Rat poison, fertilizers and bleach are all used to adulterate India's meat, fruit and vegetables, with health consequences that are potentially devastating.
Milk is watered down or laced with fertilizers, bleach or detergent to give it a frothy appearance, apples are sprayed with chemicals to appear rosier, oils are contaminated with non-edible oils, fresh tea leaves mixed with waste tea, sweets are contaminated with caustic soda - the ways of adulterating food seem endless.
According to a recent report released by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), 13 percent of all food in the country - especially meat, fruit and vegetables - fails to meet safety standards.
The consequences for the health of India's 1.2 billion people are potentially fatal, with adulterated food being responsible for all sorts of health problems, ranging from upset stomachs to cancer.
'We've lost control'
"The worst thing for me is that we normal citizens don't even know what we are eating," says one resident of the capital New Delhi. "The media never tell us that there is adulterated food, although we do hear about raids. We've lost control of what we are eating."
"I wanted to buy milk once and they had run out of the brand I usually drink, so I chose another one," says another customer. "My daughter was ill the next morning. Now I'm scared of eating chicken because of the hormones they are pumped with to make them grow faster."
Indiais the world's largest producer of milk, which plays an important role for Hindus, who make up 80 percent of the country’s population. It is often used in religious rituals and it is an important source of protein for millions of vegetarians.
Lack of awareness
Savvy Soumya Misra from the Center for Science and Environment in Delhi blames ignorance for the problems. Although universities have been publishing lists of products that should not be used in agriculture for many years, the information often does not trickle down to those who work in the fields.
"Farmers and traders are often poor and they have worked hard for their products. They want to ensure that their fruit and vegetables are sold for a good price on the market. That's why apples and vegetables have to look good," she says. Moreover, they are encouraged by consumers who also want to buy products that look good.
Chemicals are often added to fruit and vegetables to accelerate the ripening process or to allow products to survive long journeys from the fields to the cities.
Because of the outrage the report has triggered, the government has decided to triple the number of food inspectors to 6,000 and to quadruple the FSSAI's current budget of six million dollars.
However, Misra says it will take time until the first signs of success are clearly visible. "The first laws and regulations were introduced in 2006. The FSSAI was set up in 2008 and it's only in 2011 that the food legislation was finalized. The authorities do not have enough money, inspectors or labs."
Author: Priya Esselborn / act
Editor: Sarah Berning