raid on mango stalls in Jayamahal found that a majority of the stalls were using banned calcium carbide crystals to ripen mangoes.
Officials of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) found that 15 out of 25 stalls were using small amounts of carbide crystals to ripen mangoes. Deputy director of the FSSAI’s city squad Kamala Bai B said use of calcium carbide, known to be carcinogenic, has been strictly prohibited in foods.
The sellers were levied a penalty of between Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000 depending on their economic status.
Jubin George Joseph, the chief operating officer of Ramaiah Advanced Testing Labs, which tests for carbide in mangoes, said the lab frequently discovers traces of carbides in mangoes sent for testing.
“Over the last 10 years, five out of 10 samples showed traces of carbide in them. But in recent years, after a series of government raids, we noticed a drop in its use. But with a decline in government raids, the rate is picking up again,” Joseph said.
He added that incidences of carbide use appear to increase during the off-season period. “At that time, we see a 50% increase in the use of carbides in the samples we receive,” he said. According to Raghu K C, a Bengaluru-based food expert, the government itself is to blame for the use of carbides by growers and sellers.
“Until three years ago, official editions of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research’s Textbook of Horticulture promoted the use of carbides to ripen mangoes,” he said.
According to Raghu, carbides are used extensively in welding and contain a mass of impurities, including arsenic, cadmium and lead. When the chemical is exposed to air, it releases phosphine, a poisonous gas which soaks into the mango to aid ripening, while giving off a garlic-like smell.
The artificial effect is so subtle that Kamala said even she had difficulty identifying carbide-infused mangoes by appearance. “The truth is only revealed when one bites into a fruit and notices its reduced taste,” she said.
Eating such mangoes results in a cumulative effect of impure metals in the body, Raghu said.
When DH interviewed several of the sellers in Jayamahal, many complained about the high cost of purchase of their stock, blaming a shortfall of rain for a reduced yield of mangoes this year.