Saturday, November 1, 2014

Fish farming-Another case of antibiotic misuse

Development of antibiotic resistance in human beings is becoming an increasing concern world over though it is more acute as being reported, in Western countries where antibiotic tweaked feed is routinely fed to poultry birds and live stock animals. This practice became widespread when the animal food industry realized that such feeds can add significant weights to their birds and animals. Antibiotic resistance is supposed to be developed when popular antibiotics used in human beings are preferred choice of the animal food industry. Many countries are taking appropriate action in restraining the industry from using these antibiotics to prevent serious disease causing pathogens becoming super bugs able to with stand the "kill effect" of such antibiotics. However another instance of serious misuse of antibiotics is reported to be emerging among fish breeders in some countries which has been overlooked earlier, adding new dimension to the problem. Here is a take on this alarming development.  

The concern surrounding animal antibiotics focuses on meat and poultry production, but a new study suggests we should also be paying attention to fish. Researchers at Arizona State University investigated 47 antibiotics in U.S.-
purchased shrimp, salmon, catfish, trout, tilapia and swai originating from 11 different countries. Their findings, published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, identified five antibiotics detected in shrimp, salmon, tilapia and trout. Oxytetracycline was the most commonly detected antibiotic compound, and it was found in farmed fish and wild shrimp. The researchers also found 4-epioxytetracycline, sulfadimethoxine, and ormetoprim in certain species and virginiamycin in farmed salmon marketed as antibiotic-free. Lead author Hansa Done, a Ph.D. candidate at ASU's Center for Environmental Security, told that antibiotics are added to the water in fish farms to treat and prevent disease or are directly injected into fish, but that they are not used for growth promotion. The antibiotic levels detected in the study were within legal limits, and the researchers report low risk of drug exposure from seafood consumption, but even the low levels can promote antibiotic resistance. The authors add that publications reporting antibiotic resistance in aquaculture have increased eight-fold over three decades.

It is sad that meat and fish food industries are indulging in such malpractices without caring for the well being of the consumers who after all provide them with their "bread and butter". Of course fish breeders may argue that they are using these antibiotics to make their products safer to the consumers. However this industry is forgetting that residues of antibiotics present in fish so raised can get into human system, slowly creating resistance in many microbes many of them virulent ones capable of inflicting severe health disorders. Similarly the antibiotic containing water where fish is raised is a potential contaminating source for the soil and water around. As most fish in the US market originate from countries like India, Thailand, China, Vietnam etc the implications are clear. Whether antibiotic use is practiced in the US also is not known though one can assume, knowing the attitude of food industry in general there, that US farmers also must be resorting to this practice. It is time suitable international protocols are arrived at for guiding the fish farmers and aqua culture industry for not using antibiotics which are commonly prescribed for treating diseases among human beings.    


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Urban gardening-Ever possible in India?

Lot has been said, written and debated about urban gardening which is being encouraged in countries like Canada and the United States. Recently in the US state of California where urban lands are available which are not being used for building houses, incentives are being offered to encourage owners to lease them out to potential "farmers" to cultivate food crops. Specifically in the city of Los Angeles the city council has plans to allow gardening on plots of sizes varying from 0.1 acre to 3 acres to be leased out by giving the owners tax incentives in return. This trend is visible across the country and can be a win-win situation for the stake holders involved like the owners, lessees, consumers, local governments and the nation as a whole. In the US there is a peculiar situation where large tracts of land are lying vacant for the last several years after the migration of city folks to well designed communities out side the urban core areas. These vacated land plots are not being utilized and since they are substantial in terms of total acreage, schemes like the above may work to the advantage of all concerned. Here is a take on this landmark changes taking place in these countries. .  

