Thursday, November 26, 2009


Banana fruit is liked by many though it undergoes very little processing as most of the production goes for consumption in fresh form. Multinational monopolists like Dole of the US control global trade in Banana using highly developed technologies for packing, preserving and transporting, with assured premium quality. Famous names in Banana trade include Chiquita, Del Monte, Dole and Fyffes. Some of the products developed over the years that include preserved puree, dehydrated fingers, fruit bar, clarified juice etc have no significant market. The psuedostem, about 2.5 m to 8 meter long and leaves as long as 3.5 meter are field wastes generated during harvesting and their economic utilization will improve the viability of banana production very significantly. Here is a new avenue for using the wastes for producing veneers and fiber boards.

"ASX-listed Papyrus last month unveiled its Beleaf-branded banana veneer and banana fibre board products at the Monaco Yacht Show, Europe's top trade show for furniture, internal fittings, flooring and other architectural products. Beleaf is the registered trademark for a branded range of water-resistant, fire-retardant veneer and fibre products manufactured from banana trees using Papyrus' patent-protected technology. Papyrus' successful European launch at Monaco generated widespread media coverage due to the environmentally sustainable nature of the Papyrus process and the unique qualities of the banana veneer and banana fibre board products".

How far such projects are economically viable is an issue to be considered carefully. Earlier efforts in extracting starch from banana psuedostem which contains less than 1% starch were abandoned on this count. Manufacture of textile goods from banana fiber, originating in Japan in the 13th century is still being practiced in India to a limited extent. Though India accounts for almost 25% of world production of this fruit, the export trade estimated at 1 million tons, is dominated by countries like Ecuador, where multinational companies have invested heavily in developing large plantations and pseudostem based industry has a better chance to be established. Probably if the products created using the pseudostem can command high prices, banana fruit may possibly end up as a by-product!



An enlightened consumer ( not misinformed) can be an asset to the food industry as it will save them from unsubstantiated insinuations by vested interests and any mechanism that can educate the consumer regarding the multi dimensional nature of food is bound to be helpful. This is currently being done by some NGOs, many of them, being marginally better in terms of real time information about many aspects of food. In an age where consumer is continuously being bombarded with saturation promotional commercials on the small screen, many of them utterly non-nonsensical and unscientific, there is a necessity to present the real picture through a mechanism with wide access. Launch of an authentic web site dedicated to bringing out facts and figures about the food that is consumed every day is a welcome development

"Did you know that one in four Americans report a foodborne illness annually? How about the fact that nearly 200 food recalls are made in the U.S. each year? These are a few of the food safety facts from the newly designed "Got to be N.C. Food Safety" Web site at, that is one of three new ways to get information on food safety, laws and news. The Food and Drug Protection Division of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services also has a toll-free number and e-mail address to provide consumers, retailers, producers and educators with answers to their food safety questions".

Probably the FSSAI, the food safety arm of GOI must address this issue and MFPI can consider starting a dedicated TV channel for this purpose. If such a channel, especially an interactive one, is put in place, consumers will have an authentic source of information on different aspects of food. While launching such a channel, industry cooperation can be sought to present the intricate details of food processing in their facilities.


Modern nutritional concepts speak of balanced foods which only can ensure sustained growth and freedom from health disorders due to deficiencies and over dose of some of the food components like fat, sugar and salt. Proteins, fats, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, micro nutrients like vitamins and minerals and essential amino acids and fatty acids must be present in balanced proportion in the diet we consume daily. Though there could be minor variations vis-à-vis the RDA of various nutrients for different people, generally the universally accepted guidelines can be safely followed for a healthy life. Can there be exception to the established tenets of nutrition as we know to day? Here is a claim that one can live on sugar alone without any serious repercussions!

"Mr. Rudnick is the living proof. At 51, 5-foot-10 and an enviably lean 150 pounds, Mr. Rudnick does not square with the inevitable mental image of a man who has barely touched a vegetable other than candy corn in nearly a half-century. Apparently, one can not only live on a dessert island, but can also do it happily and long".

Probably the report may be a hoax but the fact that such a claim is made calls for efforts to substantiate the claim. A more exhaustive study on the metabolic aberration that could have caused such a situation only can reveal the truth.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Alarm bells are ringing for the beef industry after the sensational revelation about the prevalent practice of feeding cows with poultry industry waste. Though this is not a new development as such a practice was going on for ages, putting it in focus by consumer groups, gives it a different dimension. During olden days rural farms had dairying, meat animals, poultry birds, pig rearing, fish ponds etc making them self reliant in terms of most of the inputs for running the farm. Only recently such practices are being frowned upon because of its impact on safety of the foods coming out of such farms. Probably the avian flu, swine flu, mad cow disease and others which are constant threats to the organized animal farms are making the industry doubly careful about their operations.

"Farmers feed 1 million to 2 million tons of poultry litter to their cattle annually, according to FDA estimates. Using the litter -- which include feces, spilled chicken feed, feathers and poultry farm detritus -- increases the risk of cows becoming infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease. That's because the spilled chicken feed and the feces contain tissue from ruminants -- cows and sheep, among other mammals. The disease is transmitted through feeding ruminant remains to cattle. It takes a very small quantity of ruminant protein, even just 1 milligram, to cause an infection,"

Whether the food safety authorities will be convinced about need for putting in place a ban on use of poultry litter as part of the feeding regime for beef animals, which are processed into various consumer products, remains to be seen. Mad cow disease is not known to cause any safety problem, though many cows were destroyed during the peak season of this disease. Such a ban may affect the economics of meat production to some extent because new feed sources may be more expensive than poultry litter. How ever, if it poses real threat in terms of safety, restrictive action is inevitable..


It is natural for any land and resource starved country to look for new opportunities to expand production of food and ensure food security to the citizens. The inter country land leasing system, increasingly being popular, is supposed to serve the mutual interests of both the lessor as well as the lessee but is attracting wide spread criticism from many quarters as it was felt that it accentuates the hunger problem in the leasing countries because the food produced by the lessee is often exported resulting in net reduction in food availability locally. Such a realization amongst the Africans is reflected by the recent uttering by some of the leading lights of the continent in the just concluded Food Summit at Rome.

