“Adulteration thrives in India with a view of ‘Sab Kuchh Chalta Hai’. Such belief encourages and allures even the honest trader’s resort to make quick bucks. The unholy nexus between death merchants and corrupt officials, even the police has allowed this heinous crime”.
What do we find pure or unadulterated now-a-days? Duplicate branded ghee, adulterated petrol, turmeric mixed with chromatic powder, chili powder mixed with red colour, dal with stone bits, dust tea garnished by saw dust, white powder in salt, even fruits, vegetables and cereals sold in the market, reportedly contain high level of toxic metals like lead, nickel, cadmium etc. A survey conducted recently, by a private agency revealed that all the cold drinks like Pepsi, Coca Cola etc., are found adulterated with unhygienic substances. The episodes of Coca Cola have been in international news several times. National Dairy Development Corporation also conducted a survey, which revealed that 90% of the edible oils available in the market contain highly toxic substances.
“Adulteration is the term used to describe deliberate contamination of food items diluting their purity’. This is done in order to increase profitability or sometimes in order to meet the increased demand. Food items could be adulterated by using neutral or non-harmful additives, like mixing pure water in milk, but sometimes the nature of contaminant added is impure, unhygienic, harmful and determental to health of consumers like adding urea to milk. Though, adulteration in any form is not acceptable at all but, the latter needs to be identified and rooted out at a priority as it could lead to disastrous circumstances.
“Food adulteration has become the order of the day and, consumer education and awareness is the need of the hour”, assert experts. ‘A common mistake committed by most consumers is to blindly pick up any product without reading the label which includes details like batch number, expiry date, manufacturer’s name and address. Sometimes, it is a spurious or duplicate product and can be mistaken for a reputed brand. The consumer has to keep his eyes open while buying a product. One must avoid informal transactions which deprive the consumer of a receipt of the purchases made.
Adulteration like corruption has become rampant. People and the government know that most of the spices, dais, milk, ghee, sugar, tea etc are adulterated. We have laws against adulteration, but like many other legislation they are rarely enforced as adulteration has become a way of life The negligent government officials and society are awakened, only when a tragedy takes place.
Adulteration of food is a very serious anti-social act as it poses a major health hazard. Lack of awareness among people, corrupt officials, even the police sometimes, is the reason why spurious food products continue to hit the shelf. I strongly feel that there is an urgent need to evolve better techniques to detect adulteration. Coordination between various government bodies scrutinizing the quality of food products and increase in awareness on the part of citizens can go a long way in containing adulteration.
Who can forget the death of 54 people in the capital because of dropsy triggered by the consumption of adulterated mustard oil. Dropsy is caused by a toxin called sanguinarine, found in the seeds of common weed, prickle poppy Argemone mexicana. Its seeds have been used in recent times to adulterate mustard seeds for a ‘zing’ taste. It was claimed that ‘zing:’ have been lost in some of the high yielding hybrid varieties of mustard, so some unscrupulous oil mill owners have started adding an overdose of ‘argemone’ to restore the ‘zing’ punch, the taste liked by many consumers. It was a pity that a major cooperative giant, like National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), which supplies mustard oil under the brand name of ‘Dhara’ was also in the list of adulterated oils.
The story of the adulterated ‘Dal’ mixed with ‘Kesari Dal’ is also an example. Hundreds of people were disabled in Madhya Pradesh after consuming this adulterated dal. But those who had committed that crime went scot-free. Don’t we remember the recent finding- of pesticides and other non-edible items in the cold drinks of renowned brands? No deterrent punishment was meted out and after the lapse of sometime, everything was in
the same shape. Neither the government nor the public at large was worried over all those happenings. So, it is rightly observed about India that ‘Sab Kuchh Chalta Hai Yahan*.
Despite amendments to the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954, the -level of adulteration in food products in Vadodara was found to be 8.16%. About 37 of the 453 food samples collected by the Food and Drugs Laboratory in 2002-03 were found adulterated. Loopholes in law have emboldened erring manufacturers, and lack of consumer awareness has made things worse. “Most consumers are not brand conscious. They are ignorant about PFA standards and pick up cheaper products by compromising on quality and subsequently health too and those who look for label details like the manufacturer’s name, expiry date and batch number; do not make an effort to lodge a complaint on finding spurious or substandard food products. At the most, they should avoid buying these things themselves,” said Arun Kagadwala of Jagrut Nagrik, a consumer protection organization. Why not the inspectors should honestly execute their duties and put the doers behind bars with the help of police.
The penalty for selling substandard products is a small sum which every trader can pay easily. Also, the fact that one is rarely put behind bars for food adulteration is also a reason why people have no fear of law. There should be a law to cancel the certificate for selling anything in the market for a person who is once caught in this crime.
There is hardly any pure item in the Indian market. Adulterators spare nothing to make quick money. Reports have come to light that empty water bottles are being used to supply well known brand names of mineral water. Every year, thousands of people die after consuming spurious liquor. Every time when the tragedy takes place, some arrests are made and actions are initiated just to pacify the public agitations. The production of spurious liquor can’t be possible without the knowledge and support of local police, but no strict action is initiated to punish the guilty. There is no system to check or punish the known ignorance of such police or other erring officials. The police should also be taken to task, when found guilty for ignoring such cases.
It is the duty of the state to improve the food testing facilities. The Inspectors, Drug Inspectors, Police Officials, food Analysts and others involved should also be taken to the task and must be made accountable if any incidence of adulteration is found in their area of jurisdiction. Unless they are held responsible, they will not worry about the happenings, and adulteration will thrive with more pace and speed.
