Monday, September 8, 2008


Many might be wondering in to day's world, whether there is any thing that is safe to eat. With rapid economic growth and unprecedented changes in life styles, man seems to be losing his control over every thing that needs to be controlled whether it is water, air, environment or food which he has not bargained for. Even an affluent country like USA where quality of life is supposed to be very high due to rapid industrialization, excellent infrastructure and high per capita income, food poisoning occurs at sickening regularity. How can a poor country like India stave off such calamities with ineffective control regimes and unorganized food trading with practically no food chain accountability? But surprisingly very little is heard about food poisoning in this country except for some occasional reports of such incidences in some mass feeding programs. One reason could be the absence of any centralized monitoring programs or systematic documentation systems to keep track of such incidences and affected consumers , where ever and when ever it happens do no go public, obliterating any records.

The pesticide residue controversy raked by an NGO in Delhi and the consequent national outcry mostly orchestrated in the media is still fresh in the memory of many in India. Whether the alarms raised was genuine or based on scanty and inappropriate data used for justifying the dangers is still not clear though a recent report questioned the veracity and reliability of the endosulfan values in soft drinks published by one of the investigators from IIT. Imagine the damages caused by such fudged results on the industry both economic and brand credibility and how such irresponsible acts get condoned in a liberal country like India. There was a time when consumer was bombarded with insinuations that practically every food in India was unsafe because of pesticide residues including breast milk!

Now comes another report from Karnataka about high lead content in natural resources like water that gets transferred to food chain easily. It was claimed that eating vegetables purchased in Bangalore markets would sap the health because of high lead content in them. In a 'study' conducted by a few B.Sc students, it was reported that Coriander leaves collected from the local markets had lead values from 2.62 to 24.29 ppm while safe limit is only 2.5 ppm. What is intriguing is that the results expressed were on dry weight basis and if they are factored into fresh leaves probably the values might be between 0.35 to 3.3 ppm. Considering that coriander leaves are consumed in very small quantity when ever it is included in the food, is there a justification in raising a hue and cry, that too in a news paper, with no peer review system to validate the results and always looking for sensationalism for catching the attention of the readers? Of course the findings cannot be dismissed lightly and warrant further critical appraisal.

Another plant material 'studied' was water hyacinth from a few lakes near Bangalore in which the 'researchers' found lead contents in the range of 4.95 to 102.45 ppm. They drew prompt 'conclusion' that the milk distributed in the City also must be high in lead without verifying the real situation. It is sad that half baked results are published by responsible news papers like Deccan Herald and it is equally deplorable for the authors of this study to splash it in the paper raising alarms all around. A proper way for any scientific study to be aired is through peer reviewed scientific journals to command respect, sanctity and credibility. The craze and cravings for publicity and attention by the scientific community reflect a dangerous trend that must be curbed by all means and at any cost in the interest of the country.


1 comment:

devpriya said...

yeah...its a real serious issue since some vested interest want the attention of the public on the expense of huge loss to an industry as well as to the industry associated with it. for eg. Early 2001, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) assisted by IIT(Kanpur) scientists Dr.Padma Vankar published a self generated analytical report that claimed to have found high levels of Endosulfan residues in environmental and biota samples taken from a village called Padre in Kasargod district of Kerala. Being sensational, the news was immediately picked up by all major press & electronic media.The complaints leveled against Endosulfan were scientifically unsupportable. For example, the report claimed to have found 9.19 ppm Endosulfan residues in filtered water samples. This is scientifically implausible as Endosulfan has a water solubility of mere 0.32 ppm. Pesticides solubility in water is an important factor in residue analysis. It indicates the maximum possible amount of pesticide in solution in accidentally contaminated water. When the known & validated water solubility of Endosulfan is only 0.32 ppm how could CSE analysis find as much as 9.19 ppm in filtered water? The residues of Endosulfan in filtered water as reported by CSE exceeded its known water solubility by over 2800%. The results published by CSE would baffle experts in the field of residue testing. Due diligence is an integral part of scientific integrity. Unfortunately, neither CSE nor Dr.Padma Vankar did exercise due diligence during or after publishing their questionable study.

Pesticides industry associations have sent many letters seeking scientific explanation from Ms.Sunita Narain and Dr.Padma Vankar for their claims. A copy of recent communication sent to the Chairperson of CSE is enclosed. So far CSE has not responded.

It must be mentioned that an apex committee appointed by Govt. of India under the Chairmanship of Dr.Mayee had categorically stated that “there is no link established between use of Endosulfan in PCK plantations & health problems from Padre Village.” The Govt. of India has since accepted the recommendation of the expert group.