A steep rise in the price has triggered sale of adulterated coconut oil in Kerala.
According to traders, almost 70 per cent of the coconut oil sold through unbranded retail network is impure. Households accountfor the highest consumption of coconut oil since it is used as the traditional cooking medium in the state.
Sources told Business Standard leftover palm oil and sunflower oil were being mixed with coconut oil. While the cost of production of pure coconut oil comes to around Rs 150 a kilogram, adulterated oil at retail prices is available in the state for Rs 140. In Kerala, the retail price of coconut oil is Rs 180 kg, the highest in recent times.
The business is carried by sourcing imported palm kernel, which is available at Rs 60 per kg, in Chennai and then is mixed with coconut oil and sold at Rs 140 a kg, according to traders.
In Ernakulam district, impure coconut oil is available in coastal areas of Mattanchery, Fort Kochi and Chellanam. Zulfikkar, a wholesale trader, said impure coconut oil trade was a mafia business in the state. The adulterated oil is marketed in packets too, he added. The business increases when the coconut oil prices increase. This time it is gaining momentum as the price has touched Rs 180 a kg.
Palm kernel oil imported through the ports in Chennai and Tuticorin is mixed with coconut oil and is transported to Kerala mainly through the Valayar check post in Palakkad.
In the past, when paraffin was cheap, it was widely used for adulterating coconut oil.
The mafia also gathers used palm oil and sunflower oil from bakeries and catering service providers and mix it with coconut oil. The trade is flourishing in the suburbs of Kochi, traders allege.
Developed nations have banned the import of palm kernel oil on health issues. But in India, its import is still allowed. Malaysia exports a major chunk of palm kernel oil, which is not meant for edible use.
Kerala Food Safety officials have been conducting raids at various locations and are insisting laboratory reports for transporting the oil to the state. Samples from trucks are being tested periodically.
According to official sources, around 50 trucks carrying coconut oil were stopped at various check posts for not producing lab certificates. But many truck loads come to Kerala on a daily basis by bribing officials, said a trader.
Unfortunately, scientific detection of adulteration is very difficult as normal lab testing is ineffective in the case of coconut oil. Adulterated oil having coconut oil to the tune of 30 per cent exhibits the same quality and aroma as that of pure coconut oil.