A Deep Rooted Social Evil
Are you getting attracted by the delectable and the luscious color of the sweetmeats or "Mithai"? Decorated with an equally attractive silver foil or so you believe! "Besan ladoos", the color so attractive, that you almost want to devour it. Is it the whiteness of the puffed rice that you loved rather than the puffed rice itself? Or the taste of that spicy deep yellow colored Indian snack called "Pakoda"? And you wonder why whenever you make it at home, you never get that same yellow color?
When you move about in the market and see the attractively decorated sweets and other edible items your appetite becomes almost insatiable. And that's what it is meant to do to you. Attract you to buy and eat. But wait! In the process you may be eating... Metanil yellow a non-permitted coal tar dye commonly known as 'Kishori Rang', Rhodamin-B, Lead Chromate or perhaps Ultra Marine Blue. These are all non-permissible and banned colors and they cause serious health hazards and may also cause cancer in the long run. They are carcinogenic. Now what exactly is food adulteration? Well, the deliberate contamination of food materials with low quality, cheap, non-edible or toxic substances is called food adulteration. While the substance that degrades or lowers the quality of food is an adulterant.
Food... the basic necessity of life. We toil day and night for what? For that two morsel of wholesome nutritive food. And if at the end of the day we are not sure of what we eat, than what are we toiling for? We may be eating a dangerous dye, sawdust, soap stone, industrial starch, Aluminum foil and believe it, even horse-dung! Inviting disease rather than good health. And what are the law enforcing authorities doing? Looking the other way, ignoring, sitting on files and being bought and bribed.
Food... the basic necessity of life.
We toil day and night for what? For that two morsel of wholesome nutritive food. And if at the end of the day we are not sure of what we eat, than what are we toiling for? We may be eating a dangerous dye, sawdust, soap stone, industrial starch, Aluminum foil and believe it, even horse-dung! Inviting disease rather than good health. And what are the law enforcing authorities doing? Looking the other way, ignoring, sitting on files and being bought and bribed.
Milk... that ever-enduring milk. For time immemorial it had had been the basic staple food right from our growing up stage, to when we have grown up. As a child we need it for growth and as a grown up we need it for replenishing our nutrition daily. Tired and bogged down, need something to rejuvenate... take a glass of milk. But even this has not been spared.
Common adulterant, addition of water, flour, or any other starchy material say industrial starch. Addition of water and extraction of fat is very common and not harmful. But what when the milk you drink is not milk at all? Rather combination of urea, liquid detergent, a little sugar, vegetable oil and water... a Synthetic Milk! Remember the case in Delhi, where the racket was busted a few years back and there was a lot of hue and cry in the media regarding the same. Think of all those children who may have had the synthetic milk, what havoc it must have created for their system physically. And how are we sure that even now, we are not being supplied the same milk? Are the authorities doing any thing like random checking of milk and regular intervals?
Turmeric is the basic ingredient of all our Indian cooking. Any Indian dish is not complete without it. But before you buy your next quota of this "masala" be careful of what you are buying. It may be adulterated with, Lead chromate, (which adds color as well as weight to it, being heavier), Metanil Yellow dye Or any starch based items like flour or rice powder or even industrial starch. Except flour or rice powder, all the other adulterants are health hazardous and cause irreparable damage to our system when eaten at regular intervals for a long period of time. Take for instance Lead chromate, it is one of the most toxic salts of lead. It can cause anemia, paralyses, mental retardation and brain damage in children and abortion in pregnant women. Metanil yellow dye which is another non-permissible toxic colorant, is used mostly to color Besan or gram flour, pulses, miscellaneous prepared foods namely sweetmeats like ladoo, burfi, jelabi, dalmoth, papad, etc. to get that attractive deep yellow color. Food grade colors are available in the market but being more costly, traders take advantage of the lackadaisical approach of the law enforcing authorities and substitute it with the said cheap and non-permissible dyes and colors.
While still on "Masalas" or spices, does one know what are the common adulterants, take for instance, for coriander powder or chili powder- sawdust, rice bran and sand. But wait! One cannot even imagine or fathom- horse-dung and cow-dung! This is not only unethical, from the business point of view, but a sin committed against the society at large. Any trader who is found resorting to such means of adulterations should be taken to task very strongly. People should try as far as possible to buy whole spices and grind them at home or purchase properly packed spices (with proper informative labeling) of standard F.P.O. I.S.I or AGMARK certified companies.
Has anyone ever given a thought why the puffed rice or any other white colored eatable looks so dazzling white and bright, and attractive on the show windows of a sweetmeat shop? Well they may have been treated by ultra marine blue a chemical dye which is a non-permissible and prohibited. And for that rich deep pink color (Gulaabi) Rhodamin-B is used- again a non-permissible colorant. This colorant has also proven to be carcinogenic.
