GUWAHATI, June 12 - Taking serious note of food adulteration cases detected recently in Assam, the State government may frame a policy to check the menace.Sources said the policy would also have guidelines to prevent rampant use of toxic chemicals used by unscrupulous traders for ripening fruits which endangers human health. The Health Minister is likely to hold a review meeting with officials on the issue soon.
“We would also like to examine if the penalty provisions under the present law are sufficient or need to be made more stringent,” Health department sources said.
Over the last few days, a special drive was launched in Guwahati, and some 400 bunches of banana and 40 quintals of mango which were ripened using calcium carbide were destroyed by the inspectors. At least six traders faced prosecution in Kamrup (Metro) district alone. Today, over two drums of substandard milk, which had high water content, were destroyed by an inspecting team at Hengrabari.
“Generally the fruits are kept in closed chambers with packets of calcium carbine at the bottom. The chemical generates immense heat within the chamber and within a short period of time, the fruits ripen. At times, the carbide becomes so hot that one cannot even touch it,” the sources said.
Most of the bananas seized were grown within the State, but the mangoes were imported from other states. The traders use calcium carbide while storing them in godowns here.
Calcium carbide produces acetylene, a combustible gas with a distinctive odour, which is used as a raw material for producing several organic chemicals, as well as a fuel component in metal cutting and oxy-acetylene welding. Acetylene is also used in production of several plastics. Calcium carbide also contains arsenic and phosphorus, both of which can be fatal for human beings.
The State government may promote use of ethylene to ripen fruits. Ethylene is a natural plant hormone which accelerates the normal process of fruit maturation. “In fact, traders are starting to use it. During our inspections, we found bottles of ethylene at the premises of the traders. Some districts have also arranged for training of traders on ethylene ripening,” sources said.
Meanwhile, the State Public Health Laboratory here collected and tested 610 samples of various foods in the last financial year. Of them, 78 were non-conforming, 23 unsafe, 32 substandard and 23 had misleading claims. Criminal proceedings were initiated against four traders and civil suits filed against 39. Six traders were convicted during the year. Twelve of the 19 packaged drinking water bottles tested did not conform to the requirements. Nine were found to be unsafe, one was substandard and two had misleading claims. Most of the non-conforming and unsafe samples were those of loose milk, edible oils, cereals and non-alcoholic drinks.