“Adulteration thrives in India with a view of ‘Sab Kuchh Chalta Hai’. Such belief encourages and allures even the honest trader’s resort to make quick bucks. The unholy nexus between death merchants and corrupt officials, even the police has allowed this heinous crime”.
What do we find pure or unadulterated now-a-days? Duplicate branded ghee, adulterated petrol, turmeric mixed with chromatic powder, chili powder mixed with red colour, dal with stone bits, dust tea garnished by saw dust, white powder in salt, even fruits, vegetables and cereals sold in the market, reportedly contain high level of toxic metals like lead, nickel, cadmium etc. A survey conducted recently, by a private agency revealed that all the cold drinks like Pepsi, Coca Cola etc., are found adulterated with unhygienic substances. The episodes of Coca Cola have been in international news several times. National Dairy Development Corporation also conducted a survey, which revealed that 90% of the edible oils available in the market contain highly toxic substances.
“Adulteration is the term used to describe deliberate contamination of food items diluting their purity’. This is done in order to increase profitability or sometimes in order to meet the increased demand. Food items could be adulterated by using neutral or non-harmful additives, like mixing pure water in milk, but sometimes the nature of contaminant added is impure, unhygienic, harmful and determental to health of consumers like adding urea to milk. Though, adulteration in any form is not acceptable at all but, the latter needs to be identified and rooted out at a priority as it could lead to disastrous circumstances.
“Food adulteration has become the order of the day and, consumer education and awareness is the need of the hour”, assert experts. ‘A common mistake committed by most consumers is to blindly pick up any product without reading the label which includes details like batch number, expiry date, manufacturer’s name and address. Sometimes, it is a spurious or duplicate product and can be mistaken for a reputed brand. The consumer has to keep his eyes open while buying a product. One must avoid informal transactions which deprive the consumer of a receipt of the purchases made.
Adulteration like corruption has become rampant. People and the government know that most of the spices, dais, milk, ghee, sugar, tea etc are adulterated. We have laws against adulteration, but like many other legislation they are rarely enforced as adulteration has become a way of life The negligent government officials and society are awakened, only when a tragedy takes place.
Adulteration of food is a very serious anti-social act as it poses a major health hazard. Lack of awareness among people, corrupt officials, even the police sometimes, is the reason why spurious food products continue to hit the shelf. I strongly feel that there is an urgent need to evolve better techniques to detect adulteration. Coordination between various government bodies scrutinizing the quality of food products and increase in awareness on the part of citizens can go a long way in containing adulteration.
Who can forget the death of 54 people in the capital because of dropsy triggered by the consumption of adulterated mustard oil. Dropsy is caused by a toxin called sanguinarine, found in the seeds of common weed, prickle poppy Argemone mexicana. Its seeds have been used in recent times to adulterate mustard seeds for a ‘zing’ taste. It was claimed that ‘zing:’ have been lost in some of the high yielding hybrid varieties of mustard, so some unscrupulous oil mill owners have started adding an overdose of ‘argemone’ to restore the ‘zing’ punch, the taste liked by many consumers. It was a pity that a major cooperative giant, like National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), which supplies mustard oil under the brand name of ‘Dhara’ was also in the list of adulterated oils.
The story of the adulterated ‘Dal’ mixed with ‘Kesari Dal’ is also an example. Hundreds of people were disabled in Madhya Pradesh after consuming this adulterated dal. But those who had committed that crime went scot-free. Don’t we remember the recent finding- of pesticides and other non-edible items in the cold drinks of renowned brands? No deterrent punishment was meted out and after the lapse of sometime, everything was in
the same shape. Neither the government nor the public at large was worried over all those happenings. So, it is rightly observed about India that ‘Sab Kuchh Chalta Hai Yahan*.
Despite amendments to the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954, the -level of adulteration in food products in Vadodara was found to be 8.16%. About 37 of the 453 food samples collected by the Food and Drugs Laboratory in 2002-03 were found adulterated. Loopholes in law have emboldened erring manufacturers, and lack of consumer awareness has made things worse. “Most consumers are not brand conscious. They are ignorant about PFA standards and pick up cheaper products by compromising on quality and subsequently health too and those who look for label details like the manufacturer’s name, expiry date and batch number; do not make an effort to lodge a complaint on finding spurious or substandard food products. At the most, they should avoid buying these things themselves,” said Arun Kagadwala of Jagrut Nagrik, a consumer protection organization. Why not the inspectors should honestly execute their duties and put the doers behind bars with the help of police.
The penalty for selling substandard products is a small sum which every trader can pay easily. Also, the fact that one is rarely put behind bars for food adulteration is also a reason why people have no fear of law. There should be a law to cancel the certificate for selling anything in the market for a person who is once caught in this crime.
There is hardly any pure item in the Indian market. Adulterators spare nothing to make quick money. Reports have come to light that empty water bottles are being used to supply well known brand names of mineral water. Every year, thousands of people die after consuming spurious liquor. Every time when the tragedy takes place, some arrests are made and actions are initiated just to pacify the public agitations. The production of spurious liquor can’t be possible without the knowledge and support of local police, but no strict action is initiated to punish the guilty. There is no system to check or punish the known ignorance of such police or other erring officials. The police should also be taken to task, when found guilty for ignoring such cases.
It is the duty of the state to improve the food testing facilities. The Inspectors, Drug Inspectors, Police Officials, food Analysts and others involved should also be taken to the task and must be made accountable if any incidence of adulteration is found in their area of jurisdiction. Unless they are held responsible, they will not worry about the happenings, and adulteration will thrive with more pace and speed.
The Health Ministry must also make ‘ISF’ or ‘Agmark’ certification mandatory for all edible items. Every citizen should also be made aware that consuming adulterated items may prove to be more dangerous than they can think of. The indifferent attitude of general masses towards the hygienic values is also responsible for the prevalence of such crimes. Unless the common people become sensitive to the hygienic values and protest against the spurious and adulterated items, the adulteration will not be checked as the law takes its own time. If we want to remain healthy, we shall have to act at our own level also and, wherever and whenever presence of such items comes to our notice, the matter must be brought to the notice of officials through letters and newspapers. Unless we care for the health of our family members, nothing can be changed. A social awakening against adulteration can only check such a crime. Honesty on the part of Food Inspectors, Police Officials and Judiciary in dealing with such cases to book the guilty and award deterrent punishments will help to some extent to end up this heinous crime.