Animal pollutants in sattwic foods?
by Himanshu Jain on 07 Aug 2009 1 Comment

The recent tragedy of illicit and adulterated liquor in Gujarat has once again brought to the fore deeper anxieties regarding the status of the food we consume. It is common knowledge that milk continues to be adulterated with impunity in India. This adulterated milk is made from incredible ingredients like urea (a fertilizer), shampoo (hair cleaner), and certain inedible oils. All ingredients are generally regarded as inedible by the human body, but our native adulterers are happily feeding India’s cow-worshipping, milk-loving population this amazing diet.

Milk has traditionally been an important part of Indian diet, particularly for children, pregnant women, patients and senior citizens. For all of these categories, adulterated milk can be lethal, if not fatal. Our innocent population is at a big risk; the rising graph of cancers and kidney failures could well be sourced to inedible milk.

Of late, there have also been media reports that animal fat and crushed bone powder are being utilised to make spurious ghee and oil. These products are marketed in duplicate packaging of known and famous brands and are available in regular shops. Harmful dyes and chemicals are being freely used in our spices, sweets, and other edible products.

Duplicate medicines are available with equal ease. In Delhi alone such medicines are freely available. Many raids have yield tonnes of spurious drugs, but there is no news of the prosecution of criminals caught making these drugs! It is common knowledge that these criminals easily get bail and come back and resume the old way of life unfazed.

Duplicate packaging of famous brands can easily be printed by any printer in the country. There is no specific law against duplicate printing.

Ours is a fast growing population. There is a huge, unending demand for food items and milk products. Criminals who want to make quick money are freely engaged in adulteration activities without fear of law and without conviction by courts of law.

Such gross adulteration - urea in milk, animal fat and bones in ghee and oil, dyes and dangerous chemicals in food - is as grave an attack on population health, individual productivity, and even longevity, that it should be considered a form of silent, invidious terrorism, as bad as the open bombing city spaces.

Need to heighten political consciousness

Yet this has elicited little more than a yawn from Indian political parties and politicians across the spectrum; no attention from the human rights activists and assorted jholawallahs currently celebrating the de-criminalisation of homosexuality, and complete inaction from citizens groups that should be leading public concern in such matters. If people can come to the streets when the power distcoms abandon the complaint centres and refuse to attend to their woes, how much more serious are the silent killers of infants and old people.

This country should not fall into the pharmaceutical trap – whereby large companies, mostly multinationals, market costly drugs to doctors to ‘treat’ problems which really have no cures. Invariably such wonder drugs are banned after a few years, for the lethal side effects they are found to have on the frail human system, but by then the pharmaceutical majors have made their money and moved on to the next killer designer drug. Prevention of food adulteration is better than multinational remedies for its poisonous fallout.
All institutions and bodies genuinely working in the realm of social service should make the fight against food adulteration a top priority on their respective agendas, keeping a vigilant eye for reports of adulteration and ensuring the law raids such dens of evil, and that actual convictions take place via committed public prosecutors. In cities, resident’s welfare associations can take the lead in monitoring adulteration with periodic citizens checks in suspected cases, and adulteration kits could be prepared and distributed for this purpose.

Surprisingly, these activities are generally not discussed in Parliament, nor are such issues raised during elections. Yet, at the popular level of society, where the poor and marginalised who comprise the bulk of the voting classes live, it is well known that spurious liquor is a major killer and maimer of family bread-winners. This is not to promote the consumption of alcohol, but to point out that spurious alcohol is just a more dramatic form of adulteration of an article of human consumption, and the adulteration of articles like milk – venerated in the Hindu tradition – and other articles of food associated with a sattwic (pure) lifestyle are heinous sins, for which punishment must be proportional.

In recent years, milk cooperatives in certain states, including Delhi, began marketing pure ghee made from cow’s milk alone. One does not know the success of the ventures, because not only was the ghee very expensive, but it was marketed in 15 kg containers which made the one-time investment difficult for the ordinary household. Packing of 1 kg to 5 kg would have been more successful. Anyway, the point being made is that someone thought to market and profit from the Hindu majority’s love for pure cow products; yet at the same time there is a bovine acceptance of adulteration of milk! What an irony.

Rise above partisanship

The issue is too serious to be subjected to political partisanship. There is an urgent need for Parliamentarians and political parties to wake up to the fact that unadulterated food is as much a human and citizen’s right as any other formally enshrined in the Constitution. Food adulteration departments must be spruced up with better laboratories and infrastructure for testing, and laws against adulteration made more stringent.

At the same time, there is need for a massive public education and awareness campaign to enlighten people about the nature of adulteration, its detection, and legal remedies. The judiciary could be approached for fast-track or special courts to try such cases and help stamp out the menace for once and for all. The punishment for the makers of spurious medicines should, in particular, be exemplary.

This hitherto invisible issue should be treated at par with other pressing concerns regarding the environment on which our survival as a nation depends – afforestation, clean rivers, water harvesting, protection of endangered species – all are equally important, and we would be foolhardy to neglect one at the cost of the other.

The author is a social activist


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