By Chinyere Anyanwu [email protected] 09028770040
Fresh foods, especially vegetables, are the desire of every consumer, which is why the sight of lush green vegetables hold strong attraction for buyers. But vegetables have such short shelf life that keeping them fresh till they are completely sold is sometimes a big task. In the event of not preserving them properly, the producer and seller can suffer huge losses owing to spoilage.
This unfortunately accounts for why sellers have devised means of keeping vegetables fresh with the aid of some chemicals. These chemicals being used to artificially make vegetables stay fresh and bigger in size are very harmful to health.
Among such chemicals is oxytocin injection used to induce labour in a full term pregnant woman but is also used to terminate pregnancy. It is administered in vegetables either within the plant or just before they come to the market, which makes them have a fresh and fluffy appearance.
According to experts, other chemicals commonly used for prolonging the shelf life of vegetables and also enhance their coloration and freshness include copper sulphate (commonly known as blue vitriol), rhodamine oxide, malachite green (a textile dye and a well-known carcinogen) and the deadly carbide.
Researches have revealed that the effects of these chemicals on human health can be enormous and frightening. Calcium carbide can irritate and burn the eyes and skin causing permanent eye damage and ulcers on the skin. There may also be irritation in the mouth and throat and sometimes, a medical emerge §ncy like pulmonary oedema, which can be life threatening, can occur. It can as well affect reproduction and may cause azoospermia (absence of motile and hence, viable sperm in the semen). Used in the steel industry, carbide results in neural problems and is also a carcinogen.
These chemicals as well affect the brain causing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and are also carcinogenic (cancer causing). In addition, they speed up the ageing process. Ingestion of copper sulphate affects the liver and kidneys and causes the formation of free radicals in the body which spike the ageing process. Rhodamine B, which is carcinogenic, is used in producing markers and also as an agricultural pesticide. It irritates the skin.
These vegetables, which have already received pesticide treatment prior to being brought to the markets become deadlier with the addition of these colour and freshness enhancers.
Reacting to the crucial issue of preserving vegetables with chemicals, Mr. Francis Ojili, a nutritionist and CEO of Frank’s Khan Kichenette Ltd., said it is a deadly trend that requires critical and urgent attention of people in authority and the civil society to curb it.
Ojili explained that vegetables are meant to be consumed as soon as they are harvested, otherwise they will wither, so sellers use preservatives to keep them fresh in order to keep attracting buyers.
He stated that vegetables in local markets are safer than those sold by street sellers and those in shopping malls. This is, he said, is because shopping malls import foreign vegetables and use high preservatives to keep the shelf life of those vegetables.
According to him, “once anything is being preserved with an unnatural chemical that the body doesn’t understand, it can have serious side effects because cancer can be activated when the cancer cells in the body come in contact with these chemical preservatives.
“The best place to buy vegetables from is the local market. The ones from the malls have high preservative content. It is important that when we are buying anything that is plant-based, we take full responsibility of knowing the processes through which these vegetables are being preserved because they want to sell their produce to make sure they don’t get bad.”
Speaking on ways of checking the situation, the nutritionist advised that efforts should be made to educate the culprits because a lot of them don’t know the side effects of their actions.
He said, “they should be made to understand that what they are doing is harmful. They need to be cautioned. These are some of the reasons degenerative diseases are increasing daily because of what we consume.
He noted that the best way to control this menace is to embark on serious awareness campaign to educate those guilty of this activity on the health implications of their actions.
Ojili called for a concerted effort by government in the form of establishing regulatory bodies in agriculture like the NDLEA, the Nutrition Society of Nigeria, NGOs and a lot of other civil society organisations that can come up with programmes to sensitise the food system of the country.
According to him, “the government has a major role to play here. If NDLEA can take up this matter the way it goes after those involved in trafficking in drugs and foods coming from abroad that are substandard and are therefore not acceptable in the country, it will go a long way. We should be able to have such a department that will be saddled with the responsibility of looking into foods sold in the markets.”