The IAS Officer Who Took On Powerful Pesticide And Food Adulteration Lobby To Make Kerala Eat Healthy
February 22nd, 2017
Image Source : iaspaper
There are files to audit, papers to read and meetings to attend. Duty calls TV Anupama every day, burying her with work that she executes with utmost excellence. Tucked into her office in Thiruvananthapuram, she doesn’t compromise on her responsibilities as Kerala’s Director of Social Justice Department.
Image Source: hindustantimes
TV Anupama’s journey began as a UPSC aspirant who dreamt of becoming an honourable civil servant. Her dedication and hard work separated her from the thousands of students who aspired the same. Since her time in BITS Pilani – Goa campus, she was determined to crack the UPSC examination and said that she would attempt it again and again until she got into the IAS.
In her first attempt in 2009, she did her state, Kerala, proud by securing all-India rank 4.
But her most memorable accomplishments were achieved during her time as Kerala’s food safety commissioner. Within 15 months in office, she took the state’s powerful pesticide lobby and food adulterators head on – triggering a healthy food campaign across Kerala.
Image Source: ibtimes
2015 was the most ‘eventful’ period for the young IAS officer who fought one controversy after another — from restraining the entry of pesticide-laden vegetables from Tamil Nadu to banning certain packaged products – she conducted random raids in markets and check posts and seized adulterated products. At least 6,000 samples were sent for testing from various farms in one year and 750 cases were registered against defaulters.
The tests revealed that fruits and vegetables in the state contained 300% more pesticide residue than the accepted limit. The startling facts awakened Keralites who then started growing vegetables without pesticides. Currently, the state produces 70% vegetables on its own – which was previously bought from the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu.
The state government also cooperated and contributed by providing grow-bags, seeds and saplings home-delivered free of cost. It also provided a subsidy to install drip-irrigation facility and biogas plants in homes, making way for a silent organic revolution of sorts.
Her journey was not easy. She had to fight many cases filed against her by the powerful lobby with her own money.
Anupama’s current work
After her role as the Food Safety Commissioner, Anupama was on maternity leave, and since November 2016 she has been working as the Director of the Social Justice Department, Kerala.
The Logical Indian spoke to Anupama who gave us a brief insight into her current work. The social justice department is responsible for the welfare and social security of five categories of people – children (both development and protection), women, senior citizens, differently-abled and transgender people. Since her employment with the department, she has initiated activities to improve the quality of Anganwadi – a government sponsored child-care and mother-care centre in India. The department is also proposing to start a comprehensive program for the welfare of senior citizens. More projects are in line to be executed, which will be taken up by her.
Food adulteration is a grim reality in India
We’ve been hearing that breakfast is the most important meal of the day since we were toddlers. A nutritious breakfast sets the tone for the day…..…or does it?
Did you know that your first cup of wake-up coffee might not even be real coffee, but coffee-flavoured mud, starch or worse? And no, we can’t switch to tea because we might be chugging a cup of coal tar dye. Apple juice or milk is no good either. While the former might just have fungi patulin, the latter might be a mix of harmful chemicals frantically pumped into cows.
To this effect, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oftentimes rejects products shipped from India – from food to generic medicines to cosmetics.
From local vegetable vendors to multinational brands, food adulteration is a massive problem in India that no one talks about. Food Sentry, a global food source monitoring company, names India the world’s worst food violator, closely followed by China. One out of five food samples fails quality tests in India, as per FSSAI Annual Public Laboratory Testing Report, 2014-15. From farm to fork – harmful and deadly alien substances and non-food items are being unknowingly consumed by us on a daily basis. Corruption in the food industry has caused tens of middle-men to alter, substitute, pass-off or turn a blind eye to dangerous substances entering our everyday diet.
More than a third of food adulteration is due to excessive or illegal pesticides, unsanitary conditions, and filth, and pathogen contamination. Companies mislabel packaged food to show that their products are healthy.
FSSAI tests on conducted 49,290 food samples in 2015-15 revealed that only 20% of the food was safe to consume, in 2011-12, the number was only 11%. Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala contributed 90% to the country’s food frauds in the year 2014-15.
Food adulteration mainly takes place when someone in the supply chain – from farm to the factory, to the market to your kitchen – tries to earn profits by altering, substituting, or passing off unacceptable processes or materials. For instance, the milk obtained from cows in diluted in the farms, tampered with by the middleman, misrepresented or mislabelled by the selling company, and finally substituted by the time it reaches your kitchen.
Remedies to spot food frauds at home
Most violated foods are minimally processed or raw, including vegetables, fruits, seafood, spices, meats, dairy products, and grains. However, there are ways by which we can spot these food frauds at home.
The Logical Indian Take
India is uneducated when it comes to food adulteration. The only thing close to food adulteration the general public is aware of, apart from the hoax created about plastic fragments in ‘kurkure’, is the 2015 ban on ‘Maggi’, which is ironic as the noodles were confirmed safe for consumption by food safety and standard agencies of U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam.
Shortage of manpower and skill in the FSSAI has caused the food adulteration industry to flourish further. Lack of transparency and sincerity on the part of authorities has added to the issue.
Kerala owes its organic farming to TV Anupama. Her campaign against adulteration brought to light the excessive amounts of pesticides used and injected in fruits and vegetables to artificially ripen them.
Image Source: emergingkerala
When she was appointed as Food Safety Commissioner, the department was fairly new – started in 2011. There was a lack of resources, no proper office and not enough vehicles. But within a short span of time, she not only set up the department but also changed Kerala’s food habits.
We need more young civil servants like her who aren’t afraid to question and tackle the faults in the system. Due to bureaucratic reshuffling, she is now the Director of Social Justice Department, Kerala, but her efforts as commissioner of food safety will always be valued.