Oct 19, 2011

India: Where Food Adulteration is the most paying business

Last week, the Punjab Department of Health and Family Welfare seized 2,000 litres of synthetic milk in Patiala. In Chandigarh, the administration has so far destroyed 30 tonnes of sweets in the past week -- 30 tonnes means 30,000 dibbas of one kilo each. These are not isolated events. Local newspapers are awash with reports of adulterated sweets and dry fruits, and also have been carrying features on the unhygienic conditions in which the prolific sweet industry operates. Not only Punjab, shocking reports of adulteration and spurious sweets/dairy products is pouring in from across the country. Food adulteration certainly has become one of the biggest proliferating industry.     

This is the festival season. While it is time for you to celebrate by exchanging sweets, it is also the time for a roaring and brisk business for your neighbourhood shopwallahs. In the next few days, tonnes of sweets, bakery products, dairy products, and processed foods will be sold. How much of it will be of good quality and safe for consumption is anybody’s guess.

Let us look at some of common forms of adulteration that you are likely to encounter. Synthetic milk, which was seized from Patiala, as per reports, was used for manufacturing sweets, ghee, khoa, cream, and other dairy products. It is known to cause irreparable damage to your body organs. It is of course a health hazard but if you are suffering from heart and kidney ailments, it will acerbate your problem. Urea, which is used in the preparation of synthetic milk, is particularly harmful for kidneys, and caustic soda is a slow poison for people suffering from hypertension and heart ailments.

The chances are that khoa sweets and desi ghee you buy too is adulterated. In addition, harmful colours and other raw materials are used. The colours that are often used contain lead and arsenic and can damage kidneys. You pay a hefty price for mithai made in desi ghee, and what you get in return has no nutrition but animal fat, crushed animal bones and mineral oil. For those who can’t afford desi ghee, the vanaspati too is laced with adulterants. It comes laced with stearin, a bye-product of palm oil used in soap manufacture.

While such ghee manufacturing units abound in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra, the khoa trade is equally rampant. It is believed that 90 per cent of the vanaspati being sold in the market violates the specifications of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act (PFA). 

Such is the extent of adulteration, that even pistachio used in sweets is not spared. Unscrupulous traders instead use inferior quality peanuts, cut into small pieces and than coloured with artificial colouring agents. From adulterated pistachio, you can show symptoms of acidity, severe headache, vomiting, and in severe cases it can leave behind a terrible impact for the pregnant women. But by the time the child is born with deformities, it may be practically impossible to link it with food adulteration.

I can go on describing the harmful impacts adulterated foods can have on your health. What is however disturbing is the complete indifference being shown by the consumers as well as the regulatory bodies in checking the menace of adulterated food products, fruits and vegetables. What is urgently needed is a massive and widespread clamp down against the unscrupulous traders and farmers. This will take some time, but let us begin with what we can do. Besides lodging complaint with the health department or your local SDM, I have two suggestions:

  • Because of a string of television programmes last year, you will be surprised to know that consumers in Meerut, one of the epicentres of adulterated foods, had shunned khoa products. Tonnes of khoa sweets had to be thrown away by shopkeepers after the festive season were over. If this can happen in Meerut, it can also happen in your city and town. Just refuse the temptation to buy sweets, and believe me you are safe. 
  • For the mithaiwallahas and bulk manufacturers. Why can’t they form an association of those traders/manufacturers who you can guarantee to sell quality products? Why can’t they follow the standardised quality norms spelled out by the health department? This association can vouch for quality and publicise through media listing reliable shops/outlets in different cities/town. This is the only way to regain the confidence of the consumers. 


Anonymous said...

During course of interviews with various small and itinerant vendor, it was observed that most of them are making adulteration because their predecssors or fathers are doing. they are simple following the legacy. If we educate them and create awareness then we can stop adulteration to some extent

Kannan G. said...

Dear Devinderji, I find that you are doing a great service through this blog by creating awareness on a wide gamut of ground realities, on some fundamental issues as you rightly put it. My salutations to you. Food adulteration should, indeed, be a great area of concern to all of us. Surely, as you point out, our negligence will affect even the generations to come. The practical suggestions you make towards the end, is really appreciable. Let's hope your activities and writings will go a long way to awaken and inspire many a one to put up a constructive fight against this menace. Thank you.

Anonymous said...


Where should one report any adulteration incident? Is there any address or email of govt or NGO authority for this?

cases of adulteration in India said...

adulteration is growing day by day in india. there are a lot of case of it pending. to stop it its individual's responsibility to spread awareness.

Mink Foodiee said...

Well done.

Anonymous said...

Informative article on adulteration. It’s tragic to read milk adulteration to such an extent in India. People should switch to brands like Pride of cows which fight against milk adulteration and deliver pure milk. We are at such a stage wherein boiled milk is also not safe. We still go with such adulterated dairy products as we stick to economically cheap products and eventually end up paying high price to it. That is why I shifted to pride of cows and I can definitely say my family has pure unadulterated milk.