Chemical, artificial ripening agents linked to cancer

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Consumers, retailers, farmers, and others in the produce value and distribution chain are strongly advised to desist from the harmful practice of using chemicals as artificial ripening agents for fruits, vegetables and other food items for its lethal consequences.

The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) said it was particularly worried about the use of calcium carbide (CaC2) to hasten the ripening of oranges and mangos.

“Calcium carbide (CaC2) is a chemical compound containing arsenic and phosphorus, which have been scientifically proven to contain harmful carcinogenic properties that are capable of serious adverse effects and possible fatalities associated with consumption of food containing them”, warns FCCPC.

In a press statement signed by Director General, (FCCPC), Barrister Tunde Irukera, consumers are advised to exercise caution and vigilance by examining what they purchase and intend to consume and to be vigilant in order to prevent consumption of fruits artificially ripened by CaC2.

“In addition, it is always helpful to make routine inquiries before purchases, wait till the peak seasons for specific fruits to arrive, and thoroughly wash farm produce before consumption.”

The commission is collaborating with other relevant regulators and stakeholders in the food security value chain to prevent this unending practice, sensitise and educate stakeholders, as well as interdict and confiscate produce already otherwise compromised by exposure.

One way of detecting fruits or produce artificially ripened in this manner is careful physical examination before purchase. Forcefully ripened fruits usually do not have uniform colours, appear with yellow and green patches, are hard in texture, low in flavor, less juicy and often will not be as sweet as they should be.

It could be recalled that the National Agency for Food, Drug, Administration and Control (NAFDAC) had also advised consumers to beware of fruits treated with calcium carbide at a press briefing in Lagos. Then I published an experience I had while trying to purchase mango.

Out to buy fresh mangos then, I saw this fruit retailer pushing a wheel barrow filled with mangos. Majority of the fruit were yellowish green. Having heard of how some unscrupulous farmers and traders use CaC2, a [material most commonly used for welding purposes], to artificially get fruit to ripe, and not willing to be a victim, I cheerfully asked the Mallam, as if CaC2 was a good thing, if he used CaC2 on the fruits.

“Ahaaa”, nodding his head while smiling at me, “Na Carbide I use, that is why the mangos are very ripe and soft.”

Hearing that, confirming my fears, I tacitly crossed over to the other side of the road telling the Mallam I wanted fruits that got ripe naturally.

This clearly shows that most of the farmers and retailers do not even know that the usage of CaC2 on fruits is a criminal action. They do not even know that the consumption of fruits treated with the chemical is very injurious to the health of the consumers. They are only using it to get as much fruits as possible to ripe and sell for quick profits.

To tackle this issue of ignorance, NAFDAC has pledged to embark on massive education publicity and sensitisation of the entire farmers, retailers and the general public to warn them of the inherent dangers of using and consuming CaC2 treated fruits.

Speaking at a press briefing which held at the Oshodi NAFDAC office, Alhaji Inuwa Abdul-Kadir, the Chairman of NAFDAC Governing Board, regretted that those engaging in the wrong use of CaC2 does not even know the health implications, “what they are out for is to sell and make money.”

The negative implications of consuming CaC2 treated fruits cannot be over stated. This Chemical is extremely hazardous to the human body as it contains traces of arsenic and phosphorus. Although it is banned in many countries of the world, it is freely used in some developing countries. Thus, we are at a greater risk of short-term as well as long-term health effects simply by eating fruits that are artificially ripened. Calcium carbide is a known carcinogen, a cancer-producing chemical.

Irrespective of what quantity you may consume, the chemical is known to have harmful effects on the liver and other parts of the body. It also contains traces of arsenic and phosphorus hydride, which produces several acute and chronic health effects.

Symptoms:

The early symptoms of arsenic or phosphorus poisoning include vomiting, burning sensation in the chest and abdomen, diarrhea, thirst, weakness, difficulty in swallowing, irritation or burning of the eyes and skin, permanent eye damage, ulcers on the skin, irritation in the mouth, nose and throat. Throat sores, cough, and wheezing and shortness of breath may also occur soon after exposure to the chemical. Higher exposure may cause a build-up of fluids in the lungs. Eating artificially ripened mangoes causes stomach upset because the alkaline substance is an irritant that erodes the mucosal tissue in the stomach and disrupts intestinal function. Prolonged exposure to the chemical could lead to peptic ulcer.

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