Tragically, quick-growing greens like spinach, mint, curry leaf are also now regularly sprayed with chemicals. (Sometimes farmers mix different pesticide formulations together to get a stronger ‘cocktail’). Spinach is sprayed once a week to ensure that insects do not chew up some of the leaves, which induces the customer to reject the whole bundle. Monoculture plantations of curry leaf are also sprayed. The important thing to note about greens is that they are so easy to grow in your own home, on the terrace, in the garden, even in big cities.
The entry of a large number of new actors growing tea in unlikely places and in unsound ways has brought in huge imbalances in insect populations. The European Union last year introduced regulations to impose strict limits for approximately 134 pesticides now routinely used on tea bushes. These include DDT. If you go to the Tea Board website, you can get an inkling of the number of pesticides that the Board officially recommends for use by tea gardeners. It’s enough to choke you on your morning cuppa.
This common, popular vegetable is often eaten raw. It is subject to damage from the fruit borer family, as in the case of brinjal. Since both tomato and brinjal have shiny skins, external application of pesticide may not be effective. Farmers therefore use what are called ‘systemic insecticides’. (Systemic or system-wide, refers to something that affects as a whole.)
In fact, most companies are now largely promoting systemic pesticides. These enter the entire plant through the stomata, contaminating the tomato from within. No amount of washing of the vegetable will get rid of it. The chemicals very commonly used are called organophosphates. Organophosphates are neural poisons.
The potato grows underground and is subject to root grub and potato beetle attacks. Systemic chemicals like organochlorines are applied to the soil so that they can penetrate the potato and harm their pests.
During storage, potatoes are also subject to attacks from weevils which can make undesirable and ungainly looking holes. Thirty years ago, dangerous bromides like aluminium phosphide were used. These are now prohibited by law except to registered government agencies. Fumigants are now used in their place. These come in the form of tablets which when dissolved in water release a toxic gas.
Endosulphan is sprayed on mangoes ten days before harvesting to get rid of the fruit fly which can damage the mangoes after they are plucked. The mango itself may be free of the chemical. However since mangoes are now mass-produced and are being transported great distances, they are often plucked before they are seasoned and then quickly ripened by using ethylene gas. Ethylene gas is not harmful in itself. In fact, it is released naturally by the mango from the seed outwards as it ripens. But subjecting the fruit to this gas externally, ripens the mango from the skin inwards. Thus the skin looks a golden yellow, but the fruit is likely to be sour.
A dangerous fruit ripening agent which is also common is calcium carbide because it is usually contaminated with arsenic, which is a deadly poisonous heavy metal.
The pesticides used, besides others, are again organophosphates, some with brand names like nuvacron and monocrotophos. These are used generally after the grapes are harvested. The pesticides are introduced into drums or cans and the grapes are doused in the liquid. Since these are volatile, the smell disappears in a few days without a trace. But the poison remains. Since it is systemic, washing is of no consequence except for removing any dirt or soil, which is not toxic in any way.
Once upon a time, a chicken would take about a year to reach a kilo in weight. With ‘battery farming’ and a constant diet of artificial hormones, that period was shortened to nine weeks and now it takes just about five weeks! The growth hormones used are oestrogen-progesterone.
Young girls consuming chicken raised in this manner regularly may experience puberty earlier than usual or face possible damage to their follicles or develop polycystic ovaries. Poultry farmers also feed the birds a variety of antibiotics and vaccines in the food or in the water the birds drink. If you cannot find naturally-raised country chicken but still want to eat chicken, reduce its intake.
The harvested flower attracts the semi-looper worm and a dozen other caterpillars. These lay eggs and multiply, causing havoc especially during transport. We hate to see caterpillars in our cauliflower, so traders treat it with endosulphan. Veggies treated with endosulphan should not be eaten for 14 days. However, like cabbages, cauliflowers are sprayed and sold, sometimes on the same day, and certainly within the week.
To prevent the tiny black spots that affect cauliflower, farmers use fungicides like bavistene. The small fine black dots are actually not harmful to health. But since consumers want a resplendent white cauliflower (no matter what it looks like after it has been cooked!), the farmer is ever ready to oblige.
The variety most susceptible is the Pride of India variety, sold largely in markets in north India. To achieve an instant shine, farmers dunk their cabbages in a carbofuran (furadon) dip to give it a greenish blue shine. The glistening effect remains for several days.
The scientific literature handed out by the companies who produce it, warns that any produce on which carbofuran is used should not be consumed for a minimum of 28 days. Our farmers and traders harvest the cabbages, dip and sell the same day. If you must have cabbage, choose other varieties and preferably buy those that are dark green and without a sheen. They may even look muddy. Just throw away the top leaves.
Another common vegetable that is subject to caterpillar and fruit borer attack. Spraying of pesticides is done especially at harvest time on large farms.
Miguel Braganza, a former agricultural scientist with Goa government’s agriculture department and now additional director OFAI, informs how these nerve poisons were first used. They were introduced during World War II where cannisters of these nerve poisons were dropped into the tanks, disorienting the commanders and forcing them to emerge in the open.
So if you have to buy brinjal, look for a vendor who stocks different varieties. This would indicate a diverse supply coming from small farms.
One always thought the banana to be a safe item because its skin is discarded. However, this common breakfast fruit undergoes the forced penalty of artificial enlargement and ripening. Farmers use pouches of 2-4-D or 2-4-5-T where the flower has been cut off. The banana bunch absorbs the poison, which mimics indol acetic acid and stimulates cell elongation (thereby yeilding a bigger bunch). 2-4-D is the chemical used by the Americans in the defoliation of Vietnam during the war.
The other chemical used for ripening in banana godowns is etheral solution or ethephon which releases ethylene gas. Normally, the gas should not be released directly on the fruit. It is released in a closed chamber in which the fruits are kept. However, as a short-cut, traders simply dip the bunches in etheral solution.
Lethal pesticides were not used earlier on apples. In 1983, there was a large scale attack of mealybugs in Himachal Pradesh. The government issued an order listing 29 different chemicals that could be applied to apples. The attack disappeared, but the government order has not been withdrawn. Some of these chemicals are contact poisons, others are systemic.
Apple farmers now routinely apply at least 12 chemical sprays. Since systemic pesticides are being used, skinning the apple before eating is no protection. The old adage-an apple a day keeps the doctor away-therefore no longer holds true as it is hard to find non-toxic varieties ever since apple-growing became large-scale and commercial. The impact of toxins is never immediate; they take their toll sooner rather than later. Mostly it discloses itself as general ill health and propensity to illness with one never knowing the cause.