If pesticides in Pepsi can piss you off, why not…

BHAMY V. SHENOY writes: Soft drinks and mineral water are consumed by a very tiny proportion of our population. Yet, the presence of pesticide content in them became a national issue, with a joint parliamentary committee being set up to get to the bottom of it.

On the other hand, why does the adulteration of food—rice, dal, oil, spices, tea consumed by one and all—with its enormous implications on the health of the poor and the economic health of the nation, fail to grip our attention?

Mysore is home to two of the country’s biggest food research laboratories: the Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL), and the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI). Their mere presence should lead one to assume that Mysore’s food standards would be slightly higher than the rest of the country.

Yet, shockingly, a recent survey conducted by the Mysore Grahakara Parishat (MGP), the 16th such, has found that food adulteration in Mysore city has increased to a crisis level.

For this year’s survey, 400 samples of commonly used food items that are most susceptible to adulteration were collected from 38 small shops located across Mysore and sent for analysis to Ganesh Consultancy & Analytical Services, which is the only non-government laboratory in Mysore District to be accorded ISO 9001-2000 recognition as well as approval from Agmark (Government of India) and Karnataka State Pollution Control Board.

It is crystal clear that the poorer sections of the public are facing great danger to their health because of rampant food adulteration.

# Of the 35 toor dal samples tested, 43% were adulterated. 26% of the samples were coloured with metanil yellow, a forbidden food colourant known to cause anaemia, degeneration of reproductive organs, infertility, stomach disorders and cancer in humans. 6% of the samples had lead chromate, an inorganic dye, that causes anaemia, abortion, paralysis and brain damage. The other 11% of the adulterated samples had too much foreign matter.

# 50% of the bengal gram (chana dal) samples tested were adulterated (28% of the samples had metanil yellow, 6% of the samples had auramine and 16% of the samples had damaged grains). Auramine, like metanil yellow, is a dye used in leather, paper and textile industries but is forbidden as a food colourant. It also causes cancer in humans.

# 29% of the green gram (moong dal) samples were adulterated (9% of the samples had excessive foreign matter–stones, husk, etc, 9% had metanil yellow and 11% had excessive amount of grains damaged by insects).

# 48% of the turmeric samples were adulterated (26% contained metanil yellow, 11% lead chromate and 11% had excess starch). 45% of chilli powder samples had forbidden artificial colouring matter in them. 61% of pepper samples were adulterated (36% contained light berries and 25% had oil extracted from them). Also all these samples were polished using mineral oil. The oil covers up the white mould and gives the pepper seeds an attractive black colour. It also causes diarrhoea, nausea and vomitting and can cause cancer in humans.

# 58% of cumin seeds were adulterated (26% had too much foreign matter, 19% had too much insect damage and 13% had too many immature seeds). 50% of cardamom samples had cardamom oil removed and artificial colours added. Similarly, 83% of clove samples had clove oil removed.

# 82% of ghee samples were adulterated (45% with vanaspati and the remaining 37% with foreign fat). To check if the vanaspati used in adulterating ghee was itself pure, we bought a sample of vanaspati and tested it. To our pleasant surprise, we found that it was not adulterated! 50% of the butter samples were adulterated. These samples had too much moisture. 17% were also adulterated with vanaspati.

# 58 edible oil samples were tested and it was shocking that every single sample was adulterated (43% were rancid and the other 57% were mixed with cheaper oils). Such adulteration can cause liver problems and cancer.

# 63% of the semolina (rava) samples were adulterated (31% had sand particles, 16% had live worms and 16% had iron filings). Iron filings which are often used to adulterate semolina cause stomach pains.

# 84% of the loose tea samples had artificial colour added. The added colour can cause cancer. There seems to be a widespread racket of collecting (from tea stalls) used tea powder which would then be dried, coloured with artificial colours, mixed with fresh tea and sold as local brand tea.

# 69% of confectionery samples had prohibited colours in them.

# 38% of rice samples were adulterated (24% had too much foreign matter such as stones and 14% were artificially coloured).

Public awareness about food adulteration is increasing. But it is very unfortunate that the Mysore City Corporation is not taking any action on this menace.

The position of food analyst who is empowered to tackle this problem was vacant for 16 years. After an incessant struggle by various consumer organizations, the position was finally filled in 1996. But, as far as we know, MCC has not prosecuted a single food adulteration case in the in the last 12 years in which the position has been filled.

Including the period when the position was vacant, it would mean that MCC has not prosecuted anyone for food adulteration in the last 28 years!

The excuse being given is that, according to the Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act, the food analyst has to be deputed from the department of health and family services, but since the present food analyst has been promoted from within the MCC, she does not have legal sanction. If this is true, she must be immediately replaced by an officer who is legally qualified for the job.

Since no prosecution against food adulteration has taken place in the city for nearly 30 years, the criminals who are putting the public in grave danger by adulterating food have no fear of punishment whatsoever. This is the prime reason why food adulteration is so rampant in Mysore.

One other unfortunate consequence of the inaction of the food analyst is that food inspectors who have received specialised training to collect food samples to be analysed by the food analyst are now being employed as sanitary inspectors because they have nothing else to do.

What a tragic waste of training!