"There are thousands of vacant, unproductive lots throughout Los Angeles," said Fuentes, who represents the 7th District, which covers the Northeast Valley. "By converting empty parcels into urban farms, we can encourage local economic development, green our communities and provide produce in neighborhoods that lack access to fresh foods." Last year, the state Legislature approved the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act, which authorized a tax adjustment for private property owners who lease land for commercial or noncommercial agriculture use for at least five years. The council members want that law implemented locally. In Los Angeles, parcels would be eligible for the tax break if they are between 0.10 and 3 acres in size, dedicated to agriculture and animal husbandry, free of dwellings not intended for agriculture or educational purposes, and located within a zone that allows for agricultural use. The Los Angeles Food Policy Council estimates that 8,600 parcels in Los Angeles would be eligible. Price, whose 9th District seat represents South L.A., said the motion would benefit residents in low-income areas like the one he serves. "Representing a food desert community, I understand firsthand the need to expand food options for our residents, Price said. "This action will help us transform underused and blighted plots of land that often attract crime into thriving green spaces, encouraging green enterprises and helping us improve the look and feel of our neighborhoods."

Sustainable environment is a compulsion to day because of rapid destruction of nature by indiscriminate industrialization and modern living style of population guzzling non-renewable fossil fuels. More than ever man is getting more and more concerned about the fate of future generations in an exhausted and unlivable world. Urban gardening and local food movements fit into the wheel of changes which yearn for a more livable and healthy world. Though WTO regime wants to make global trade hassle free with no hindrance, fact still remains that long distance haulage of food and other materials contribute enormously to global warming and the consequent undesirable changes. In India urban gardening may have limited impact as most cities are starved of the most critical input viz, water. No city in this country can assure its citizens that the water supplied to its them are safe for consumption and no city supplies adequate water sufficient even to carry out daily activities of its residents. Under these circumstances how can any urbanite ever think of sparing water to raise a garden? Of course there are sporadic reports from some small towns that individuals having their own wells are raising gardens for vegetables on available space around and on top of their houses. But to imagine this will become a significant part of our landscape may be unrealistic.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Crusader's fiery opposition to modern agricultural system

Given below is a reference to the campaign by a fiery activist in India against modern input intensive agriculture and the fast spreading use of GMO technology for producing food for the world. While reading the report one cannot help getting a feeling that though she has many strong points in repudiating the current system, there are lot more issues that need careful consideration and analysis before out right condemnation.  It is not necessary for the reader to agree with whatever she says but one can get a right perspective on the changing agricultural landscape in the world in response to an expanding population that is predicted to reach 10 billion by the end of this century. 

"Shiva's fiery opposition to globalization and to the use of genetically modified crops has made her a hero to anti-G.M.O. activists everywhere. The purpose of the trip through Europe, she had told me a few weeks earlier, was to focus attention there on "the voices of those who want their agriculture to be free of poison and G.M.O.s." At each stop, Shiva delivered a message that she has honed for nearly three decades: by engineering, patenting, and transforming seeds into costly packets of intellectual property, multinational corporations such as Monsanto, with considerable assistance from the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, the United States government, and even philanthropies like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are attempting to impose "food totalitarianism" on the world. She describes the fight against agricultural biotechnology as a global war against a few giant seed companies on behalf of the billions of farmers who depend on what they themselves grow to survive. Shiva contends that nothing less than the future of humanity rides on the outcome. "There are two trends," she told the crowd that had gathered in Piazza Santissima Annunziata, in Florence, for the seed fair. "One: a trend of diversity, democracy, freedom, joy, culture—people celebrating their lives." She paused to let silence fill the square. "And the other: monocultures, deadness. Everyone depressed. Everyone on Prozac. More and more young people unemployed. We don't want that world of death." The audience, a mixture of people attending the festival and tourists on their way to the Duomo, stood transfixed. Shiva, dressed in a burgundy sari and a shawl the color of rust, was a formidable sight. "We would have no hunger in the world if the seed was in the hands of the farmers and gardeners and the land was in the hands of the farmers," she said. "They want to take that away." Shiva, along with a growing army of supporters, argues that the prevailing model of industrial agriculture, heavily reliant on chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fossil fuels, and a seemingly limitless supply of cheap water, places an unacceptable burden on the Earth's resources. She promotes, as most knowledgeable farmers do, more diversity in crops, greater care for the soil, and more support for people who work the land every day. Shiva has particular contempt for farmers who plant monocultures—vast fields of a single crop. "They are ruining the planet," she told me. "They are destroying this beautiful world."