"Libya's Muammar Gaddafi called for an end to the purchase of African farmland by food-importing nations at a U.N. hunger summit on Monday, describing it as new feudalism which could spread to Latin America as well. 'Rich countries are now buying the land in Africa. They are cheating African people out of their rights. This is also going to happen in Latin America ... ,' he told the summit, which was mostly attended by African and Latin American leaders".

Probably the views of Md Gaddafi may be too harsh but there is some substance in his stand that the lessor countries are not getting a fair deal in this uneven business arrangement. The fact that more inputs of technologies and other resources into lands which were not very productive, are being deployed and increased productivity is achieved, cannot be refuted. Probably it is the right forum to express what is needed to correct any distortion as the Summit is attended by almost all countries under the UN and if justice is to be done, a fair mechanism needs to be evolved under an international protocol equitable to all.


Saturday, November 21, 2009


While the global sugar market is all excited about impending large scale purchase of sugar by India which may push up the price significantly in the coming months, a turf war is going on in the US between traditional farmers of sugar beets and those opting for its GM version which may have further bearing on international sugar price. About 50% of sugar in the US is produced by the farmers who cultivate genetically modified sugar beets and the legal wrangle that is brewing may see the courts stopping use of GM seeds till a preview is completed by the government regarding safety and other issues raised by the traditional farmers.

"Organic growers have raised similar concerns about genetically engineered soy beans, corn and other crops. This time they're looking to tip the balance back. They spearheaded a lawsuit charging the USDA approved Roundup Ready sugar beets without assessing potential environmental impacts, like genetic contamination and herbicide resistance. In September, a federal judge ordered the USDA to do the environmental review. It could take years. In the meantime, the farmers and their allies are headed back to court".

It is ironical that sugar which is being blamed for all the health afflictions currently being experienced in the US should be the center of such a controversy. USA has been in the forefront in promoting GM crops with major seed companies like Monsanto enjoying monopoly in seed supplies. If India is going to buy sugar in significant volumes, it may be prudent to avoid American sugar till such time there is unanimity regarding its safety.


Friday, November 20, 2009


Australians are always pulled between Asia and the West causing literally an identity crisis for this continent inhabited by the ethnic aborigines and the colonized westerners. It is increasingly being realized that its proximity to Asian countries and the vast market opportunities in countries like China, Thailand, Korea, Vietnam etc are factors that force the country to identify more with the East than the West.

"Australia's food, beverage and grocery industries turn over 100 billion dollars (91 billion U.S. dollars), employ 315,000 Australians and export 25 billion dollars (23 billion U.S. dollars) worth of goods each year, representing 25 percent of total manufactured exports," Byrne was speaking at the Australian Food and Grocery Council Industry Leaders Conference".

How far this country will be able to compete with the three Asia giants China, Japan and India remains to be seen. Technologically Australia is considered more advanced than its Asian counterparts, except may be Japan and this factor may still help it in carving out significant markets in Asia. High consciousness about quality and technical prowess in world class food assessment system are its inherent strength. Sizable population of immigrants from China, India and other Asian neighbors will help it further in establishing itself as a dependable trade partner.


To days world is dominated by plastics made from petrochemicals and it is difficult to imagine a future without plastics around. Use of plastics is directly proportional to the affluence levels of nations and as can be expected, the US is the biggest producer and user of plastics in practically every thing which include food and beverage packing materials, water packing, electronics, building products, water piping and taps, furniture and furnishings, vehicles, planes, toys and medical devices. It is now realized that the world has to pay for its indiscriminate use of plastics as billions of tons of used plastics are floating around or lying in garbage dumps because only an insignificant portion of used plastics is recycled. Since it takes more than 700 years to be destroyed completely, the quantity of used plastics that will accumulate, is bound to increase manifold in the coming years. There may be some substance in the argument that there must be legal control of plastic manufacture, recycling, disposal and development of new plastics.

"Given the proven health threat posed by some plastics, the scattershot and weak regulation of the plastics industry, and the enormous environmental costs of plastics — the plastics industry accounts for 5 percent of the nation's consumption of petroleum and natural gas, and more than 1 trillion pounds of plastic wastes now sit in U.S. garbage dumps — the time has come to pass a comprehensive national plastics control law".

It is shocking that an average US citizen uses about 100 kg of plastics every year and the dependence on plastics there is so strong that a population of 300 million consume more than 30 billion bottles of packed water during an year!. What is galling is every developing country is following the "plastic" path, without realizing the damage it can do in the long run to their people and the environment. If such a trend goes on without being checked now, a day is not far off to see the entire world getting choked with plastics with no way out.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


India is invariably compared to China in all its endeavors and the latter always score over the latter when it comes to performance and achievements in almost all fields. Here is a peep into the Chinese food sector as reported recently.

The world's most populous country is a net exporter of food and drink, with exports in volume terms worth between 25 million and 30 million tonnes. By value, exports were worth just over US$31bn (A$33.2b) in 2008. Whilst the most significant overseas markets for the Chinese food and drinks industry include nearby Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea and Malaysia, the country is also a major exporter of food and drink to the US, EU countries and Russia. The country's growing significance as a supplier to the global food and drinks industry is mainly the result of its economic performance, together with the development of its domestic food industry. The Chinese economy has been experiencing double-digit increases in recent years, although lower growth is forecast for 2009 as a result of the global economic downturn and its effect on China's overseas export markets. Much of the recent economic growth has occurred in coastal provinces, which has resulted in up to 200 million rural labourers and their dependents moving to urban locations. China's food and drinks industry has developed in line with the country's economy. By value, food industry output has increased by more than 150% between 2004 and 2008, whilst its food retail market has witnessed a shift away from more traditional outlets such as wet markets to modern grocery stores. Such shifts have seen the food industry - particularly large American firms - gravitate toward Chinese expansion in order to capture higher growth rates than they can achieve in developed markets".

