Apart from ‘killer foods’, Kashmir markets are flooded with cooking oils laced with dangerous additives and adulterants, and also the milk and milk products containing chemicals such as detergents—the trend that experts say is “creating a health catastrophe.”
According to sources, cooking oils with contamination or adulteration have flooded the Valley markets in absence of any quality checking mechanism in place. The oils, they said, are being tested for “basic things” such as concentration, viscosity and iodine content and are allowed for public consumption “if these parameters are found to be satisfying.”
In reality, according to the sources, no tests are conducted to check the dangerous adulterations of rapeseed oil, BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid) and BHT (Butylatedhydroxytoluene) “beyond safe limits and excessive solvent residues”.
“All these chemicals are either proven to be carcinogenic in nature or are strongly suspected to be so. Some even have mutagenic property i.e. it can change gene structure or expression,” an official said. “This is indeed creating a health catastrophe.”
Assistant Commissioner of Food Safety, Hilal Ahmed Mir, accepted that oil testing in the state is “not up to the mark.”
“What can we do? We are doing our best within the given resources and manpower,” he said.
In the past, the Food Safety Organization (FSO) has seized and destroyed some oils based on complaints. However, after the “customary warning”, the sale of these dangerous oils was allowed uninterrupted, the sources said.
“Even if we start legal proceedings against the manufacturers of inferior, adulterated oils, how can we prove anything in court when we have no scientific evidence?” said an official of the FSO.
He said food testing and analysis is “not taken seriously” in J&K. “There are no funds to be paid for food items required for testing or other necessary documentation,” the official said. “We are forced to buy biscuits worth Rs 5 to Rs 10 biscuits because we have to pay for samples from our pockets.”
In addition, the FSO, has also been turning a blind eye to reuse of oil by roadside vendors for frying foods.
“Reuse of frying oils produces BaP (benzo[a]pyrene), a chemical linked to various cancers. A 2001 National Cancer Institute, USA, study found levels of benzo[a]pyrene to be significantly higher in foods that were cooked on high heat,” an official said.
Last year, as per the officials of the FSO, 55 percent milk samples tested in Srinagar were found to have adulterations.
“We have no facilities to test for synthetic chemicals such as shampoos, pesticides and heavy metals,” an official said.
Milk testing is limited to quantity of fat and non-fat solids and addition of water, in J&K, he added.
He admitted that adulteration such as “bicarbonates, caustic and flour” apart from water, are very often suspected in milk—both loose and packaged—but nothing is done by the department.
Many Food Safety Officers say their higher officials ask them to levy a ‘token fine’ of Rs 500-1000 on sellers of adulterated milk.
In 2012, a survey by the FSSAI had revealed that 80 per cent of milk sold in Jammu and Kashmir contained adulterants.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), in one of its reports, said detergents are a cause of food poisoning and gastro-intestinal complications. Other common additives to milk impair the functioning of various organs of the body, cause heart problems and cancer, it said.
While the FSSAI has been very vocal in calling for strengthening of food safety laws and infrastructure in states, no funds from this GoI-organization have been released to realize this vision. Recently, the Union Minister for Health, JP Nadda disclosed in the RajyaSabha that no funds have been provided for upgradation of State food testing laboratories during 2012-13 to 2015-16.