Senior Congress leader and former chief minister of Maharashtra Prithviraj Chavan recently said that the "irresponsible reporting" by a Hindi news channel has brought the prices of tomatoes crashing down causing heavy losses to the farmers.
Calling out TV9 Bharatvarsh for its reporting on an unsubstantiated claim of viral disease in tomatoes and linking it with coronavirus, Chavan said that the incorrect report caused panic in people who refused to buy tomatoes, which led to price crash.
'TV9 report scared away tomato buyers'
Chavan said that misleading reporting by the channel scared away people from buying tomatoes causing huge economic losses to the farmers. He asked the state government to request the central government to take legal action against the news channel.
TV9 Bharatvarsh on May 13 ran a video package in which it reported that a virus has affected the tomato crops in the state of Maharashtra. Calling it "tiranga virus," the report went on to say that the virus is more deadly than the coronavirus and "can spread to people through tomatoes."
The report said that the virus in tomatoes is the new version of coronavirus and has infected vegetables.
Many people who saw the report took Twitter to express their concerns.
There had been reports of an unidentified disease afflicting tomatoes crop causing the change in shape and early ripening. According to a report in the Indian Express, the disease caused massive damage to the crops in Maharashtra.
Tomato growers in the state started noticing the spread of disease around mid-April and requested the state agriculture department to look into the matter and contain the spread of the disease.
A local tomato farmer, Ramesh Vakle, told Zee news, "The plant leaves are drying up fast and the tomatoes are developing irregular shaped and colour and ripening prematurely. The crop ready for harvesting has been lost to this unidentified disease. Due to this, we are not getting buyers for our tomatoes."
Even though as experts are yet to identify the cause of this disease, TV9 Bharatvarsh incorrectly linked the tomato crop with coronavirus.
"The fear is that if someone eats the tomatoes by mistake, it could prove more dangerous than coronavirus," TV9 Bharatvarsh had said in its report.
'Plant viruses do not infect humans'
However, experts and agricultural scientists have denied any such links and said claims like these are misleading.
A virologist and former head of the Indian Council for Medical Research's Centre for Advanced Research in Virology, Dr Jacob T. John, rubbished the claims made by TV9 Bharatvarsh.
"Plant viruses do not infect humans. The receptors that the virus needs for entry into human cells are very different from plant viruses. Animal viruses, yes, but not plant viruses. There is absolutely no reason to fear," he told to The Quint.
Even if one were to consume the infected tomatoes, there would be no effect on human whatsoever, he said, "all the time we eat a lot of vegetables that are infected with the virus. So you can guarantee that a tomato virus will talk not affect human beings."