Are those beautifully packed and fresh looking exotic fruits displayed on the stands in posh markets really healthy? We'll find it out very soon as for the first time, imported fruits and vegetables are set to come under pesticide watch following the recommendations from a court appointed committee.
In the wake of the reports of rampant contamination of vegetables and fruits in Delhi's markets, the Supreme Court and Delhi High Court have initiated several steps to curb the use of pesticides and artificial colour for enhancing their size and appearance.
The amount of pesticides in fruits and vegetables in India, and especially those sold in Delhi markets, were as much as 750 times the European standards, NGOs Center for Public Interest Litigation and Consumer Voice claimed in the SC and HC, respectively. The NGOs claimed in their pleas that the fruits were a toxic cocktail of banned pesticides capable of causing headache, cancer, heart disease, infertility and pose a risk to the nervous system and liver.
The banned pesticides included chlordane, a rat poison that affects the nervous system and endrin, an insecticide that causes headache.
"Surprise checks will be conducted at major markets once in a month and there will not be any differentiation between local fruits and vegetables and those imported. The court panel's report says an eye has to be kept on them also as they too are susceptible to contamination because of lucrative business," Meera Bhatia, the lawyer for Delhi government said.
Terming the situation as "alarming", the court said 1.7 crore Delhiites everyday consume fruits and vegetables unfit for human consumption. It had recently asked the Delhi government to publicise the short-term measures and Dos and Don'ts suggested by the expert committee to minimise the presence of pesticides residue. Ordering intensification of the crackdown against the contamination, the court has sought a status report on April 15.
"No such consignment should be allowed to enter the country without pre-dispatch pesticide testing report by the exporter. Samples of imported fruits and vegetables should be drawn by plant quarantine stations at international arrival points and monitored for the presence of pesticide residues," said a report filed in the court by the panel headed by Sandhya Kulshreshta, additional deputy DG in the health ministry.
"Surprise inspections were conducted in many markets like Azadpur Mandi, Kotla, Mayur Vihar, Sarojini Nagar, INA, Defence Colony, Vasant Vihar and Lodhi Estate in the last three years. We found that pesticides, toxic colours and hormones are being used by farmers and traders to speed up growth, ripen and improve colour," said Bhatia.
The expert committee said results of tests should be posted on the website of the Delhi government's food department along with the name of the market.
The SC said: "Right to life and human dignity encompasses, within its ambit availability of articles of food without insecticides or pesticides residues. But the fact remains that food available in the market contain insecticides or pesticides residues, beyond the tolerable limits, causing serious health hazards. Fruit-based soft drinks also contain pesticides in alarming proportion, but no attention is made to examine its contents.
Harmful for kids
"Children and infants are uniquely susceptible to the effects of pesticides because of their physiological immaturity and greater exposure to soft drinks". The SC directed Food and Safety Standards Authority of India to coordinate with counterparts in all the states and conduct periodical inspections and monitoring of major fruits and vegetable markets.