Are you eating hazardous chemicals?

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What made me write this article is the notorious calcium carbide that has been in the news this whole summer. It also goes by the name ‘masala’ in India. Mango, the national fruit of India, has been reportedly been treated with this chemical. Tamil Nadu Agricultural University’s lecture on chemicals used in ripening shines some light on this chemical. It says, “Calcium carbide release acetylene which on hydrolysis hasten ripening process. ” It is a carcinogenic agent and banned under PFA Rules, 1955.

Clause 2.3.5 of the Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition and Restrictions on Sales) Regulations, 2011, prohibits sale of fruits which have been artificially ripened by use of acetylene gas commonly known as carbide gas produced from Calcium Carbide. – PIB, Govt. of India

DSC_0009A MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) provided on the website for the State of New Jersey has information about how calcium carbide looks and what effects it has on our health.

Organizations are at help and they have jotted down a list of do’s and don’t’s for our convenience. Before we do this, let’s take a look at the most commonly used chemicals in fruits and vegetables we eat.

There are three categories of it:

  1. Residue
  2. Contaminants
  3. Ingredients

Residue:

This is the visible/invisible chemical on the outer side of a fruit or a veggie. If you ask what the white coating/residue/stuff is on your grapes? That might be a harmless coating called bloom, which is naturally produced by these grapes for its own protection. But the residue can also be a pesticide, so, rinse it well.

Contaminants:

Whatever contaminants are present in the soil, air or water are taken up by plants. Does mercury in fishes ring a bell? If not, you can watch a video here.

These include pesticides. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has some advice for consumers. The Central Insecticide Board and Registration Committee (CIB& RC) has a list of pesticides which are banned, refused registration and restricted in use that you can refer to while using them.

Ingredients:

Preservatives, food colors, artificial ripening agents such as calcium carbide, taste enhancers, food additives etc. If you have checked the label, you may have encountered with this phrase sometime ‘No added MSG’. MSG is monosodium glutamate. It is a flavor enhancer that can also be found in naturally occurring foods such as tomato.  It goes by the trade name Ajinomoto, trademark of a food corporation in Japan. Many believe that when used in large quantities, it can cause health problems. FDA considers foods that contain MSG to be “generally recognized as safe”.

They used to put cocaine in Coca Cola. Vegetables were once routinely covered in deadly DDT. Ever wonder what poisons you eat that will make future generations look back in horror? – Infographic: Just How Dangerous Is The Dye In Your Food?

Are there ways to ripen fruits without using harmful substances? Affirmative. Brown paper bag method is used to ripen bananas.

It takes a lot more than just washing fruits and vegetables for them to be safely consumed. But there are a few simple tips that should not be taken for granted. Here’s a video by US FDA that describes these tips:

I hope it is never too late to remind ourselves that we are what eat.

For the love of farming, watch this 11 year old speak wise:

I absolutely agreed with everything he said, except he doesn’t live in India. There need to be solutions that are specific to India and its infrastructure. Do you have any in mind? I have two: vertical farming and hydroponics for healthy livestock feed (aka greenhouse fodder).

Further reading:

Six chemicals we consume in our food and drink that should be banned

Five tonnes of mangoes seized in crackdown on chemical ripening

Pune Speak up : How hazardous is chemical ripening of fruits?

Comprehensive information on Fertilizers and Pesticides provided by Govt. of India

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14 thoughts on “Are you eating hazardous chemicals?

  1. Hi Anuja I was looking forward to your post on the world environment day. I believe environmentalists had organized seminars and talks on the theme.
    Cheers and regards :)

    1. Dilip Sir, it was just another day for me. This is because, as you know, World Environment Day (WED) is about spreading awareness and I try to do that through the year. :) It was nice of you to drop by. :)

  2. well reading this i will say thankfully mongoes are so expensive in uk, i jsut cant afford buying so many to have a bad effect on me .. well this season I havenot bought a single one so far .. although i love mangoes ..

    but the greed .. sometimes i wish what about the families of these greedy people are then not interested in them also .. it is all about money

    Bikram

    1. Hi Bikramjit. Too bad the mango season in ending. We all love mangoes, don’t we?

      How expensive are they in the UK? Do they still have Indian mangoes in there even after the ban?

      1. well ONE Piece of mangoe can be from 99p to 1pound 25.. :) or a box of 5/6 mangoes for 5 pounds..

        yeah the alphonso once can be seen .. but If i am not wrong most are imported from Pakistan.

        1. Alphonso is imported from several countries, including Pakistan. I am not aware where Pakistan stands on this list though. Speaking of numbers, here are some:

          India’s mango output accounts for about half of the global total; it sends some 16 millions mangoes every year to the U.K. alone, worth roughly 6.3 million pounds.

          Mangoes are expensive for Indian residents too. But after the ban on mango imports, the prices went down. “A box of four dozen Alphonso mangoes, which cost around Rs5,000 ($83) just a few days ago, can now be had for as little as Rs1,000,” reports the Financial Times.

          Reference: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/05/05/the-real-crisis-facing-europe-a-shortage-of-indian-mangoes/

  3. Isn’t it a pity our most loved fruit too is now suspect because of the rampant greed of unscrupulous wholesalers and vendors :(

    Nothing foolproof but I do buy my Alphonso from a couple of trusted vendors who I believe to be ethical :)

    Nice post.

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