Market

Market

Monday, February 29, 2016

Beyond organic foods and GMO labeling-Why are consumers ignoring the miseries of food workers?

Recent agitations by workers in food service sector in the United States for improving their working conditions and increased wages did not receive as much attention as it deserved raising the valid question whether the conscience of the world can really ignore this important human issues. What role consumers can play in forcing the hands of the industry in granting to its workers what is reasonable, equitable and justifiable? During the last few years consumer campaigns are focusing on issues like GMO foods and their safety, carbon foot prints of processed and packed foods, child labor involved in crop production, organic foods for safety, use of pesticides, health aspects of foods, environmental damage caused by food sector etc and consumers want all these information to be revealed on the package of each and every food item churned out by the industry. Fair enough because consumer as a citizen has a right to know what type of product he is buying. But what is missing in these campaigns is the extent of miseries and depredation to which the workers, pivotal in the manufacturing logistics. Many critics feel that such a narrative is no more conscionable and this issue must be addressed and consumers must demand that the products they are buying should have a "fair practice" certification to prevent the food industry from worker exploitation. Read further below to understand this conundrum.  

"There's a consumer psychology angle, too. Perhaps consumers are just selfish: many food-movement certifications help address self-oriented concerns— like organic produce being healthier, environmentally sustainable products saving the earth you live in, and non-GMO certifications ensuring a diet that's free of genetically modified organisms. A labor-friendly certification doesn't necessarily benefit the consumer in the way these other certifications do. That's only a partially satisfying answer, though — one that doesn't account for the altruistic motive behind cage-free and certified humane purchases, or fair trade. "The fact that there's a label on eggs gives people the opportunity to make a choice"
Another psychological explanation is that negative imagery is the most powerful driver of consumption choices. The popularized images or awareness of slaughterhouses and unsanitary production lines will drive buying where vague concepts like "a living wage" won't. Under that theory, the image of a product has to be tainted in public consciousness before consumers will shift to alternatives. Finally, there is a commercial explanation: companies have not offered consumers a choice for fair labor foods, restaurants haven't distinguished themselves as fair employers, and fair labor certifiers haven't penetrated the market sufficiently. Under that explanation, labor in food isn't a relevant question because there hasn't been a choice at all. "The fact that there's a label on eggs gives people the opportunity to make a choice, and I think that's why labeling is important," Bittman said. Most people don't get "the option of saying would you rather buy chicken where the people [in the] slaughterhouse are getting paid $12 an hour than where the people in the slaughterhouse are getting paid $8 an hour." If consumers had a significant opportunity to support fair labor food and restaurants, it's possible they'd do so. Each of these phenomena presents unique challenges — or perceived ones — for getting labor into our daily dietary choices. Nonetheless, solutions are sprouting. A new certification that includes labor as one of three key pillars has started making its presence known in stores. A new app that highlights labor-friendly restaurants has started to gain traction. The work of organizing and protest has started to force labor into everyday eating decisions. That national reckoning? It might be on its way.

