In a massive raid in Andhra Pradesh, Food Safety Department officials stormed jaggery shops at NTR Agricultural Market Yard in Anakapalle Jaggery Market in Visakhapatnam on Monday.
The raid followed allegations that these shops were overusing chemicals like Sodium Hydrosulphite and Sulphur dioxide, during the preparation of the jaggery.
However, things soon got out of hand as hundreds of farmers and traders gathered together and protested against the move.
Officials had to stop the raid midway, and police were called to disperse the crowd.
"We raided around 37 shops and seized 12 samples to be sent for testing. We had another 20 shops to check, but we had to stop because it was becoming a law and order situation," P Hanumantha Rao, Assistant Food Safety Officer, Visakhapatnam, told TNM.
Anakapalle market is said to be the second largest jaggery market in the country, with the exports to other states exceeding Rs 120 crore every year.
Jaggery is made by crushing sugarcane, extracting the liquid, and then heating it in a furnace.
"While it is being boiled, they add some calcium carbide to remove impurities in the liquid. Till here, there is no problem," says Rao.
After this, colour is added before it is left off to cool. Since the colour of the jaggery, ranging from brown to gold, is also a test for how pure the end product is, Rao claims that this is where the compounds are added.
"To change the colour and make it look more pure, they add Sodium Hydrosulphite. Upto 100 Parts per Million (ppm) of the chemical is legally allowed, but in this case, 400 to 500 ppm is added," Rao adds.
According to reports, even 70 ppm of Sulphur dioxide can be used, but 250 to 500 ppm was allegedly being added in these samples.
"In the long run, this can cause cancer, gastro-intestinal problems, and also affect the nervous system. In the short term, it can result in irritable bowels and also induce nausea," says Rao.
The Food Safety Department in the state, is also planning to continue its crackdown in a few days, with raids all across the state.
However, there are apprehensions.
"Our job is to enforce the law, and book cases. The farmers and traders start looking at us like the antagonists, when in fact, it is the responsibility of the people involved in the higher levels of jaggery production to educate these farmers," Rao adds.