Thursday, February 16, 2012

Poisoned Food

Food is essential for life. It should be pure, nutritious and free from any type of adulteration for proper maintenance of human health.

Delhi, a city of 17 million people, has just 32 food safety officers and their job is all the harder because traders often see attempts to clamp down on bad practices as an attack on their livelihoods. India only has about 2,000 food safety officers.

Bhim says he's been adding calcium carbide to his apples for years to artificially ripen them after a long journey from the Himalayan foothills, despite being told that it causes cancer. In India, where highways are often potholed and jammed with traffic, and where storage facilities are primitive, up to 40 percent of perishable food rots before it can be sold. Traders cannot buy fruit such as apples or mangoes when they are already ripe, because these would go to waste during the bumpy, un-refrigerated journey from the orchards. Instead, they buy the fruits and later ripen them with calcium carbide

A report by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) in January found that most of the country's milk was watered down or adulterated with products -- including fertilizer, bleach and detergent -- used to thicken the milk and help give it a white, frothy appearance.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg. From rat poison found in vegetables and Diwali-festival sweets laced with caustic soda, to batches of moonshine liquor that kill scores of people at a time -- adulteration is rife. Poverty tempts sellers to add dilutants such as water to products to make them go further. Cheap cooking oil is mixed with expensive oil, tea waste is mixed with new tea, and anything from urea to blotting paper is added to thicken the food sold. The FSSAI has found that 13 percent of all food in the world's second-most-populous country failed to meet its standards.

"The problem is so widespread that everything is contaminated," said Savvy Soumya Misra of the New Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment (CSE). "If everything has problems, there is no choice but to eat whatever is available."

"Poor people don't care much about the quality. Whatever is cheaper, they'll buy it," said Ashok Kanchan, technical adviser at Consumer VOICE, a rights group. "They're just worried about how to fill their stomachs somehow."

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