Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ban the Use of Carbide Gas to Ripen Fruits

A survey by CAP shows that Malaysians are consuming toxic fruits which are ripened by a hazardous chemical, calcium carbide. This poses great health risks to consumers.

Calcium carbide has cancer-causing properties and is capable of causing neurological disorders. It can result in tingling sensation, numbness and peripheral neuropathy. If pregnant women consume fruit ripened with carbide, the children born could develop abnormalities.

The use of calcium carbide is not only toxic to consumers, it may also be harmful to those who handle it. It affects the neurological system, resulting in headache, dizziness, mood disturbances, sleepiness, mental confusion and seizures on a short-term basis, while in the long-term it can cause memory loss and cerebral oedema.

The use of carbide gas from calcium carbide to ripen fruits is extremely hazardous to the human body as calcium carbide also contains traces of arsenic and phosphorus. The practice of ripening fruits using carbide is banned in many other countries but it is freely used in Malaysia.

We are shocked that the Ministry of Agriculture and Primary Industries and the Ministry of Health had not curbed this widespread health problem despite CAP raising this commonly-known problem since 1975 -- over 36 years ago! The Ministry of Agriculture and Primary Industries should not be just promoting agricultural productivity, but it should more importantly, ensure the production of healthy agricultural produce. What is the point of producing more agricultural products that is unsafe to be eaten? The encouragement of the use of pesticides, chemical fertilisers and other chemical inputs by the Ministry of Agriculture and Primary Industries must be stopped.

In our survey, we found fruit farmers and wholesalers rampantly using carbide gas to ripen a variety of fruits such as bananas, mangoes, pineapples and papayas. Calcium carbide is also easily available in rural shops at RM5.50 per kilogram. The packaging showed pictures of various fruits that can be ripened by the calcium carbide.

According to a farmer, he uses about 200 grams of calcium carbide to ripen 30 kilograms of mangoes. The calcium carbide is wrapped in newspaper and placed in an enclosed box filled with the mangoes.

A “goreng pisang” (banana fritters) seller says he buys cheap immature bananas from damaged trees and then placed the banana in a box together with some calcium blocks. Within 24 hours all the bananas will be ripened at the same time.

In natural conditions, fruits get ripened by the action of a ripening hormone in the fruit which produces ethylene naturally. The use of calcium carbide is dangerous as it produces acetylene gas which is flammable and explosive even at a low concentration as compared to ethylene.

When calcium carbide is used for artificial ripening, a chemical reaction takes place because of the moisture content in the fruit. Heat and acetylene gas are produced and the ripening process is hastened. However, fruits ripened with calcium carbide are soft and have good peel/skin colour but poor in flavour. They also have a shorter shelf-life. An artificially ripened banana would present a yellow outer skin, but the flesh inside may not be ripe and remains green and raw.

During natural ripening, a wide spectrum of biochemical changes takes place such chlorophyll degradation, biosynthesis of carotenoids (antioxidants, immune system booster, anti-cancer agent), anthocyanins (powerful antioxidants), essential oils, and flavour and aroma components. But all these healthy chemical changes which enhance the quality of the fruit are lost with artificial ripening. Besides being toxic, artificially-ripened fruits are less nutritious.

In India the use of calcium carbide to induce ripening is banned under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, and offenders are liable to face a six-month imprisonment and fines.

In view of the toxic effects of artificially-ripened fruits by calcium carbide, CAP calls on the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture and Primary Industries to ban its use.

Meanwhile consumers are advised to observe the following when buying fruits:

1. Do not choose fruits that are attractive on the outside as they may not be good for health. Fruits that have a uniform colour, for example, a bunch of bananas having a uniform colour, are more likely to have been artificially ripened.

2. Wash the fruits thoroughly before consuming. Keep them under running water for a few minutes, so that the chemicals are washed away.

3. Do not buy fruits sold during their off season, as they are more likely to be artificially ripened.

4. While eating mangoes and papayas, always remove the peel before cutting fruits into pieces.