In contrast India, in spite of being one of the top producers of agricultural, poultry and livestock based foods, does not count in the global arena when it comes to export of foods, not being able to capture even 1% of global trade in foods. Of course the political system that operates in China is autocratic while India is an over- democratized country where decision taking is hampered by lack of consensus and a moribund bureaucracy. How these restraints can be overcome for India to reach its full potential is a million dollar question!



What a determined food safety agency can achieve is demonstrated by UAE through systematic inspection of food chains, retailers, eateries, meat shops etc which can cause damage to the consumers if the products they are peddling are below the safety standards prescribed. The Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, in its recent compliance, has claimed closure of several establishments, imposing fines on safety violators and destruction of sub-standard imported foods at the port of entry itself. Such a reputation for the Authority can be an effective deterrent for future potential violators and consumer confidence on the ability of the agency to protect them increases manifold.

"There were almost 3,000 inspections of restaurants, meat counters, schools, hotels and factories, with 460 warnings being issued, down from more than 1,100 during Ramadan and Eid. The food authority had stepped up its safety campaign during the holy month in anticipation of increased demand for food products. Mr al Reyaysa said he expected fewer food safety problems in the winter than in the summer, when the scorching heat can spoil food".

The system in place imposes graded punishments by first issuing a warning, then levying fines and finally issuing closure notice for repeat violators. The Authority also may also publish the details about those who compromise on food safety for the benefit of the consumers which can create a backlash in the form of boycott of their products. While it is not the intention to terrorize the industry and the retailing players, those who mend their ways are rehabilitated by allowing to reopen the closed units after rectifying the violations for which they were punished.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009


For succeeding in the market, management pundits do not consider any means as unfair. To some extent playing around with the economic quality of a product can be tolerated, but when it comes to consumer safety blatant violations should never be condoned. Money cannot be more precious than lives of human beings and those who opt for "money at any cost" deserve to be accorded the severest forms of punishment that exist in the statute book. With food safety issues bedeviling every country, it is time the vested agencies overhaul their surveillance and punishment protocols with no mercy on defaulters.

"The Food and Drug Administration is challenging makers of alcohol-infused energy drinks to prove their beverages are safe, citing complaints that the products can cause risky behavior and injury. The FDA issued a letter Friday to 30 beverage manufacturers, giving them 30 days to provide evidence that the combination of caffeine and alcohol is safe. FDA has listed caffeine only as an ingredient for use in soft drinks. The agency has not approved caffeine for use in alcoholic beverages. FDA officials stressed they have not reached a conclusion about the safety of beverages like Joose and Charge. Instead they are questioning the companies' legal rationale for marketing the products. There are some unusual safety questions raised by the addition of caffeine to these alcoholic beverages. So the burden is on the companies to provide evidence that supports the conclusion this use is safe."

First of all the so called energy drinks, atrociously priced, attractively branded and promoted heavily, should have no place in the menu of a normal healthy person. After all the energy is derived in these drinks from sugar which is one of the cheapest commodities in the global market. Adding alcohol and caffeine to such ridiculous drinks in the name of value addition and better "performance" cannot be considered logical. It is puzzling as to why the authorities tolerated these products for so long!



Current wisdom that seems to be prevalent in the world is that rich countries are consuming more food than they really need and the consequences are there for all to see in the form of expanding waist lines, bulging tummies, increasing life style disorders amongst the population there. During the last one decade, some sense has prevailed on them that the culprit is consumption of high calories in the form of fat and sugar through processed foods. Conscious efforts individually and collectively are being made to cut down calories and reduce consumption of sugar and fat. It is baffling, therefore to see a country like the UK suggesting increased consumption of calories as is being reported.

"Weight conscious individuals, who religiously stick to the advised 2,000 calories a day limit for women and 2,500 for men, could be depriving themselves of food unnecessarily, the study suggests. In a major review of the official calorie advice, researchers found that these amounts could be raised as much as 16% from the guidelines developed in 1991. And this is because nutrition experts under-estimated physical activity levels in the UK and set advice on energy intake too low. A 16% increase would boost an adult's daily limit by as much as 400 calories - equal to eating a regular cheeseburger or two packets of ready-salted crisps, according to food industry bible The Grocer".

The sedentary life style that prevails now with the advent computers and the Web naturally calls for a reduced calorie intake for most of the people while there can be some engaged in heavy work requiring higher calories which they must be taking already. The logic of such a stand is hard to understand but ultimately it is the people who will decide what and how much they eat. Probably food processing industry would be the happiest lot as this raises hope for greater demand emerging for their products.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009


With halogenated hydrocarbons progressively being phased out by the refrigeration
due to their ozone depleting property, CO2 has become the most agreeable
refrigerant available
to day. Though CO2 itself is being blamed as a green
house gas, it has several useful role in
to day's industrial world. It plays
a critical role in food preservation, especially fresh produce
through modified
atmosphere storage technology. Dry ice, a by-product from alcohol industry
frozen CO2, achieved through compression but finds little use due to inconvenience inherent
in its handling. Latest development of freezers based on CO2 will go
a long way in addressing
the exacting need of the refrigeration industry.

"The system is Food Lion's first "cascading" CO2( )refrigeration cycle, which uses a single system and just
one condensing unit to refrigerate and freeze
foods. Before Kysor//Warren developed this system, grocers
CO2 refrigeration systems needed two condensing units as well as a freezer-specific system
and a refrigeration (medium temperature) specific
system. This is Kysor//Warren's first CO2( )advanced
refrigeration system in
a retail grocery store setting".

The CO2 based cooling system, if proved to be as per the expectations of the food industry
may make an immediate impact in many developed
countries where cold chain and cold storage
systems are well established and
are an integral part of the retail net work. How far this is
relevant to
countries like India with practically no worthwhile refrigeration infrastructure existing,
as of now, is to be seen.