A worker checks in on a beer in progress at the New Belgium Brewing Company (Hyoung Chang/the Denver Post via Getty Images)
If the profit motive is a main reason labor conditions are so poor, it might also be a reason they get better. Andrew Kassoy, Jay Coen Gilbert, and Bart Houlahan are three guys with an intimate understanding of the economic motivations. Kassoy spent 16 years in private equity, including his most recent stint as a partner in a $1 billion fund. Gilbert and Houlahan were cofounder and president, respectively, of the basketball apparel giant AND1. In 2006, they decided they'd had enough of the corporate life and united to launch the B Lab. One of the organization's projects is the certified B Corporation status, given to companies, rather than products, that pass muster on four impact areas: governance, workers, community, and environment. Kassoy came to the project after he became increasingly dissatisfied with the corporate world, where, he said, it often felt like "little else matters to anyone" besides size and money. The B Corp movement, on the other hand, seeks to use the "power of private enterprise to create public benefit." The status, unlike other certifications, is specifically intended to evaluate an entire business as ethically and environmentally sound. By brandishing the "B" logo, the theory goes, companies will differentiate themselves from the crowd as consumers, investors, and potential employees seek to support wholesome business. The number of companies buying into that theory is still relatively small — about 1,200 are B Corp certified — but many more want to know how they stack up. More than 20,000 companies worldwide now use the B Lab's impact evaluation metrics to monitor their business. The B Corp status isn't just for food companies, and it isn't just about labor — but it's currently the best resource for selecting labor-friendly food. Given the extant interest of the foodies in other concerns, a comprehensive standard might be the way to loop in labor. In fact, the commitment to an overarching certification is a response to the inadequacies of piecemeal movements. "Good businesses means a comprehensive, transparent view of a company's social and environmental impact," said Kassoy. That way you can avoid "unacceptable" situations where people are buying sustainable or organic lettuce but they "don't care who picked it." That multilayered approach, though, means B Corp certification can only be a proxy for a standalone labor certification for the food system. For example, companies can be better on environmental standards and worse on labor, and still become a certified B Corp. There is no minimum score on the "workers" component of certification, though Kassoy insists the B Lab "reserves the right to deny B Corp certification to any company that doesn't meet the values of the movement." Nonetheless, without a present alternative, the B Corp status is the best available avenue for incorporating labor consciousness into food purchases. It remains to be seen, however, whether producers and consumers are ready to embrace it: only about 100 food companies have attained B Corp status. The certification isn't attracting producers and driving behavior like organic and non-GMO movements have — and the companies that do are exhibiting some peculiar behavior. Take the two best-known food B Corps: Ben & Jerry's and New Belgium Brewery. Due to Ben & Jerry's sale to product giant Unilever in 2000, and New Belgium's rocketing popularity because of its Fat Tire brew, you can find both brands far beyond foodie hideouts. Neither have the certified B Corp logo on their packages, however. Instead, Ben & Jerry's flaunts its fair trade logo and boasts about happy cows and non-GMO ingredients. New Belgium notes its employee ownership in understated text on the front of the packaging, and its recyclability on the bottom. (The case of Ben & Jerry's omission is particularly confounding, since they go through an extra procedure to remain certified as a subsidiary of Unilever).

Even the best companies have been sheepish about boasting their labor record. King Arthur Flour is the highest-rated food B Corp on labor issues, and was named in the top five of any B Corp on worker impact in 2014. Katie Walker, a spokesperson for the company, described working at King Arthur as the "complete polar opposite" of the normal food industry standard — and given her description of work life, it's hard to contest. King Arthur, a company of 388 workers at the busiest times of the year, starts with a minimum hourly wage for full-time workers of $11.25 an hour (Vermont's minimum wage is $9.05 an hour; New Belgium's lowest wage for non-temporary workers is $12 an hour) in addition to stock ownership. King Arthur and New Belgium are 100 percent employee-owned companies, operating an employee stock ownership plan where employees are given ownership stocks of the company as part of their pay package — and can retain that influence over the company until they leave or retire and sell those shares back. In these types of companies, you aren't likely to find the type of pay disparity you see in fast food, nor the abysmal working conditions, because employees retain more power and are often more integrated in the decision-making. More worker-friendly conditions are a natural result. "

It is not that one has to brand the whole industry as inhuman because there are many players who are magnanimous in providing their workers with more than what law is required of them. Aggressive labor unionism has earned many workers in other industry sectors high wages and perquisites but should we be waiting for the food workers also to be aggressive to get a decent wage and a conducive working condition? There is the famous story of a diamond processing industry in Gujarat where each worker is treated like a family member and benefits are showered on them that can move the hearts of even a die hard capitalistic industrialist! Food industry workers are not asking for favors of such a magnitude but are craving for a decent wage that can give him and his family a decent living standard. While it may too much to expect that every label should carry the fare trade practice, what is practical is to certify companies based on their treatment  of the workers. Probably certifying agencies like ISO could incorporate provisions for auditing the worker treatment conditions so that consumers will have a means of satisfying himself that he is consuming a product made without exploitation of the labor. While arriving at what is equitable to the workers, caution needs to be exercised not to go overboard in showering them with unjustifiable compensation packages that may impinge on the price of the product to the consumer.   

