In a recent survey thirty-nine per cent of Indians agreed that fruits and vegetables was the category in which adulteration was most rampant. This was their opinion to the first question in LocalCircles’ four-point survey, which informed that 78 per cent of the country’s citizens had faced food adulteration.
The survey was based on the category in which they have witnessed the highest number of adulteration cases in the last one year. Eighteen per cent of the participants believed that grocery items like wheat, pulses, rice, spices, etc. were the most-adulterated products, while 21 per cent said milk was the most adulterated. Twenty-two per cent were unsure.
In this survey over 30,000 responses were received from over 13,000 citizens located in over 200 districts of India. Approximately 35 per cent of the respondents were women, while 65 per cent were men. Forty-two per cent of the participants were from metros and Tier-I cities, 36 per cent from Tier-II cities and 22 per cent were from Tier-III and rural locations.
Adulteration of food items has been worsen in India for decades now. Be it mixing milk with water to add volume or adding starch to paneer to make it thicker and fluffier and hydrogenated oils to vanaspati, people are aware of the problem, but choose to ignore it. Food colours, chemicals and additives are added not just in our local produce, but even in packaged food products making them dangerous for human consumption. The use of calcium carbide and ethylene gas to artificially ripen fruits is becoming rampant nowadays. These methods can have serious health consequences in the long run. This technique is mainly used in the mango season to make the fruit ripen faster. According to citizens, calcium carbide usage is still rampant for artificial ripening, though some vendors in bigger cities use Chinese ethylene sachets. While the government has been trying to stop this practice, it has not been very successful so far.
The second question asked was if the common malpractices of artificial ripening of fruits and colouring vegetables with hazardous chemicals should be considered as food adulteration, and if yes, what should be the punishment for it. Twenty per cent of the respondents said it should attract three years’ imprisonment without parole and a penalty of Rs 1 lakh. Thirty-nine per cent said seven years’ imprisonment with a penalty of Rs 10 lakh, while 38 per cent said life imprisonment with a penalty of Rs 10 lakh. Citizens wanted a high monetary penalty and seven-plus years of imprisonment to be imposed for food adulteration.
The third question asked what should be the punishment for selling expired packaged food products. Twenty-five per cent said six months’ imprisonment and a penalty of Rs 1 lakh; 26 per cent said six months’ imprisonment without parole and a penalty of Rs 1 lakh, and 43 per cent said a year’s imprisonment without parole and a penalty of Rs 10 lakh. It is very common to find expired packaged products from retail shops in the country, especially in Tier-II and III cities and rural locations, and the onus lies on the consumer to check the expiry date before buying. Many cases of e-commerce sites are even reported selling expired or close to expiry packaged food products.
Most citizens favour that retail stores selling expired food products must be subjected to a high monetary penalty along with one year of imprisonment. Ninety-seven per cent of the citizens said it should be mandatory for the government to disclose the identity of anyone found engaging in selling adulterated food. Only one per cent were against it.
As it stands, today when a restaurant or a business fails the food test, the test results, and especially their identity, is not made known to the public. According to citizens, awareness is key, and FSSAI and state food departments must take active steps to ensure that the community knows about the businesses and brands that are non-compliant.