Adulteration – the mess we are in

Contamination, adulteration and pollution are three legs of the spider that spins cobwebs of our helplessness towards health and survival. Can we deal with them?

Thailand Bangkok

Recently someone questioned me about the relative priority I give to cleanliness of air, water and food. “Naturally,” I said, “breathing seems critical since it supports our very existence.”

Lack of it is painful as well. Yet it is ironic that water and food stay on top of our priorities. Smilingly he agreed but added,”You need air five times more than fluids and ten times more than food. That we focus more on water and food is because their impact is quick and noticeable.”

I was kind of nonplussed but I recovered and laid facts bare before him. We both agreed that we were not doing enough, and should raise priorities for fighting for unpolluted air, clean water and unadulterated food. We also realized that we were helpless in some way because the control was not in our hands. Yet there were things that we could easily do.

I have since been thinking about this. Don’t we spend disproportionate time, money and energy in acquiring pure fresh water and food, and ignore the quality of air that we breathe? We don’t miss any opportunity in blaming the traffic and the systems for the pollution in the atmosphere. And who causes chaos in traffic? We drive cars with single occupancy, do not switch off engines at long drawn traffic junctions, park anywhere and indulge in street shopping for fruits and vegetables. We do not realize that not only we are slowing the traffic and causing chaos, but in the end we jointly end up consuming more fuel for less mileage and increased pollution.

Whether it is the vehicular traffic, or the industry or deforestation, governments are trying hard to worsen the situation in the name of development and progress. And each country wants to enjoy this indulgence at the cost of others. Forums are struggling hard to arrive at the consensus on how much we are allowed to pollute the environment; each country defends its own case. Each wants the other country to be green so that she can be red.

Who or what should be questioned

Pollution due to traffic is a bit out of our control unless they can localize the work place, adopt neighborhood living, provide mass public transportation or reduce energy demands by some other innovation. But when it comes to food the situation should well be under own control. The local bodies, societies or interest groups should be effective. Yet all of them bank on law instead of doing something socially. The systems fail because the governance fails in general. The failure is caused by insufficient processes, violating of whatever processes exist, corruption that exists in the mechanisms for catching and punishing.

We have the right to live, isn’t it? UNO provides all humans with a right to live and it expects the governments to make this possible. This means governments must take control of the situation. The full loop of acquisition, storage and distribution must be meticulously designed and religiously followed. Citizens must compel the governments for it.

Further, in the long term, is there no commitment that the parents are to breed a healthy next generation? So, can they justify feeding children and friends, unhealthy fast foods and addicted drinks in the shopping malls or other public places? Are we still living in the illusion that street food is tastier? Is the poison in our kitchens not enough that we look for stronger ones in public eating places?

Contradictory statistics introduced by agencies

Statistics state that sixty percent of the food samples taken for testing are found within tolerance. In the 72,000 samples taken in Delhi, a year back, only 4% were objectionable. Is this a smokescreen or illusion? In milk samples, 70% were found culpable, yet no one was punished. Although counter statistics project a confusing scenario, intuition suggests that quite a miserable situation exists for adulteration and pollution on the ground. Are different agencies engaged only in presenting a story that suits their own agenda? How long are they going to let the system pull wool over our eyes? In the end the citizens are left to fend for themselves.

Who initiates this malady

Retailers do not have the wherewithal to breed or proliferate adulteration, but the law chooses to target only them for prosecution. Inspections and samplings are inflicted on small retailers or individuals. The big fish remains unaffected; by collusion with the authorities or by getting away via penalties. Which corporation minds a paltry million penalty when billions have been profited through this sinister route? Moreover, large warehouses of grains are susceptible to misappropriation by the politicians, giving further loose rope to pilferage and adulteration. Government policies for distribution of dubious water to the destinations unconnected to the main stream is probably intentional since these breed attractive commissions. Corruption starts at that high level and superficial efforts to curb it are directed at the lower levels. Is it not an illogical approach?

Indifference causes grave risk to the public

A simple contemplation convinces us that if samples are found tolerable, these might have been rendered so due to the delayed testing. Delays are not inadvertent but well planned in order to accommodate bribery. For the supplier and the inspector, the sample is only a product that is meant for sale, commissions or penalties. For the consumer, it is a question of life and death. The infection or the pain caused by adulteration is worse than what could be caused by malnutrition. They search for weak organs and limbs in our bodies for manifesting themselves. No organ or limb of the body is safe. No system is strong enough to fight the malady.

Further, we must not debate on the difference between intended and ignorant adulteration in food. Whether cows are given rich food to increase in the milk output, or chemicals are used to save on fermentation or ripening time, or unsuitable alternatives are deployed to increase profit margins, the end effect is the same; ill health of the consumers.

Pesticide in food certainly helps fighting the large scale insect damages, but the produce must be rinsed before putting them up for public consumption. Use of preservatives like phosphoric, benzoic acid or their salts to the wheat flour is a well guarded secret, while preparing south Indian dishes. Use of chemicals will increase as the food security bill gains ground. How much of these can we absorb in ourselves? And how much we should avoid is not merely our decision.

Legal Implications

Who do you think is responsible for bringing us to this level of deterioration? The buck is generally passed from citizens to the government and in the reverse direction.

As the law enforcement fails to curb the crime, the governments turn around to hide behind the excuse that existing laws are inadequate since the all round development and progress has overtaken them. Haven’t we heard that before? We heard it again during a calling attention motion in the parliament, very recently. The minister called them outdated and ineffective, which needed revival. And we were mesmerized by his deceptive logic, like we were watching a magician making a scantily clad woman disappear right in front of our vigilant eyes.

The Indian Supreme Court questions the executive, particularly for the adulteration in milk. It is the mother of many edible products that are considered nourishing for the growing generation. Then why is it shying away from sending culprits to jails. Is there a shortage of legal provisions? Does the law need amendment here? Will we raise voices and force the representatives to ensure such amendments?

In a recent television debate, both the BJP representative Dr Satpal and ex-Congress representative Punia cried hoarse that there is no implementation of even the existing laws. To these cases of offence or omission, we only apply the law related to unfair trade practices and no one is imprisoned. They questioned the benefit that is being projected by making them stricter. But let us not laze around; let the framework for severe execution be ready so that as and when the executive decides to be tough, there are no exterior hiccups in the law.

Can we adopt the following

  • Catch the culprits at the source. A serious question is whether the edibles are adulterated at the first procurement, at the whole sale stage, transfer stage, or at retail selling. Probably the impact decreases in that order.
  • Carry out testing of the samples at lightning speed to prevent their replacement. No loop holes must exist for bribery to set in
  • Dispose the cases off on fast track courts. Most of the citizen concerns in many other domains as well demand this approach
  • Angry consumers are looking for imprisonments, so why not harden the law to include imprisonment for these crimes
  • And public, please read the label carefully not only for the date of expiry but also the contents of the bottled or packaged products. For example ghee with Agmark is more reliable just as jewelry with Hallmark or wool with Woolmark label is.
  • Invoke the consumer forum. It costs merely nothing.

If the government and the systems fail to rescue us, what option do we have other than prevention? Do not bring poison to kitchens. Reduce eating outside in makeshift kitchens. For re-iteration of this recommendation, please go inside the kitchens of the event management locations. I bet, you will stop eating and drinking outside.

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