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.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Adulteration of foods-Is it rampant in India?

Look at a recent report by the FSSAI, 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 "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.   

Monday, January 25, 2016

Use of Opium to season food preparations-Latest food scare in China

It is not easy to forget the greatest food fraud in China which occurred a few years ago killing and maiming hundreds of unsuspecting children after consuming baby foods made from milk adulterated with the toxic Melamine, a polymer material used in varnishes. Unfortunately the fraudsters are still alive and kicking in that country with the government, though considered a totalitarian regime, not able to do much to weed them out from the society. Latest scandal to emerge involves use of the intoxicant Opium to season some of the food preparations served in reputed restaurants. Opium in limited quantities are used to treat certain disease conditions but for a normal person to consume it regularly is unthinkable as this opioid is a habit forming one.making customers addicts.  Here is a take on this unfortunate episode reported recently from China.

"Thirty-five restaurants in China selling popular dishes and snacks were found to have used opium poppies as a seasoning, China's top food safety regulator said. Owners of 25 of the restaurants have been transferred to public security departments for criminal investigation, the China Food and Drug Administration said last Thursday. The other 10 are under investigation by the administration. The restaurants include some that are locally well known, including Huda Restaurant in Beijing, which specialises in spicy crayfish. Adding opium poppies to dishes violates China's Food Safety Law, which forbids the selling of food made with non-food materials or chemicals, except for food additives. Violations could result in fines or criminal penalties. The regulator called on local food and drug authorities to punish those involved and to cooperate with public security departments to find the sources of the poppies. It also required food and drug authorities to intensify supervision and inspection of restaurants that sell food like fried chicken and noodles. Professor of food safety and nutrition Luo Yunbo, at the China Agricultural University, said opium causes addiction and serious harm to health if overused, and it is banned from use in food in China. "There are so many restaurants in China and it is very difficult to effectively inspect every one of them to ensure they follow the law," he said."

What is galling is that irrational statements are being made regarding the impossibility of preventing such malpractices in the catering sector. Is it not the responsibility of the State to give protection to its citizens whatever may the cost or difficulties? What are the food safety personnel doing there if they cannot discharge their surveillance responsibility and why the government is soft on these criminals, instead of putting them in jails for long terms besides confiscating their properties? Though only 35 restaurants in Beijing so far have been found to be delinquents, this practice might be widespread through out the country because of the long term gains these eateries will have by making their regular customers more and more addicted to their food preparations! It is regrettable for any one to obfuscate by saying such practices can be weeded out only through education which presupposes that those indulging in such practices are innocent and illiterates! No doubt food safety surveillance is a heavy responsibility on all governments but showing helplessness is nothing but abdication of their duty of protecting the citizens through convincing and trust inspiring action.  

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Is exercise irrelevant for good health? Some seem to think quality of food is more important!

We are being bombarded day in and day out about the crucial importance of physical exercise in maintaining a good health. Of course mention about a "bad" diet invariably is obscured, probably because there are powerful vested interests and influential lobbyists who always get the ears of the policy makers and even biased scientists. It is still fresh in our memories what the CEO of a giant multinational beverages (soda) company said when the industry was criticised for marketing zero calorie products like soft drinks containing only sugar and her argument was that those who take high calorie foods are at the risk of contracting obesity because of their sedentary way of life. Though exercise is important for toning up the body, more crucial is a balanced diet which only can ensure healthy life. What does one understand by a healthy diet? Simply put take more of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses and white meat and fish and avoid imbalanced foods and drinks like white flour based products, sugar dominated beverages, excessive fried foods etc. The issue is amply clarified by a respected journal emanating from the UK and read it carefully to appreciate this line of argument.

"An editorial published Wednesday by the British Journal of Sports Medicine argues diets high in sugars and carbohydrates are largely to blame for the obesity crisis, and do more harm than inactivity, alcohol and smoking combined. "Let us bust the myth of physical inactivity and obesity. You cannot outrun a bad diet," the editorial concludes. Published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the editorial accuses the food industry of persuading people that inactivity, rather than poor diet, is the primary cause of obesity and related illnesses such as diabetes. "The public health messaging around diet and exercise, and their relationship to the epidemics of type 2 diabetes and obesity, has been corrupted by vested interests. Celebrity endorsements of sugary drinks, and the association of junk food and sport, must end," the editorial states. The editorial also takes issue with the idea that all calories are equal — that 150 calories from sugar or carbohydrates equal the same number of calories from fat or protein. It states sugar calories promote fat storage and hunger, while fat calories cause fullness. It takes a similarly dim view of other carbohydrates, stating that restricting carbohydrates should be the first step in managing diabetes, and that even athletes don't benefit from loading up on carbohydrates."

