India’s illegal calcium carbide use rises on bumper mango harvest

27 May 2013 09:26  [Source: ICIS news]

KOLKATA (ICIS)--A bumper mango harvest in India during the current season led to increasing illegal diversion of calcium carbide to be used for artificial ripening of the fruit, a member of Food and Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) said on Monday.

An estimated total of 1,000-1,500 tonnes of calcium carbine, representing a 50% increase from the previous season, was feared to have been diverted in the current season for use in artificial ripening of mangoes, banned under Rule 44 of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, the member said.

The estimate was based on the thumb rule that 1kg of calcium carbide was required to ripen 10 tonnes of the fruits, the member added.

It was also estimated that the chemical was used for close to 90% of the harvest this season, the FSSAI member said.

The amount of illegal calcium carbide diversion for fruit ripening could be much higher if other fruits like bananas were also taken into consideration, the member added but definitive figures for all perishable fruits were not available with FSSAI.

According to estimates of All India Mango Growers’ Association, the current harvest of mangoes during the ongoing season was 10-11m tonnes.

Explaining the widespread usage of calcium carbide, the FSSAI member cited a survey conducted by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and said that the absence of cold chain and efficient agriculture infrastructure led traders to use calcium carbide to artificially ripen the fruit at the retail end so as to avoid losses from wastage during the long chain from farm to consumer.

However, the FSSAI is hamstrung in preventing the diversion of usage since monitoring, checking adulteration and seizures are responsibilities of food inspectors under provincial governments and FSSAI’s role is to issue advisories as per defined adulteration laws.

Based on such an advisory, the western Indian province of Gujarat seized and destroyed 220kg of calcium carbide from fruit traders in the region in the week of 20 May.

FSSAI also pointed out that being a legitimate chemical widely used in electric arc furnaces of the steel industry, the chemical could only be seized when found with fruit traders and not at the producers’ end or in transit.

Bulk of Indian domestic calcium carbide production of 45,000-48,000 tonne/year was accounted by three producers—DCM Shriram Consolidated Ltd (DSCL), Tecil Chemicals and Industrial Chemicals, with DSCL being the sole producer of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) through the calcium carbide route.

The Indian production of calcium carbide has been registering a negative compounded annual growth rate of 1.15% over the last five years with an equivalent of domestic production being imported to meet local demand.

Author: Ajoy K Das

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