THE practice of ripening fruit with chemicals, instead of being stopped, seems to have worked out its way insidiously to take an unassailable stand. Chemically ripened immature mangoes continue to flood markets. It is yet another example of food regulators’ failure to enforce laws and High Court orders to protect consumers from harmful fruit and ill practice of businesspeople. The Bangladesh Food Safety Authority, the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution and the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection are under fire from the High Court over sales of substandard food products. The unpalatable fact is that the government has not yet taken adequate steps to check this widespread ripening of fruit with chemicals and their sale. Mango varieties, not supposed to mature until late June, have flooded markets after reportedly being artificially ripened despite the court orders for the prevention on untimely plucking of mangoes and their artificial ripening with harmful chemicals.
The High Court on April 9 asked the government to post police personnel to mango orchards to prevent spaying toxic chemicals on mangoes and on May 20 asked the authorities to monitor the market and warehouses to prevent artificial ripening of mangoes. The Bangladesh Pure Food Ordinance 2005 prohibits the use of poisonous chemicals or ingredients such as calcium carbide, formalin, patricides or toxic colour or flavour in any food, which may cause harm to humans. As for chemically ripened mangoes, they are beautiful on the surface but immature inside. A Department of Agricultural Extension deputy director in Dhaka says that artificially ripened mangoes have flooded markets as traders wanted to multiply profit targeting Ramadan. He also suspects the use of calcium carbide in ripening the mangoes as the chemical gives a striking colour to mangoes. A Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology study in 2018 revealed that chemicals popular with fruit sellers for artificial ripening such as calcium carbide, ethephon, kerosene and ethylene glycol were of industrial grade and harmful for human consumption. Chemically ripened mangoes are adulterated to the extent of being poisoned as far as long-term public health is concerned. That a free-for-all is prevailing in fruit trade is evident from a few Rapid Action Battalion and Bangladesh Food Safety Authority mobile court drives.
As the problem is massive, food regulators and consumer rights agencies need to be watchful and set their priority aright as per the High Court directive. It is certainly important to sell fresh and ripe mangoes but it is far more urgent to stop the use of toxic chemicals. One cannot rule out the speculations that the political clout enjoyed by some fruit traders may have contributed to such dithering by the authorities concerned in checking the menace.
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