Can we blame the food industry for the faultline that is becoming increasingly becoming clear day by day when people run after foods that stimulate their taste buds rather than their instinct for survival by moderating their consumption? Industry cannot be expected to be working for charity as they have a responsibility to their shareholders to bring in attractive returns for capital invested. With our knowledge about healthiness of foods, it is easy for the industry to come up with recipes and formulations which can ensure sound health. But the million dollar question that begs for an answer is whether people will patronize such products if they do not tinkle their taste buds providing excitement to the pleasure centers in the brain? Industry can change its course only if there is a universal consensus among its members regarding what products they should not make based on sound health considerations. Or there must be mandatory controls for restricting certain foods proven to be unhealthy by the government regulators which is unlikely because of legal considerations. Most ideally it would be the will power of the consumers to shun products considered unhealthy thus putting pressure on the industry to change their product portfolio with increasing health improving potential. The warning that exercise is not a panacea for good health but quality of diet has much more to do with good health is timely indeed.   .  

Monday, January 18, 2016

Declaration of "added" sugar on the label of packaged foods -What are the implications?

Rightly or wrongly white sugar has been considered as one of the culprits responsible for some of the worst life style disorders including diabetes and obesity. Though there is no unanimity as to the minimum daily need for sugar in human beings, the fact is that it is a major contributor of calories directly or indirectly through both added sugar as well as derived sugar from carbohydrates consumed as a part of the diet. It is more or less agreed that there is a significant difference between empty calories as represented by sugar, HFCS and refined carbohydrates and nutrient dense calorie sources like sugars present in fruits, whole grains, legumes and other natural foods.  Therefore making a distinction between added sugar by the manufacturers during processing and naturally present sugar makes eminent sense. Presence of about 50 grams of added sugar in the food we consume daily is considered harmless by many health experts and therefore asking the industry to make declaration about it in the label will help the consumer to exercise better discretion regarding the purchase of processed foods. This issue is now coming to the fore and whether the industry will voluntarily agree to this just demand remains to be seen. Here is a take on this new development in the labeling area and its implications on consumer well being. 

"Americans have a sweet tooth, and the obesity and diabetes rates to prove it. The best way to help people eat less sugar is to let them know how much of it is in their foods. Yet a sensible plan to inform consumers about the amount of sugar added to packaged products is under fire from the food industry and politicians. The Food and Drug Administration should stand strong and stick with the plan when it issues its final rules later this year. The FDA has proposed requiring a new line in the nutrition label for "added sugars"— just below the line for total sugar. The label may also specify how much of the recommended daily allowance of added sugars the product contains, out of a maximum of roughly 12 teaspoons. Added sugar deserves a line of its own because it's empty calories. Many nutritious products contain natural sugars: A cup of cherries or grapes can have more than 15 grams, and a cup of 1 per cent milk has 13 grams. Yet this sugar comes along with essential nutrients; that glass of milk contains 16 per cent of the protein a healthy adult needs each day, and 30 per cent of the calcium. In contrast, refined cane sugar, corn syrup and the like that are added to foods and drinks during processing (also called "free sugars") offer no additional nutrients. Americans now get about 13 per cent of their daily calories from them, largely through soda and other beverages, breakfast cereals and frozen desserts. A can of Coca-Cola has more than 9 teaspoons (39 grams) of added sugars. But even products not considered sweet contain them; a tablespoon of ketchup has about 4 grams. A study of 80,000 products on supermarket shelves found that 58 per cent contained added sugar. And while total US consumption has declined in recent years, only 30 per cent of Americans eat less added sugar than the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend. The food industry has three objections to the labelling requirement. The first is that Americans won't know what to make of the information about added sugar. That may be true, but neither were many Americans familiar with trans fats when they were added to nutrition labels in 2006. And since that rule was passed, thanks also to greater media attention and information campaigns, people cut their consumption of trans fats by more than 75 per cent. (Last year the FDA decided to ban them altogether.) In any case, if most consumers won't pay attention, what do food manufacturers stand to lose from the disclosure? Food makers also argue that the science suggesting that added sugars should be limited is not settled. And it's true there's not a lot of good data on added sugar's connection to health problems. But there's significant evidence that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is linked with obesity. And after reviewing the evidence on added sugars, the federal Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee found there was a strong correlation with diabetes and obesity, and a moderate correlation with hypertension, stroke and dental problems. Finally, food makers object that almost all packaged-food labels already list added sugars. That's technically true, but the industry engages in all sorts of tricks to hide them, for example by including several different types in a single product so that they appear as low as possible in the ingredients list, which is organized by weight in descending order."

