Do we need warning labels on fruits?
S Madhusudhana Rao
Did you ever wonder why a papaya fruit bought in the market look extremely pleasing to the eye and taste sweeter than sugar? For that matter, red apples, often touted as imported from as far as the US, Chile and China, and golden yellow bananas that look like products of some machine rather than nature’s produce. And, the king of our fruits mango smells and appears so good that you feel like savoring it as soon as you lay your hand on it. Pause a moment and think.
Looks are deceptive. What allures you may not turn into nutrients for your body after consuming them. On the other hand, they may be the potential suppliers of deadly toxins to your body. Chemicals used to artificially ripen fruits like mangoes and bananas — the two most favoured fruits by the people of all ages — and increase the shelf life, taste and flavor of fruits like apple are so injurious to health that they can destroy vital organs and the human immune system. Those who resort to chemical treatment of fruits to make a quick buck are merchants of death, worse than terrorists.
That’s what a division bench of the Hyderabad High Court said on Wednesday while dealing with a Public Interest Litigation on chemical treatment of fruits.
“Terrorists take away the lives of the innocent people with firearms, but food adulterates have been taking away the lives of the people by injecting slow poison into human bodies. Consuming fruits which are ripened with carbide and other chemicals will ruin the health of coming generations,” the court observed.
Acting suo moto on a report published in a Telugu daily, a High Court bench had directed the governments of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana on August 14 to conduct surprise checks on fruit markets and collect samples and send them to food labs for testing and submit reports before August 19. The court’s stinging remarks came on Wednesday following the submission of reports that showed the fruits sold in Hyderabad markets were not fit for human consumption as the use of calcium carbide to artificially ripen the fruits had been confirmed. In the case of Andhra Pradesh, the court has questioned the contention of that state’s counsel who said carbide presence was not detected in the samples collected. Both governments have been told to investigate the issue thoroughly and find solutions to stop the illegal practice. The court will hear the official submissions on September 2.
Though usage of carbide for ripening fruits is an offence under Section 44 of the Food Products (prevention of adulteration) Act, 1955, its practice is extensive and common. But authorities have done little about it because of limitations of manpower and lack of many modern testing labs. The mischief is generally done at the level of wholesale dealers or vendors. The common refrain is it is humanly impossible for a few food inspectors to check thousands of tonnes of fruits at wholesale and retail markets. The result is officials turn a blind eye to the malpractice that goes on unchecked under their very nose.
Many consumers are well aware of the dangers hidden in the lovely fruits that are sold in the market. Still they buy them because their options are limited. Organic fruits – naturally grown and ripened – are available in some select markets at a premium. But, in the age of land, air and water pollution, such claims look credulous. Then the dilemma before us is whether we should eat or not fruits that are supposed to be energy-packed to power our day. A fruit diet is even peddled as a natural way for a fat-free body and a potent cure for modern ills caused by fried-starchy foods. If some unscrupulous traders turn fruits into slow poisons, what we are buying and consuming is not health but illness.
The thought is frightening. We can’t eat fruits with flashes of warning in the brain that they are harmful to health. So, some steps, such as deterrent punishment for offenders, need to be taken to root out the menace of artificial ripening and chemical treatment of fruits to safeguard our health. These processes are believed to cause cancer, kidney diseases and neurological disorders in the human body.
Some of the scientific findings have been published and publicized several times. The recent Maggi noodles row (see Food for Thought: Plastic Rice, July 12) has brought into sharp focus the quality of ready-to-cook food marketed in India. Hopefully, the Hyderabad High Court’s intervention will help us consume fruits in their natural state.