Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Monday, May 16, 2005

Port Info

Group Sites

Industry & Economy - Health
Variety - Consumerism
Agri-Biz & Commodities - Horticulture/Fruits & Vegetables
Columns - Errors & Omissions Expected

Something is rotten in fruit trade

D. Murali

IN a Jimmy Buffett lyric a chorus that one comes across is: "I ate the last mango in Paris/ Took the last plane out of Saigon/ Took the first fast boat to China/ And Jimmy there's still so much to be done."

True, mango is a mood-lifter, you'd agree, be it as pickle with curd rice or as juice on a scorching day. Yet, before you eat the first mango here, and do all other things, there's still so much to be known about how it turned ripe.

For, a few days ago, local officials in Tirunelveli destroyed 8.5 tonnes of the fruit because the traders had ripened the mangoes using calcium carbide stones. What's this chemical? The site explains: "Calcium carbide is a greyish-black crystalline compound, CaC2, obtained by heating pulverised limestone or quicklime with carbon and used to generate acetylene gas, as a dehydrating agent, and in the manufacture of graphite and hydrogen."

Top on a second search for health dangers of the chemical brings up a hazardous substance fact sheet on of the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. "Calcium Carbide can affect you when breathed in. Contact can severely irritate and burn the eyes and skin causing permanent eye damage and ulcers on the skin. Exposure can severely irritate the mouth, nose and throat causing sores, cough and wheezing... Calcium Carbide is a flammable and reactive chemical and a dangerous and explosion hazard," it cautions.

`International Chemical Safety Card' for the chemical on (of ILO's International Training Centre) has alarming things to say: That the substance can be absorbed into the body by inhalation; that it is corrosive to the eyes, the skin and the respiratory tract; and that inhalation of the substance may cause lung oedema. Chemical dangers are as follows: "Shock-sensitive compounds are formed with silver nitrate and copper salts. The substance decomposes violently on contact with moisture and water, producing highly flammable and explosive acetylene gas, causing fire and explosion hazard."

An apple a day may keep the doctor away. So we have heard, but warns that those who consume local fruits on an almost daily basis may have to think twice before they bite into that ripe plantain or mango, as rather than keeping the doctor away it's likely you would need to rush to your doctor, more so when what look delicious come with traces of arsenic and phosphorous.

"The commonly used agent in the ripening process is calcium carbide, a material more commonly used for welding purposes. The carbide is imported from countries such as China, Taiwan and South Africa. The low price of the carbide, 250 gm for Rs 15, results in their indiscriminate usage," states the site. One learns that 100 gm of carbide is used per 50 kg of fruit. Indole acetic acid is another chemical that helps cut lead-time, though with serious side effects such as cancer and ulcer.

It seems close scrutiny can show if the ripening has been artificial. How? "When tomatoes are uniformly red, or mangoes and papaws are uniformly orange, one could easily make out that carbide may have been used. Plantains can also be identified if the stem is dark green while the fruits are all yellow."

Not long ago, the Regional Analytical Laboratory (RAL) in Ernakulam found not only calcium carbide usage in mango trade but also the pesticide Benzene Hexa Chloride (BHC) beyond the permissible limits in samples of grapes. "The great majority of people in the US have never eaten a naturally ripened banana, pineapple, mango or orange (or for that matter, fruit from a tree on its own roots)," states Douglas Hinds on We aren't alone!

While ethylene is a natural fruit-ripening agent, acetylene that is released when the chemical is dissolved in water imitates ethylene; the trade-offs for the ripe looks achieved thus are toxicity and tastelessness. Again, while traditional paddy straw method for ripening takes three-four days, the chemical shortcut ripens the vegetable in a day, to help meet surge in demand. In this way, pressures of commerce can turn otherwise healthy fruits into lumps of poison.

So, if `there's still so much to be done', rethink before you sink your teeth into the mango!


Article E-Mail :: Comment :: Syndication :: Printer Friendly Page

Stories in this Section
CII says fiscal discipline must be tightened

What's cooking, really?
Kyoto Protocol funding — Project to assess carbon absorption in rubber plants
Austrade push to apples in India
AP exploring potential in Jafza zone in Dubai
Something is rotten in fruit trade
Health facilities go on auction mode
APHMIDC gets Rs 320-cr Hudco infrastructure loan
Minister hands over grant for Coimbatore engg cluster
GAIL implements gas management system
Projects in petroleum sector — Govt not considering impact of major policy decisions: Panel
Govt to tap India Inc's captive power capacity
Mahanadi Coal, NLC set to sign power project pact
Designers plea on building tax
Godavari projects issue: AP Govt to send team to Maharashtra
Learning to work
GEMS to establish schools in India
AP finalises norms for PDS revamp
AP CM reiterates minority reservations
Workshop on ADB urban project
Agenda for the week

The Hindu Group: Home | About Us | Copyright | Archives | Contacts | Subscription
Group Sites: The Hindu | Business Line | The Sportstar | Frontline | The Hindu eBooks | The Hindu Images | Home |

Copyright 2005, The Hindu Business Line. Republication or redissemination of the contents of this screen are expressly prohibited without the written consent of The Hindu Business Line