No matter who says what world has to come up with new ideas and programs to goad the farmers to produce more food to meet the increasing demand for food without expanding the current level of land utilization. In stead of squabbling on this vital issue, it is time that all countries put their heads together to arrive at a consensus regarding the most feasible way of achieving increased production of foods. While debating about the best route to go about the imposing task, what is not negotiable is that safety of humans and quality of the environment they live in. Predominantly private initiatives in seed development and evolution of new farm technology must give way to more government controlled programs that will have no strings attached vis-a-vis direct economic returns. Privatization of fruits of research and finance linked intellectual property regime cannot be allowed to dictate to the world the terms of utilizing the scientific results for the common good of the people inhabiting this planet.


Food grain storage -Where is the quality oversight?

If government orders can set things right, every thing in this country should have worked as they ought to have!Alas, in the scheme of things in the agenda of babus who rule this country, "ordering" is the only duty they have to perform and whether they are obeyed or implemented is none of their business!. Latest one hears is about an "order" by the Goan government to the PDS players in the state to obtain license from Delhi for grain storage to "ensure" quality of grains supplied by PDS to the card holders. What is not clear is how getting a license will improve the quality unless there is a ground level infrastructure to pick up samples, assess quality in a well equipped laboratory and haul up those who indulge in distributing unfit grains to the consumers. Here is a take on this tall order from Goan babus to the state PDS dealers. 

"Goa civil supplies department has stated that all its godowns across the state have to obtain a food safety license to ensure that quality of grains is maintained. The department has also asked for a monthly report from joint mamlatdars about damaged, inferior or infested grains found in godowns from where the grains are supplied to fair price shops through the public distribution system. The directions are mentioned in a circular issued by director of civil supplies Vikas Gaunekar.The joint mamlatdars will also have to educate fair price shop owners about maintaining quality of grains and to take measures to prevent pest infestation. There are more than a dozen godowns in the 12 talukas."

One wonders whether there has been any case in the last 2-3 decades of any food inspector daring to confront PDS system and hauling any ration shop owners or the warehouse owners (FCI or State agencies) for violating food standards? India is a country where public agencies are holy cows which cannot be touched by quality control agencies, be it food grains or the milk. If these QC agencies had done their job efficiently without fear, the quality complaints so rampant from consumers about unfit grains being supplied would not have reached Himalayan dimensions to day. Even private players manufacturing and selling sub-standard foods are rarely hauled up with annual conviction hardly in the range of 700-1000 in a country with a population of 1.2 billion! The truth is that food standards agencies in almost all states are grossly understaffed with archaic testing infrastructure though there are loud proclamations from Delhi that crores and crores of rupees have been "budgeted". Is this some sense of pessimism expressed here? Of course past experience has taught the citizens in this country to be pessimistic about every thing government says from time to time! 


Is the world giving up vegetarianism slowly/-Current trend does indicate that!

The remarkable growth of gluten-free food sector in the US and Europe is a big mystery defying any logic. Though number of people affected by gluten allergy is substantial, the galloping growth of this segment of food industry does not explain such a frenetic pace of development. According to market watchers not even 20% of the consumers buying gluten free foods really need them for health reasons. Whether the marketing hype or heavy promotion by the industry is responsible for this phenomenon is not known. Definitely superior eating quality of these products cannot be the reason as substituting gluten in many products with other ingredients does compromise on some sensory qualities! As in many cases scare about unsubstantiated health hazards of some food components on health, gets ingrained in the minds of the consumers leading to such large scale avoidance of such products. Gluten is also implicated in some health disorders like Celiac disease in a few people and many articles, most of them motivated by vested interests, appear from time to time regarding the virtues of avoiding gluten in foods by the consumers. In contrast, knowing fully well the harmful impact of consuming meat based foods regularly and the advantages inherent in plant based foods, consumers do not seem to be too much concerned leading to a situation where vegetarian food portfolio is shrinking progressively these days! One can only hope better sense will prevail on human beings regarding the dangers posed by animal foods and switch over to plant foods sooner than later. Here is a take on this puzzling market trend reported in the US and other Western countries.