Argemone seeds that grow as weeds in the mustered fields are mixed with mustered seeds and its oil is mixed with mustered oil. Just a trace amount is all right, but when added deliberately it causes serious health hazards and even death. Dropsy is a straight after effect of consumption of this oil. It may also cause swelling, irregular fever, low pulse rate, enlargement of the liver, respiratory distress which may lead to heart failure. Adulteration of oil has become rampant, with a wide variety of oils available in the market, the consumer is not sure what combination of oils he gets when he buys it loose from the market. It is very harmful and hazardous to health when mixed with crude castor oil, industrial palmolein-oil, mineral oils etc. This is certainly a crime against humanity aimed at earning money at the cost of public health.
Ghee is adulterated to the extent of 80 to 85 percent with Vanaspati . In actuality it is Vanaspati flavored with 15 or 20 percent of ghee by special process. Even in the year 1935-36 when, six samples of so called pure ghee was collected it was found that they were adulterated with vegetable products made from groundnut, and other oils and the extent of adulteration was up to 80 percent.
Sand, dirt, earth, gritty matter, soap stone, common salt are added to flour, refined flour (maida), gram flour (besan), spices, sugar, tea-dust and coffee. And washing soda is added to table salt. In tea-dust one can even finds iron filings. And remember that lovely silver leaves used to decorate sweetmeats, burfi, and pan, you may be surprised what it is. It may be aluminum leave or foil, which is again very bad for health, causing a lot of physical complications.
Dried seeds of volatile oil are added to cloves, while mineral acids to vinegar, papaya seeds to black pepper. Aniseed or 'sauf' that after food tit-bit, is dyed with malachite green dye for that nice green color. In food grains and whole spices extraneous matter like stalks, stems, and foreign seeds are added.
Dr. Gurmukh Das Assistant Technical Advisor of Community Food and Nutrition Extension Unit Shillong who has been most co-operative in helping me to compile this article, says that castor oil which is often mixed in ground nut oil can cause abortion in cases of pregnant women. When the amount adulterated goes beyond 0.7 microgram per KG of body weight. He also adds that Khesari Dal which is often mixed in Arhar Dal can cause lower limb paralyses known as Lathyrism. Lathyrusativus species (Khesari Dal) has a toxic Amino acid known as Beta oxalyl amino alanine which is responsible for the above condition.
The consumer, to protect himself should avoid buying loose edible items from the markets, and go for tinned or packed items on which proper informative labels are displayed, which includes the date of manufacture and expiry as well. They should stress on products with F.P.O., I.S.I. or AGMARK certifications. These are the most commonly used certifications and at least gives the consumers third party guarantee of the product. The middle-class or the upper class can protect themselves by the above methods... but what about the lower strata of the society, the laborers, the poor class who cannot afford to buy expensive packed items, who have to purchase only in small loose quantities daily due to economic constraints. What about them? How can they be protected? They are the ones who are taken advantage off, the maximum? Go to the interiors and the rural areas of India and check for yourself, the food articles that they are supplied with, are of the lowest and bottom most grade, adulteration is rampant and even the animals belonging to the highly snooty elite class would refuse eat it!
We do have the standards for food articles under Prevention of Food Adulteration Act.1954. But what are the concerned law enforcing authorities or the said departments doing. Are they doing anything at all? 'Need' a social organization collected random samples from the market to get them tested. When they contacted the Pasteur Institute Shillong they were told that the results of the tests would take at least 40 days. Forty days! Just for a few simple tests? The maximum time required for each test is five to ten minutes which even a 10th grade science student can execute and perform. So the society made their own arrangements for testing the samples. What they found was very alarming. All the test results were positive. Besan ladoos had Metanil yellow dye. Ghee was adulterated with Vanaspati, Chhena (cottage cheese) had starchy material added to it. And the most important, remember the hue and cry for mustered oil? What a big scandal it was on the national level in our country a few years back? Almost all the loose samples collected gave strong traces and presence of argemone oil.
Only when mass death occurs do our authorities react and swing into action and start haphazardly banning items and articles and cause inconveniences to the public. Remember how difficult it was to get mustered oil when it was banned for a few days. But what about this slow poison we are consuming daily when the amount adulterated is not enough to kill us instantly, but slowly in the long process and over a long period of time. The consumer must be protected against any health hazards as well as fraud and adulterations. He should also be made capable of knowing the composition and the nutritive value of food he is buying through informative labeling And this can happen only when the concerned law enforcing departments are more vigilant and are really concerned for public health. But all the legislation cannot fully solve the problem of food contamination and adulterations unless the consumer himself becomes conscious of the hazards to health on such consumption and the law which are protecting him under such circumstances. Consumers must be taught the provisions of the Food Laws and Regulations and how they are protected under the said Law. Only when, the people are aware of their rights to demand pure and nutritive food and start consumer movements, instead of bearing the brunt and suffering quietly and take to task any such unscrupulous traders or manufacturers by way of filling of PIL (Public Interest Litigation) in the courts or dragging them to consumer courts, will such serious social evils of food adulterations which has deep roots in our society can be uprooted and eradicated. If not for good, but then at least, it can be abated to a certain extent. Or else our future generations are certainly going to pay the price for our careless, negligent and easygoing approach to the whole issue.