Poi­soned Morsels


Thh Sr­relhm rf frrG aGulthratirn is fast ac­quir­ing hnGh­mic Sr­rSr­rtirns in thh aesh­nch rf str­rng laws, rais­ing shrirus crnchrns aerut its hx­trhmh hffhcts

IN­DIA’S con­sumer-driven econ­omy has un­leashed a large num­ber of brands. They meet top-qual­ity stan­dards and re­quire­ments that are laid out by the In­dian food reg­u­la­tor, Food Safety and Stan­dards Au­thor­ity of In­dia (FSSAI). Nor­mally, they carry a higher price as they have to de­liver on mul­ti­ple bench­marks. How­ever, this has pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity to un­scrupu­lous play­ers to ei­ther pro­duce cheap prod­ucts or in­dulge in coun­ter­feit­ing. Such is the greed for money that those in­dulging in food adul­ter­ation know­ingly refuse to see the un­abashed dis­re­gard for hu­man life. What makes this prob­lem more com­pli­cated is that there are a host of cheap, eas­ily avail­able and life-threat­en­ing op­tions at the dis­posal of the adul­ter­ators. Hence, it’s dif­fi­cult to pin­point the most ef­fec­tive strat­egy to counter this sit­u­a­tion. It’s a hy­dra-headed mon­ster that we are deal­ing with. Eco­nom­i­cally, adul­ter­ation cuts costs and boosts profit mar­gins, but from the health and safety per­spec­tive, it plays a deadly game with those it comes into con­tact with. The trav­esty of jus­tice is ev­i­dent from the fact that no mat­ter what the health dam­age is, the adul­ter­ators lit­er­ally go scot free un­der the ex­ist­ing laws. While there is a pro­vi­sion for life im­pris­on­ment, the po­lice doesn’t have the power to in­voke the FSSAI Act. This can be done only by the food safety au­thor­i­ties in the states. The net re­sult is that in most cases the of­fender re­ceives a max­i­mum im­pris­on­ment of six months, or a fine of ` 1000. The FSSAI, which is re­spon­si­ble for pro­tect­ing and pro­mot­ing pub­lic health through reg­u­la­tion and su­per­vi­sion of food safety, has col­lected a to­tal of 84,537 adul­ter­ated food sam­ples in 2014-15, 77,941 in 2015-16 and 80,463 in 2016-17. How­ever, the con­vic­tions stood at 1,402 in 2014-15, 540 in 2015-16 and 1,591 in 2016-17. To my mind, this has to sky­rocket in the times ahead and could be a vi­tal part in deal­ing with the com­plex maze of adul­ter­ation. The com­monly adul­ter­ated items in In­dia in­clude milk, pulses, rice, lo­cal sweets, veg­etable oils and ghee, honey, liquor, and medicine, among oth­ers. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Sur­vey on Milk Adul­ter­ation 2011, states such as Bi­har, Ch­hat­tis­garh, Odisha, West Ben­gal, Jhark­hand, and Mi­zo­ram wit­nessed adul­ter­ation up to 100% against the na­tional av­er­age of 68.4%. The adul­ter­ants of choice were found to be urea and detergent. Pulses are con­sumed by a large num­ber of peo­ple, and adul­ter­ants such as as­bestos (pol­ish­ing), metanil yel­low (colour) and sol­u­ble coal tar (shine) are added. These are all car­cino­genic prod­ucts and com­pro­mise the health of the con­sumers. Rice, which is a sta­ple food in In­dia, has be­come a favourite with the adul­ter­ators, who till re­cently were adding mar­ble chips, mix­ing sand, chalk and brick pow­der, have now started a syn­thetic replication

