Artificial fruit ripening: A threat to human health and fruit industry
By Showkat Ahmad Dar
Fruits are a good source of vitamins and minerals, and they play an essential role in preventing vitamin C and vitamin A deficiencies. People who eat fruits as part of an overall healthy diet generally have a reduced risk of chronic diseases. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends five servings of fruits and vegetables every day for a healthy living.
Nutritionists advise to include fruits and vegetables in our daily diet to improve our immune system. However, we do not know that these fruits, vegetables, and food products available in the market today, which we are consuming daily to boost our immune system, are actually unsafe. The health benefits of fruits depend on how they are ripened. The best course will be to allow them to ripen naturally.
This process is irreversible and leads towards what is called senescence. The fruits become soft, change in colour, and develop characteristic aroma and flavour, with an increase in sugar level and reduction in acid content. Unfortunately, farmers have been using artificial ripening agents on fruits and vegetables to induce artificial ripening in them.
They don’t wait for them to ripen naturally. Most of the times, fruits and vegetables need to be transported over long distances, farmers harvest them much before they are ripe. The traders then ripen them artificially at the destination points using specific chemicals.
In kashmir, Farmers have also resorted to induce artificial ripening in fruits especially in apples so that they could send them in markets much earlier, to get good price.Earlier farmers would use the chemicals on the fruit trees to induce ripening in fruits but now they are using a new method in which they pluck down the fruits from the trees and spray highly concentrated chemicals on them.
On one side, they somehow prevent their trees from the ill effects of such chemicals but on the other side they are putting the precious human lives at stake.This trend is growing among the farmers day by day which needs to be checked as early as possible.The use of such chemicals has proven detrimental to the productive life of trees besides posing a great threat to human health.The whole practice is therefore questionable because of various health-related issues.
Ethephon2-chloroethylphosphonic acid, is one of the most commonly used plant growth regulators.Ethephon 2-chloroethyl phosphonic acid penetrates the fruit and decomposes ethylene. Another compound that is used regularly is calcium carbide, which produces acetylene, which is an analogue of ethylene, fraught with several problems. It is explosive and studies have shown that it breaks down the organic composition of vitamins and other micronutrients.
Besides, it changes only the skin colour: the fruit remains raw inside. Also, industrial-grade calcium carbide is often found contaminated with trace amounts of arsenic and phosphorus, which are toxic chemicals.The symptoms of arsenic and phosphorous poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea with/without blood, weakness, burning sensation in the chest and abdomen, thirst, the problem in swallowing, burning of eyes, permanent eye damage, ulcers in the skin, mouth, nose and throat.
Other symptoms include throat sores, cough, wheezing and shortness of breath. The studies have shown that the consumption of artificially ripened mangoes can upset stomach. It damages the mucosal tissue in the stomach and disrupts the intestinal function. If a person is exposed to the chemicals for a long time, they can cause peptic ulcers.
According to studies, calcium carbide can also affect the neurological system by inducing prolonged hypoxia. It causes symptoms like headache, dizziness, high sleepiness, memory loss, cerebral oedema, numbness in the legs and hands, general weakness, cold and damp skin, low blood pressure and seizure. Pregnant women particularly need to be very careful and should not consume such fruits and vegetables.”
These fruit ripening chemicals were also banned by the state government in Kashmir in 2017, following reports of its ill-effects and an order was circulated by state horticulture department vide order no:-75-Horti of 2017, Dated:-15-05-2017 which reads:
“whereas, it has been observed that Ethephon, a pesticides, is widely being used as plant growth regulator and for ripening of fruits in Horticulture Sector; and Whereas, in view of its wide range of harmful effects on fruit plants/human ‘health, the Department requested the SKUAST-K to examine the issue and advise on its effects; and
‘Whereas, a detailed report received from the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences & Technology of Kashmir reveals that by use of such ripening agents, the quality of the crop gets deteriorated besides, acceptability as such fruits cannot be stored for longer periods.
