Hazardous ripening agents being used on our fruit

Dear Editor,

What happens when The ‘Age of Stupid’ and ‘The Age of Greed’ collide in the developing world? The answer to that question is rapidly unfolding in Guyana. Once upon a time, the country was envied for its wide variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, guaranteed to make one healthy and strong. Today, the fruits of greed and stupidity are literally poisoning the populace! When friends, family, and I myself, experienced repeated bouts of diarrhoea after eating fresh fruit from the market, and the diarrhoea hit one of us while 36,000 feet above the ground, I decided it was time to investigate, and this is what I found: hazardous ripening agents, notably calcium carbide, are being used on fruit sold in markets countrywide!!

It is true that the developed world has been getting away with the use of ripening agents for decades because the protocols they use do not lead to immediate death or illness. In the developing world, however, users tend to go the cheap and dangerous route – like calcium carbide, a carcinogen and neurotoxin, the use of which, as a ripening agent, is illegal in most countries. Very few fruit in Guyana’s markets are allowed to naturally ripen these days. I’ve heard vendors and middlemen making jokes about the side effects of the ripening agents, unaware, I hope, that they are actually poisoning consumers.

Most Guyanese are aware of farmers’ excessive use of highly toxic pesticides, pesticides that have been banned in enlightened countries. Why add the use of harmful ripening agents to the country’s list of woes? When is the Ministry of Public Health and the Food and Drug Department planning to step in and stop this unethical practice that a Chief Justice in India has called ‘worse than terrorism’ (India faces the same problem). Numerous articles and editorials over the past twelve years have called on responsible government bodies to do something.

Yours faithfully,

Maureen Marks-Mendonca

Author and retired Econometrician

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