Using chemicals and industrial dyes to look food fresh and tasty

The bananas arrive at Sadarghat before first light. One by one the trucks roar into the crammed Ahsanullah Road that charts the banks of the Buriganga river on Dhaka’s southern edge. The bananas, piled high in the hold, are offloaded into the numerous warehouses that line the streets. As the sky lightens up, the cargo is more visible. They are a deep green in colour and bitter to the taste. But by that same afternoon, miraculously, these same bananas will be bright yellow and sweet. As the trucks pull away an army of workers, spray-cans on their shoulders enter the warehouses and start spraying the fruits stacked on the floor. ‘It is a medicine that helps the banana ripen better and get a nice yellow colour,’ says one local wholesaler.

Arsenic phosphorous and the carbide produces acetylene gas

The chemical, it turns out, is Calcium Carbide, and is extremely hazardous to the human body because it contains traces of arsenic and phosphorous. Once dissolved in water, the carbide produces acetylene gas. Acetylene gas is an analogue of the natural ripening agents produced by fruits known as ethylene. Acetylene imitates the ethylene and quickens the ripening process. In some cases it is only the skin that changes colour, while the fruit itself remains green and raw. When the carbide is used on very raw fruit, the amount of the chemical needed to ripen the fruit has to be increased. This results in the fruit becoming even more tasteless, and possibly toxic.

We don’t know what the name of the chemical is but it works like magic,’ he says. ‘Just go to one of the pharmacies in the Dhaka Medical College area and ask for medicine to ripe bananas,’ he adds. Visits to the neighbouring warehouses reveal that scores of banana wholesalers are using this same technique to transform cheaply bought unripe banana into a golden cargo, going on to supply it to Dhaka’s ever-growing appetite for sweeter, riper and bigger. Later in the morning, we visit one of the pharmacies in the DMCH area. They won’t say what the chemical is but sure enough, it is cheap and widely available. The chemical, it turns out, is Calcium Carbide, and is extremely hazardous to the human body because it contains traces of arsenic and phosphorous.

Fish in kitchen markets are stored in formaldehyde (used to preserve dead-bodies)

The chemical fertiliser urea is used in our rice to make it whiter, fish in kitchen markets are stored in formaldehyde (used to preserve dead-bodies) to keep them fresh-looking, colours and sweeteners are injected into fruits, and Recent studies by the Food and Nutrition Institute, University of Dhaka, have also found Escherichia coli (E-coli), Salmonella, and Shigella bacteria in restaurant food and street food in the city.

Eating contaminated food may cause diarrhoea, dysentery and other diseases. ‘Finding bacteria is very common in the restaurant foods. But the more alarming thing is that the restaurant owners do not throw out the leftover oil from everyday cooking, using the same oil the next day. As a result the peroxide value of the oil increases and it becomes toxic ultimately

(CAB) — Bangladesh’s only consumer rights group — confirms that wholesalers do indeed use urea fertiliser in rice to make it whiter. Comsumers who eat husk paddle processed rice (red rice) will also find themselves cheated, as artificially colored rice is also available in the market, say members of the watchdog. This is common knowledge, they say. ‘While the rice is being processed, they use urea fertilizer in the rice to make it look more attractive, thus increasing its sale value,’ said Miftaur Rahman, a local rice dealer in Kawran Bazar, who claims his products are clean.

Most of the red chilli powder used in the market is adulterated - in most cases the spices are mixed with brick dust. Fine sawdust is also often mixed with cumin and other ground spices, say CAB members. Honey is also frequently adulterated, as lab tests have found sugar syrup is often mixed with honey to enhance the sweetness. Nowadays, pure butter oil and ghee are also very rare in the market. Dishonest traders use a host of ingredients such as animal fat, palm oil, potato mash, and vegetable oil to produce fake butter oil. They even mix soap ingredients like steirian oil with ghee, to increase the proportions.

