Thursday, December 31, 2009


In a severe indictment of the working of Food Safety Authorities vested with safe guarding the health of Indian citizens from spurious foods, it has been reported that practically nothing is being done in the city of Allahabad in monitoring the quality and safety of food materials offered by the retail traders though there exists the necessary machinery for doing the job decently. It is often said that Indians are good in drafting laws but weak in implementing them at the ground level. This has been brought out very clearly by the Allahabad sham.

"Though there are numerous food inspectors working with the AMC whose duty is to collect food samples. However, the food samples were last collected several months back by a handful of food inspectors. To make matters worse, even after the food sample is collected and sent to the laboratory, it is not ensured that about the getting the result of the test. So the situation remains the same. The food inspectors are least bothered about the health of the people. Rather than checking the quality of food being sold in the market, they receive a fixed monthly commission from the shops. Thus, they remain mute witness to the food materials comprising with the health of people"

It is a pity that these so called food inspectors neither inspect nor exercise vigilance over the quality and safety of foods in the market, after drawing fat salaries from the exchequer and their loyalty is to the traders but not to the nation or its citizens. Probably Chinese example of executing the criminals in the melamine tainted milk episode, is some thing India should think of in bringing to book our own desi criminals, both the perpetrators as well as their abettors. How impotent FSSAI is amply demonstrated by the sordid scenario that is unfolding in cities like Allahabad where consumers are exposed to serious health risks by consuming adulterated foods day in and day out..



It is true that people have short memories and if not for this trait, claims of achievements would not have been repeated on different occasions to different audience. This can be forgivable if politicians do this to fool the public for garnering votes. But when such practices become rampant amongst scientists, it is a cause for worry. Here is an example of such a feat, a proclamation made by the head of a research organization recently, regarding development of a new technology for some food products targeted at defense forces.

"The Mysore-based Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL), has now found a way in which mutton and chicken biryani, and non-vegetarian sandwiches, can have a long shelf life without losing their nutritional value. The disclosure was made at the inauguration of the three-day 20th 'Convention of Food Scientists and Technologists' in the city on Monday. The focal theme of the convention is 'Specialised Processed Foods for Health and Nutrition: Technology and Delivery".

It is on record that thermally processed "Ready to Eat" (RTE) foods packed in heat stable flexible pouches or retortable pouches were in the Indian market during the last two decades and already there are half a dozen food processors in the organized sector manufacturing at least 25 varieties of vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian food preparations for the domestic and export markets. The technology with minor variations of time and temperature can be adapted to any food products including biriyani. But the claim that the technology is new or their nutritional value is not affected by the process is not just tenable. It is not realized that these are staple foods, consumed not for their nutrients but to provide calories and proteins. Heat labile nutrients present in small quantities are bound to be lost to some extent. How ever credit must be given to this defense laboratory for originally standardizing this process for a few products more than two decades ago in response to the demand from armed forces.



Pot bellied people invariably carry too much fat around their waist due to their food consumption habits. Ready availability of high fat and high caloric products in the market attract consumers who have very little control over their desire to eat, bordering on gluttony. The undeniable fact that too many calories and fat in the diet can cause serious diseases like obesity, CVD, BP etc does not sink in, as long as pain and discomforts are not experienced. New studies are bringing out alarming news that women can face more serious consequences than men if they do not restrain themselves from indulging in high calorie foods during their middle age.

A new study from the Sahlgrenska Academy has shown that women who store fat on their waist in middle age are more than twice as likely to develop dementia when they get older. "Anyone carrying a lot of fat around the middle is at greater risk of dying prematurely due to a heart attack or stroke," said Deborah Gustafson, senior lecturer at the Sahlgrenska Academy. "If they nevertheless manage to live beyond 70, they run a greater risk of dementia," Gustafson added.

The choice is between dying before attaining 70 years of age or suffering from the dreaded dementia which can lead to Alzheimer's disease drastically cutting down the quality of life. What is seen to day is that young women exercise greater control over their food intake because of their desire to keep trim and presentable. This discipline disappears once they get settled in life and reach the middle age. The warning from the above study is timely, especially for women hailing from upper income groups who often lead a sedentary life style that does not help to burn their excess fat on the waist.



Food deficit countries, in their quest for satisfying the hunger needs of their population, are looking out for accessing land out side their borders for raising food crops instead of imports as the global food supply and stable prices are increasingly being threatened due to many reasons. Initially countries like Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations were involved in such land deals which have come under criticism from many quarters because of lop sided lease agreements which threaten the food security of the in the lessee countries. India is also reported to be eying such a route, especially to augment its edible oil supply as serious shortages are being experienced during the last two decades.

