In a sustained campaign propelled by judicial monitoring, food safety authorities are discovering that the use of fruit ripening agents is more widespread than what was thought earlier.
Ever since a petition was filed last year in the High Court expressing safety concerns over quality of fruits sold in the State, food inspectors in all districts have conducted raids and collected samples to ascertain the extent of practice. The exercise has overturned existing notions that ripening agents are used mostly for mangoes and apples.
Of the 140 fruit samples collected between last August and February 18 this year from across the State, 72 have been found unsafe for consumption. Many of the samples include banana, pineapple, sapota, grapes, and even strawberries.
Ethephon and calcium carbide are the usual culprits, food safety experts say. A plant growth regulator, ethephon is allowed for use before harvest in tomatoes and mangoes, but State Food Laboratory found that it is being used on fruits like banana to hasten ripening.
From Hyderabad alone, about 50 samples were collected from February 18 through February 20. While results of the entire batch of samples are yet to be made available to the Institute of Preventive Medicine (IPM), at least three samples were found to be ‘unsafe’.
IPM, in tandem with municipal agencies, is overseeing the exercise in the State. Samples were also collected from Warangal and Nizamabad this week. Officials expect many of the other recently collected samples to also fail the test.
While the exercise of collection and testing has uncovered the extent of the problem, citizens wonder if it is adequate. “The consumer movement should be strengthened by the government through involvement of consumers. Additionally, the execution of the law should be non-compromising,” says V.B.J. Chelikani Rao of United Federation for Residential Welfare Societies.
Officials say the completion of legal process from the start of prosecution proceedings can take a very long time. The GHMC is fighting adulteration battles in local courts that pertain to as far back as 1999. The public glare of the problem and court monitoring has fuelled some action, including shutting down of an ethephon ripening unit in Moosapet earlier this month.