Rasogolla, kalojaam, and chamcham are the essential delicacies for all festivals in Bengali culture. But food and sanitation officers from the Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) say most of these mouthwatering sweetmeats, despite looking attractive in the shop displays, are made with adulterated ingredients and produced in a filthy environment. In a survey conducted by DCC officials found that 100 percent of examined samples of Rasogolla, kalojaam, curds, and sandesh were adulterated. Bangladesh’s Pure Food Ordinance (1959) states that at least 10 per cent milk fat is mandatory in sweetmeat. But in most cases, the percentage of milk fat is not more than five per cent.

Condensed milk

Three years after it first emerged that condensed milk produced by Bangladeshi manufacturers contained little or no milk and was in fact condensed vegetable fat, the companies are continuing to supply their spurious product to the market on the strength of a High Court stay order on legal action against them. ‘Brands like Starship, Danish, Goalini and Kwality are mostly producing condensed milk, which do not satisfy the ‘BDS 896: 1979’ code of the Bangladesh Standard and Testing Institute (BSTI),’ said Shamsuzzoha, Information officer of Consumers’ Association of Bangladesh - Bangladesh’s only consumer rights group.

From the test conducted by the Public Health Institute, it was found that these two brands have a bacterial count level of 76,000 and 25,000, respectively,’ he said. The maximum count of bacteria in a gram of condensed milk is 10,000. ‘Despite the numerous test results, these brands continue to sell their adulterated products taking advantage of the fact that authorities tend to avoid their responsibilities at investigating such products and taking measures in ensuring consumer rights,’ he says. He explains that the ‘BDS 896:1979’ quality insists the need of actual cattle milk be condensed, mixed with sugar, then packaged and sold as condensed milk. According to the criteria, condensed milk should have a composition of 28 per cent solid milk, 8 per cent fat, 40 per cent sugar, 0.3 per cent lactic acid and count level below 10,000 bacteria in every gram of the milk.

The Milk and Dairy Product section committee of BSTI finalised the BDS standard for condensed milk on May 22, 1979. The quality was designed in accordance with the condensed milk manufacturing procedure discovered first by scientist Gail Borden in 1896. The committee had also kept in mind the necessity of the International Standards Organization (ISO) standards while formulating this particular standard. This standard was later approved by the Agriculture and Food Products Divisional Council of BSTI.

‘These condensed milk lack the basic nourishing factors that natural milk has,’ said Zoha. He explained that natural milk consists of 80 to 90 per cent water. The rest includes protein, saturated fat, vitamin and calcium.

‘The most important element is lactose, a special type of galactose that aids digestion in the human system,’ he explained. The other elements in milk are albumin, globulin, potassium, sodium, iodine and sulphur. ‘All these elements make the consumption of a litre of milk equivalent to the consumption of 21 eggs, 12 kilograms of beef and 2.2 kilograms of bread by a human,’ he said. ‘As most of these brands are using vegetable fat and powdered milk to produce condensed milk, consumers are missing out from the consumption of ‘real’ condensed milk,’ he said. In a report published by CAB in December, 1995 it was found that Danish Condensed milk (Bangladesh) imports 125 metric tonne of powdered milk. When tested by the Bangladesh Atomic Energy commission it was found that the radioactivity levels in their milk is much higher than the stipulated limit.

The high court verdict was against the sale and production of this powdered milk. ‘We still cannot tell whether the company abided by the high court verdict,’ says one CAB official. Along with powdered milk, the brands are using Hoye powder, water, sugar, artificial colour, flavour and vegetable fat to produce condensed milk.

Currently, 7,68,000 cans of condensed milk are sold daily. ‘The daily demand shows the massive consumption of condensed milk and thus the immense health hazard being faced by the nation,’ says one CAB official

Sulphuric acid and industrial dyes

Some sweetmeat makers from rural areas are unaware of the existence of food colouring and use only industrial dyes in their products. The dough makers in different parts of the country put sulphuric acid in hot milk to make it thicken quickly. ‘They first put a paste of ground rice into the milk, followed by sulphuric acid to turn the milk into a thick dough within minutes,’ say DCC officials.

