The Nation Sunday Print Edition - page 34

Page 2 Sunday, October 20, 2013
Lens
Consumer Watch
Rukshana Rizwie and
Sandun Jayawardana
N
early every food item from
rice to vegetables and fruits
available in the market
are contaminated with poisonous
pesticides,
authorities
caution.
According to the National Poisons
Information Center an awareness
program is to be launched from
August 28 with this regard.
“This is a national endeavor
and one that this National center
wishes to enlighten consumers
on,” said Consultant Physician and
Department Head of the Toxicology
and National Poisons Information
Center of the Colombo National
Hospital Dr. Varuna Gunathilake.
The Health Ministry has declared
that this year’s National Poison
Prevention Week will be held from
October 28-November 3. This year’s
program will mainly focus on E-
Waste disposal. However, there will
also be programs that focus on safe
disposal of pesticide and insecticide
containers.
Dr. Gunathilake warned that
pesticides and insecticides could be
detrimental to people’s immune and
reproductive systems. It can even
lead to infertility, he added.
He said ‘developmental toxins’
in these chemicals may adversely
affect the development in children.
They may also act as endocrine
disrupters, leading to hormonal
imbalances.
“These chemicals are also not
biodegradable(Able to decompose
naturally). As such, they persist
for a long time and get transferred
into the food chain. This means
that overtime, they get deposited in
the human body,” Dr. Gunathilaka
observed.
He warned consumers were at
serious risk from ‘irrational use’ of
pesticides by farmers.
Chemicals in your shopping
cart
Almost half of all fresh produce
is affected by increasing heavy use
of chemicals, a study by the Hector
Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research
and Training Institute (HARTI)
warned.
Researchers, who submitted a
recentpolicybrief titled‘Minimizing
theDamagesof Pesticides’, cited that
upcountry vegetable and specially
potato farmers use 73 branded
pesticides out of 462 commercial
brands marketed in Sri Lanka while
someof themareopenlyclassifiedby
World Health Organization (WHO)
as highly toxic.
The research was conducted by
M.M.M. Aheeyar, M.T. Padmajani
and M.A.C.S. Bandara from HARTI
who based their findings on a survey
of 240 randomly selected vegetable
and potato farmers in Badulla and
Nuwara Eliya Districts.
“Ourfindings revealed that there’s
anoveruseandmisuseof pesticides,”
said M.M.M Aheeyar, one of the
authors of the policy paper. “We
also found out that most farmers use
more than the recommended levels
through unacceptable practices.”
According to him in order to
produce high yields in short span
of time, farmers apply an overdose
of pesticides and commercial
fertilizers. “There is a prescribed
pre-harvest period where farmers
are not supposed to do anything to
the crops, whereas here four in ten
farmers spray pesticides even when
they see no pest in sight.”
Out of fear that the crops may
wither, farmers douse vegetables
plots with excessive chemicals.
According to this research, farmers
use 50% or higher dosage than
recommended.
Better regulation
“In Sri Lanka, the task of
ensuring food safety is conducted
in an
ad hoc
and piecemeal
manner,” Institute for Policy
Studies Research Assistant Raveen
Ekanayake said. “Although there is
a growing incidence of food safety
risks, as we’ve seen from the latest
DCD scare in Milk, it is usually an
afterthought and investigations
are propelled when someone is
affected,” he said.
The researcher who submitted a
report on Safeguarding Consumer
Interests by Strengthening Food
safety in Sri Lanka cited that
although a Pesticides Act exists,
there still is no Maximum Residue
Level (MRI) in place or regulations
to enforce it.
“Maximum
Residue
Levels
(MRLs) refer to the upper legal
levels of a concentration for
pesticide residues in or on food or
feed based on good agricultural
practices and to ensure the lowest
possible
consumer
exposure.
This has been widely adopted by
countries around the world,” he
said. “In the local context the use
of pesticides are governed by the
Control of Pesticides Act of 1980,
but the Act does indicate that food
crops should not contain pesticide
residues in excess of levels as “may
be prescribed.
