India's Farmers Injecting Veggies With "Love Hormone"

Images: Times of India (AFP) and Channel News Asia

It's a vegetal plot fit for a bad zombie flick: desperate to make their produce look fresher, bigger and mature faster, some Indian farmers are injecting their veggies with hormones on the sly. The most commonly-used substance: oxytocin, a reproductive hormone found in mammals.

Oxytocin is naturally-occurring and acts primarily as a neurotransmitter in the brain and figures largely in female reproduction, sexual and emotional behaviour. Known also as the "hormone of love" or "cuddle drug", oxytocin is released during labour to facilitate delivery and breastfeeding and other maternal instincts. In the United States, it's artificially administered as Pitocin, which induces labour in women.Cheaper than fertilizer
Apparently, the hormone is cheap in India -- fractions of a penny for each injection -- and can be easily obtained in drugstores.

In a Channel News Asia interview, farmer Chanchal Singh explains:

The fertilizers are expensive. So we use hormone injections instead. This way, the vegetables swell up quickly. We cannot afford to buy fertilizers, so we have to use these injections to prepare the vegetables.

No way to tell; long-term effects unknown
Unfortunately, there is no way to visually distinguish between a normal vegetable and one that's been pumped with oxytocin. Though it's not clear how the hormone affects plant growth and the long-term effects of a steady diet of oxytocin is not known, it doesn't mean there aren't any potential ill effects (even Indian officials are flip-flopping on the issue, despite public outcry). Nutritionist Dr Preeti Vijay of Max Healthcare India, cautions:

Fruits and vegetables that have been grown with the help of chemicals or hormones will not show its adverse effect on human health immediately after consumption. But it can have an effect later.

Dairy cows also injected with oxytocin
Faced with rising fertilizer costs, sucide-inducing crop failures and compounded by poor food safety regulations and lackadaisical enforcement, India's food adulteration problem (not to mention the spectre of genetically-modified crops) seems to be widespread. It's not just for vegetables alone, either: in recent raids, police in the state of Uttar Pradesh seized 13,000 hormone injections destined for dairies to boost milk production.

Besides oxytocin, there's other documented chemicals used to dress up produce in India, such as copper sulfate to artificially enhance the colours of fruits and vegetables, and calcium carbide for quick ripening. Both are known to have negative human health impacts.

In India, oxytocin has a reputation as a party drug (even here in North America there are apparently "oxytocin parties" popping up) and its use has also been documented in speeding up the puberty of young girls trafficked into prostitution.

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Tags: Agriculture | Food Safety | India

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