"Consumer demand for products without gluten, however, is rising rapidly. Health-conscious Americans were first to avoid it in significant numbers. Sales of gluten-free food and drink there have surged from $5.4 billion to $8.8 billion over the past two years, according to Mintel, a market-research firm. They are set to grow a further 20% by 2015. Europe is now quickly catching up: there is double-digit sales growth in most countries, with Britain leading the way. This makes for tasty business. Sales in America of food untainted by gluten are forecast to grow by a further 61% by 2017, with similar increases expected in other rich countries. Shops have reshuffled their shelves and restaurants rewritten their menus to keep up with demand. Big supermarkets have been slimming down their range of vegetarian products and are stocking more gluten-free lines. Even small convenience stores in remote parts of rural Ireland and Italy now stock ranges of gluten-free bread and cakes. Restaurants, in particular, have rushed to launch menus that banish the stuff. The number of options that leave out gluten in British restaurants has tripled since 2011, says Emma Read at Horizons, a data firm. That is less because restaurateurs fear losing bookings from diners who want to avoid gluten, but more that they worry that their family and friends will not come along either. Yet some retail analysts fret that the wheat-free bubble will eventually burst, as it already has for meat substitutes. Many doctors say that only a few of the one-in-ten households that now regularly buy such products have a member with coeliac disease and a medical need to avoid gluten. But research from Monash University published last year shows that many more people may be sensitive to other allergens that are found in wheat. And according to a survey by Kantar, a research firm, only 22% of people who buy gluten-free food say they do so for non-medical reasons. This could be one foodie trend that turns out to be much more than a fad."

A fad is a fad which is bound to burst one day and this latest bubble about gluten free foods being demanded by a vast segment of the consumers will have to burst eventually. Regarding meat foods considerable efforts are needed to persuade consumers to progressively increase consumption of plant foods as meat industry cannot continue its operations in a sustainable form in the foreseeable future throwing out a plethora of problems vis-a-vis human health and environmental degradation. Attempts to create artificial meat through biotechnology is a welcome effort but it will ever be economically feasible is doubtful. Whether consumers will accept such products is another imponderable factor. In the long run humanity has no alternative but to switch over to plant foods which only can sustain this planet. It is better that the food industry world over gets reconciled to this truth and work on a long term strategy to expand its plant food portfolio as quickly as possible.


Sunday, October 26, 2014


When antibiotic resistant bacterial pathogens emerged in Western countries, many took solace that it would not happen in India. But if recent reports are to be believed India is on the threshold of such a contingency it the present poultry farming practices are any indication. Use of popular antibiotic drugs, commonly prescribed by physicians to cure illnesses among human beings, by poultry farmers is a controversial subject with many health experts claiming that constant exposure to such antibiotics lead to many pathogens learning to over come the lethal effect of these vital drugs over a period of time. It is true that there are a few strains of pathogenic bacteria which are not killed by any of the known antibiotics leading to a situation where human lives are exposed to fatal dangers. According to some investigative journalists, Indian farmers have also learned how to "fatten" their birds by administering sub-lethal doses of some antibiotics and the processed meat from them often contain antibiotic residues which are consumed regularly by the consumers without being aware of the adverse consequences of the same. Since there are no stringent regulations which are enforced, this undesirable practice is spreading fast in the industry. Here is a take on this critical issue. 

"Poultry farmers can now afford to count their profits before their chickens hatch — and they are big, with chickens weighing on average twice as much as they did 50 years ago. The broiler chicken of today, a product of controlled breeding, weighs around 2.2kg as compared to 1.2kg before 1960, say veterinarians and chicken farm owners. Contract farming started in India in the early 1960s, taking over from multi-breed coops that contained birds of various breeds and ages. Contract farming involves the industrialised breeding chickens of the same age and variety.This method of poultry farming employs improved feed formulations and vaccination, says R Prabhakaran, former vice-chancellor of Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University. "Selective breeding has increased livability of the birds," he said. "Since the 1960s mortality rate of chickens has reduced from 10% to 2% due to improved nutrition and hygiene in farms." The downside of scientific poultry farming is that medication administered to the birds may find their way to the table. A study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in July showed that one in two chickens in the country had antibiotic contamination. Farms give chickens feed mixed with antibiotics that act as growth promoters. Most stop the antibiotics a few days before slaughter. This allows the birds to flush out the remnants of the antibiotics. "Farms should ideally not feed birds antibiotics at least 10 days before slaughter," Prabhakaran said. Because farms seldom follow this, antibiotic residue in meat passes on to humans. Scientists have shown that large-scale use of antibiotics by the poultry industry has caused antibiotic resistance in people who eat chicken regularly, leaving them vulnerable to a range of bacterial infections. Scientists have shown that large-scale use of antibiotics by the poultry industry has caused antibiotic resistance in people who eat chicken regularly, leaving them vulnerable to a range of bacterial infections. Chickens also pass on residue of antibiotics through their faeces, which may spread through water and soil and eventually end up in crops, putting even vegetarians at risk of antibiotic resistance."