The panic amongst food companies regarding the uproar caused by the plethora of unhealthy food products being churned out by them, containing very high sugar, salt and fat, is making them look for some cover and still market the same products after some minor tinkering. Availability of hundreds of nutrients, some synthetic, some microbiological and others extracted from edible sources has made their task easy. Products with high calorie density do not become healthy if one adds a dash of vitamins or small amounts of fiber. A genuine health food development calls for basic research, formulation studies, efficacy determination in humans and a host of other inputs. If industry feels that consumer can be fooled by the "quick approach"
in launching so called "healthy foods", it is wrong notion.

"The current trend in the food industry seems to be to take any food that people like and juice it up with vitamins, minerals and fiber so as to make all sorts of nonsense health claims, regardless of the nutritional properties of the original item. The school system should be a learning environment. We all know that children go to school to learn more than what is taught in the classroom. Socialization is a huge part of early childhood education and is not traditionally "taught" as part of a curriculum. Nutrition and eating should be the same. In whatever we model and promote within the school system, we should be able to stand behind it and say that our intentions are to teach our children how to make good choices in life".

The truth has been well spoken by the consumer who stated the obvious in the above quote. To day's children are tomorrow's citizens and if they learn and practice truth future of this planet is safe. Unfortunately the prevalent school system and curriculum are tuned to produce mechanical robots out of human beings, the social and ethical values not finding any place any where. The current talk about reforming the education system in India may not amount to much as long as the policy makers do not realize this truth.


Monday, November 16, 2009


Global warming, CO2 emission, ozone-depletion, green house gases were all meaningless expressions as far as most industrial players were concerned whose main obsession was always business viability. There appears to be a change of heart recently vis-à-vis this issue and 'save the planet" slogan is gathering more and supporters from amongst the industry. Probably long term business interests must have instilled a sense of apprehension, especially after the impact of economic recession being experienced all over the country. Here is a 180 degree about-turn by the premier business conglomerate in the US.

"Climatologists tell us that if we don't enact dramatic reductions in carbon emissions today, within 5 years we could begin facing the propagating feedback loops of runaway climate change. That would mean a disruption of food and water supplies worldwide, with the result of mass migrations, famines, and death on a scale never witnessed before. Needless to say, that would be bad for business".

It is better late than never and if a consensus emerges at the forthcoming Copenhagen climate summit, there cannot be a better gift to the Mother Nature by the humanity. A 2 degree rise in temperature through this century is being talked about as tolerable but even this can bring catastrophe on a scale not imaginable at present. The row between 'haves' and 'have nots' regarding emission limits must be settled without any further delay if the present trend of uncontrolled emissions is to be halted or reversed. Where there is a will, there is a way and one can only hope that the necessary 'will' may emerge at Copenhagen.



There is no quarrel with the market strategists that their task is to lure customers for the products churned out by their company. But the means they employ to better the bottom line of the financial health of their masters may often conflict with the principles of ethics. The latest is the attempt to rope in house wives for product promotion by many food industry giants through blogs published by them. Of course there cannot be any bar on any blogger promoting a product as long as the opinion is not for financial gain and at least in the US guidelines are being framed for advertising on the blogs to prevent such ethical questions being raised.

"But recently, these bloggers say, food companies have upped the ante, bombarding them with free trips to corporate kitchens and mountains of edible swag. Starbucks, eager to get working parents drinking its Via instant coffee, sent limousines to shuttle bloggers in New York City for a private lunch with executives. They left with bags stuffed with coffee and offers of bottomless future refills. Fast-food purveyor Taco Bell flew a group of bloggers from Maryland, Michigan and Missouri to California for a retreat this spring, paid for their lodging and let them spend the day creating new taco and burrito concoctions. Kraft Foods curried favor with mommy bloggers by bringing some to Los Angeles for the Grilled Cheese Invitational, in an effort to get online parents hungry for cheese. The rationale is pure economics. The food industry -- from restaurants to supermarkets and manufacturers -- has seen sales slide during the recession and is looking for new ways to reach customers. And the people online they want are parents".

If what is being done by the industry is not crass corruption of the consumer, what else it is? After all blogs are meant to share the views and experiences of people in different walks of life and it can be a powerful tool for education if properly harnessed. As far as India is concerned, this may not be an issue because blogging is relatively a minor activity with a small audience but with computer usage and broadband access gaining popularity it may still become a powerful medium for communication.


Sunday, November 15, 2009


Indiscriminate use of vitamins by Food and Pharma industries is receiving increasing attention from the safety authorities and consumers are taken for a ride through brash advertisements and promotional programs. Many are convinced that these isolated or synthetic micro nutrients only improve the financial health of the industry. A new dimension to this controversial issue is being scripted by the FDA of the US, when one of the manufacturers of a cold medication was hauled up for wrong claims on vitamin C with no valid scientific evidence.

"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent a warning letter Friday to Procter & Gamble Co. saying the company was illegally marketing two Vicks cold and flu medicines containing vitamin C. The FDA said the single-dose combinations of drug and dietary ingredients in Vicks DayQuil Plus Vitamin C and Vicks Nyquil Plus Vitamin C cannot be marketed legally because they have not been proven safe and effective. The agency also said it had previously determined that there was insufficient data to show vitamin C is safe and effective in preventing or treating the common cold. The FDA said it allows some over-the-counter drugs to be marketed without agency approval, but that the two Vicks products did not comply with its rules and first must be evaluated and approved under the FDA's new drug approval process".

If such a thing can happen in a country like USA, imagine what the consumers in the third world countries must be facing with a benign enforcement regime with practically no teeth. While scientific literature can be cited as supporting evidence for some claims, the credibility of the scientific group undertaking such studies must be sound. Many scientific studies are "doctored" to suit the needs of the sponsor who provide the fund support, a practice abhorrent to the basic tenets of science, viz, pursuing truth.