The Health Ministry must also make ‘ISF’ or ‘Agmark’ certification mandatory for all edible items. Every citizen should also be made aware that consuming adulterated items may prove to be more dangerous than they can think of. The indifferent attitude of general masses towards the hygienic values is also responsible for the prevalence of such crimes. Unless the common people become sensitive to the hygienic values and protest against the spurious and adulterated items, the adulteration will not be checked as the law takes its own time. If we want to remain healthy, we shall have to act at our own level also and, wherever and whenever presence of such items comes to our notice, the matter must be brought to the notice of officials through letters and newspapers. Unless we care for the health of our family members, nothing can be changed. A social awakening against adulteration can only check such a crime. Honesty on the part of Food Inspectors, Police Officials and Judiciary in dealing with such cases to book the guilty and award deterrent punishments will help to some extent to end up this heinous crime.
Traditionally, Indian families used to cook food at home with healthy ingredients and knew what went into the meal. In modern times, with rising incomes and affluence, more and more people are moving away to ready-made fast foods and eating regularly at restaurants. The food in many of these outlets is cooked with poor quality ingredients to attract and satisfy the palate rather than provide a wholesome nutritional meal. We now have a lot more varieties and choices available in the markets. But, some of us may not be aware of the fact that the food we consume may be adulterated. Surveys suggest that 25 to 30 percent of the food items in India are intentionally adulterated!
What is food adulteration?
Food adulteration is the addition or removal of any substances to or from food so that the natural composition and quality is affected. Adulterated food is impure, unsafe and not wholesome. Food can be adulterated intentionally and accidentally.
Unintentional adulteration is a result of ignorance or the lack of facilities to maintain food quality. This may be caused by spillover effect from pesticides and fertilizers. Inappropriate food handling and packaging methods can also result in adulteration.
Intentional food adulteration is usually done for financial gain. The most common form of intentional adulteration is color adulteration. Some examples of intentional adulteration are the addition of water to liquid milk, extraneous matter to ground spices, or the removal or substitution of milk solids from the natural product.
Natural adulteration occurs due to the presence of certain chemicals, organic compounds or radicals naturally occurring in foods which are injurious to health and are not added to the foods intentionally or unintentionally. Some of the examples are toxic varieties of pulses, mushrooms, green and other vegetables, fish and seafood. About 5,000 species of marine fish are known to be poisonous and many of these are among edible varieties.
Food adulteration- a rising problem in India
Food adulteration has become rampant in India. Fruits, vegetables might be contaminated, soft drinks and dairy products too and all this so that producers can save a few rupees.
In a recent report, the Public Health Foundation of India attributed 80 percent of all premature deaths in contaminated food and water. Food adulteration in India starts from the field itself where fertilizers and pesticides are overused. Therefore, one kind of contaminant that is present across all range of food is very high level of pesticide residues.
But pesticide residues are not the only problem. Many products used in everyday cooking, such as cottage cheese and clarified butter, are adulterated. Coloring agents in spices are also posting problems. The use of carbide to make fruit ripen faster has created a number of health hazards.
Young and old are the most affected
Children and elderly people are the most vulnerable to these toxins in food. Some people say that in a country where 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, there should be less stress on adulterated food and more on the fact that people should have enough food to eat. However, the food should be safe, say activists.
Although there exist laws to control and monitor the food industry, until recently there were no uniform food regulations preventing the adulteration of food. We hope that the new food safety and standards act will bring some positive change and with the coming of this act a whole structure will be revamped, more awareness has been generated and people are realizing how important food safety is. But for the average mass, there is a question because the systems that have been put in place, the kind of certification introduced and required are all very expensive. A small scale street vendor will not be able to afford it.
High price of cheap food
Unfortunately, experts say, there is very little awareness among the Indian public. People are tempted to buy cheaper food and they are likely then to purchase adulterated food. Processed food is unsafe in India. Starting from potato chips to pre-cooked ready to eat food, I don’t think these are very safe. This is because the monitoring mechanism in our country is not that strong. Health practitioners are urging the government to do more to raise awareness about adulterated food among the Indian public.
Grave effects of adulteration food practices
- Mineral oil may be added to edible oil and fats and can cause cancers.
- Lead chromate added to turmeric powder and spices can cause anemia, paralysis, brain damage and abortions.
- Lead added to water, natural and processed food can lead to lead poisoning. Lead poisoning causes foot drop, insomnia, constipation, anemia, and mental retardation.
- Cobalt added to water and liquors and can cause cardiac damage. Copper, tin, and zinc can cause colic, vomiting and diarrhea.
- Mercury in mercury fungicide treated grains, or mercury-contaminated fish can cause brain damage, paralysis, and death.
- Non-permitted color or permitted food color like metal yellow, beyond the safe limit in colored food can cause allergies, hyperactivity, liver damage, infertility, anemia, cancer and birth defects.
The best way to avoid these health problems is prevention. There are many steps we can take to ensure this. We can begin by taking an interest in the place from where we buy our food ingredients, for example, is it from a reputed shop or retailer, we need to check out. We also need to check if these outlets are regularly checked by food inspectors and if the premises are kept clean with no infestations. We need to check if the packaging is intact, as also the expiry date and the source of the product. It is also necessary to talk regularly to the local community to check if people are falling sick after eating in a particular restaurant or food ingredients bought from a particular retailer. We should also create awareness in the local community on the ill effects of food adulteration so that when it happens the public knows when to seek help.
We need to remember that contamination could happen in very small amounts over a period of time and it might be impossible to detect or too late to intervene. So it is prudent that everyone of us takes a special interest in this subject and educates our families, friends, and colleagues about this menace.