Bangalore: ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’ is one saying we live by. Isn’t it? And surely a bright red apple would be appealing to our eyes and inadvertently we would buy it, thinking that it is healthy. Now what if you come to know that this apple comes with its own baggage that makes it anything but healthy? Shocked? Well, not so much. We are not unaware that different additives are incorporated in fruits and vegetables to help the ripening process like calcium carbide or to slow it down with auxins, not to mention how pesticides and insecticides have become inevitable parts of the farmers’ lives. But the function of the additives does not end here. Additives also act as artificial colourants which give the apple its characteristic bright red look, the carrot its radiant orange and the broccoli its fresh green!
The luscious pink of the litchis or the bright yellow zucchinis might inveigle your taste buds and eyes, but beneath the ‘freshness’ lies the real menace - a nocuous concoction of chemicals, the consumption of which in long term might prove to be lethal. Rhoda mine oxide, copper sulphate, malachite green, eritrozin B and the hazardous carbides are few of the most commonly used chemical substances used to render colour and freshness to the fruits and vegetables.
The lush green of chillies, cucumbers and peas are owing to the generous use of malachite green, used in the textile industry, a well-known carcinogen. Other green vegetables such as bottle gourd, ridged gourd, bitter gourd, beans, lady’s fingers and drumsticks are given a treatment in copper sulphate solution, also known as blue vitriol. Copper sulphate is one of the basic components of fungicides in farming and its consumption is deleterious to the liver and kidneys as it aids in the creation of free radicals in the body which proliferates the ageing process. Again another lethal carcinogen and also a major constituent of agricultural pesticides, rhodamine B, imparts the bright red hue to strawberries, cherries, sweet potatoes and apples. This chemical is a skin irritant and may cause infections. Another chemical eritrozin B is also used rampantly on fruits and vegetables to retain their ‘freshness’.
Also sellers often use calcium carbide, which is mostly used in steel plants, on fruits mangoes and bananas to artificially ripen them. Carbides, apart from being carcinogenic since it contains both arsenic and phosphorus, are neurotoxic (detrimental to the brain) in nature. Carbides produce acetylene gas which can cause various neurological ailments like cerebral oedema, seizures, prolonged hypoxia, Alzheimer's and dementia.
To further worsen things, the sellers also rub petroleum oil on vegetables like tomatoes, chillies, apples and aubergines to give them the shiny ‘farm-fresh’ look! Petroleum, also a carcinogen, is toxic to human body and causes various respiratory and gastrointestinal problems.
Again the left over vegetables at the end of the day, are sprayed to make them ‘farm fresh’. At first, silicone spray is applied to slow down the ripening process. After which the fruits and vegetables are dumped in blue vitriol solution to maintain the shine and the vibrant green tone.
But the sinister doesn’t end here. The farmers use hormones to accelerate the growth rate of fruits and vegetables! They inject hormones like Oxytocin on crops to accelerate their growth rate exponentially; the use of these hormones is strictly prohibited on plants, and are only allowed to be used on animals.
Globalization of agriculture has greatly jeopardised the daily bread of both the farmers and vendors, which, along with global warming resulting to erratic climate changes make farming a risky affair. Steep competition at both home and the world compels some farmers and vendors to take drastic actions to stay in business.
Today to say that the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables is healthy would be incongruous since the unscrupulous use of chemical substances nullifies their nutritional benefits.
Though thorough cleansing of the fruits and vegetables with water before peeling or cutting is recommended in order to eliminate the chemicals, this is not an infallible method because washing fails to flush out the chemicals that have already infiltrated inside. Besides, there are water insoluble additives such as petroleum, where washing fails to aid.
The panacea to this predicament lies in honest agricultural practices. The authorities should see to it that the standards are maintained by the farmers and vendors. People should be made more aware of the nuisance that adulterated fruits and vegetables cause. When it comes to agricultural produces, colour is directly proportional to nutritional benefits, the reason artificial colours have such a gargantuan role to play in today’s world! We inadvertently go for fruits and veggies which look ‘farm fresh’. Farmers and vendors capitalize on this weakness of ours to adulterate the fruits and vegetables which should otherwise have been nutritious and thus beneficial for our health, with dyes which not only drains them of the nutrients but also makes them toxic...!
[Dr. Karunesh Kumar H.S is Senior Consultant – Internal Medicine at Sarjapur Road, Columbia Asia Hospital, Bangalore.]
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