Commercialization of meat production and growing demand for more and more meat products have changed the way the meat animals are raised through well designed stall feeding. There is wide spread criticism that the nutritional quality of meat from such commercial farms, fed on corn as the main input, is much inferior to those reared open feeding on grass. Of course it is accepted that milk produced by grass-fed cows is much superior to large dairy farms using formulated feeds in terms of some nutrients like essential fatty acids. Clamor for meat from grass-fed meat is quite natural. To add to this USP, many consumers believe that open grazing is more eco-friendly and therefore desirable.

"Pasture- or grass-fed meat also is growing in popularity, with the perception that it is more eco-friendly than conventionally produced beef. However, the time needed to grow an animal to slaughter weight is nearly double that of animals fed corn. This means that energy use and greenhouse gas emissions per pound of beef are increased three-fold in grass-fed beef cattle. In total, finishing the current U.S. population of 9.8 million fed-cattle on pasture would require an extra 60 million acres of land. Again, the intuitively environmentally friendly option has a far higher resource and environmental cost".

It is like advocating converting all of to day's crop production to organic label which is neither economically feasible nor logistically possible. Only a holistic approach like the one above can bring out the true picture of what is practiced to day and provide a clue as to what changes need to be brought about in future. .



Countries like Malaysia and Indonesia are blessed with the necessary wherewithal to grow palm oil plants with huge yields that can beat any other oil crops on earth. If palm oil is the cheapest triglyceride material available to day thanks are due to the hard working and innovative palm oil plantation workers and the efficiency of the organized processing plants there. Attempts were made to cast doubt on the nutritional aspect of this oil as it contains a high proportion of saturated triglycerides, perceived to be responsible for atherosclerosis and related diseases. Of course this ploy did not work as scientifically such claims have been disproved. Then came the effort to tarnish its image by indicting it for adverse climate changes caused by deforestation for expanding the area of cultivation. Probably the palm oil industry may face more hurdles in future from oil lobbies dedicated to promoting and protecting the interests of soybean, corn and rape seed for which it has to be prepared. Palm oil producers appear to be aware of the challenges ahead and can be depended on defending their turf.,

"Are we ready for a Malaysia without oil palm? That sounds far-fetched and overly dramatic, doesn't it? For that to happen, plantation companies and smallholders would have to stop cultivating the crop because it's no longer worthwhile doing so. What are the chances of that happening? Exceedingly slim at the moment, but the domestic plantation industry now has to acknowledge that perhaps more than ever, it's getting harder to cling to the status quo. There are several forces at work here. The option of developing new estates in Malaysia, particularly in the peninsula, is fast fading. So there's the limitation of land scarcity, coupled with the slow rise in yields".

It is good that a country like Malaysia knows about the hostile environment ahead and must be taking action to protect its interests. But there are no two opinions that a country like Malaysia has shown the world what can be achieved by dedicated efforts and world can still survive with out oils from soy, corn or rapeseed. In any new strategy to increase palm oil production, Malaysia must establish cooperative ventures with some of the countries having plenty of land to spare for cultivating oil palm, sharing its technological prowess and maintain the edge palm oil has over others in the global market.


Saturday, November 14, 2009


Meat products are highly vulnerable to surface contamination with pathogens like Listeria, Salmonella and E.cloi, in spite of all precautions taken by the processor. Meat products are amongst the most frequently recalled processed products from the market. Such contamination can occur in the slaughter house or processing area or storage rooms or during transportation and distribution. Though gamma ray radiation the microbial load can be controlled easily but irradiation is yet to be approved because of the apprehension that bad quality meat will find its way to the market to the detriment of the consumer.

"Natural plant chemicals have been found to be effective, if incorporated into edible films used for packing the products. Tests showed that the two plant-derived antimicrobials, carvacrol and cinnamaldehyde, inactivated pathogenic bacteria on contaminated chicken breast and cooked ham. They could also be used for other contaminated food products such as seafood, say the researchers. The results suggest that the food industry and consumers could use these films as wrappings to control surface contamination by foodborne pathogenic microorganisms. So incorporating antimicrobials into edible films could serve as barrier for surface-contaminating microorganisms in a range of meat products".

Though the results point out to a possible way to cut down contamination in meat, the practical aspects need more careful scrutiny. Probably the apple film making is a patented technology and as such its availability is a limiting factor. How far apple film can with stand handling during wrapping also is uncertain. Whether the sharp aroma of the plant material used will get transferred to the meat is another imponderable factor. More work can be expected from this group in utilizing their findings by the trade eventually.



Pineapple is one of the very few fruits which improves its taste when thermally processed. Pineapple chunks, slices, tit bits and juice are the common products made by the canning industry. As the growing centers and consumption markets were separated by long distances, canning technology came handy for linking the two. How ever the fortunes of canning technology took a nose dive after the advent of aseptic bulk packing technology and to day it is a pale shadow of what it was during the better part of last century. As for fresh fruit, most consumers prefer to consume more exotic fruits like apple, plum, peach, strawberry, kiwi, mango etc rather than pineapple. However, established pineapple canning companies continue to operate mostly from Asian countries to cater to the demand that still exists to day.

"According to Food Market Exchange (, the list of "World Major Producers" of pineapple includes Dole Thailand Ltd., Del Monte Philippines Inc., Del Monte Kenya Ltd. and DOLEFIL, among dozens of major pineapple canning operations in Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and across the tropical belt from Southeast Asia to Africa to Central and South America. The Food and Agricultural Organization ( reports the world's largest pineapple producers are Thailand (1.7 million metric tons in 2003), the Philippines (1.65 million m/t), Brazil (1.4 million m/t), China (1.32 million m/t) and India (1.1 million m/t)".

A shift away from canning may be needed to boost the fortunes of this tropical fruit. Rather than promoting pineapple singly, a more attractive option can be using the strong and stable flavor of the fruit to evolve new combination products with other fruits. Tetra pack juices have a high visibility to day and pineapple juice and beverages are also available in some markets. When pulp is to be supplied to the formulators, canned version is no more convenient and aseptic bulk filling using bag and box system has already established itself as a better option for many processors.