"Indian businessman Ramakrishna Karuturi, managing Director of Karuturi Global Ltd, one of the world's top agribusiness transnational corporations, has acquired nearly 765,000 hectares of land in Ethiopia. His company is involved in flower and food production.
Karuturi told Radio France International (RFI) that the world should applaud instead of vilifying efforts by people like him "When you look at the last ten years of world food production vis-à-vis consumption, I think over six of those ten years, we in the world have eaten more than we produced, and world food stocks are at a debilitating low 67-day stock. 67 days of food is disastrous and I don't think in the history of mankind, the world has ever come this close."

The major difference in the approach of the Indian entrepreneur in the above case is that he is not doing this for the country of his origin but only developing the business for his personal benefits and probably will sell his produce to the highest bidder. Of course platitudes are inevitable to justify such deals, especially when the land involved is in Ethiopia, one of the most impoverished countries in the World.



The importance of dietary fiber cannot be overstated. Though in the strict sense it is not an assimilable nutrient, its consumption through food regularly is necessary to maintain normal health. It is note worthy that a small country like Malaysia which has a predominantly meat eating population has thought about encouraging the food industry to manufacture fiber-rich foods and declare the same on the label for the benefit of the consumer.

"The Malaysian Food Regulations 1985 have made it compulsory for most prepackaged foods to be labeled with four core nutrients, namely energy, protein, carbohydrates, and fat in the nutrition information panel. Other nutrients that may be labeled include several vitamins and minerals, provided they are present in significant amounts. Dietary fibre is another optional nutrient that may be declared in the panel. There is no official definition of dietary fibre in the Malaysian Food Regulations 1985. The Health Ministry has however recognised several compounds as dietary fibre, based on applications from the food industry. Each application has been reviewed by an expert committee, guided by established criteria that are based on the physical and physiological properties of dietary fibre, as outlined above for Codex definition. Some of these compounds include a variety of non-digestible polysaccharides (e.g. high amylose maize resistant starch, beta-glucan, polydextrose, and resistant dextrin) and oligosaccharides (e.g. galacto-oligosaccharide, inulin, oligofructose, and oligosaccharide mixtures). In a recently published gazette, to take effect from Jan 2010, the criteria for nutrient content claim for dietary fibre were announced. The minimum amount of dietary fibre that must be present in a food in order to claim as "source of" dietary fibre is 3g per 100g for a solid food or 1.5g per 100ml for a liquid food. In order to qualify to make a "high in" claim, a food must contain at least 6g of dietary fibre per 100g or 3g per 100ml for solid and liquid food respectively".

The clarity and precision in the rules governing labeling are notable. Probably realization that dietary fiber has important bearing amongst population which consume more meat through their regular diet could be the reason for the move on the part of regulatory authorities to accord such a priority for dietary fiber.



The critical role played by long chain Omega-3 fatty acids in maintaining good health, especially brain development, is well established. During pregnancy the intake of this nutrient by the mother and after the birth, intake by the child till the age of 3 determines the pace of brain development. Solid foundation for a healthy and productive life is laid during this time. Subsequent intake has only marginal effect but still necessary to prevent degeneration of neural cells. Major source of Omega-3 fatty acids has been several species of fish but those not habituated to eat fish will have to depend on a variety of foods containing smaller levels of these nutrients or short chain Omega-3 acids like ALA. Lately algae is becoming a good source of long chain Omega 3 acids and commercial technology is now available for large scale production for food fortification.

"The science relating to the health benefits of omega-3 gets stronger and stronger," Ruess stated. "Suppliers have overcome a lot of the technical hurdles for handling omega-3 oils and have progressed in producing various forms, which can be used successfully in a wide range of end-products in foods, beverages, supplements and infant formulas." Analysts estimated the global consumption of marine and algal omega-3 ingredients for 2008 at 71,452 tonnes. North America came first at 26,948 tonnes, Asia-Pacific came second at 21,145 tonnes, followed by the European Union (EU) at 13,596 tonnes and other countries at 5,762 tonnes, AP-Food Technology reports."The [consumption] growth rate has averaged 30-40 per cent annually during the last few years. We still expect significant growth in the next several years," said Frost & Sullivan analyst Chris Shanahan. There is strong and growing scientific evidence on the health benefits of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic)-based omega-3, he said".

Indian food industry will be keenly looking forward to pure, odorless and concentrated Omega-3 fatty acid preparations for enriching a variety of processed products without tainting them. Such products, if and when available, can be a boon to the Indian consumer, most of them depending on diets containing low levels of Omega-3 acids. Alga, being not considered as non-vegetarian, can be acceptable as a source which will enable food industry to include"green dot" on the label signifying its vegetarian pedigree.



Modern day life style diseases seem to be caused by the dramatic changes in the agricultural and livestock farm practices. Free grazing cattle, freely roaming chickens and natural cultivation without use of chemical fertilizers and pest protectants have given way to shackled cattle, caged birds and mechanized agricultural farms producing foods which are considered much inferior and less safer to what were being produced 50-100 years ago. Increasing realization of these bitter truth has generated widespread demand for organic foods produced in a "natural way". Latest in such changing attitudes amongst consumers is the demand for eggs produced by birds which are not raised in restricted cages.