Though stopping feeding of antibiotic tweeted feed materials can be stopped 10 days before processing the birds to avoid significant presence of residues, there is no guarantee that the meat from such birds would be free from antibiotics. Regular consumption of such meats can also destroy some beneficial microbes in the intestine causing over all decrease in immunity. Besides the poultry excreta and waste which at present are not scientifically disposed off, also contain significant amounts of antibiotic residues which can potentially contaminate the soil and water. A country like the US is mulling over this issue and remedial measures are being seriously considered. Probably alternate set of antibiotics, which are not used by humans can be considered for use by the animal food industry which can considerably reduce the dangers of further evolution of antibiotic resistant pathogens in future.



When FDI in retailing was permitted in India, every one thought that the small "pop and mom" stores would disappear from the Indian landscape. This Blogger was the one who argued that the super market chains can never compete with the unorganized retail sector in the foreseeable future, given their great resilience and personal type of service they offered to the Indian consumer. Though it is almost one and a half decades since organized retailing giants entered this business, none of them could become viable even to day! Their share in the retail market is a paltry 5% which is too insignificant to make any dent. Here comes a supporting report which talks about the decline of super markets in the UK during the last 10 years. 

"And yet a decade on, the supermarket sector is in meltdown. An overstatement? Hardly. In the cool-headed assessment of the Grocermagazine, the most authoritative voice on UK food retail, "consumers are abandoning supermarkets in their droves". Tesco, once the darling of the stock market, the government's pet performing British company, is in the most acute distress. From January to June this year, its profits crashed by 92%. Investigators have yet to plumb the depths of the big black hole in its books. Morrisons is also in a bad way – its pre-tax profit for the six months to August was halved. Sainsbury's share price has dropped. Even the supposedly trend-bucking Waitrose cannot be complacent: its profits for the first half of this year slumped by 9.4%. Overall, sales at the "big four" supermarkets – Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and Morrisons – have been stagnant, or in decline, since last May, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics. Rating agency Moody's predicts that their profit margins and sales will shrink further. Two German discount chains, Aldi and Lidl, acted as the immediate nemesis of the fat, smug, greedy status quo of British food retail. They dealt a deadly blow to our familiar chains by exposing just how expensive they really are and continue to shave grocery market share off them. Before the discounters appeared, most British consumers swallowed the attractive proposition that UK supermarkets offer unbeatable value for money. In truth, they overcharge routinely, putting a minimum 30% mark-up on everything they sell, although the most egregious margins are systematically squeezed from sales of fruit and vegetables."

One of the strongest arguments while opening the sector to FDI was that foreign players would assure about their operations being able to support poor farmers of this country. Above report speaks about the power of the super market chains to force consumers to buy only those products with high profit margins and how healthy foods like fruits are vegetables are priced sky high! While many western countries have traveled a long way to confer almost invincibility to their retail chains by spreading their wings across the country eliminating small retailers totally, now they have nothing to fall back on even if consumers want to boycott them! In that way India is blessed with almost 8 million small stores distributed evenly through out the country and discerning consumers are likely to go back to these family friendly shops once disenchanted with the mechanical approach and impersonal attitudes of the big retailers. Hail the small fellow around the corner of our house who has been providing useful grocery service in the past and will continue to do it in spite of any move by the government to bring in large players in the name of farmers and efficiency of operation.