The downside of cashew nuts

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Many who are vegetarians and especially vegans look at nuts, including and especially cashew nuts as a source for their protein. Few, however, consider the downsides of the nut production, especially the human impacts.

Caju_RN_Foto_Daniel-Santini_RBRChild labor in the production of cashew nuts: Boys and girls have their hands burned by acid and lose digits in breaking the cashew nut and even after complaints, problem persists in Rio Grande do Norte.

If you look at the tips of your finger you will note the set of tiny lines forming its identity, so to speak, your fingerprints. This combination is unique, its only a pattern that does not repeat. Children working in the breaking up of cashew nuts in João Câmara, in Rio Grande do Norte, have no fingerprints. While any criminal would love this, I am sure, for the children that means that they have no verifiable identity, to all intents and purposes, as in countries such as Brazil fingerprints are used on identity documents.

The oil present in the shell of the cashew nut is acidic. It is best known as anacardic acid is the main component of cashew nutshell liquid (CNSL). This liquid sticks to the skin like and is difficult to take off. In it is this anacardic acid, which corrodes the skin, causing irritation and chemical burns.

Anacardic acids are phenolic lipids, chemical compounds found in the shell of the cashew nut (Anacardium occidentale). As they are closely related to urushiol, they also cause an allergic skin rash on contact known as urushiol-induced contact dermatitis.

Child labor is common as entire families work in the processing of the cashew nuts and most people are unaware that the oil from the nuts is acidic and is causing the problem. Many believe it is caused by the bleach – yes, you read that right, bleach – that is also used in the process of extracting the nuts from their shells.

The employment of children in the breaking the cashew is included in the list of worst forms of child labor in Brazil, alongside activities such as processing of tobacco, sisal and sugar cane.

While the fingerprints, actually, may come back if someone stops this activity while still young chances are that they will not as that is for many their only way of making an income.

When we look at this closely it is a little like the use of European and American vegetarian of Quinoa from Peru where the people growing it can no longer afford to use it.

Our demand from products and produce from abroad pits the lives of the workers at risk and also the environment in those countries and for reasons of ethics and the Planet we must rethink our ways.

© 2013