Though the Food Security Act 1966 and Food Security Regulation 1970 banned the unnatural ripening of fruits using harmful chemicals, many fruit sellers and farmers continue to use potentially poisonous substances like calcium carbide to hasten the ripening process. When dissolved in water, calcium carbide releases acetylene gas that accelerates fruit ripening. Ingestion of acetylene may cause vomiting and diarrhoea in the short term; prolonged intake might result in cancer. Studies show that farmers in Pokhara and outskirts of Kathmandu Valley are especially notorious for using banned chemicals to earn a fast buck. Imported fruits too have been found laced with chemicals.
The toothless law gives unscrupulous farmers and traders considerable leeway to indulge in this unlawful practice. There is currently no laboratory to test the products circulating in the Nepali fruit market and no mechanism to punish shady fruit dealers. In this context, discretion is best advised for consumers. The skins of artificially ripened fruits are often mottled and dark. Hence people should exercise caution while buying fruits bearing signs of artificial ripening. The Department of Food Technology and Quality Control, for its part, should take artificial ripening as a public health concern and press the government to come up with necessary budget and action plan to tackle it head on.