Monday, February 7, 2011

Pesticide laden food has become a way of life

Part 1

Pesticide residues in our food chain has drastically increased with not a lurking conscience pinching the power driven policy makers neither the bereft farmers. It has become a way of life. Consumers opt to become complacent victims of the two.

Karburgi Kampu, the third Bharat Vikas Sangam event concluded at Gulbarga in Karnataka on 1st January 2011. Each day witnessed over 70 - 80,000 farmers. I had the opportunity to address some of these farmers. In my interactions, they made no bones about the indiscriminate dosage of pesticides they sprayed on vegetables. Aowschadi ( medicine ) was required because their soils were pest infested and infected. As for their own consumption, a pesticide free patch was reserved to grow their vegetables fully aware of the dire consequences of these lethal pesticides. Safe solutions is what they otherwise wished for but both the policies and pesticide companies offered them deals with only debt ridden promises.

“In the last two decades, the farmer has been taught and almost forced to use chemicals increasingly. The farmer is getting bankrupt; his costs are increasing and every year the yield from his poisoned soil decreases. The consumers are worried about the levels of toxicity in the food. Chemical farming has destroyed the soil, the water table, the environment and the livelihood of thousands of villagers. The only ones that are benefiting are the companies that have been promoting chemical farming incessantly(1)

Often I am asked this question “What chemicals and pesticides are used to artificially ripen fruits and vegetables? How can we detect them and what can we do? The later question i tackle in my next article. So watch it for it.

Many techniques are employed to ripen mature fruits, the most commonly used agent is calcium carbide. It has carcinogenic properties and is used in gas welding for steel goods. This method is being used in most of the climacteric fruits (fruits which are picked when mature, and ripened only after they are picked) like mangoes, papayas, apricots and bananas. No wonder, health freaks who go on a fruit diet to keep fit, often end up with mouth ulcers, gastric irritation or even food poisoning. So much for a fruit diet".(2)

"Calcium carbide popularly known as masala is used extensively in mangoes, bananas and papayas, and sometimes in apples and plums. Industrial-grade calcium carbide may contain traces of arsenic and phosphorus, and, thus, use of this chemical for this purpose is illegal in most countries. Calcium carbide, once dissolved in water, produces acetylene, which acts as an artificial ripening agent. Acetylene is believed to affect the nervous system by reducing oxygen supply to brain." (3)

Another chemical named EP-50 is also used to speed up the ripening process. Almost all raw fruits are chemically treated. Banana which is supposed to be the main source of calcium has become the source of serious health problems. Bananas are being mixed with Ethepon, a chemical that can harm vital organs of the body.

Unfortunately, not even a guava is being spared from pesticides. “Poisoned guava fruit of pesticide overuse kills girl in Bathinda” (4). As per an RTI enquiry, hospital record in Bathinda shows that 61 people died by inhaling chemicals while spraying pesticides between 2004 and 2008. The pesticides have also entered the food chain. Studies have detected pesticides --heptachlor and ethion, both carcinogens -in farmers' blood here. The lethal chemicals have also made it to the fodder, vegetables, bovine and human milk(5).

A Sordid Truth

"A Chemical Epidemic" an article in Telhelka reveals "Endosulfan is a deadly insecticide banned in over 68 countries. SO WHY does India take such an entrenched position every time? The answer may lie in the fact that it is the world’s largest producer, consumer and exporter of endosulfan, ranked amongst the top five most commonly used agricultural insecticide in the world. Its current global use, as per industry estimates, is about 35 million litres. In the past five years, India has exported endosulfan to over 70 countries, with more than $150 million worth of exports between 2007 and 2008.

Did you know "Tamil Nadu distributes endosulfan for free after a deal with Cadbury?"

