The mystery behind 'poisoned' offerings

* Insecticide-treated pulses prime cause for prasad poisoning cases

* No State government mechanism to test imported foodstuff


*    July, 2013: At least 20 persons fell ill, five of them critically, after eating prasad at a Shiva temple in Kamrup district

*    August, 2013: At least 60 people, including ten children, fell ill after partaking of prasad at a religious function in a person’s house in Kamrup district

*    July, 2014: 73 persons fall sick after consuming prasad at a function at Pulibor in Jorhat district

*    September, 2014: Over 35 people fall sick after consuming prasad at Dhekiajuli in Sonitpur district

*    March, 2015: Three persons died and around 530 people fell ill due to food poisoning in Barpeta district after consuming prasad at a religious event


GUWAHATI, March 23: If you wonder why there have been so many cases of food poisoning involving prasad – offerings distributed among devotees after worship – after reading this, you may think twice before consuming prasad next time at a religious function.

Agriculture scientists say a bulk of green gram (mogu) and chick peas (boot) are treated with deadly doses of insecticides before being exported to Assam and other states from the producing states.

“Unless, the green gram and chick peas are treated, one cannot store them for longer periods. We have conducted tests here. They perish in about a months’ time as microscopic insects like weevils or bruchids attack them. You cannot store them longer with smaller doses of insecticide. So they are treated with heavy doses of insecticide to be stored for longer periods,” says Jayanta Kalita, a scientist at the Krishi Vigyan Kendra at Kahikuchi here.

“You must have observed pulses partially or wholly bored into by weevils or other grain insects. These insects tend to attack the pulses during humid weather. Assam, as you know, can be very humid during summer months,” he added.

To prevent insect attack, the exporters treat these commodities with high doses of insecticide before dispatching the consignments. This is done to ensure that the pulses can be stored for say six months to one year.

Maharashtra is the largest producer of green gram accounting for nearly 23.05 per cent of the total production, followed by Kartaka, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan.

Due to improper and inefficient methods of storage, a loss about 10 percent is estimated during storage. Quantitative losses mainly result from spoilage, drying and infestation by insects, rodents or birds. Improved scientific storage facilities should therefore be adopted to reduce such losses considerably.

According to experts, the chemicals (insecticides) are soaked (absorbed) by the pulses and it is almost impossible to wash these off, even when washed with salt water.

Interestingly, the free seeds distributed by the Assam government are also to be blamed for some of the food poisoning cases.

“The seeds distributed among farmers are meant to be sowed and not consumed. That is why they are treated with chemicals and insecticides. But where do you find farmers in our State cultivating pulses? Instead, they offer these seeds to temples or at other religious functions – to be distributed as prasad. The fallout you know,” said a senior official in the Agriculture department.

A consumer rights activist sought to blame the State government for failing to put a mechanism in place to test such commodities after they land in Assam from other states. “In foreign countries, every imported commodity is tested rigorously upon arrival. Unfortutely, we do not have such regulations here. Despite knowing about the foodstuff fraud, the government has failed to protect its people. It is a human rights violation,” he said.

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