Friday, November 13, 2009


Product recalls are becoming increasingly frequent in countries like the US and the most recent one involved ground beef and beef patties to the extent of 270 tons made by a single manufacturer. Though not proven conclusively, it is suspected that this product was contaminated with the virulent form of E.coli that can be fatal to vulnerable consumers. Interestingly the consignment was inspected by USDA and found safe. It is a dicey situation for the industry as well as the regulators since the product was tested as per the protocol and cleared but still two consumers died after consuming the product from this manufacturer. Probably real facts in these cases may never be known and industry will continue to be blamed for the episode.

"Infection with E. coli O157:H7 can have a wide range of effects, from mild intestinal discomfort to death. The New Hampshire resident who died of it contracted hemolytic uremic syndrome, a disease that attacks red blood cells and can cause kidney failure. The New Yorker who died was an adult from Albany County who had several underlying health problems, The Associated Press reported. While thorough cooking can kill E. coli O157:H7, it is dangerous even in microscopic doses and can be spread from utensils or cooking surfaces to other foods".

Interestingly by the time recall process started most of the products have crossed the "sell by date" mark though thousands of house holds might still be holding some of the packs in their freezers. What is intriguing is, when frozen products are invariably consumed after cooking, how can the offending organism can survive to cause any damage. It is known that virulent E.coli can cause harm even in microscopic doses and cooking has to be sufficient to obtain 100% kill. Probably inadequate cooking could have caused the the present food poisoning.



India is a vast country and its management is highly complex requiring multifaceted talents in different fields. In the food area there is a mix of organized and informal industrial sectors manufacturing thousands of products with value addition varying from 25% to 2500%. Besides there are more than 8 million retailers peddling foods- raw, semi processed as well as fully processed, in loose and packed formats. Governments at the state and center have a constitutional responsibility to safeguard the interests of the citizens by preventing sale of spurious, adulterated, unsafe and sub-standard quality foods. But ever since independence, during the last 6 decades people's representatives have failed miserably in restraining unsocial criminals who indulge in rampant food adulteration to make illegal profits. Here is the case of Ahmedabad Muncipal Corpration which has recently enumerated the difficulties it is facing in keeping ahead of the food adulterators

"Samples of maida, cow milk, khoya, ghee, curd, chilly powder, jam and pulses, among others failed to meet the stipulated standards. According to official figures available, the percentage of food adulterants has increased from 11 to 15 per cent in last 10 years. Recently, AMC recovered tons of spurious food items in the city. The existing public health laboratory functioning from a makeshift space at NHL Medical College in VS Hospital compound has the capacity to test an average of 15 to 20 samples. It also takes at least two to three days for the results to be out. However, AMC city limits have grown from the earlier 196 sq m to 466 sq m. Within these limits, there are thousands of food establishments which need to be monitored regularly and inspected for their quality of food".

The above situation applies to hundreds of other bodies also across the country. How can the policy makers expect to monitor the quality of food in the market with practically no worthwhile laboratory facilities or experienced personnel available. Most of the existing facilities can hardly handle about 10-20 samples a day while the population can be in the range of 1 to 100 lakh! No wonder adulterators have a field day in this country riding high on the procrastination and inaction by the country's politicians and bureaucrats who do not seem to have neither time nor inclination to attend to the woes of the citizens.


Thursday, November 12, 2009


One of the reasons for over eating has been believed to be location of fast food joints very near to the residential areas and policy makers in some countries even bar setting up new restaurants and eateries in proximity to densely populated places in some of the urban areas. Probably it is common sense that easy availability of food could be a temptation for consumers to eat foods there rather than going through the elaborate process of cooking at home. But common sense need not be dependable always as being proved by new studies that contradict the above presumption.

"Virtually every study in the last two years has blamed neighborhoods for obesity rather than the people who eat too much - but living near a variety of restaurants, convenience stores, supermarkets and even fast food outlets actually lowers your risk for obesity, according to a new study from the University of Utah. Surprisingly, people who live more than a half mile away from any food outlets are the ones who tend to be fatter. The study suggests that placing restrictions on fast food outlets may not be effective, but that initiatives to increase healthy neighborhood food options may reduce individuals' obesity risks, especially if focused on low-income neighborhoods".

Probably there may be some substance in the above finding as people living farther from restaurants may tend to over eat or resort to carrying foods from these eateries for eating at home, being reluctant to frequent the place too often. It is easier said than done when suggestions are made to change the menu at the restaurants in favor of more healthier foods to prevent people developing obesity like disorders. Voluntary efforts to shift the quality of menu in these restaurants in favor of healthier foods may be too slow in coming unless economic initiatives are offered for such a conscious switch.



Entrepreneurship is often an in-born phenomenon though the training schools specialized in entrepreneurial development claim that only formal training can hone the skill for creating a successful enterprise. Marwari community in India is dominated by business people and they are the symbols of naturally borne entrepreneurs. It does not mean that natural entrepreneurs do not exist in other communities also though the relative proportion may be less. Here is an example from Uganda.

"Kampala gets more crowded by the day and life has become more demanding; a disturbing combination of events if one has to keep up with life's quicker pace. This same nerve wracking mess however inspired one man's business sense, yielding an idea that won him $50,000 from the Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU) in the Start Your Business Competition (SYBC) last year. SYBC is an initiative of the Uganda government started last year, being implemented by PSFU with support from the World Bank. Attracting business proposals for innovations in forms of new products, business or location, and small innovative businesses that have been running for less than 24 months, the debut edition of the competition last year attracted about 400 competitive ideas. Only Herbert Asiimwe's idea took home the ultimate $50,000 prize".
The business started successfully in Uganda involves a delivery service for food grocery materials based on pre-received orders. Of course this happens in many towns and cities in India where door delivery is a common phenomenon. What is notable is the way it is organized and the efficiency achieved by the entrepreneur. The scheme by the Ugandan government in unearthing native talents in entrepreneurship is unique and has the potential to bring to surface unheralded but potential business folks and develop them further into owners of successful enterprises. May countries like India can learn some thing from the experience of Uganda in unearthing motivated entrepreneurs in different areas of business including food processing.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


The BPA scare has again crept into public attention after the recent publication by an NGO that indicted many foods containing this obnoxious chemical in measurable amounts. All foods which were found to have BPA were canned products and same was known for quite some time. The tainting of the contents in the can occurred because the epoxy linings used while fabricating the cans had BPA as one of the constituents. How ever no other foods have been reported to have BPA making the problem less acute. Alternate lining compounds are now available to replace BPA containing linings and over a period of time this problem is likely to dissolve itself.