In Dhaka City, famous sweetmeats brought from various parts of the country have been selling fast due to well-financed advertisement campaigns. Among these are Porabarir Chamcham, curds from Bogra, Rasogolla from Jessore, monda from Muktagachha, and Rosomalai from Comilla. ‘In most cases, these sweetmeat are not what they seem,’ says Abdullah, a worker at a city sweetmeat outlet. Sources at the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institute (BSTI) — the government agency responsible for enforcing standards and issuing permits for the manufacture of processed foods — admit that a wide variety of products such as soybean oil, butter oil and mustard oil are being sold in the market with fake BSTI seals.

In recent weeks, laboratory reports have revealed that fruits are ripened artificially using calcium carbide while traces of organo-phosphorus — an insecticide — has been discovered in vegetables in kitchen markets. ‘The nutritional elements that should be in fruits and vegetables, if adulterated with dyes and synthetic colours, are destroyed. Eventually the digestion of those poisonous fruits or vegetables may cause diarrhoea, dysentery and even death,’ says Professor Sagormoy Barma, a nutritionist at Dhaka University. ‘The long-term impact of eating those foods is cancer,’ Barma warns.

Meanwhile children are fast becoming the greatest casualty of the widespread adulteration. ‘If children don’t get the vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables to rebuild tissues, the result could be severe malnutrition says Professor MQK Talukder, a paediatrician at the Combined Military Hospital (CMH). ‘The most terrifying thing that can happen for not enriching a child’s body with the right nutritional elements are lack of growth and damage to central nervous system,’ Talukder says.


Ranked as one of the most hazardous compounds (worst 10%) to ecosystems and human health. Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable, strong-smelling gas. It is an important industrial chemical used to manufacture building materials and to produce many household products. It is used in pressed wood products such as particleboard, plywood, and fiberboard, glues and adhesives, permanent press fabrics, paper product coatings, and certain insulation materials. In addition, formaldehyde is commonly used as an industrial fungicide, germicide, and disinfectant, and as a preservative in mortuaries and medical laboratories.

In 1987, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen under conditions of unusually high or prolonged exposure (1). Since that time, some studies of industrial workers have suggested that formaldehyde exposure is associated with nasal cancer and nasopharyngeal cancer, and possibly with leukemia. In 1995, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that formaldehyde is a probable human carcinogen.

Several NCI(National Cancer Institute, USA) studies have found that anatomists and embalmers, professions with potential exposure to formaldehyde, are at an increased risk for leukemia and brain cancer compared with the general population

Mutagenic activity of formaldehyde has been demonstrated in viruses, Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas fluorescens, Salmonella typhimurium and certain strains of yeast, fungi, Drosophila, grasshopper and mammalian cells (Ulsamer et al., 1984). Formaldehyde has been shown to cause gene mutations, single strand breaks in DNA, DNA-protein crosslinks, sister chromatid exchanges and chromosomal aberrations. Formaldehyde produces in vitro transformation in BALB/c 3T3 mouse cells, BHK21 hamster cells and C3H-10Tl/2 mouse cells, enhances the transformation of Syrian hamster embryo cells by SA7 adenovirus, and inhibits DNA repair (Consensus Workshop on Formaldehyde, 1984).

When inhaled, acetaldehyde, the closest aldehyde to formaldehyde in structure, causes cancers in the nose and trachea of hamsters, and nasal cancers in rats (EPA,USA, Carcinogenicity Assessment for Lifetime Exposure.Substance Name -- Formaldehyde,CASRN -- 50-00-0, Last Revised -- 05/01/1991.

Do You Have Formaldehyde-Related Symptoms?

There are several formaldehyde-related symptoms, such as watery eyes, runny nose, burning sensation in the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches and fatigue.

These symptoms may also occur because of the common cold, the flu or other pollutants that may be present in the indoor air.
If these symptoms lessen when you are away from home or office but reappear upon your return, they may be caused by indoor pollutants, including formaldehyde. Examine your environment. Have you recently moved into a new or different home or office? Have you recently remodeled or installed new cabinets or furniture? Symptoms may be due to formaldehyde exposure. You should contact your physician and/or state or local health department for help. Your physician can help to determine if the cause of your symptoms is formaldehyde or other pollutants.