of rice called ‘plas­tic rice’. Ex­perts warn that this form raises the risk of can­cer by 15-20 per cent and wreaks havoc with the diges­tive and re­pro­duc­tive sys­tems. Since the ru­ral folks pre­dom­i­nantly con­sume pulses and rice, the dam­age to health is ex­ac­er­bated in the ru­ral ar­eas due to lack of proper med­i­cal care. Lo­cal sweets are a rage across the coun­try. How­ever, sul­phur diox­ide in ex­ces­sive amounts, starch, alu­minium and more adul­ter­ants are added to them. These can cause se­vere al­ler­gies, and in worst cases, fa­tal­ity. Veg­eta­bles oils and ghee are ne­ces­si­ties that are ex­ploited by the adul­ter­ators. In mus­tard oil, arge­mone seeds and pa­paya seeds, which are mixed to add bulk and weight, can cause epi­demic dropsy and se­vere glau­coma. Peo­ple have lost their eye­sight by con­sum­ing sub-stan­dard ed­i­ble oil. The young, old and those with im­mu­nity is­sues are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble.

AN ar­ti­cle in the Busi­ness Stan­dard in April 2018 car­ried a re­port about a fake ghee fac­tory that was busted in Ut­tar Pradesh. It con­tained pack­ets of prom­i­nent dairy brands such as Amul, Paras, San­skar and Mad­hav. It was found that they were us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of Dalda (veg­etable ghee), re­fined oil and essences to make desi ghee. Of­fi­cials say that this com­bi­na­tion was like poi­son and played havoc with the lives of the peo­ple. These were sold at cheaper prices and the nexus with lo­cal whole­sale traders en­sured its pen­e­tra­tion in the mar­kets. Honey, which is known for its over­all health ben­e­fits, is be­ing de­na­tured with the ad­di­tion of corn syrup, which is im­ported from China and in­vert sugar, which is lo­cally avail­able. The net re­sult of all this ac­cord­ing to the ex­perts is that 85 per cent of the honey sold in In­dia is adul­ter­ated. I have lim­ited my scope to the very ba­sic and es­sen­tial items sold across the

Apart from mar­ble chips, sand, chalk and brick pow­der, adul­ter­ators use a syn­thetic replication of rice, called “plas­tic rice”. This raises the chances of can­cer by 15-20%, and de­stroys the per­son’s diges­tive and re­pro­duc­tive sys­tems. The dan­gers are higher among vil­lagers, who pre­dom­i­nantly con­sume rice and pulses

length and breadth of our coun­try. The sit­u­a­tion is no bet­ter in spices, ice creams, liquor, medicines and bot­tled wa­ter. Last year, ac­knowl­edg­ing the grav­ity of the sit­u­a­tion, the Law Com­mis­sion rec­om­mended a set of strin­gent mea­sures. It rec­om­mended that Sec­tions 272 and 273 of the In­dian Pe­nal Code (IPC) be amended to make adul­ter­ation a se­ri­ous crime. The com­mis­sion also said that the fine on adul­ter­ators be in­creased from ` 1000 to ` 10 lakh, and jail term from six months to im­pris­on­ment, till death. To their credit, states such as Ut­tar Pradesh, West Ben­gal and Odisha have im­ple­mented the sec­ond point. How­ever, more needs to be done and more states have to fol­low suit. The govern­ment needs to in­ten­sify its ef­forts for cre­at­ing large-scale aware­ness cam­paigns that ed­u­cate the con­sumers about the ill-ef­fects of buy­ing coun­ter­feit prod­ucts and the con­sumers on their part need to be aware that a small sav­ing that is made by pur­chas­ing coun­ter­feits can have life-threat­en­ing re­sults. The need of the hour is to set up sys­tems for reg­u­lar mon­i­tor­ing through a large num­ber of ac­cred­ited lab­o­ra­to­ries. These will check, ver­ify and sat­isfy that the prod­ucts avail­able in the mar­ket­place are meet­ing the qual­ity and safety stan­dards and that are gen­uine. Such a mech­a­nism should be fast-tracked so that ex­am­ples are made out of such un­scrupu­lous el­e­ments so that it acts as a strong de­ter­rent for those who break the law.

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