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Delhi is eating its way to chronic ills

They are supposed to be the ultimate source of nutrition essential for a healthy life. But for some years now, they are being increasingly found laden with heavy doses of poison —from pesticides to heavy metals to unnatural hormones to non-edible colours.

delhi Updated: Mar 10, 2011 00:54 IST
Avishek G Dastidar

They are supposed to be the ultimate source of nutrition essential for a healthy life. But for some years now, they are being increasingly found laden with heavy doses of poison —from pesticides to heavy metals to unnatural hormones to non-edible colours.

Fruits and vegetables have never been more harmful.

Farmers use a whole range of pesticides, many of which are banned, to keep their produce alive. At the farms, where the farmer is the boss, there is no one to check what kind of pesticide is used and how much.

And therein lies the problem.

Although no amount of pesticide is good for the body, worldwide there is something called Acceptable Daily Intake or ADI, which is the safe amount of pesticide allowed to remain in fruits and vegetables.

The logic is that to keep vegetables pest-free, some amount of pesticide will have to be allowed because the nutrition we get in return outweighs the harm done by the little bit of pesticide. But in India, that critical balance is never regulated.

“The farmers are not trained to use pesticides safely. The end result is that their produce bear the poison and come to our markets unchecked,” said Chandra Bhushan, head of Food Safety research at Centre for Science and Environment.

There is also the humongous pressure from the multi-crore pesticide lobby that reaches farmers much effectively than the long arm of the government.

“When a farmer worries about the health of his crops, dealers push various pesticide products without any government intervention or regulation. The contamination starts there,” said environmentalist Ravi Agarwal, director of NGO Toxics Link.

Pesticides have disastrous effect on health. Chlorpyriphos, for instance, damages the nervous system. Aldrin, banned in India, can cause cancer and also damages the reproductive system. Chlordane, on the other hand, affects a host of vital organs like the kidney, the liver, the eyes, the lungs and the central nervous system.

And then there are Endosulfan-T and DDT, whose restricted use is allowed and which are the largest selling agro-pesticide products.

These pesticides are known to cause cancer, induce deformity in newborns and also disrupts the endocrine.

The lobby promoting these products has, however, always denied the adverse health impacts.

According to the Agriculture ministry, farmers have been found injecting oxytocin, a hormone used to induce childbirth and lactation, into pumpkin, watermelon, brinjal, gourd and cucumber plants to make them bear bigger fruits.

Following HC ruling

The panel of lawyers will visit wholesale markets in Delhi and pick samples randomly

Each sample will be tested at labs owned by Govt of India, Delhi Govt and at the Indian Agricultural Institute

Traders found selling contaminated stuff will be booked under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act and can be fined Rs1,000 and can face imprisonment up to 6 years