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India’s Dirty Dozen

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Environmental Working Group (EWG), which is a US organization that publishes its list of dirty dozen of food items in which huge quantities of pesticide residue are found. So, my reaction was to Google the same but for Indian vegetables or fruits. To my surprise, no organization publishes that for India. But the USA list can not be used in India because the knowledge of farmers, climate, and the eating habits of consumers are not the same.

That’s why, we are publishing our list of Dirty Dozen for the Indian context based on the information collected from farmers, fruit & vegetable sellers, traders, and consumers. This list has been in the making since October 2022.


1. Mango

Endosulphan is sprayed on mangoes ten days before harvesting to get rid of the fruit fly which can damage the mangoes after they are plucked.

Ethylene gas and Calcium Carbine are used to ripen it artificially. Ethylene gas is not harmful if released from the outside, it doesn’t ripen the mango consistently. That is why, some mangoes look ripe from the outside but are unripe from the inside.

2. Papaya

For the last 5 years, I couldn’t get a papaya that I could eat. Always it is either unripe and I bring it home and after a few days, it gets fungal attacks without ripening.

The main cause is artificial ripening which converts the unripe papaya into an over-ripen one.


3. Cauliflower

Another popular vegetable, one which at one time I used to eat almost daily. But as I come to know about the amount of pesticides used to grow this vegetable, I stopped eating it till I found an organic farmer.

Semi-looper worms and a dozen other caterpillars attack Cauliflower. So traders treat it with endosulfan. Veggies treated with endosulfan should not be eaten for 14 days. However, like cabbages, cauliflowers are sprayed and sold, sometimes on the same day, and certainly within the week.

4. Leafy Greens

We know that leafy greens are the healthiest when it comes to nutrients. But these greens like spinach, mint, and curry leaf are also now regularly sprayed with chemicals.

Spinach is sprayed once a week to ensure that insects do not chew up some of the leaves, which induces the customer to reject the whole bundle.


5. Ginger

Though not many chemicals are used in growing ginger. Traders use a sulphuric acid solution to wash the ginger so that they look clean and shiny.

6. Tomato

This common, popular vegetable is often eaten raw. It is subject to damage from the fruit borer family, as in the case of brinjal. The chemicals very commonly used are called organophosphates.

One graphic study from the United States showed that children of farmers who used these had smaller brains and were slow learners compared to those not exposed. Organophosphates are neural poisons.


7. Banana

This common breakfast fruit undergoes the forced penalty of artificial enlargement and ripening.

Farmers use pouches of 2-4-D or 2-4-5-T where the flower has been cut off. The banana bunch absorbs the poison, which mimics indol acetic acid and stimulates cell elongation (thereby yielding a bigger bunch). 2-4-D is the chemical used by the Americans in defoliating Vietnam during the war.

The other chemical used for ripening in banana godowns is etheral solution or ethephon which releases ethylene gas. Normally, the gas should not be released directly on the fruit. It is released in a closed chamber in which the fruits are kept. However, as a shortcut, traders simply dip the bunches in ethereal solution.

8. Brinjal

Another common vegetable that is subject to caterpillar and fruit borer attacks. Spraying of pesticides is done especially at harvest time on large farms.

These nerve poisons were first used. They were introduced during World War II when canisters of these nerve poisons were dropped into the tanks, disorienting the commanders and forcing them to emerge in the open.


9. Apples

The old saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” no longer holds true because apples are sprayed with pesticides, and fungicides before harvesting, and wax is applied to keep them looking fresh.

Apple farmers now routinely apply at least 12 chemical sprays. Since systemic pesticides are being used, skinning the apple before eating is no protection.

10. Potato

The potato is a root crop and is subject to root grub and potato beetle attacks. During storage, potatoes are also subject to attacks from weevils which can make undesirable and ungainly-looking holes.

Thirty years ago, dangerous bromides like aluminum phosphide were used. These are now prohibited by law except for registered government agencies. Fumigants are now used in their place. These come in the form of tablets which when dissolved in water release a toxic gas.


11. Watermelon

Red dye and sucrose injection are used these days to give watermelon pulp red color and make it sweeter. But are they healthy, well far from it.

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