Recognising the health hazards caused by increasing use of chemicals, Himachal Pradesh government is now mulling to enact a legislation to ban sale and use of ethylene - a chemical used for artificial ripening of fruits.
Increase in use of chemical to artificially ripen fruits has stoked concern for the fruit industry, particularly the apples - that comprises `3000 crore economy.
"Excessive use of ethylene for artificial ripening is not only harmful for the health of apple trees but its bringing a bad name for Himachal apples, known worldwide for its quality and taste,"horticulture minister Vidya Stokes told Hindustan Times .
"Overdose of chemical on apples and mangoes can have harmful effects on human health,"said Stokes, who is daughter-in-law of Satya Nand Stokes - an American who pioneered apple growing in Kotgarh - now known as the fruit bowl of the state.
"Government is contemplating to bring a law to ban the sale and use of ethylene on apples,"she said, adding that prior to this, the department would also study the legal implications.
The horticulture department called a high-level meeting in Shimla to discuss legalities before finalising proposal to enact a law to ban ethylene. The meeting was attended by officials of horticulture department, besides horticulture experts. "If one uses ethylene within recommended dose than it's not harmful. But certainly overdose of ethylene or any other chemical could prove detrimental for both human and plant's health,"said Parkash Thakur, a progressive apple grower from Kotgarh, who is also a member of Agricultural and Process Food Produce Exports Development Authority (APEDA).
A section of participants accentuated the need to ban the ethylene, while majority opposed the ban saying that instead of banning the chemical government should run a campaign across the fruit growing areas to educate the fruit growers. Horticulturist from the high altitude areas favoured banning the ethylene commonly known as 'colour spray'. But growers and farmers in the lower elevations had cited the climatic reasons that lead to use of ethylene to enhance the fruit coloor before the harvest. "That excessive use of ethylene was also proving counterproductive for Himachal brand of apple,"said Thakur.
"Banning ethylene may not serve the purpose. Government banned tobacco products but they are still being black-marketed. Same will be the result if we ban colour spray- it is not carcinogenic,"Thakur said.
The excessive use of ethylene by big orchard owners result in crashing of the apple market. "Some growers disproportionately used ethylene as a result the market crashed and the growers could not fetch good prices,"said Harish Chauhan, president of Arhtiya Association in Dhalli - the biggest fruit market in the state.
What is ethylene
Ethylene is a small hydrocarbon gas. It is naturally occurring, but it can also occur as a result of combustion and other processes. Some fruit will produce ethylene as ripening begins. Apples and pears are examples of fruit that produce ethylene with ripening. Ethylene is responsible for the changes in texture, softening, color, and other processes involved in ripening.
In addition to causing fruit to ripen, it can cause plants to die. Ethylene will cause a wide range of effects in plants, depending on the age of the plant and how sensitive the plant is to ethylene. Ethylene effects include fruit ripening, loss of chlorophyll, abortion of plant parts, stem shortening, abscission of plant parts, and epinasty (bending of stems).