Sunday, June 28, 2015

Poisoned Fruits: INNLIVE Uncovers Dangerous Chemicals Used To Ripen Mangoes And Other Fruits In Hyderabad

By Newscop & Team
INVESTIGATION: It's the perfect season to dig into luscious mangoes, but think twice before you reach out for the king of fruits. Ripened artificially with calcium carbide, these mangoes put you at the risk of headache, dizziness, sleep disorders and even memory loss. 

For the past few weeks, Hyderabad's Kottapet market located near Dilsukhnagar — one of the biggest wholesale fruit markets in the country — has seen flooded with a variety of mangoes. More than 4 lakh kg of the fruit is reaching the mandi daily, according to traders. 

Of this, over 3 lakh kilograms is sold in twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad only. To know the reality behind artificial ripening of mangoes, INNLIVE visited the Kottapet Market, Gudimalkapur Market, Monda Market and found that calcium carbide is widely used to give the fruit a robust look, pulpiness and aroma and to subvert the period it takes for mangoes to ripen naturally.

The traders confessed that the chemical is used to ripen about 80 per cent of mangoes reaching the market, before they find their way to the retailers, and that there is hardly any monitoring by the authorities to check this practice. Ingestion of calcium carbide, a harmful chemical popularly called ‘masala’ in the market, can affect the neurological system.

But the visit to Kottapet presented a clear picture. Thousands of cartons — containing green, hard and fresh mangoes — reached the market from different parts of the country. 

In the same complex, some people were selling ‘masala’ in small sachets, each packet costing Rs 2 or 3. Mango traders buy this ‘masala’ and use it for quick ripening of the fruit by adding a sachet at every layer of mangoes in cartons. 

“This is the only way to quickly ripen the mangoes,” a trader said. “People would not buy it green. But after adding ‘masala’, all mangoes in a carton will ripen, turn yellow and be ready to eat within a day,” he added. 

Another trader said the plucked mangoes can’t ripe on their own and if they didn’t use carbide, most of the yield would be destroyed and lead to heavy losses. 

The traders claimed that they have no option but to use the chemical for ripening the fruit. “Mangoes generally come from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, UP, Maharashtra, West Bengal and other faraway states,” a dealer at the Kottapet market said.

"Farmers there pluck it prematurely because in that condition the fruit is more resistant to damage during handling, transportation and storage. "Doing it otherwise will incur huge losses for all concerned in the business. Ripe fruits are softer and, therefore, more prone to damage."

Though the use of calcium carbide in fruits is banned, the practice continues unhindered in the wholesale market. Asked about the fear of authorities for using the banned ‘masala’, a trader smugly said: “Nothing happens. "Local officials are aware of all this, but we take care of them. This has been going on for years.” 

The traders admit that though laws are already there, there is lack of enforcement in the city. A trader said: “The use of carbide is banned by the government under Prevention of Food Adulteration rules but the authorities hardly enforce it. 

"Due to their disinterest, middlemen are easily making money out of this,” he added. Kottapet wholesale market president (name witheld on request) said people have now become more aware and ask only for naturally ripened mangoes. 

“Also, multinational stores never purchase carbide-ripened fruits. There are a few ripening chambers where mangoes are ripened through ethylene. I think it will take a few more years before forced ripening of fruits will stop,” he added. 

Chemicals can cause cancer  
The chemical widely used for artificially ripening fruits is calcium carbide (CaC2) which contains arsenic and phosphorus, both of which can prove fatal for human beings. CaC2 is a known carcinogen — an agent having the ability to alter human cells into cancerous cells. 

Though this chemical is banned in many countries, including India, it is being freely used across the country to ripen fruits such as mangoes, watermelons, bananas etc. just to scale up the sales. One of the main reasons to practise this process is to cut short the time taken by fruits to ripen naturally, which usually takes longer than the one which involves chemicals. 

“Calcium carbide leads to skin allergies and rashes and at times can also cause a severe disease like skin cancer,” Hyderabad-based skin specialist Dr AK Agarwal said.

"Since most of the fruits procured from the market are artificially ripened, the only way to skim the carbide content is to wash the fruits properly. The use of this chemical should be stopped completely in order to wipe out the risk of cancerous diseases."

Doctors suggest fruits and vegetables should be bought from noted stores like Mother Dairy’s Safal as they use ethylene for ripening fruits, which is considered safer than other methods. 

“We at Safal use ethylene for ripening fruit which is quite similar to the natural ripening agents produced by fruits. At Safal, fruits are ripened using scientific methods. Ethylene has no adverse effect on health,” said Pradipta Sahoo, business head (horticulture), Mother Dairy fruits and vegetables. 

Solar cart that keeps veggies fresh for five days  
In a bid to help the poor vegetable vendors, the Ministry of Food Processing Industries has come up with a new solar-powered vending cart. 

The cart, which has been designed by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), can curb the wastage of vegetables and fruits by keeping them fresh for up to five days, thus reducing losses caused to the vendors. “The mobile vending cart has been designed to store fresh fruits and vegetables safely for two to five days,” Dr Indra Mani, professor and head of division of agricultural engineering, IARI, said.

"The modern technology preserves fresh fruits and vegetables by controlling the environment around them. We have given the carts to at least 10 vendors on a nominal rent of Rs 200 per month for testing the efficacy of the device. All the vendors are very happy with the technology.

“We are planning to license it. It is available with the division of agricultural engineering. We have distributed the cart to vendors for making it popular. This is our modus operandi to prevent loss of fresh produce and help the poor vendors,” Dr Mani added. 

The price of the vending cart has been fixed at Rs 30,000. A number of urban poor are involved in vending in poor living conditions as their income is insufficient due to the loss of quality of their produce. 

Vendors use wet gunny bags and sprinkle water on their produce to keep it fresh. This leads to spoilage of the vegetables, particularly the leafy ones and tomatoes, cucumber, etc. as these veggies have a short shelf life. 

They get rotten, thus causing loss of income to the vendors as customers refuse to buy these items. The solar cart is capable of reducing temperature of the storage chamber by 5-8°Celsius and increasing relative humidity by 15 to 30 per cent points. It thus enhances the storage life of fresh fruits and vegetables to up to five days as it reduces evaporative losses vis-a vis consumers’ satisfaction. 

“It maintains freshness of the produce in terms of colour, texture and coarse appearance for up to five days which fetches more net income. It is also useful during the winter season when the ambient condition is dry which induces deterioration in appearance of the fresh vegetables,” Dr Mani said. 

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