Pesticides in food
Nurturing healthy dietary habits among young adults is considered to be very important as this is the critical period of their growth and development. It is often advised that college students should stay away from fast foods that have high amounts of salts, sugars and trans-fatty acids. Nutritionists advocate that fruits and vegetables should form an important component of the diet as these are rich in various substances and contain minerals, fibre, phytonutrients and antioxidants. These are also referredto as nature’s fast foodsas these can be grabbed anytime and are portable tocarry and eat. However, in the last few years reports are coming that many of these fruits and vegetables considered safe and good for health are actually laden with pesticides and harmful toxic chemicals. Studies conducted by national laboratories and independent private institutes have found that there is an alarming percentage of pesticide residues in the fruits and vegetables. The concentration found is much above the permissible limits prescribed by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).
According to Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), Delhi, high levels of pesticide residue are present in milk as well as fruitjuices available in the market. KeralaAgricultural University (KAU) reported dangerous levels of pesticide residues in cauliflower, cabbage, curry leaves, green chillies and red onions. Apple, the legendary health food, has been found to contain pesticides such as Bavastin and Dichlrovas. Banana has been found to be contaminated with Chlorodane 45% above the FAO (Food and Agricultural University)safe limits. Besides that vegetables such as okra, cauliflower, spinach and other vegetables growing along the Yamuna banks in Delhi and adjacent vegetablefarms in National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCT) are also reported to be highly contaminated with pesticide residues of cypermethrin, heptachlor and malathion.Acephate, bifenthrin, acetamiprid, triazofos, metalaxyl, acetamiprid, carbosulfan, profenofos and hexaconazole, among others, have been also been detected in many of the samples collected in various parts of Delhi and NCR. It has also been found that vegetable growers that claim to use organic farming practices also use some pesticides that can have harmful effects on human health. The studies conducted by CSE have also found that various fruit samples especially apples sold in markets are heavily laden with pesticides. Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, Jammu recommended 19 pesticides forapple, of which two pesticides Benomyl,and Imidacloprid were not registered by CIBRC (Central Insecticides Board and Registration Committee).
Epidemiological and laboratory studies have clearly demonstrated the pesticide exposure can cause adverse health effects. According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), pesticides have active ingredients that are potential human carcinogens. Besides that Hodgkins disease, multiple myelonema, leukaemia and skin cancer can be caused by excessive use of DDT, organo chlorine containing pesticides and endosulphan. Some pesticides have high residence time in the environment and damage the nervous system. People exposed experience psychiatric and neurological problems such as agitation, irritation, weakness, forgetfulness and depression. Workers who are in constant contact with the pesticides also show poor performance, motor skills and loss of memory. Compromise of immune response in a person exposed to pesticides is also observed.
Students and young adults are more susceptible because of the varied diet they consume including milk and juices. Besides, this age group is more energetic and have high rate of breathing and spend more time outdoors due to which they are more likely to show negative health effects. It is therefore essential for the young generation to be more aware of this pesticide menace and follow certain precautionary measures. It is also important that our food basket should include diverse food stuffs so that there is no accumulation and magnification of a particular chemical pesticide in the body. These things will serve a long way in protecting the younger generation from these deadly toxins.
(The author is a faculty at Hansraj College, University of Delhi)