Is food we consume safe?

Anuj Kumar Verma

Many of us believe that we only eat safe and healthy food. We better wake up! Unending human greed for easy money has forced entry of malpractices in food chain. A number of toxic substances have entered food chain and bear upon health of people as well as
animals. Right from agricultural fields/ orchards, where food is grown using excessive Dia, Urea, unscheduled sprays of toxic chemical pesticides, insecticides, herbicides etc., this menace continues with artificial & unhygienic ripening of fruits, vegetables, adulteration of milk, dals, spices and oil till these reach our homes for consumption. Residues of chemical fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides, herbicides, artificial ripening agents like Ethephon, Calcium Carbide, Oxytocin, Chinese Sachets, Ethylene more than 100 ppm end up in our food table and through that our body.
Central Insecticide Board & Registration Committee (CIB&RC) GoI recommended use of highly hazardous herbicide “Glyphosate” only for tea gardens and non cropped areas. Punjab Govt has banned sale of Glyphosate, but in our state this herbicide in different popular brands like ‘Round Up”, “All Clear” etc. is used by agricultural farmers especially in Jammu belt to clear weed from their agricultural fields, at large. It is high time that J&K Government constitute a High Power Committee , comprising senior scientists and doctors, to review use and effects of highly hazardous pesticides, insecticides and herbicides viz. Endosulfan, Chlrofenapyr, Phosphamidon, Tricholorofon, Methomyl, Phorate, Trizophos, Monocrotophos and others, on human beings, animals, soil & air, being used by agriculturists and horticulturists of the state. Kashmir Valley has been witness to rising cases of cancer, brain tumors, ulcers, gastroenteritis and other serious diseases during last three decades.
Use of impermissible toxic chemicals and wrong procedures are either used/performed in agricultural farms/ fruit orchards or in trucks during transportation from outside the state or after arrival of these fruits mainly papaya, mangoes, bananas, guava etc. in local markets.
There is a community of farmers hailing from outside the state and mostly found in tropical zones of Jammu province. They take acres of pieces of land alongside rivers & nullahs from local landlords in Jammu on hire. They use trench farming technique and grow vegetables, water melon & musk melon applying heavy dosage of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides, herbicides. This technique is popular as “Forced Cultivation”. The name, itself, is self explanatory; One can imagine how poisonous are these vegetables and fruits arriving in bulk quantities in markets all over the state, during summer season? Such, farmers, hailing from outside the state, usually do “Forced Cultivation” in belts of Pargwal, Marh, R S Pura, Samba, Hiranagar and Kathua. The Agriculture Department need to take serious note of this issue and the Enforcement Directorate should launch a vigorous campaign against such poisonous malpractices, especially in Jammu belt.
Likewise, in farms & markets, malachite Green is used to accentuate the greenness of the vegetable, while argemone seeds are mixed to add bulk and weight. But it is the dye that is more harmful, known to cause cancer if taken over a long time. In mustard seeds and oil, argemone and papaya seeds are added for bulk and weight; these can cause epidemic of dropsy and severe glaucoma. Children and old people with poor immunity are especially susceptible. Only around two decades back, Indians witnessed epidemic of dropsy in North India as well as in North Eastern States due to adulteration of argemone seeds oil in mustard oil by mustard oil manufacturing companies.
Papaya seeds are mixed in black pepper, which can cause serious liver and stomach disorders. Common adulterants in coffee powder are tamarind seeds, chicory powder, which can cause diarrhea, stomach disorders, giddiness and severe joint pain. Kesari dal is mixed in Arhar dal. Coriander powder is adulterated with sawdust. Adulterants such as sand, grit, husk, rice bran, talc, etc. are mixed in rice.
Only few months back, this was confirmed through reply received from the Deputy Controller (PIO) Drugs & Food Controller Organization vide their letter No. 188-90 Dated 29/05/2018 in response to a RTI application filed by a practicing lawyer from Jammu and Kashmir High Court that daily food items including fruits and vegetables enter Jammu and Kashmir from outside state at Lakhanpur and from Pakistan via Chakkan -da – Bagh and Aman Setu without any sample lifting by the Food Control Organization.
Food safety is an important concern and this is prime responsibility of the Food Control Org. to ensure that food items including fruit, vegetables, milk & milk powder, khoya which enter our state either from other states of the country through road/ railway network or via LOC trade point from POJK, are checked
for adulteration, toxic chemicals residues and hygiene; And, samples are lifted for laboratory tests daily by the Food Control Organization on random sampling basis.
This is also a serious matter for enquiry that how milk and milk products like cheese, khoya, sweets are available in huge quantity in local markets of J&K even during festive seasons and during summer in its peak. Whereas, position was totally different till last one decade. Has number of milk animals increased drastically, breaking all records in the world, even to compete & beat fast increase of humans’ population in the state? In fact, in our country, the cow population has been decreasing since last so many years.
As per reply to a RTI Application filed by a registered public charitable trust, The Drug and Food Control Organization Jammu informed that during last one year i.e. from 01/01/2018 till 31st Dec 2018, the department of J&K Food safety lifted 103 samples of milk from various markets; 108 samples were tested out of which 45 samples were found not conforming to the laid doubt standards. 45 convictions were made and an amount of Rs.2,54,500 was imposed as fine. This is really a serious matter that only 103 samples of milk, being supplied in various markets of J&K, were lifted by the J&K food safety organization in one whole year and more than 40% samples of milk were not fit for consumption. This remains a FACT that 68.7% of milk and milk products sold in our country is not as per the standards laid down by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). Recently Mohan Singh Ahluwalia, member, Animal Welfare Board of India said the most common adulterants being mixed in milk are detergent, urea, caustic soda, sodium carbonate, ammonium sulfate, hydrated lime, glucose, farmaline, white paint and refined oil. Keeping in view such a serious situation, the J&K Food Safety Org. need to gear up its field functionaries and lift random samples of milk & milk products, daily, from all markets in towns and cities of the state. Intervention of enforcement agency, in J&K, is minimal due to lack of will, lack of trained manpower, insufficient quality test laboratories and endemic corruption. As a consequence, public health is at mercy of the profiteers and adulterers poisoning our food.
Need of the hour is for the J&K Food Safety Organisations to strictly enforce the FSSAI laws without making excuses. Regular awareness programmes should also be conducted for consumers. There is also need on non – governmental level, civil society groups and NGOs should help identify people and businesses selling adulterated foodstuff, and expose them.