V.H.POTTY
http://vhpotty.blogspot.com
http://foodtechupdates.blogspot.com

Friday, February 26, 2016

Taking guess work out of nuking? A new approach!

Though microwave heating technology was patented in 1946, the popular counter top oven using this technology became a reality only in 1967. By 1976 this device became common and it became a necessity by 1980 for most American families. To day Microwave heating has become a standard practice in most kitchens in developed countries, becoming the twin partner of another equally convenient and useful food handling tool viz refrigerator for getting a food ready for eating in a jiffy. While refrigerator with freezer facilities can store prepared foods for long time, microwave oven can make it available for consumption in a matter few minutes. Microwave technology is no more confined to homes in Americas, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and affluent East Asian countries as its versatility is spreading far and wide. Even in developing countries with sizeable middle class population, affordable microwave ovens are becoming a standard fixture in modern kitchens. Look at India where more than 8 lakh units of microwave ovens are marketed annually though the 4 major metros in the count for 70% of this market. Of course India market is relatively insignificant if global penetration is taken into consideration with the world market expected to grow to a staggering 80 million ovens by 2020! One of the major constraints in using microwave heating is the non-uniform heat generation within the mass of the food heated and the difficulty most consumers have in determining the correct end point of the heating process. Recent report indicating development of a device that can be included in the design of a microwave oven that can provide accurate picture about the completion of heating process will be a great boon to the consumer. Here is a take on this exciting new development. 

"For all the time they save us in food preparation, burnt tongues and frozen centers are an all too common occurrence when dealing with microwaves. But former NASA engineer-turned-inventor Mark Rober reckons nuking our food shouldn't involve so much guesswork. His take on the everyday kitchen appliance offers  a thermal vision display of your food as it cooks,so you know exactly when it's time to chow down. Though it is only a prototype, in using cheap, widely available technologies Rober says there's no reason the Heat Map Microwave can't start saving your bacon right away. An infrared lens is planted on the ceiling of the microwave, streaming a thermal, birds eye view of your dish to a display where you would normally find the window. As your food moves from cold to hot, it goes from blue, to red and to white hot when it's time to pull it out. Alternatively the microwave could be programmed to switch off automatically when it reaches this point. And the really neat thing here is that the display could quite easily be streamed to a mobile device over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, meaning you could monitor it remotely and wouldn't need to stand salivating around the microwave, peering through the window for any sign that your food is ready to go. Rober does plan on commercializing his modern take on the microwave. But rather than turning to crowdfunding sites to raise money, he's asking people to pledge support by signing a petition, which has gathered more than 20,000 signatures at the time of writing. Rober hopes to build enough momentum through the petition to show investors his product is worth mass-producing, while also enabling him to keep his supporters in the loop on his progress and its design."

Though convenient-wise microwave heating or more popularly referred to as "nuking" in the US, is the turning point in reducing kitchen drudgery, a country like India is not able to make it a common man's tool because of the power crisis in the country where quality and quantity of electricity available, especially in rural and many semi urban areas are highly uncertain and unpredictable because of "power of the power suppliers" to resort to unscheduled and unannounced cuts several times a day! Added to these woes most Indian traditional food preparations do not lend themselves to microwave heating due to lack of information about the optimal heating time and the power settings to be programmed. It is here that the new innovation will help the consumer in the country to be more confident about the usefulness of this gadget. Another handicap that is faced by the Indian consumer is the uncertainty regarding the wares regarding their suitability for microwave cooking. Unlike in the US or the UK, most inert wares like plastics, glass or china, do not display any signs on their wares whether they can be used for nuking. Still there is no stopping of these ovens gaining popularity in the coming years due to their versatility. The existing manufacturers in the country must try to absorb the new "visual" window technology and offer the new ovens sooner than later.    