It appears the food safety authorities in the US are considering revamping of the present label content on packaged foods so as to include a provision to declare how much sugar has been added by the manufacturer. This hopefully will make the consumers aware of the same for better selection of products during their visit to the market. The logic is that consumers would shy away from those products containing high levels of sugar prompting the industry to modify the product formulations to reduce added sugar. However such an exercise will have no meaning if the consumers are not informed as to the maximum daily sugar intake that is ideal from the health angle. The highly hostile reaction by the industry can be understood because of the challenge thrown at them to come up with products containing less and less sugar. But in the interest of the well being of the consumer. Industry must fall in line if it has to overcome the trust deficit that is evident to day. Afterall the present technological base is so strong that there is nothing which cannot be accomplished and reformulation of many sugar containing products to reduce the added sugar will not be a major technical problem. One uncertainty is how the regulators can distinguish between natural sugar and added sugar in a product when it comes to regulatory protocols. This issue needs to be considered more carefully before making such label changes mandatory.  

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Detecting chemical toxicity in foods-An "out of the box" approach

Food safety is a concern that affects the entire world and many advances in testing methods have enabled the food industry to improve the safety of the products made by it through deploying these advanced and highly sensitive analytical technologies and electronic instruments. A recent report from Hong Kong speaks of assay technique that can detect a "thousand" toxins of different nature in any given sample. It sounds like a magic when the innovators say that the fish embryo they are using for testing give tell-tell visible signs of presence of toxins pretty fast. No doubt this is a welcome development that deserves appreciation if what they claim is true. Here is a take on this new claims by the developers of the new test protocol.

"A Hong Kong-based startup called Vitargent sees hope in a food-testing technology centered around fish embryos, which would enable scientists to detect contaminants and poisons in everything from food and beverages to makeup and body lotion.The test that they've developed using the tiny fish can allegedly detect more than 1,000 different toxic substances, a giant leap from existing processes that only give results for five to ten toxins at a time. Vitargent is using engineered embryos of oryzias—also known as Japanese ricefish or medaka—which either develop tumors or turn fluorescent in the presence of certain dangerous chemicals and other additives. In the presence of bisphenol-A, for example—the dreaded BPA your water bottle promises not to contain—the fish will light up like a glowstick, thanks to a jellyfish gene that's been spliced into their genomes. The company's founder and executive director Eric Chentold the South China Morning Post that the fish have a similar DNA structure to humans, and react the same way to toxins. Chen sees a huge opportunity for this chemical-detection method in China, and his company hopes to institute its testing regimen throughout the region. "Businesses are so creative they will add anything you can imagine to our food and drink," he told the Post".

Though the claims are highly impressive, proof of the same has to come from independent assessors out side Hong Kong. Probably since it is a commercial venture very little technical information would be available but testing the fish for its ability to detect different toxins can be easily verified by independent trials. Of course since it is based on the use of live fish embryo, there is a need to maintain an aquarium to breed Japanese rice fish for getting the embryos for use in the test. What is not clear is the type of toxins which are detectable using this test though BPA has been mentioned as one of the toxins that can be detected. This new test might have far reaching impact if it can detect presence of different pesticides or chemical toxicants like acrylamide or other leachates from the various packaging materials used by the food industry.


The GMO fiasco in the US-What policy inertia and succumbing to GMO lobby can do to harm agriculture

Genetically modified agricultural crops (GMO) are always mired in controversy ever since this biotechnology enabled many crops to be genetically altered to confer some benefits compared to their natural counterparts. Hundreds of countries realizing the risks involved in allowing such man-modified crops in their countries banned the same pending establishing their absolute safety for human consumption. The only country which embraced the GMO technology without caring about the well being of its citizens is the US where the vice-like grip the GMO lobby has on the government saw to it that Americans are provided only GMO foods in the market through absence of any policy that could have regulated the industry. The result is that 80% of the diet of an average citizen there is made up of GMO products. While the safety of GMO foods is still being debated, what is galling is that the citizens are compelled indirectly to consume GMO foods denying them their to choose what they want to eat! One of the issues that confronted the organic food industry and the farmers who wanted to avoid GMO crops is how to protect their crops from cross contamination from nearby fields where GMO crops are raised. The authorities who vouchsafed that such contamination would not happen have eggs on their face by the recent reports that GMO genes are spreading far and wide causing great losses to traditional farmers, especially those involved in exports as wide spread contaminations were noticed in a crop like alfalfa. What a fiasco this is turning out to be for a country which boasts of an enormous technological base as far agricultural technologies are concerned. Read further on this unfortunate developments that can have great implications for that country.        

