FRUIT, mainly mangoes, coming to be sold on the market earlier than their harvest time, as New Age reported on Tuesday, has raised concern about public health as horticulturists fear that the cases could involve their artificial ripening and that, too, with chemicals that are potentially dangerous for humans. Fruit traders have for long been alleged to be using artificial ripening agents, mostly calcium carbide, which coming into contact with moisture, releases acetylene gas that has fruit-ripening characteristics. Fruit such as mango, banana, papaya and plum need to enter climacteric phase after harvest to continue to ripen. Traders all over artificially ripen fruit using some sort of ripening agents but the problem in Bangladesh, and also in some South Asian countries, is that traders here use calcium carbide, a chemical chemical substance which has carcinogenic properties and contains traces of dangerous chemical components known as arsenic and phosphorus. Direct consumption of acetylene gas can reduce oxygen supply to the brain and cause irritation in mucosal tissue in the abdominal region. Besides, arsenic and phosphorus found in industrial-grade calcium carbide, which is mostly used in ripening fruit here, can cause dizziness, frequent thirst, irritation, weakness, skin damage, vomiting, skin ulcer, etc.
This is where the problem of artificial ripening of fruit, as it is done in Bangladesh, lies, exposing public health to threats. Mangoes coming to hit the market earlier than the harvest time, therefore, has raised concerns. But the authorities concerned need action much more effective than drives during the transport of fruit from outlying areas to the capital as this stops fruit ripened artificially with dangerous chemical substances from coming to the capital, but they continue to be consumed, in a lesser degree though, across the country. The Department of Agricultural Extension, against this backdrop, has set harvesting schedules depending on the mango variety and location of the orchards. But this also continues to be flouted as the Himsagar variety, the harvest of which, keeping to the schedule, should begin around mid-June, has already reached fruit shops in the capital by early May. The artificial ripening of fruit ensures better food management and causes less waste but only proper ripening agents such as ethylene and the like which are less or non-toxic for humans should be used. In such a situation, the government needs to work out a comprehensive plan to stop traders from using dangerous chemicals in artificial ripening.
The government should also have a unified policy on fruit cultivation, preservation and distribution to minimise the impact of artificial ripening on humans. There are more than half a dozen laws and regulations in place in Bangladesh to stop any such practice that might menace public health. The authorities need to properly apply them and, if they are found to be inadequate, amend them. The Bangladesh Pure Food Ordinance (Amendment) Act 2005 also proposes the formation of a national food safety advisory council to advise the government regarding food safety. The government needs to work in that direction.
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