The mostly used compound is Ethephon. Ethephon, if used continuously year after year, may render the tree unproductive and also reduce the economic life of the plant and whereas, the report of SKUAST-K clearly indicates the hazardous effects of use of Ethylene (Ethephon) especiaily on the plant health, fruit quality, shelf life and harmful effects on human health; and whereas, the SKUAST-K has recommended that in view of its hazardous effects on tree physiology and human health, restriction need to be imposed on its commercial use in fruit industry; and
whereas, Director, Law Enforcement, Agricurture production Department also reported that the pesticide (Ethephon) is used as Plant Growth Regurator and for accelerating the process of ripening in the fruits and vegetables. The pesticide is mostly being used for ripening of apple. Even it is not recommended for use on apple by Registering Authority. The said pesticide adversefy affects the health of plant/quality of fruit/shelf life and also have harmful effects on the human health; and
whereas, keeping in view the hazardous /dereterious effects associated with the use of Ethephon on fruit and plant health especially on apple, besides its harmful effects on human health as reported by SHUAST-K and Director Law Enforcement and their recommendations for its restricted use in Horticulture Sector, it has been decided to ban the use of ” Ethephon’ on apple and impose restrictions on the sale and use of Ethephon (Ethephon 39% SL and 10% (paste) in the State.Now, therefore, in view of the above, sanction is hereby accorded to the imposition of restrictions on the sale of Ethephon 39% SL and 10% paste and ban its use on apple crop in the l&K State.”
In spite of having strict laws and acts, the inclination towards the use of artificial ripening agents on apples in Kashmir is growing in farmers day by day and they have an easy access to these chemicals. They are continuously using the Ethephon and other chemicals that too in higher concentrations than recommended and the illegal trade is going on despite the government’s ban on its sale.
The use of artificial ripening agents on apples poses a big threat to this industry.The consumers don’t consider apples safe for their health and are reluctant in consuming such fruits. If the use of such chemicals continues in kashmir and the government does not take strict measures to ban the sale and spray of such chemicals on apples, the time is not far when our fruit industry will collapse and people will witness a huge economic setback. The fruit Industry of kashmir has been facing huge losses since 2008.
This year, the situation seems to be grimmer because of the frequent lockdowns, to contain Novel Corona virus and the devastation that has been done by the scab disease to the apple. This industry is already at the verge of death and we are also contributing to it by adopting such measures which have been proven disastrous to this industry.
Now it’s the sole responsibility of the Jammu and Kashmir UT government to implement the ban on such chemicls in letter and spirit. Besides this the Horticulture Department should also arrange mass awareness programmes among farmers, sellers and consumers regarding the health hazards associated with these chemicals. Media, lawmakers, researchers, and technology experts can also play a vital role in this respect. Moreover the religious preachers, intellectuals and scholars must come forward and tell people about the ruling of different religions regarding the use of such poisonous chemicals on fruits and vegetables.
They should educate the masses that we as the human beings should not put the lives of others in danger merely for our little gains and must never let others to consume what we don’t like for ourselves. As majority of people in Kashmir belong to Muslim community and as Muslims we should not turn away from the basic teachings of Islam and must stand with the truth and righteousness to safeguard the wellbeing of human civilization.
We should prove our faith by not resorting to any kind of unfair means to make money. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said – “Khairun nas man yanfa`un nas” (The Best Amongst Mankind is One Who Benefits Humanity). In another Hadith Prophet Muhammad(PBUH) said, “None of you will believe until you love for your brother what you love for yourself”.
For the sake of our future generations, we must adopt humanistic approach and should strive for every possible means to protect our fruit industry. It is high time to respond to the advisories of the state Horticulture Department and other health experts so as to sustain our heritage for the longer times. Our rational and natural approach towards our fruit industry would be the best way of paying gratitude to God and the best thing that we should pass on to our progeny.
(Writer is a school teacher at Govt. Secondary Institute Brath kalan Sopore . He can be reached at: [email protected])