Food for thought

Published On: March 21, 2019 02:00 AM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

It has become obvious that consuming fruits and vegetables laden with pesticides and insecticides result in a multiple health complications. Doctors have warned that high levels of pesticides in fruits and vegetables cause nausea, diarrhea, abdominal cramp, dizziness and anxiety. And long term consumption of such items can lead to kidney failure, lung disease and mental health problems, and even cancer, they have warned repeatedly. This harms the pregnant women and even the fetuses. Despite these glaring risks, there is no way of knowing whether the fruits or vegetables we buy in the market are safe to eat. It could be that we are cooking vegetables laced with poisonous chemicals in our kitchen or we might be feeding highly poisonous fruits to our children. This is so because our pesticide residue testing system is not very reliable, or at times even non-functional, and we do not raise this issue with the intensity it deserves. 

Of seven pesticides residue test labs (in Birtamod, Sarlahi, Butwal, Pokhara, Kailali, Nepalgunj and Kathmandu) we have in the country, most of them are either not in proper order, or they are understaffed or have no access to the chemicals needed to conduct the test. The labs in Butwal, Nepalgunj and Pokhara for example, have not tested any samples since last October, according to the recent report. The one in Kathmandu set up at the premises of the Kalimati Fruits and Vegetable Market has reduced the number of samples of fruits and vegetables due to an insufficiency in chemicals required for testing. This is the height of negligence toward public health. Troublingly, such a serious matter rarely becomes the national debate. Thanks to some lawmakers, the issue was finally raised in National Assembly on Tuesday. They expressed concern over the overuse of pesticides and harmful chemicals on agricultural products. Dhana Kumari Khatiwada urged the government to take the issue seriously. She complained that the Department of Food Technology and Quality Control has failed to carry out effective monitoring and take measures to control misuse of pesticides on fruits and vegetables. As things stand, injected poultries, adulterated milk and unsafe food are being sold openly in the market. Thus Dhana Kumari raised very relevant concern but this alone is not going to help solve the problems.

We won’t be able to do anything about it unless we understand the gravity of the matter and keep speaking about it. Doctors have attributed the rise of cancer patients to increasing use of insecticides and pesticides in plants and their consumption. In neighboring India, Union Ministry of Agriculture in August, 2018 banned 18 pesticides with the immediate effect. The decision was taken following the reports that thousands of farmers were committing suicides by using them or by accidentally inhaling those toxic pesticides. Manufacture, import, transport and sell of some pesticides were completely banned. Nepal may have to adopt similar, or even much stronger, approach to discourage pesticide use in vegetables and fruits. To stay healthy, the food we eat must be poison-free.

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