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17 September, 2019 00:00 00 AM

Chemical residues in food grains: A serious cause for concern

Widespread agricultural use of pesticides and home storage make them easily available for acts of self-harm in many rural household
A.K. Mohiuddin
Chemical residues in food grains: A serious cause for concern

Growth in global population means that farmers must produce food for an estimated 9.1 billion people expected to inhabit the earth by 2050. Humans cultivate only about 150 of an estimated 50,000 edible plant species worldwide, with only 30 plant species comprising the vast majority of our diets. Just three of these (rice, maize and wheat) provide about 60% of the world's food energy intake. These plants are susceptible to 80,000 to 100,000 diseases caused by everything from viruses to bacteria, fungi, algae, and even other higher plants.Again, Food plants have to compete with some 30,000 different species of weeds worldwide, of which at least 1800 species are capable of causing serious economic losses. Globally, around 20–30% of agricultural produce is lost annually due to insect pests, diseases, weeds and rodents, viz, growth, harvest, and storage. According to World Bank, South Asian countries are home to home to 33% of the world’s poor and economies have among the highest levels of public debt in the world. Mean consumption of whole grains 38.4 g/day in between 1990 to 2010.

The potential sources for the contamination of grains are mostly environmentally based and include air, dust, soil, water, insects, rodents, birds, animals, microbes, humans, storage and shipping containers, handling and processing equipment. The rates of destruction often are higher in less developed nations and they are now accounting for a quarter of the world's pesticide use. Therefore, judicious use of pesticides plays a major role in plant protection. Todays more than 10,400 pesticides are approved worldwide. It has been reported that the consumption of pesticides accounts two million tons every year round the globe. Pesticide residues reported in fruits, vegetables and grains of India, Nepal, Bangladesh, China and Indonesia. Farmers habitually apply fertilizers and hazardous insecticides in high quantities without assessing the actual field requirements due to inadequate knowledge. Since pesticides are directly applied on crops, fruits, and vegetables in most agricultural applications, infants, children, and adults can be exposed to pesticides by the ingestion of those pesticide-contaminated foods. Soil is an important source for heavy metals (like mercury/cadmium) in crops and vegetables since the plants’ roots can absorb these pollutants from soil, and transfer them to seeds. Cadmium could be directly (grains) or indirectly (animals) ingested and negatively affect humans. It accumulates in the liver and kidneys for more than 30 years and causes health problems. China feeds 22% of the world population with 7% of the worlds arable land. 20 million hectares (approximately 16.1%) of the total arable land in China is highly polluted with heavy metals, according to Ministry of Environmental Protection, China. It is estimated that between 900,000 and 1,360,000 kg arsenic per year was introduced into Bangladesh soil through contaminated groundwater used for irrigation. Maternal exposure to heavy metals as lead or mercury and persistent organic pollutants were associated with children neurodevelopment delay and also indirectly affects reproductive, respiratory, and endocrine system. Combined with outdated waste management technologies, there are potential health risks to farmers through occupational waste management practices, along with consumers through consumption of waste-contaminated products.
WHO has estimated that more than three million farmers in developing countries are poisoned by agrochemicals each year. In another study, WHO and UN Environmental Program estimated that one to five million cases of pesticide poisoning occur among agricultural workers each year with about 20000 fatalities. Skin and eye injury, headache, stomachache, and fever reported in cotton workers in southern Pakistan due to pesticide exposure. Pesticide induced occupational hazards has been reported to many other similar studies in Nepal, China, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Philippines.  
Widespread agricultural use of pesticides and home storage make them easily available for acts of self-harm in many rural households. Stability of organophosphorus pesticides are also important issue. Around 600 million food borne illnesses and 420,000 deaths occur each year due to poor food handling practice. Such contaminants get access to contaminate food mainly due to food handler’s poor knowledge and negligence during handling activities. Increased prevalence of diabetes in South Asia may be related to the consumption of arsenic contaminated rice depending on its content in the rice and daily amount consumed. Overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides have effects on the soil organisms that are similar to human overuse of antibiotics. Indiscriminate use of chemicals might work for a few years, but after a while, there aren't enough beneficial soil organisms to hold onto the nutrients. Also, resistance to certain pesticides against brown planthopper and the white-backed planthoppers reported in Asian countries has been reported Also, the higher exposure of crop plants to heavy metal stress reduces growth and yield, and affect the sustainability of agricultural production. Applications of phosphorus-based fertilizers improve the soil fertility and agriculture yield but at the same time concerns over a number of factors that lead to environmental damage need to be addressed properly. Easy availability of pesticides has another interesting but pathetic outcome. approximately 110,000 pesticide self-poisoning deaths each year from 2010 to 2014, comprising some 14% of all global suicides. Higher rates of suicide committed in areas with intensive use of pesticides compared to areas with less use of pesticides. In Bangladesh, self-poisoning by pesticide is responsible for about 40% of poisoning cases admitted to hospital and 8–10% of overall mortality in medical wards.
At the Philippine General Hospital in Metro Manila, Philippines (2000–2001), recorded pesticide poisoning cases showed that more than 80% were intentional in nature. Public concern about the adverse environmental and human health impacts of organochlorine contaminants led to strict regulations on their use in developed nations since 1940. Nevertheless, DDT and several other organochlorine insecticides are still being used for agriculture and public health programs in developing countries in Asia and the South Pacific. As a consequence, humans in this region are exposed to greater dietary levels of organochlorines. Accordingly, alternative methods for exposure and risk assessment have to be developed, which vary from the use of expert opinion and pre-marketing models to the use of combination of data from the literature, measurements, and expert opinion. Use of silicone nanoparticles can provide green and eco-friendly alternatives to various chemical fertilizers without harming nature. Selenium application decreases cadmium uptake. Selenium, copper, zinc oxide and many other metallic nanoparticles have been studied in food processing, packaging and preservation against phytopathogens and rodents. The washing with water or soaking in solutions of salt and some chemicals e.g. chlorine, chlorine dioxide, hydrogen peroxide, ozone, acetic acid, hydroxy peracetic acid, iprodione and detergents are reported to be highly effective in reducing the level of pesticides. Various food-processing operations include sorting, trimming, cleaning, cooking, baking, frying, roasting, flaking, and extrusion that have variable effects on mycotoxins. Cooking rice in excess water efficiently reduces the amount of arsenic in the cooked grain.

The writer is Assistant Professor Department of Pharmacy, World University of Bangladesh



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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