"A consumer advocacy group's analysis of canned goods has found measurable levels of the chemical additive bisphenol A (BPA) across a range of foods, including some labeled 'BPA free'. Children eating multiple servings of some of the tested food would get doses of BPA "near levels of that have caused adverse effects in several animal studies," according to the survey by Consumers Union, a non-profit organization that publishes Consumer Reports. PLURAL CQ The group said its findings bolster the case for banning BPA from use in materials that come in contact with food and beverages, such as can linings, baby bottles and sippy cups, the group said in a letter to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. An FDA spokesman had no immediate comment but noted that a review of existing evidence about BPA's health effects is nearly complete and that Hamburg will "make a decision how to proceed" by the end of the month. BPA is a plastic hardener and a component of epoxy resin. Some studies have linked the chemical to reproductive abnormalities and increased risk of cancer and diabetes, and several governments have prohibited the sale of baby bottles made with BPA".

Another consoling factor is that the heath danger due to BPA has been demonstrated so far in only animal studies which help in warning about possible dangers in humans also. It is tribute to the industry that it was able to respond quickly to the findings and alternative options for containers as well as feeding bottles have been developed.



Cultivation and processing of beverage crops like tea, coffee and cocoa are confined to small holdings and call for specialized skill and hard work to succeed. Like all other agricultural commodities, growers of these beverage crops are concentrated in the Third World countries and their major consumers are in the First World. Wildly fluctuating global prices are destroying these small scale plantations and with input costs becoming higher each passing day, their very survival has become a big question mark. Neither WTO nor special agencies like International Coffee Organization could do much to bring socour to these hapless segment of agriculture.

According to, a recent report, prices of tea have not kept pace with the inflation and this si causing misery to millions of growers across the world. "Have you ever wondered which is the cheapest beverage in the world? Even in India?" he asks. "Tea is cheaper than bottled water. Please go back and ask your grandmothers how much they paid for a kilo of tea, and you'll be surprised that today you are paying less than what your grans were paying 50 years back." Sentiments such as these are no doubt shared by the majority of the world's smallholders. Tea, coffee, cocoa, cotton and rice prices have all fallen in real terms over the past four decades, plunging 500 million smallholder families deeper into poverty while helping the developed world get richer".

Getting decent remunerative price for the crops farmers grow is a basic fundamental right and many governments have price support schemes to insulate the farmers from the vagaries of the market. When it comes to beverage crops the planters are left to the mercy of global speculators who decide the price based on certain considerations. Considering that crops like tea, coffee and cocoa do not have an independent consumer market and the growers have to depend on the organized processors for buying their crops, there is very little scope for influencing the prices at which they are sold. While in coffee and cocoa India is not a major player, Tea is a different story with India one of the largest exporters in the world and any distortion in market can affect millions of families engaged in the industry.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Food safety is linked to factors like quality of raw materials used, efficiency of the process and the hygienic status of the manufacturing facilities. While most of the organized sector players take adequate precaution to ensure food safety, there can be slips occasionally due to inadvertent causes or negligence. Inspection of processing facilities regularly by enforcement authorities can bring out deficiencies not noticed by the processor. Of course there is no guarantee that such government inspections can be 100% trust worthy as has been shown in the salmonella contamination last year in peanut products in the US, in spite of inspections by the safety personnel who failed to note any thing amiss. The proposal in Australia to involve third party auditors for inspection of some of the food handling facilities may be inevitable considering the enormity of the job.

The new PPP model unveiled recently calls for selecting independent technical auditors who will be deployed only for inspection of facilities having a good track record in hygiene and sanitation. "A new Government scheme to allow independent experts to review food safety management systems will cut red tape and costs for food businesses while maintaining food safety standards. Suitably qualified, skilled and accredited independent auditors can now apply to the Food Authority for registration as eligible third-party auditors. The Authority's Director of Industry Liaison, Mr Peter Sutherland, says the new arrangement from October will initially apply for mandatory audits of hospitals, aged care facilities and delivered-meals organizations". The mandatory requirement for these auditors to report within 24 hours any violations ensures quickly addressing the problem.

The above scheme needs to be introduced for the entire food processing sector and if implemented it will lead to establishment of many independent consulting auditors with right qualification and experience. The current practice of going for ISO label or HACCP protocol does not ensure proper evaluation of the facilities and in India at least these independent auditors have some what low credibility as far as consumers are concerned. Besides these are voluntary schemes involving payment of fees to the organizations administering them where as a linkage with safety enforcement authorities will provide teeth for the government blessed third party auditors as being introduced in Australia..



To meet the needs of ever growing population in Asia and Africa, food production needs to be raised at a rate significantly higher than what has been achieved so far. While scientists feel that necessary technology for quantum jump in production already exists, whether producing sufficient food, without enabling the poverty ridden population in some of the under developed and least developed countries of the world to access it, will really solve the emerging crisis is a matter of concern. It is scary to note claims by some experts that food prices are bound to go up phenomenally in future, making them beyond the reach of even the middle income group of population

"Within 20 years, the cost of staple foods will rise by over 4.5 times that of normal inflation, unless rich nations mitigate the effects of climate change on agriculture, a report by the green pressure group Friends of the Earth (FoE) warns. In the report Climate change, food, poverty and the price of failure to the UK, author Ray Hammond predicts the prices of staple foods such as bread, rice and oil in 2030. Hammond's projections (based on previous price hikes recorded by the World Bank and projections by the International Food Policy Research Institute) suggests that by 2030, we would pay £6.48 ($10.63) for an 800 g loaf of bread (now 72p, would be £1.44 with normal inflation), £15.21/kg for basmati rice (now £1.69), and £17.91/l for corn oil".