He added that Sri Lanka has yet
to prescribe a list of MRLs. “Under
such circumstances imports are
merely subject to the exporting
country MRLs or shippers have
the discretion to employ the codex
standard,” he explained.
According to him, In the absence
of MRLs, exporters to do not have
any incentive to comply with higher
standards and as such there exists
a heightened risk that substandard
produce with unsafe level of
pesticide/chemical
residue
are
consumed by Sri Lankan consumer
unwitting.
“There also exists the very real
possibility that food contaminated
with chemicals which have been
banned in other countries on
grounds of serious human health
consideration enter the market in
the absence of such regulations,” he
added.
The need for testing
facilities
Ekanayake cited that stabling of
the MRL is not sufficient to ensure
that residues of toxic substances
are minimal. “The government
needs to bolster the testing and
conformity assessment capabilities
of local institutions/testing labs
both private and public,” he said.
“It is crucial that laboratories are
equipped with modern technology
to detect radioactive contaminants
and other emerging biological
threats.”
Gemunu Saliya Perera
(Public Health Inspector – Ella)
According to global research, consumers
spend billions annually on cosmetics
and perfume than they do on hygiene
and personal care products. The result?
The perfumery industry spews millions
on marketing gimmicks and injects toxic
substances to make every scent seem
special.
What consumers don’t realize is that the
highly toxic substances whose long-term
usage can cause a range of health issues,
including infertility and cancer.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
commissioned an independent lab to
test 17 popular perfumes. The majority of
chemicals found in this report have never
been assessed for safety by any authority
or agency.
Health concerns
Allergies
Fragrance is considered among the top
five causes of allergens in North America
and European countries and is associated
with a range of skin, eye and respiratory
reactions. The tests found an average of
10 chemical sensitizers in each fragrance
product.
Hormone disruption
Exposure to hormone disruptors has
been linked to a health problems, such
as an increased risk of cancer, especially
breast and prostate cancers; effects on
the developing fetus; and predisposition to
metabolic disease such as thyroid problems
or obesity. 12 ingredients that are potential
hormone disruptors were found.
Skin absorbs chemicals
Chemicals from perfumes are absorbed
through the skin. A recent study found
synthetic musk chemicals Galaxolide and
Tonalide in the umbilical cord blood of
newborn infants; these chemicals were
found in all but one fragrance analyzed for
this study. Diethyl phthalate (DEP), which
appeared in 12 of the 17 products, has been
found in 97 percent of Americans tested by
the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention.
Synthetic musks
Musks are a poorly-studied class of
chemicals added as scents to cosmetics,
including perfumes, and other personal
care products. Synthetic musks identified in
fragrances have been found in the umbilical
cord blood of newborn babies, as well as in
blood, breast milk and body fat.
Phthalates
Phthalates are used in a variety of
common consumer products, they soften
vinyl plastics that are common in toys,
are responsible for the smell of new
vinyl shower curtains and are a frequent
component of fragrances in air fresheners,
detergents, cleaning products. They show
up in cosmetics to hold color and scents.
Sodium Benzoate
Sodium Benzoate is a preservative used
extensively in jams, cordials, cosmetics,
shampoos, creams, body lotions, and lip
balms. This chemical is absorbed into the
body both through the digestive system and
the skin. Sodium Benzoate can disrupt the
flow of oxygen to our cells.
Denatured alcohol
Denatured alcohol or methylated spirits
is ethanol that has additives to making
it poisonous, extremely bad tasting, foul
smelling or nauseating and is meant to
discourage recreational consumption.
According to regulations by the European
Union, all cosmetics being sold in EU
nations need to be state on the label if
Benzyl alcohol is present.
