Know Your Food

Our breakfast table has always been an array of fruits. Today’s line up… watermelon, musk melon, apple, grapes, banana. They all tasted similar though, like chemicals and not the juices I’d grown up on. What’s changed?

The Problem

There exists a large influx of agrochemicals to boost produce performance at the source, in farming practices. The consumers’ want for perfectly-appearing, exotic, and non-seasonal produce (do we even know when watermelon season is any longer?) coupled with the farmers’ need to produce a quick, “bumper” crop, gives us this agchem-dependence pattern.

Chemical contamination exists at all stages, starting from seed to end-product.



Seeds readily available to the farmer today are hybrid seeds, “treated in poison” or worse yet, genetically modified seeds, created to produce a one-time crop. Putting it simply, GMO seeds are seeds that have undergone mutation for improved pest and insect resistance, but are also like mothers without the ability to concieve. These seed types puts our food source in the hands of multinational companies, as opposed to the farmers. In addition, these hybrid and modified seeds return the best results when companioned with the use of chemical fertilizers, such as urea.


GMOs are thought to produce “massive changes in the natural functioning of (a) plant’s DNA. Native genes can be mutated, deleted, permanently turned off or on….the inserted gene can become truncated, fragmented, mixed with other genes, inverted or multiplied, and the GM protein it produces may have unintended characteristics”.[1]


GMOs in corn and brinjal produce a pesticidal protein called Bt-toxin. People exposed to this develop allergic-type symptoms and a growing number of human and livestock illnesses. In addition, these genes may move from food into our gut or internal organs.[2]


Scientific and independent studies have shown the following illnesses associated with GMO foods: stunted growth, impaired immune systems, bleeding stomachs, abnormal and potentially precancerous cell growth in the intestines, impaired blood cell development, misshaped cell structures in the liver, pancreas and testicles, altered gene expression and cell metabolism, liver and kidney lesions, partially atrophied livers, inflamed kidneys, less developed organs, reduced digestive enzymes, higher blood sugar, inflamed lung tissue, increased death rates and higher offspring mortality as well.[3]


In addition, 2 dozen farmers reported their pigs and cows fed GM corn became sterile, 71 shepherds said 25% of their sheep fed Bt cotton plants died, and other reports showed the same effects on cows, chickens, water buffaloes and horses. After GM soy was introduced in the UK, allergies from the product skyrocketed by 50%, and in the US in the 1980s, a GM food supplement killed dozens and left five to ten thousand others sick or disabled.[4]


DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), a chemical banned in the US since 1972, is used as a pesticide in India both during the growing and storage of our grains. DDT’s acute toxicity[5] is classified as “moderately toxic” by the US National Toxicology Program (NTP) and “moderately hazardous” by the World Health Organization. Its chronic toxicity[6] includes links to diabetes and development issues.


The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that DDT exposure damages the reproductive system and reduces reproductive success. Occupational exposure in agriculture has been linked to neurological problems (e.g., Parkinson’s disease)and asthma. It is also regarded as a possible/probable carcinogen, including cancers of the liver, pancreas and breast (NTP, EPA, International Agency for Research on Cancer).



To allow for transportation of fruits over long distances, fruits are plucked early from the tree, transported, ripened using chemical agents like ethylene or calcium carbide, and then sold. Both chemicals are regulated by the US EPA as toxic. Ethylene poses a risk when exposed to lungs.


Calcium carbide, also known as the sweet poison, is linked with cancer, lung oedema, damage to kidney, heart and liver, causes ulcers and gastric problems, potentially effects brain, lungs and other vital organs. Calcium carbide when dissolved in water produces acetylene that is believed to affect the nervous system by reducing oxygen supply to the brain. Children are especially sensitive to its toxic and carcinogenic effects.


Despite its ban in India, the passed few years have exposed many instances of carbide-ripened fruit. For example, in 2013, the Ahmedabad  Municipal Corporation’s Heath Department confiscated 22,700 kg mangoes for being artificially ripened with calcium carbide[7]. In 2011, 30,000 kg of fruit (including mangoes, banana, and chiku) was destroyed in Maharashtra for artificial ripening3iii.



Toxins from plastics used in packaging, or the gum used for stickers on fresh foods, pose the threat of directly leaching into our foods.



Recently, we started crossing borders for food. Not only does this give you produce that is less fresh, but that is also picked early (and then artificially ripened) to allow for better transportation. For example, several years ago the Chinese apples sent our Kashmiri apples back into cold storage based on the property that they are bigger, and look better. In terms of quality though, they don’t stand to the comparison against our locally produced apples.

It’s no wonder produce now tastes more like a lab and less like earth.

Our base soil, water, and air, is changing. Its impacts can either be learned from countries that have tried and tested these waters, or, well, through experience, as the chemicals slowly accrue in us and in our lands.


The Solution

No you don’t have to quit your job and start growing tomatoes; but, you can become more conscious about the food you purchase for yourself and your family.


Here are some tips how…

Buy Natural

Ask that your produce is grown naturally, sans all the chemical dosages. When the “organic” movement got busy in the US, I found myself gloating… everything in India is organic. Wheel spins some, India now sits midst a mess of misguided farming and consumption practices; while the US moves toward organic. But, supply meets demand. Ask for the good stuff.


Buy What’s in Season

Fruits that arrive at markets before their normal season are in all likelihood artificially ripened for quicker profits.


Eat Fresh, Wash Well

Decrease refrigerator dependence. Hard, given the pace of our lives, but not impossible. Soak your produce, grain, pulses in water and rinse several times before consuming; preferably, peel fruits before eating.


Buy Local

While its hard to pass up that exotic and perfect looking fruit that’s travelled across oceans, there within lays the very problem, it’s travelled across oceans. Naturally, fresh produce does not have a long shelf life.  Buy local, you’ll eat fresher and support your local economy.


Know Your Farmer

Build relations to get insight on the source of your food—how and where it was grown, and what exactly is it doing for and to you.

There’s always hope that the winds will change. This wind, we blow.



Author: Gaytri Bhatia is an Ecologist and Farmer, with a background in Environmental Sciences, Analyses and Policy. The views expressed in the article are those of the author.


[2] Global Research, Canada

[3] Global Research, Canada

[4] Global Research, Canada

[5] Acute toxicity describes the adverse effects of a substance that result either from a single exposure or from multiple exposures in a short space of time (usually less than 24 hours).

[6] Chronic toxicity describes the adverse effects of a substance that results from prolonged exposure to a substance (i.e., supplied on a regular basis to the body, e.g., through food) and prolonged internal exposure because a substance remains in the body for a long time (e.g., ingested radium is mostly absorbed into the bones where it would exert a harmful effect on a person’s health).

[7] For more information on the prevelance of calcium carbide in our fruits, see:

  1. DNA, Bet on it. Your mango is ripened using carbide, Saturday, 18 May 2013;
  2. Indian Express, Delhi bans use of calcium carbide for ripening fruits,New Delhi, Wed Jun 22 2011;
  3. India Today, Mumbai, June 21, 2011;