If such dire predictions come true, what will happen to people who are going to be denied access to staple foods because of high prices?. Are we going to see the emergence of a population with stunted growth, reduced economic productivity and higher vulnerability to nutrient deficient diseases? What will be the future of food industry which may shrink in size for want of demand from a debilitated consumer?. One can only hope that such a catastrophic scenario will not materialize.


Monday, November 9, 2009


Here comes another 'gem' from the 'Authority' at Delhi proclaiming that 'integrated licensing' system would be introduced soon in the country to address the red tapism that bogs down Indian food industry in the name of regulation and consumer protection. It was only recently that the reputed food market pundit Prof Rajat Baisya of IIT Delhi vented out his frustration when he stated the obvious that nothing has changed during the last two decades since the economic liberalization regime was launched to encourage free enterprise and entrepreneurship in the country and food industry has to go through more than 30 government agencies before starting the manufacture! Now comes the latest pronouncement from the FSSAI which one hopes will unshackle the industry and allow the natural food resources of the country to be fully utilized through value addition route.

The licensing and regulatory regime for India's food processing industry is set for a complete recast with a new set of standards to take effect from January next year, an official said Monday. "Right now, there are many types of licenses. But we will get into one integrated license," Chairperson of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) P.I. Suvrathan told IANS on the sidelines of an interactive session on Indo-French cooperation in agriculture and food processing here. Explaining, he said: "For example, now there is one license for edible oils, another for milk and another license under the PFA (Prevention of Food Adulteration) law. But now there will be only one license from FSSAI."

That we are still talking about our intention rather than putting into action any meaningful remedial measures to address the problems of the food industry speaks volume about our ability for procrastination and inability to provide a congenial environment for the unimpeded growth of this vital sector for the last 6 decades. We can only hope the words from the 'Authority' as orchestrated above, will find expression at least now, through concrete results at the ground level. Food industry in India has a long track record of putting up with enormous inconveniences and delays without a fight and probably it may still expect the words of the Authority to be implemented as promised. .



Convenience factor has been the driving force for the development of food processing industry and most of the consumers do not mind paying "add on" to the basic cost of processed foods provided it is not unreasonable. Of course other factors like culinary quality, health and nutrition, good shelf life and attractive packaging also do contribute to consumer decision to buy products at prices higher than the intrinsic cost. In spite of great strides made by the food industry, convenience seems to be the over riding factor that assures even growth for the processed food sector.

"While these are nothing new, portable foods continue to be a food industry trend. Providing convenience for our 'on-the-go' society is a must and consumers continue to spend their cash on handy packaging that allows them to skip portioning themselves and simply grab something out of the kitchen, throw it in their bag and go. The cost of the packaging drives up the cost of these pre-portioned gems, however the convenience continues to beat out the cost and consumers keep this food industry trend going".

What is causing alarm is the run away escalation in the cost of foods that are processed and packed making the consumers wary of the motives behind the high profile, mass promoted food products, especially those with low caloric density. One wonders whether consumers will revert back to lesser convenient products that require some preparation in the kitchen if the upward trend in food product prices continue to gallop with practically no relation to the basic cost of raw materials that go in making these foods by the manufacturer. Industry will regret in the long run if affordability of their products to consumers is ignored and if it thinks that saturation promotion of products will drive consumers in hordes to buy them, same may prove to be fool hardy!



Food has a strong connection with religion and whether Hindus or Christians or Muslims food is an integral part of religious functions. Seventh Day Adventist Church, one of the significant denominations amongst Christianity has a substantial interest in vegetarian foods as they discourage red meat consumption because of health considerations. They have substantial business portfolio in foods and are involved in manufacturing and marketing of cereals and and cereal based products, meat analogs from soybean and soya milk and powder. They control 16% of cereals market in australia and 40% in New Zealand. They are reported to be owning about 40 food processing units in different parts of the world, operating in Japan, Korea, Middle East, West Africa, Asia and their food exports to more than 20 countries are valued at $ 529 million.

"The church in Australia owns Sanitarium Health Food Company, which controls about 16 percent of the cereal market in that country, 40 percent in New Zealand, and owns five of the top 10 selling cereal brands in Australia, including Weet-Bix, the most recognized brand of breakfast cereal and Australia's most popular cereal for more than 30 years".

Probably their strong belief in natural foods which they consider as healthy is the drive engine for their extra ordinary interest in food processing. The economic returns from these ventures are ploughed back for some of their missionary activities in developing countries. In India there is the Jain community which also believes strongly in vegetarianism, excluding even materials like onion, garlic and some natural foods from their products and being resourceful people they can venture into food processing based on plant raw materials in a big way.


Sunday, November 8, 2009


Cross infection from animals to humans is well established and many infectious diseases are spread through many 'carriers' co-existing in the environment. But cases of animals getting infected from humans through contact are not well documented though there is a belief that such a possibility is remote. Recent findings by scientists that domesticated chickens, the very foundation of to day's poultry meat industry, were afflicted by bacterial diseases having origin in the humans, can have grave implications on the future of animal based foods.

"It is thought to be the first clear evidence of bacteria crossing from humans to animals and spreading since animals were domesticated around 10,000 years ago. Dr Ross Fitzgerald, of the Roslin Institute, said he believed the transfer is linked to major changes in the poultry industry over the last few decades.Half a century ago, chickens were reared for their eggs, with meat regarded as a by-product. Now the demand for meat has led to a poultry industry dominated by a few multinational companies which supply a limited number of breeding lines to a global market, thereby promoting the spread of the bacteria around the world."

It may be far fetched to imagine that industry can insulate meat animals from human contact through robotics or by disease free handling personnel. Diversification of the breeding lines may be the only option that can help to protect the poultry industry from large scale damages due to infection from the operating personnel.