V.H.POTTY
http://vhpotty.blogspot.com
http://foodtechupdates.blogspot.com

Monday, February 22, 2016

Woes of milk farmers in India-Will the white revolution end up as "red" revolution?

Considering that milk from cow and buffalo provides a major source of vitally needed nutrients like high quality proteins, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals, any adverse factors affecting the dairy industry will definitely impinge on the health of the population, especially in a country like India where substantial percentage of people are vegetarians by nature or by compulsions. Though India prides itself as the number one milk producer in the world, recent international developments are bound to tell upon the fortunes of the dairy sector especially the  dairy farmers. It is ironic that India's white revolution built on cheap imports of milk powder from Western countries is facing an acute crisis by the very fact that the country is producing surplus milk products with uneconomical export prices which collapsed by almost 60%! What are its consequences? Here is a take on this extraordinary situation. 

"ince April-May 2014,milk realisations for farmers have collapsed by around Rs 10 per litre. Maharashtra farmers are currently selling cow milk, with 3.5 per cent fat and 8.5 per cent SNF (solids-not-fat) content, to private dairies at roughly Rs 16 per litre, compared to Rs 26 one-and-a-half years ago. During the same period, farm-gate prices in northern India for buffalo milk, containing 6.5 per cent fat and 8.5 per cent SNF, have dropped from Rs 39-40 to Rs 29-30 a litre. The blame for this can be laid primarily on "global" factors. Prices of skimmed milk powder (SMP) at GlobalDairyTrade — the fortnightly online auction platform of New Zealand's Fonterra Cooperative, the world's No. 1 exporter — averaged $ 1,792 per tonne on Tuesday. The corresponding rate on April 1, 2014 ruled at $ 4,126 per tonne, which itself was below the record $ 5,142 for the same period the previous year. The above unprecedented global crash has done three things to India's dairy industry. First, it has brought exports to a standstill, with SMP shipments from the country plunging from a peak of 1.3 lakh tonnes in 2013-14 (valued at Rs 2,717.56 crore) to 34,490 tonnes (Rs 681.69 crore) in 2014-15 and a paltry 8,130 tonnes (Rs 155.73 crore) during April-November 2015. Second, low export demand has impacted domestic SMP prices too. These have declined from an average ex-factory level of Rs 240-250 per kg in April-May 2014 to Rs 140-150 now, even as fat (ghee) prices have remained stable at Rs 300-310 per kg. Lower powder realisations have affected the operations of private dairies — especially those in the North and Maharashtra whose revenues are mainly from commodities, as opposed to branded liquid milk sales. When SMP and ghee were selling at Rs 250 and Rs 300 per kg respectively, a dairy would have grossed Rs 3,270 or so from processing 100 litres (103 kg) of cow milk with 3.5 per cent fat and 8.5 per cent SNF. After deducting Rs 300-350 of processing and packaging costs, they could pay up to Rs 2,950 for milk delivered at the plant. This price, at the farm-gate, would have worked out to about Rs 2,600 or Rs 26 a litre. But at Rs 140/kg for SMP and Rs 300/kg for ghee, the gross revenue from the same 100 litres of milk would be just over Rs 2,300. Netting out Rs 350 of processing-cum-packaging costs and an equal expense for transport of milk from the farm, thus, effectively leaves Rs 16 per litre — which is what Maharashtra's farmers are receiving today. Simply put, most private dairies with a predominantly commodity (powder and ghee) portfolio have responded to the global crash either by sharply slashing their milk purchase price or even discontinuing operations in the last one year.But the sharp cut-back in procurement by private dairies has resulted in a third outcome — diversion of the surplus milk to cooperatives, particularly in the western and southern states where they have a reasonable presence".  

