When every sip is a step toward death
CHENNAI: Think twice before sipping from a cup of strong tea at a roadside stall next time. Because you might well be ingesting ‘hazardous’ chemicals spiked in the tea to kick in a ‘feel good’ factor. Chemicals that could be carcinogenic.
According to the official statistics, in Chennai alone, 8 out of 22 tea samples picked up during random checks since 2011 have flunked the tests. Of these three were sent for adjudication.
How to Test if Food Additive is added
Take a cup of normal water, mix the tea in it. If streaks of strong colour are formed, the tea has food additive colours.
Last month, a complaint was filed against a tea merchant in Ayanavaram who had been supplying tea powder spiked with food additive colours to Coimbatore and Salem and to many shops in and around Chennai, said an official source.
In another case, a tea trader was found guilty of similar violation. “The trader in Chennai was caught supplying tea under the label sharbath granule to various shops. People who asked for tea without specifying the brand were more vulnerable and were given this adulterated product. They didn’t check the label and as it was cheap, they bought it quietly. So, whenever officials questioned this trader, he would claim it was ready-to-mix sharbath granule and not tea and tried to escape,” added the source.
India is one of the Largest Producers of Tea
Estimated tea production in March 2016
Tamil Nadu: 10.73 million kgs.
Kerala: 4.09 million kgs
Karnataka: 0.48 million kgs
South India total: 15.30 million kgs
Source: Tea Board, India
Most of the additives added to tea are dyes. The tea is strong because of food additive colours like carmoisine, tartrazine and sunset yellow (all belonging to the class of azo dyes). In most cases, a combination of these colours is used, say officials.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends an acceptable daily intake (ADI) of carmoise at 0-4 mg per kg. The ADI for tartrazine is 0-7.5 mg per kg and for sunset yellow it is 0-4 mg per kg under both EU and WHO guidelines.
The Tamil Nadu Food Safety department in 2015-2016 collected 67 tea samples of which 36 met the prescribed quality standards, and 31 failed. Of these 31, 10 were declared unsafe, 20 were deemed substandard and 1 had labeling defect. The sellers of unsafe tea were taken for prosecution and the substandard group was taken for adjudication, said another official.
A powerful lobby was active in the State, targeting roadside vendors to promote the illegal business. If the tea is too dark and strong, it sure has food additive colours, said a departmental source.
Indians are addicted to strong tea, so these tea merchants make quick money, says Nirmala Desikan, chairman and managing trustee, Consumer Association of India (CAI) which filed a case on a tea firm at Periamet, Chennai along with the Tamil Nadu Civil Supplies Corporation. The final hearing will come up at the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission in a few months.
This firm was caught selling tea adulterated with brown dye to most of the shops and canteens. “An awareness should be created among the public on tea adulteration. Instead of depending on the government to act, the people can test the product themselves with tea testing kits that are available,” added Nirmala.
E Vidhubala, associate professor, department of Psycho- Oncology, Adyar Cancer Institute said it was tricky because the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a WHO-affiliate, was collecting evidence on these chemicals to find out if they were carcinogenic to humans though it had proved that carmoisine and sunset yellow caused cancer in animals.
The IARC has been collecting data for years to see if these cause cancer in humans. A lot more evidence was needed before drawing a conclusion that these chemical were carcinogenic. Any chemical added to food was definitely hazardous to human health, Vidhubala asserted.
Meenakshi Bajaj, dietician, Government Multi Superspecialty Hospital, Chennai said the European food safety body concluded that these chemicals caused urticaria (a kind of skin disease that caused rash), wheezing, leukocytoclastic vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels) in sensitive individuals.
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