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Friday, November 6, 2015

IAS officer triggers organic food drive in Kerala

When a young IAS officer in Kerala took the powerful pesticide lobby and food adulterators head on, little did she knew that she was triggering a healthy food campaign across the state.
Kerala’s food safety commissioner TV Anupama opened a Pandora’s box when she conducted raids across the state and banned products of an established food brand citing that it contained alarming levels of non-permissible substances.
Thanks to the startling facts that the raids threw up, jolting Keralites into realising the need to have home-grown vegetables, the state that used to buy 70% of vegetables for consumption from neighbouring Tamil Nadu and Karnataka now produces 70% on its own.
The state government pitched in by providing grow bags, seeds and saplings home-delivered free of cost. It also provided subsidy to install drip-irrigation facility and bio-gas plants in homes, paving way to a silent organic revolution of sorts.
“She is a bold and committed officer. Her continuous pursuit for safe food items has started yielding results,” said legislator VT Balram.
After taking over 15 months ago, Anupama conducted random checks in markets and checks posts and seized adulterated products. At least 6,000 samples were collected from various farms in a year and 750 cases were registered against defaulters. This awakened the conscience of people, who started growing vegetables without pesticides.
“We were shocked to hear that some fruits and vegetables carried 300% pesticide residues than the permissible limit. She opened our eyes,” said Vijayalakshmi Nair, a retired teacher, who now has an organic garden on her terrace.
“We realised the importance of the chief election commissioner when TN Seshan took over. Similarly, we realised such a post existed after Anupama,” said another homemaker.
“I did my duty. The government and people stood with me in my endeavour,” is all the 2010-batch IAS officer (she was the fourth-rank holder) had to say.

Synthetic food colours pose health risk

Survey in north Kerala reveals need for more regulations

The sweetmeats inside the glass counter look tempting in their many hues but the colours that make them appealing could be hiding a toxic cocktail. A recent survey conducted in northern Kerala revealed excessive use of synthetic colours in sugar-based confections, posing a serious health risk, especially for children.
The survey found the use of two non-permitted colours, Amaranth and Rhodamine, underlining the need for more stringent food safety regulations.
Of the 14 samples collected from various locations, 97 per cent were found to contain permitted colours while three per cent contained a combination of permitted and non-permitted colours.
The analysis also showed that 82 per cent of the samples exceeded the prescribed limit of 100 ppm (parts per million) for permitted colours. Tartrazine was the most widely used permitted colour, followed by sunset yellow.
Commonly used
It was noticed that though the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) permits eight colours to be added to specific foods, only six, namely Tartrazine, Sunset yellow, Carmoisine, Ponceau 4R, Erythrosine and Brilliant blue FCF, were commonly used. Brilliant blue was mostly used in combination with Tartrazine to impart a green shade to sweets, instead of using Fast Green, says R.Subburaj, Junior Research Officer, Food Safety Department, who presented a paper on the survey at the World Food Day celebrations here earlier this month.
Studies on animals have indicated that Brilliant blue induces liver damage, renal failure, and asthma while Tartrazine is responsible for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Sunset yellow causes adrenal tumor and hypersensitivity.
The survey found that indiscriminate use of colours in sweets was prevalent in small-scale industries and homestead units.
Non-permitted colours were not used in reputed brands of sugar boiled confectionaries but all the eight permitted colours were used in different combinations, ignoring the cumulative health effects caused by mixing synthetic food colours.
Joint Commissioner of Food Safety K. Anilkumar said there was scientific evidence to support the impact of synthetic food colours on human health. Pointing out that a campaign launched by the Bakers Association to avoid the use of synthetic colours had collapsed due to lack of response from buyers, Mr.Anilkumar stressed the need for a sustained consumer awareness drive.