It is unfortunate that milk producers are being put into lot of economic hardships because of the fall in procurement prices by the private dairy plants who are finding it hard to balance their balance sheets with such a low export price realization for the milk powder. The cooperative milk producers union set up in each state under the operation flood program however are still continuing to give the state decided procurement prices though the capacity of their plants are limited with many farmers compelled to go to private companies. In states like Karnataka the state government announced a bonus of Rs 4 per liter for those bringing in milk to the cooperative dairies, disbursement of this amount is irregular and uncertain. On the whole India dairy sector is going through tremendous strain and whether the country will lose the advantage of white revolution making the milk farmers some what well to do compared to traditional farmers cultivating the land. Governments at the center and states must take this as a serious crisis and come out with proactive policies to prevent large scale abandoning of dairying by the rural farmers leading to a huge potential distaster in the coming days.
           
V.H.POTTY
http://vhpotty.blogspot.com
http://foodtechupdates.blogspot.co

Monday, February 15, 2016

Short circuiting the safety protocols-Food industry in Japan guilty of such practices?

Consumers have lot of confidence on the food industry that it does not indulge in wide scale practice of cheating and fraud compromising on the safety of the products offered in the market. The label declaration on each packed product, mandatory in almost all countries is supposed to be sufficiently transparent for the consumer to know some basic information about its contents and "date of expiry" or "best before date" printed is considered truthful, beyond which the manufacturer does not give assurance about the quality of the product. Food fraudsters operate in all countries across the world and work by exploiting loopholes in the laws or hoodwinking the safety authorities through dubious means. Added to this, inadequate vigilance infrastructure invariably hampers attempts to haul them up for deterrent punishment. It is in this context we have to note with dismay the recent reports from Japan, supposed to be one of the technological superpowers, that date expired branded meat products, intended for disposal in landfills, were found to be in the market for sales at some local areas. It appears such practices are in vogue with many manufacturers who use the loopholes in the law to reduce their losses through reuse of expired foods. Here is a take on this shocking development.

"The food industry seems especially vulnerable. We got a taste of that early in the new year when it surfaced that the Aichi Prefecture-based disposal firm Daiko, instead of dumping, as instructed, some 40,000 potentially flawed frozen beef cutlets it had received from curry restaurant chain Coco Ichibanya, quietly sold them to two local supermarkets. One of the cutlets may have contained a small contaminant, a stray bit of plastic, Coco Ichibanya feared. The attempted disposal was a well-meant safety precaution but it miscarried. Daiko is the alleged villain of the drama, but there are many others of many similar dramas, says Spa! (Feb 9-16). To read its report is to confront an uncomfortable question: What sort of refuse are we feeding ourselves? Or perhaps more to the point: What are we being fed? A note of caution seems in order. In the absence of medical testimony – Spa! presents none – the overall good health of the Japanese people might warn us against making too much of the apparent rot in the dauntingly complex distribution system that composes the national food chain. On the other hand, how tolerant should consumers be? Granted that zero tolerance would endanger an industry that provides us the convenient, cheap, instant, ready-to-eat fare we've come to depend on. Does recognizing that constitute blanket permission to jettison all standards? The Daiko affair came to light by a fluke – the disposal firm's unusual failure to repackage the Ichibanya cutlets before reselling them. Otherwise, says food industry analyst Hirokazu Kawagishi, "there is no way we'd ever have known about it."

Though industry may argue that best before date is only a rough indication about the quality of food in a packet, it could still be safe for consumption. Will the consumer by this argument? If this contention is valid, such products must be sold separately at heavily discounted prices with no guarantee about its eating quality. Then what about the safety of such products? If the manufacturer does not give assurance about its safety, there is no way consumer can be expected to buy them. Food Banks and other voluntary agencies who accept expired products from super markets for distribution to poor people usually test them for safety before supplying to the beneficiaries. Many consumers feel that packed foods must contain actual expiry date beyond which they should not be consumed. But no industry will agree to this as the current scientific data base does not provide adequate information on many products regarding their safe storage life. Probably present system of declaring best before date may be the best bet for most products till adequate information is generated regarding the safe storage life of each and every processed food. However this does not preclude individual manufacturers, sure of the data they have on safe storage of their products to declare expiry dates which will benefit the consumers a lot.  