Stage Chemical Health Risks
Soaking NaC1 Diarrhoea, stomach problems, nausea
Unhairing/liming KOH, Na2S03/bi Sulphide Respiratory disorders, bronchitis, skin diseases, headache
Deliming/bating Na2S03, NH4C1, Na2So4 Burning eyes, nose, throat high blood pressure, bronchitis
Picling H2SO4, H-COOH, NaC1 Wounds leading to Cancer
Chrome Tanning Wounds leading to Cancer
Sammying, splitting Dyes, fixing, agent, Condensation of urea Respiratory complications
Buffing Liquid pigment, polymer, fixative, preservatives and aromatic ingredients. Cancer
Shaving, dyeing


  • Asthma Caused by toxic dyes used in most Chinese resturants
  • Bananas: Chemicals calcium carbide and ethrel are used to artificially ripen Bananas. The other popular method is to ripen them through heating in a closed environment.
  • Coconut Oil: Acid value beyond permissible limit found in major brands.
  • Condensed Milk: Along with Star Ship, Fresh and Goalini, reportedly use vegetable fat instead of milk
  • Dyes: Eating foods containing industrial dyes and colours causes violent allergic reactions, respiratory problems, asthma, liver disorders and kidney dysfunction and bone marrow disorders. Nowadays, coal tar dyes are being used in sweetmeats.
  • Erythrosine: Red food colouring that can lead to tumour in thyroid gland, asthma, bronchitis and hyperactivity.
  • Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde - normally used to preserve dead-bodies - is used to preserve fish bound for city markets.
  • Greens: Fresh greens, so abundantly available, are the best way to go as far as vegetables are concerned. Shashya Prabartana offers the finest, pesticide-free organic variety.
  • Iodine: Found in high quantities in most condensed milk brands. Indicate use of vegetable fat.
  • Keya Coconut Oil: Accused of containing twice the acid value permitted by BSTI in its regulations.
  • Lentils: Lentils are mixed with toxic colours to improve their colour and marketability.
  • Mustard Oil Most mustard oil brands contain iron beyond permissible limits.
  • Pesticides: When pesticides enter the body on a regular basis, they affect the liver until it is damaged permanently. Quality Seal Many products use forged and/or expired BSTI seals
  • Rice: A host of rice varieties available in the market are artificially whitened using the toxic fertiliser Urea Soyabean Oil Poorly produced Soyabean oil contains high levels of toxins which can lead to cancer
  • Tartrazine: Yellowish orange food colour that can lead to cancer, headaches, allergies such as asthma, inflammation, eye irritation and runny nose. (Mubin S Khan and Adnan Khandker , Slate, October 2006)

    OTTAWA, March 17, 2005 - The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Afrocan Direct Imports Inc. are warning the public not to consume the Heritage brand Palm Oil described below. These products may contain a non-permitted colour, Sudan IV, which is considered to be carcinogenic. Sudan I and IV, red dyes, are not permitted as food colours in Canada. Sudan I, has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals and these findings could also be significant for human health. There have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of these products.

    Beauty to die for: health hazards of cosmetics and skin

    The growing list of synthetic ingredients manufacturers add to their products is turning the most innocent-looking shampoos and moisturizers into cocktails of toxins that could cause cancer or reproductive damage over years of sustained use. Modern cosmetics contain a host of dangerous ingredients, which would be more at home in a test tube than in our bodies.

    Coal Tar

    Seventy-one hair dye products evaluated were found to contain ingredients derived from coal tar (listed as FD&C or D&C on ingredients labels). Several studies have linked long-time hair dye use to bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma. A research study conducted in 2001 by the USC School of Medicine found that women using permanent hair dye at least once a month more than doubled their risk of bladder cancer. The study estimates that "19 percent of bladder cancer in women in Los Angeles, California, may be attributed to permanent hair dye use."

    A link between hair dye and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was established in 1992 when a study conducted by the National Cancer Institute found that 20 percent of all cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma may be linked to hair dye use.
    While the FDA has not stepped in to prevent the use of coal tar in beauty products, it does advise consumers that reducing hair dye use will possibly reduce the risk of cancer.

    Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) & Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA)
    Alpha Hydroxy Acids and Beta Hydroxy Acids are commonly used in products advertised to remove wrinkles, blemishes, blotches and acne scars. With consumer complaints of burning, swelling and pain associated with AHA and BHA flooding into the FDA, the regulatory body began conducting its own research about 15 years ago. The findings linked the use of AHA and BHA with a doubling of UV-induced skin damage and a potential increased risk of skin cancer.

    According to the Environmental Protection Agency, skin cancer has reached "epidemic proportions," with 1 million new cases occurring each year and one person dying every hour from the disease. The agency estimates that, at the current rate, one in five people will develop skin cancer over their lifetime.

    Phthalates are industrial plasticizers widely used in personal care products to moisturize and soften skin, impart flexibility to nail polish after it dries and enhance the fragrances used in most products. Studies indicate that phthalates cause a wide range of birth defects and lifelong reproductive impairments, targeting every organ in the male reproductive system and causing problems ranging from low sperm count to serious genital deformities that can lead to an increased risk of cancer.

    The industry is not required to list fragrance ingredients or "trade secret" ingredients on products, and phthalates often fall into one of those two categories

    Ignorance Does Not Equal Safety

    The more that scientists learn about the toxicity of pesticides, the more questions are raised about the potential toxic effects on people. Pesticide manufacturers often portray these unresolved scientific issues, and the uncertainty that comes with them, as safety.

    People are contaminated with trace levels of literally hundreds of chemicals, it is generally impossible to attribute a specific health effect to any one of them. There are several worrisome exceptions, however, including chemicals like PCBs, mercury, dioxin and lead, where low doses at critical periods of development have been shown to have significant permanent adverse effects on learning, behavior, and development (CDC 2001, CDC 2003, EWG 2003, ATSDR 1999, ATSDR 2000).

    Independent research scientists are beginning to understand the subtle ways in which small doses of pesticides during critical periods of fetal development and childhood can have long lasting adverse effects on people. It is well established that the fetus, infant and small child are typically most vulnerable to the toxic effects of pesticides and toxic chemicals (NRC 1993, EPA 2003, FSA 2003). The metabolism, physiology and biochemistry of a fetus, infant or child is fundamentally different than an adult.

    Many organ systems, for example the nervous system and brain, can be permanently, if subtly damaged by exposure to toxic substances in-utero or throughout early childhood that, at the same level, cause no measurable harm to adults (Jacobson 1996, CDC 1997, NRC 2000).

    The endocrine (hormone) system is perhaps even more sensitive to toxic exposure than the nervous system, and over the past decade, enormous effort has been put into the study of how pesticides and toxic chemicals interfere with normal endocrine signaling and function. A significant body of research in animals now shows that ultra-low doses of pesticides and toxic chemicals on critical days of development can cause changes in hormone function and effects on organ development and function that often only appear later in life. A growing number of these studies show that low doses at a susceptible moment of development can cause more of an effect than high doses (vom Saal 1997, Alworth 2002, Hayes 2003).

    Some better known examples of highly toxic endocrine disrupting pesticides are DDT (and its metabolite DDE) which are now known to exhibit much of their toxicity through anti-androgenic (de-masculinizing) properties (ATSDR 2002), vinclozolin, a heavily used fungicide that is also anti-androgenic (EPA 2000), endosulfan, a DDT relative with estrogenic properties that is found more often in food than any other pesticide (EPA 2002, USDA 1994-2004), and atrazine, a weed killer with broad hormonal activity, that contaminates the drinking water.

    Today scientists know much more about how pesticides can change critical hormone signals in the human body in ways that can have potential life changing effects. Yet in spite of these advances, there is little agreement on how much endocrine disruption is too much, and how much is without harm. The same is true of immune system effects and to a lesser degree effects on the developing nervous system.

    Pesticides are toxic by design. They kill bugs, weeds, fungi, rodents and other "pests." That's why the government regulates them--though not stringently enough. The risks you encounter when you eat them depend on a number of factors including the toxicity of the pesticide, degree and form of exposure, your age, genetic susceptibility, and exposure to other toxics, including other pesticides..

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