A news that is not so sweet

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The Hindu

Bangalore, 29 December 2010: Just when consumers make a conscientious effort to stave off junk food pangs and reach for some wholesome fruit, here comes news that is distinctly hard to swallow. A deadly chemical, calcium carbide, is used widely across the country to artificially ripen fruit, risking the health of consumers, cautions a study published in the latest issue of Current Science.


Mangos, bananas, apricots, papayas, and plums were found to have been treated with calcium carbide (CaC2), which contains traces of arsenic and phosphorous, say authors Md. Wasim Siddiqui and R.S. Dhua, who are scientists at West Bengal’s Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidyalaya.


Although banned, the chemical, known commonly as “masala,” is used freely in the country, the scientists add, calling for greater monitoring of the sales of the compound. The Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Act, 1954, and the Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules, 1955, both ban artificial ripening, including the use of CaC2.



This hazardous and carcinogenic chemical puts consumers at the risk of short-term and long-term health problems. Early symptoms of arsenic or phosphorus exposure include diarrhoea, thirst, irritation in the eyes, mouth, nose and throat. Chronic exposure to the chemical could lead to peptic ulcers, the research paper warns.


The authors add that although fruits developed an appealing and uniform peel colour, they are not as flavourful, often even raw inside and have shorter shelf-life. Mangoes of the Langra, Himsagar and Fazli varieties, Cavendish banana and some varieties of tomato are neither yellow nor red when naturally ripe. “But people are not aware of this.” CaC2 also breaks down the organic composition of vitamins and other micronutrients.


Food adulteration has become “rampant due to the inefficiency in government-regulated quality assurance practices,” says the paper, adding that the Departments of Health and Agriculture must check the practice. “It is not solely the responsibility of the government; people must also become aware and avoid consuming contaminated fruits,” the paper concludes.



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