V.H.POTTY
http://vhpotty.blogspot.com
http://foodtechupdates.blogspot.com

Sunday, February 14, 2016

BMI measurement-Is it a true universal indication of "healthiness" for all?

Body Mass Index, popularly known as BMI, has been widely used since 1972, after it was coined by the renowned scientist Ancel Keys to assess the health status of human beings using the height and weight parameters. Credit must go to Adolphe Quetelet for inventing the existence of a relationship between body weight, height and health status in 1830 though it was not accepted universally. To day BMI is the golden standard to condemn any person as over weight or obese who are supposed to be more vulnerable to life style diseases like diabetes, CVD, blood pressure etc compared to those with "normal" BMI. This myth is sought to be busted by a recent study by a group of scientists in the US who found out that BMI cannot be relied upon when it comes to assessing the healthiness of an individual and whether the world will accept such a revcolutionary finding remains to be seen. Here is a take on this path breaking development.

"Over the past few years, body mass index (BMI), a ratio of a person's height and weight, has effectively become a proxy for whether a person is considered healthy. However, scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), found that using BMI to gauge health incorrectly labels more than 54 million Americans as 'unhealthy', even though they are not. "Many people see obesity as a death sentence. But the data show there are tens of millions of people who are overweight and obese and are perfectly healthy," said lead author A Janet Tomiyama, an assistant professor at UCLA. The scientists analysed the link between BMI — which is calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilogrammes by the square of the person's height in metres — and several health markers, including blood pressure and glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, using data from the most recent US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The study found that close to half of Americans who are considered 'overweight' by virtue of their BMIs (47.4 per cent, or 34.4 million people) are healthy, as are 19.8 million who are considered 'obese'. Given their health readings other than BMI, the people in both of those groups would be unlikely to incur higher medical expenses, and it would be unfair to charge them more for health care premiums, Tomiyama said. The researchers also found that more than 30 per cent of those with BMIs in the 'normal' range — about 20.7 million people — are actually unhealthy based on their other health data. About 15 per cent of Americans who are considered "very obese" by virtue of having a BMI of 35 or higher are actually healthy, researchers said."

What is shocking in these findings is that a significant segment of the population who had high BMI beyond the magical figure of 25 were perfectly healthy with no evident disease symptoms while many others with BMI less than 25 were unhealthy as measured by other health parameters. How can the world get reconciled to this contradictory situation when physicians are put into a dilemma to decide millions of cases requiring medical advice on their health status.? Should there be a reconsideration about BMI and its relation to health and is there not a need to evolve a more accurate paradigm in place of BMI? Now that questions have been raised about the reliability of BMI it is time the health and medical community take note of this crucial development and come out soon with their consensus on the issue.

V.H.POTTY
http://vhpotty.blogspot.com
http://foodtechupdates.blogspot.com

Monday, February 1, 2016

Is being poor an opportunity for the industry to make more money? Seems so in some countries

"Though every one knows that the quality of health is intricately linked to the nutritive value of food one eats, continuous attempts by the food corporates, especially in a country like the US, to feed the population with patently unhealthy high fat and high calorie products with practically zero nutrition are not being resisted by the policy makers. In stead, with their tremendous financial clout and lobbying muscle the fast food industry is trying to kill every challenge thrown at them by a series of small restaurants who offer better products. The latest attempt being tried in this direction involves a war of attrition through steep reduction in prices for many products offered by them, naturally tempting the most resolute consumer with honest intentions to eat only healthy foods! Here is a take on this alarming trend which must be nipped in the bud by whatever policy orchestrations the government can do so that small restaurants are not driven to extinction, snuffing out a healthy alternative to millions of low income consumers.

