Synthetic chemicals to ripen fruits a health hazard – Toxicologist | Sunday Observer
Medi snips

Synthetic chemicals to ripen fruits a health hazard – Toxicologist

7 November, 2021

A leading Toxicologist Emeritus Professor of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, University of Colombo, Dr Ravidra Fernando has warned that the flood of vegetables and fruits from village to towns and vice versa due to the opening of the country for travel, can lead to various health hazards if their quality was not properly monitored. He said that there had been reports of synthetic chemicals being used to induce artificial ripening of fruits and vegetables for quicker sales.

Asked by the Sunday Observer if he had any specific fruits in mind, he said, “Synthetic chemicals to induce ripening of climacteric fruits such as mango, banana, papaya, tomato and jackfruit is a persistent problem in Sri Lanka. Fewer non-climacteric fruits such as pineapple are also subject to ripening with chemicals. Whereas in developed countries, ethylene gas is used to induce ripening of climacteric fruits, in Sri Lanka, various liquid plant growth regulators containing ethephon as an active ingredient are sprayed on the fruits or the fruits are dipped in a solution of ripening chemicals. Consumption of such fruits using  different toxic chemicals is a serious health hazard.

Asked what health hazards he was referring to were, he quoted  a recent report from the UK which said that according to research, which has singled out the most polluted fruit and vegetables in shopping trolleys, almost all grapes and oranges contain a “cocktail of pesticides”.

 A pesticide is any substance used to kill, repel, or control certain forms of plant or animal life that are considered to be pests. Pesticides include herbicides for destroying weeds and other unwanted vegetation, insecticides for controlling a wide variety of insects, fungicides used to prevent the growth of moulds and mildew, disinfectants for preventing the spread of bacteria, and compounds used to control mice and rats. Because of the widespread use of agricultural chemicals in food production, people are exposed to low levels of pesticide residues through their diets. Scientists do not yet have a clear understanding of the health effects of these pesticide residues. 

A recent report from the UK said that almost all grapes and oranges contain a “cocktail of pesticides” according to research, which has singled out the most polluted fruits and vegetables in shopping trolleys. 

Each year, the Government tests samples of groceries for chemicals to see if traces can be found in Britain’s food. 

He said that Pesticide Action Network (PAN), found 122 different pesticides in the 12 most polluted products, which the charity calls the “dirty dozen”. Many of these are hazardous to human health; The list of pesticides includes 47 with links to cancer, 15 “reproductive or developmental toxins” that can have adverse effects on sexual function and fertility, and 17 cholinesterase inhibitors that can impair the respiratory system and cause confusion, headaches and weakness. A quarter of the pesticides found are suspected endocrine disruptors that can interfere with hormone systems, causing an array of health problems including birth defects and developmental disorders.

Asked if he had a solution to offer as an alternative to ingesting toxic chemical fruits and vegetables, he advised, the best way for people to avoid pesticides is to buy organic.  We are fortunate that Sri Lanka has started leading the way for hundred percent organic foods.”

Growing your own vegetables and fruits in your back yards or in pots is also one way to start children to learn good healthy eco friendly eating habits, he added.