Parabens
Many types of parabens are used as
preservatives in many types of cosmetics
including deodorants and body lotions. High
levels of parabens have been detected
in breast tumors, fueling suspicion that
there might be a link between high levels
of parabens and breast cancer. Though
banned in many countries, parabens are
found in many cosmetics sold in Sri Lanka.
Situation in Sri Lanka
The perfumery sector in Sri Lanka is
flooded with both counterfeit and locally
marketed perfumes that do not have
any scientific research conducted on
them. However, it is incumbent on us as
consumers to compel the manufacturers
and importers of these products to sell
only products that are safe and free from
harmful chemicals. Authorities should take
heed and do more to regulate this industry.
Dr Hector Perera
The fact that energy can be saved by
cooking on low fire is common sense.
Cooking on low fire ensures that juice in
vegetables and meats ooze out slowly and
react with the accompanying spices. Sri
Lankans are known to cook an entire pot of
food on full blast only to burn the whole thing
because the liquid evaporate quickly.
What a lot of people don’t understand
is that cooking not only involves a bit of
skill but a bit of chemistry and science.
Carbohydrates consist of carbon, hydrogen
and oxygen combination which is present in
meat or fish as protein. Proteins are large
biological molecules consisting of one or
more chains of amino acids.
Elements in food
Cooking is a series of chemical reactions.
In the synthesis of organic chemicals, some
chemicals react together while other bonds
break paving way for the formation of new
compounds. For instance, the tempting
aroma of a pickle is unmistakable. But all
it consists of is vinegar, sugar, salt with
vegetables that are partially cooked and
usually warm when bottled in jars. The
aroma is that of ester called ethyl ethonate.
Slow cooked food
Foods are bad conductors of heat; hence
heat goes through them slowly. You need
to put medium or low heat so the juice
that oozes out is mixed with spices and re-
absorbed. Cinnamon and cloves each has
18 different aromatic chemicals which are
very sensitive to temperature. The spices
and the cooking ingredients have varying
chemicals. They react with the food in many
different ways, some absorb while others
simmer on the surface stay on the surface. It
is referred to as chemisorptions in science.
Cooking them open
When a cooking pan with boiling food is
opened, all the chemical vapors that are
supposed to react with the food escapes. You
must not open boiling curries, let the steam
to settle before opening it or mixing it. In
science, we refer to the molecules as having
high entropy when it’s boiling hot. At the
same time since they have higher molecular
speed due to the excessive heat they also
have a high kinetic energy. A microscopic
interpretation of Gay-Lussac’s law is as
the temperature of a gas is increased, the
velocity of the molecules is also increased.
More molecules hit the sides of the
container, each with a greater impulse, so
that the pressure increases. If the container
has something like rice, cooking curries like
chicken or vegetables, then they hit on them
as well with that speed. That is how they get
cooked.
Cooking and chemistry
Cooking is the process of changing the
chemistry of food by transferring energy
in the form of heat long enough so that it
is safe and digestible, and achieves the
desired flavor, texture, tenderness, juiciness,
appearance, and nutrition. There are five
ways heat cooks food. Heat is transferred
to food by means of conduction, convection,
radiation, excitation, and induction.
You may contact the author of this article
on
Pesticides on a plate
Research reports reveal that although a Pesticides Act exists to safeguard consumer interest, there is no
Maximum Residue Level (MRI) in place or regulations to enforce it.
In order to produce
high yields in
short span of time,
farmers apply
an overdose of
pesticides and
commercial
fertilizers. There is
a prescribed pre-
harvest period
where farmers are
not supposed to
do anything to the
crops, but four in
ten farmers spray
pesticides even
when they see no
pest in sight
The Nation believes that an
informed consumer is an
empowered citizen.
Write to us
your comments and suggestions
on
or snail mail us on Consumer
Affairs Desk, 742,
Maradana Road, Colombo 10.
C Profparise
Cook light and save yourself 60% in energy consumption
Not your ordinary
chemical reaction
Breaking the
bottle: Dangers
of perfumes
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