"THE NATION'S FAST-FOOD giants certainly weren't going to allow a new breed of smaller "fast-casual" chains to eat their lunch without taking action. The industry's fast-casual segment has steadily been winning over customers with products that typically are made with less fat and fewer processed ingredients than the legacy restaurants use. Over the next five years, most of the fast-food market's revenue growth is expected to come from these kinds of outlets — companies such as Panera Bread, Shake Shack, Cosi, and, yes, Chipotle. Instead of taking a cue from the modestly encouraging nutritional trend, fast-food's founding fathers have decided to counter the upstart competitors' higher quality by pitching quantity. They're doubling down on the same high-calorie strategies that for decades have, at least in part, helped make Americans overweight and unhealthy. McDonald's, Burger King, and others are running advertising campaigns that promote fat-rich meals at newly discounted prices. Wendy's started the feeding frenzy in October with a "4 for $4" deal that packages chicken nuggets, a bacon cheeseburger, a drink, and fries. McDonald's earlier this month introduced its "McPick 2," Burger King followed by hyping a $4 promotion that features five items, and Pizza Hut's $5 "Flavor Menu,"includes four 20-oz. sodas, and a Hershey's Triple Chocolate Brownie — "9 squares of warm, oven-fresh goodness." Faced with this kind of marketing onslaught, do fresh fruits and vegetables stand a chance? Many time-stressed Americans can't resist the temptation of relatively inexpensive prepared food they can grab at a drive-through window. And given the choice between spending $5 on food that fills the kids up, or buying a single organic tomato, it's understandable why a budget-conscious consumer might opt for the former. That behavior won't easily be changed. Making wholesome food more affordable and available has long posed a major challenge for health-policy makers. The reasons a burger and fries cost less than lettuce are many and complicated. Food-industry critics often start by pointing to the billions of dollars in federal subsidies that go to corn farmers. Corn is used to feed cattle and chickens, and to produce high fructose syrup. It's key to fast-food profits. "For the last 50 years we've worked on making corn as cheap as possible," says renowned food writer Michael Pollan, who is currently a fellow at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. "Our agricultural policies are at war with our health policies and objectives." Realigning government priorities to encourage farm products with greater nutritional value might help tip the scales, but fresh-food advocates acknowledge that overhauling the subsidy system is politically daunting. "A handful of corporations control our food system from farm to fork," reads a statement on the website of Farm Aid, a nonprofit that backs the so-called Good Food Movement. Indeed. The food industry spends tens of millions of dollars annually on lobbying lawmakers to keep it that way. Lower-income people — many of whom work in fast-food restaurants — are often reliant on processed food out of necessity. Better choices are either not easily accessible, or they're too expensive. Improving the standing of those at the bottom of the economy would give them options. "It's a myth that low-income people don't want to eat healthy," says Pollan. "McDonald's allows many of them to eat meat who otherwise would not be able to afford to. For a lot of people, cheap food is keeping them whole." He suggests it's time to "change the calculus" on pricing. That could be accomplished by requiring fast-food companies to pay the true cost of producing their products, while adding financial incentives — perhaps through subsidies — for commercial sellers and buyers of nutritious food. That could help level out price differences between good and bad food, minimizing cost as the primary factor in consumers' purchasing decisions. More emphasis also should be placed on the savings that could be realized throughout the nation's health care system by turning fast food into an occasional indulgence instead of a diet staple. One example: Obesity increases the chances of developing diabetes, a disease that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated cost about $245 billion to treat in 2012 alone. The opposition to all of these measures is practiced and well-funded, as evidenced by the barrage of ads. For some corporations, Americans' poor health is good business.  The previously slumping McDonald's on Monday exceeded analysts' expectations by reporting strong sales for the last quarter, mainly because it began offering breakfast all day. That sent the company's stock up at the start of trading. Wall Street, like most of the country, can't resist a Sausage McMuffin."

Many experts believe that the giant corporates selling unhealthy foods are able to sustain their business for long time because of their deep pockets and economic resilience in absorbing financial losses. Besides the mainstay raw material used by the meat industry, Corn is heavily subsidized by the American government in the name of supporting the farmers which is enabling them to make their products at ridiculously low prices. Compare this to the dilemma of the small players who have to buy healthy but costly food ingredients like fruits and vegetables which naturally pushes the cost of the prepared products and unfair competition from low cost junk foods makes their existence precarious. It is time government there comes out with a policy to heavily tax such products with proven unhealthy credentials such as high sugar and high fat containing products and no dietary fiber. Such foods must be put on a par with tobacco when it comes to taxing and there is salvation only if this issue is tackled fearlessly without succumbing to pressures from the "bad food" industry.