"A recent study by USDA scientists shows that genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa has gone wild, in a big way, in alfalfa-growing parts of the West.  This feral GE alfalfa may help explain a number of transgenic contamination episodes over the past few years that have cost American alfalfa growers and exporters millions of dollars in lost revenue.  And it also exposes the failure of USDA's "coexistence" policy for GE and traditional crops. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) has long maintained that genetically engineered (GE) crops can co-exist with traditional and organic agriculture.  According to this "co-existence" narrative, if neighboring GE and traditional farmers just sort things out among themselves and follow "best management practices," transgenes will be confined to GE crops and the fields where they are planted. The latest evidence refuting USDA's co-existence fairytale comes from arecently published study by a team of USDA scientists.  The study involved Monsanto's Roundup Ready alfalfa, which, like most GE crops in the U.S. is engineered to survive direct spraying with Roundup, Monsanto's flagship herbicide. In 2011 and 2012, USDA scientist Stephanie Greene and her team scouted the roadsides of three important alfalfa-growing areas – in California, Idaho and Washington – for feral (wild) alfalfa stands.  Because alfalfa is a hardy perennial plant, it readily forms self-sustaining feral populations that persist for years wherever the crop is grown. Greene and colleagues found 404 feral alfalfa populations on roadsides.  Testing revealed that over one-quarter (27%) of them contained transgenic alfalfa – that is, plants that tested positive for the Roundup Ready gene.  They believe that most of these feral populations likely grew from seeds spilled during alfalfa production or transport. However, the researchers also found clear evidence that the Roundup Ready gene was being spread by bees, which are known to cross-pollinate alfalfa populations separated by up to several miles.  Their results suggested that "transgenic plants could spread transgenes to neighboring feral plants, and potentially to neighboring non-GE fields" (emphasis added).  While they did not test this latter possibility, there is no doubt that non-GE alfalfa has in fact been transgenically contaminated – not just once, but on many occasions. In 2013, a Washington State farmer's alfalfa was rejected by a broker after testing revealed transgenic contamination.  In 2014, China rejected numerous U.S. alfalfa shipments that tested positive for the Roundup Ready gene.  Alfalfa exports to China, a major market that has zero tolerance for GE alfalfa, fell dramatically.  U.S. hay prices fell, and at least three U.S. alfalfa exporters suffered many millions of dollars in losses. Both the Washington State farmer and those who sold to the exporters intended to grow only traditional alfalfa.  It is not clear how their produce became contaminated.  Besides cross-pollination from GE feral or cultivated alfalfa, possible explanations include inadvertent mixing during harvest or storage, or (most insidiously) transgenic contamination of the conventional alfalfa seed they planted. What makes the high (27%) GE contamination rate found in this study so remarkable is how little GE alfalfa produced it.  USDA first approved Roundup Ready alfalfa in 2005, and it occupied just 1% of national alfalfa acreage in 2006.  A federal court prohibited new plantings starting in 2007, but allowed what had already been planted to remain in the ground (an alfalfa stand is typically grown for about five years).  Because this study was conducted just a few months after the re-approval of GE alfalfa in 2011, all of the feral GE alfalfa the researchers detected arose from the comparatively few fields planted in 2005 and 2006.  There is much more GE alfalfa being grown now (Monsanto says 30% of alfalfa seed sold is GE).  So there is likely much more feral GE alfalfa today than is suggested by this study."

Of course the legal communities of lawyers and advocates can be expected to have a roaring time taking up the causes of affected farmers making millions of dollars as compensation. But a larger question is who will take the responsibility for this fiasco-the government which approved the cultivation of GMO crops or the biotech industry which sold the seeds? Can the country controll the wild spread of GMO genes with respect to other commercial crops also?  One is reminded of a recent assertion by a much decorated Indian agricultural scientist that Government must allow GMO crops to be cultivated in the country though wiser counsel has prevailed over the government, at least for the time being. We should not be surprised if the global biotech giants ultimately buy out the government as well as some of the vulnerable scientists to toe their line at some point of time and if that happens it will be a sad day for the country..