Domestically too, the government is playing an active role in increasing the use of this insecticide. Tamil Nadu has been aggressively promoting endosulfan after the state agriculture department inked an MOU with Cadbury India Limited in 2007 for enhancing cocoa (a cash crop) cultivation in the state. “For 1,000 saplings of cocoa, 4 litres of endosulfan is given free to the farmers. I got 16 litres of endosulfan free with 4,000 cocoa saplings from the State government as part of the scheme,” said a cocoa farmer from Erode district of Tamil Nadu. “These are all dubious means to promote and increase the dependence of farmers on deadly insecticides like endosulfan. Once the farmer gets used to it, it is difficult for him to get out of the vicious pesticide cycle,” says Sridhar of Thanal, member of the Endosulfan Relief Cell in Kerala". (6)

And more, the most unassuming vegetables like Bottle gourd is often injected with a chemical like oxytocin for faster growth that can cause abnormal growth and other complications in human beings. Oxytocin can lead to damage of the brain. Suppliers and hawkers apply synthetic green colours on vegetables like beans and bitter gourd and fruits which contain heavy metals like mercury maintain their "freshness' and maximise profits. Hormones are used for faster growth of pumpkin, watermelon, brinjal, gourd, cucumber. Cheap chemical colours are being used to give the apples the extra sheen. Such chemical induced vegetable and fruits can prove disastrous for the digestive system, eyes and liver. It can result in vomiting and diarrhea in children and kidney failure.

The unfortunate part is even agriculture scientists have convinced themselves that crops, fruits cannot grow without pesticides. A report by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) shows that pesticide residues in grapes, wheat and rice is much higher in Karnataka than levels allowed by the health & family welfare department.(7)

But what are we doing about it? Apart from rushing to hospitals. Why have we reached this stage of despair and so complacent to let the polluters get away with poisoning our food chain? Do you not agree that if doctors and engineers are held responsible for any accidents, so should the scientists and policy makers who advocate such corrosive technologies must be taken to task and pay for it.

As consumers, we put our hands up in the air and moan about the few choices left. We have nothing much to eat is what I get to hear, when I alert consumers. Well, if one does nothing to raise voices against policies and the pesticide lobby, then brace yourself the worst is shortly in the offing. "First, the Biotech industry aggressively promoted chemical farming. Now that we have all woken up to the folly of chemical farming, they have come up with another half-baked, quick-fix in the form of Genetically Engineered Crops. The world now witness an exponential rise in the number of people suffering from unexplained diseases like cancer. Is it far fetched to imagine that there is a link between the two? The world is today seeing various unheard of diseases like the Mad Cow, the Bird Flu and the Swine Flu.”(1). Every second home you peer in into has a diabetic, cancer, heart patient and more.

Overcome this crisis with rationale

Eat healthy! How do you do this with the rising costs of pesticide laden food, gas and everything else? This is a question often asked by people when considering how to safeguard their diets. However, the real question should be “How can you afford not to eat healthy with the high costs of being ill?”

Being an organic farmer, I advocate purchasing chemical-free foods whenever possible, including organically-grown produce. It costs more to buy organic, but, if you can afford it, it is money well spent. There are many things people can do to control food costs while still consuming a health-promoting diet. When budgeting, most people separate medical costs from food costs. However, these two are linked. As one eats more nutritious foods, medical problems and costs can be mitigated or eliminated, thus reducing overall spending. And actually, for the typical family, an increase in food costs is not even necessary for improving the diet.

On the other hand, practise home gardening, a incredibly cheap alternative.What is stopping you from sowing one seed of bottle gourd in a pot in your balcony? Instead of growing aromatic plants, be different, encourage children to grow crops which serves your well being. For starters, you could try leaf lettuce, coriander, amaranth (dant sappu) brinjal, cucumber, green beans and few varieties of tomato plants. You will soon be supplying half to your the neighborhood. And there are many despite staying in apartments with small balconies succeed in growing their diverse food. (8)

As rightly said by Colin Todhunter in his article Rampant use of pesticides. Slow death, fast profits. “If someone was standing in front of you threatening your life or the lives of your children, wouldn’t you take action? There’s no difference between that situation and what the corporations are doing to your food”(9)

So wake up. Ban Pesticides.


(7) Toxic pesticides linger in cereals and fruits - The Times of India

Posted on 4th February 2011 by Sangita Sharma


  1. Well done to you Sangita for taking the step and putting your beliefs into practice.

  2. Very informative - completely agree!