V.H.POTTY
http://vhpotty.blogspot.com
http://foodtechupdates.blogspot.com

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Adulteration of foods-Is it rampant in India?

Look at a recent report by the FSSAI about the food safety in the country. Uttar Pradesh "shines" in one area of activity, that is in manufacturing and marketing spurious foods among all the states! What is galling is that this food safety body is publishing such data after getting it "collected" from the states which have the constitutional responsibility to ensure that only clean and safe foods are marketed within their boundaries. What does a laymen understand from such bland figures "released" by the food safety watchdog routinely every once in a while, probably to convince its bosses that it is doing a great job? Passing the buck is a favorite game with babus in the state and central governments since no hard questions are asked and no accountability is demanded. However responsibility for the sorry state of affairs vis-a-vis the consequences Indian population are suffering from, must be squarely laid on the doors of the governments at Delhi as well as in the states. Is it not interesting that the figures referred to pertain to only number of samples found to be adulterated while the sample size has not been mentioned which only can say how effective the vigilance regime is in the country. According to FSSAI the state governments pick up about 60000 samples an year from the 8 million retail outlets spread across the country and normally finds about 20% are adulterated. The million dollar question that begs for an answer is whether the samples picked up really represent the quantum of production in the country. The extent of "rampant" adulteration as being claimed is contained in the following report. 

Food adulteration the state is the second highest in the country. As per the Food Safety and Standards Authority in India, 1,458 food samples were found to be adulterated, unsafe and misbranded in the state. Uttar Pradesh with 4,119 failed food samples has the poorest record. Health Department officials said except certain fruits, most food items in the state were found adulterated. Milk products, cheese, ghee, tea, bottled water, chillies, garlic, turmeric and black pepper are some of the food items that are usually found adulterated in the state. Harmful chemicals are reportedly found in numerous food items and adulteration is rampant as the Health Department doesn't conduct frequent checks. Shopkeepers too promote such products in a bid to make a killing," said a Health Department official. He further said the highest percentage of milk samples fail in the state with the rate having doubled from 22 per cent to 44.3 per cent last year. On Friday, the Bathinda police raided a factory that mixed fake ghee with desi ghee. Similar incidents have also been reported in other parts of the state. There are also reports of pulses and apples being coloured with harmful chemicals. Commissioner of Food Safety, Hussan Lal, said the government had devised a mechanism wherein a person with a particular quantity of milk would be given a licence to sell. "Similarly, 50 designated food safety officers have been deployed across the state. Soon, their number will be raised to 60," he said. Lal further said they would focus on active surveillance to stop the sale and manufacture of adulterated food.

Though there is no unanimity regarding the quantity of processed foods manufactured in India since production estimates are not being put out after the eclipse of the erstwhile DGTD, one can get a fairly good idea looking at various raw materials being processed in the country. According such data, only 2.2% of fruit and vegetables go through the hands of the processing industry while the corresponding figures for milk, meat and poultry are 35%, 21% and 6% respectively. But when it comes to value of production by the processing industry, the estimated out put is valued at $ 300 billion or Rs 21000 lakh crore. With such a gigantic sized manufacturing base can picking up 60000 samples for testing is really sensible? This is a total sham in the name of food safety and how can any citizen get any confidence on the governments commitment to protect him? If the total number of "inspectors", the vital cogs in the safety monitoring regime, is not more than 1000 under the control of state governments the present sampling just works out to 60 samples a year by each inspector, height of inefficiency measured under any yardstick regarding their performance. The present system needs complete overhauling so that the safety management has at least 10000 inspectors and their efficiency is raised to at least half a dozen samples a day. Can India do it? Let us hope governments will wake up to this urgent need without losing more time.   

V.H.POTTY
http://vhpotty.blogspot.com
http://foodtechupdates.blogspot.com