"The organization stops short of calling for the elimination of factory farms. "It's not a matter of creating Old McDonald's-type conditions," said Paul Shapiro, who heads the nonprofit's End Factory Farming campaign. "Our goal is to reduce the suffering these animals endure." California's Proposition 2, the 2008 ballot initiative that by 2015 will free egg-laying chickens from their cages, marked the animal protection group's most public and successful foray from its historic campaigns to stop the clubbing of baby seals in Canada and dog fighting and puppy mills in the U.S. The landslide victory came despite threats of higher prices -- anywhere from a penny an egg more to 25 percent more per carton. The animal welfare group has convinced some of the country's largest users -- fast food restaurants such as Wendy's, Burger King, Starbucks and Dennys, and retailers such as Safeway and Costco -- to make at least a gradual switch to cage-free eggs. Red Robin will go totally cage free by the end of 2010".

Probably animal activists may even succeed in "liberating" diary and meat animals also from stressful confinement as it is happening to day. Recent documentary films highlighting the cruelty perpetrated in chicken and meat processing factories in the western countries have captured the imagination of the consumers and it is a question of time before consumer resistance will force the meat industry to improve the current practices that will ensure humane approach while raising and slaughtering the animals.



In a country like India large dairy farms with more than 1000 cows are far and few and many such farms have facilities to generate gobar gas for use as an energy source. The residue remaining after digestion is not supposed to emanate any foul odor to contaminate the environment. But in western countries where large mechanized farms operate producing large volume of wastes. its management is arduous and risky. A typical cow of good breed can generate about 20-25 tons of waste out of which two third is cow dung, balance being the urine. If such huge quantities of waste are not managed properly it can have serious repercussions for the environment and the food chain.

"But as the increasing incidence of environmental and health problems linked to agriculture makes clear, when manure is mismanaged the nutrients in it can foul streams, lakes and aquifers; the pathogens in it can contaminate food products; and the gases it produces, including ammonia, methane and bad-smelling volatile compounds, can upset neighbors and pollute the atmosphere".

India is fortunate in having smaller dairy farms where gobar gas plants invariably process the waste into useful fuel and safe manure. Centuries of tradition in India has established the benefits of integrated farming and there is hardly any safety issue involved in the operation of such farms. How ever pig farms and poultry farms are great polluters and

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Cooks, gloriously called Cheffs undergo training on various aspects pf culinary preparations under structured programs offered by many cookery schools, some of them with international reputation. The curriculum for such courses can vary depending on the country where the schools are located. There cannot be a universal curriculum for such courses because of the vast diversity in food preferences amongst consumers. How ever a majority of the schools follow western cuisines to train their candidates focusing more on bread, cookies, bread,meat dishes etc ignoring many of the local preparations. If one wants to have high quality training in western cuisines, ten top training schools in the world offer such courses.

"Whether you're on track for a professional culinary career or learning how to boil water, there is a gourmet getaway designed for you. Resident foodie Courtney Crowder uncovers 10 gourmet getaways, where cooks of all levels can combine travel with culinary education".

In India the catering institutes under the Ministry of Tourism located in different parts of the country offer short term and long term courses and the trained personnel find gainful employment mostly in star hotels. Unfortunately the emphasis on the curriculum is still on western food preparations and most of the graduates from these schools have very little insight into Indian ethnic foods. Probably this bias may be due to the excessive focus on foreign tourists who patronize star hotels. Why not modify the course content to include some local foods also so that foreign tourists are exposed to the food culture of the country?


Pakistan seems to be a favorable ally of the western world as evidenced by the uninterrupted flow of economic aid for arms as well as alms. The latest in the queue to shower the "aid" is the European Union which is extending financial help to raise agricultural productivity in 17 districts in that country by 30%. This aid is supposed to be for procuring quality seeds, fertilizers, better irrigation management and agricultural machinery. Why Pakistan which is in the forefront in Asia in using modern agricultural technology needs assistance from EU defies logic.

"The EU "Food Facility" is the European Union's 1 billion euros (Rs 113 billion) response to the food crisis, showing Europe's firm commitment to help poor countries boost agricultural production, especially in a time that hunger was on the rise even more because of the global economic crisis. This support comes when Pakistan had just produced a bumper crop of 24 million tonnes of wheat—2 million above its nationwide requirement in food. Yet prices remain stubbornly high, especially in rural areas, where most food insecure people live. The food may be there, but for many, it is too expensive to buy, he maintained".

Whole world knows how 'efficient' Pakistan is in diverting foreign aids for building its armed forces to fight its arch enemy, India in a hypothetical war. No matter how much money is poured into that country, the conditions of the poor are not going to change with staple foods becoming dearer with each passing day. The theory that by bridging the gap between demand and supply of staples the prices can be brought down is a fallacy because food "inflation" in many parts of Asia has many other dimensions, not appreciated by the donor countries.


Gramophone records were once the chief mode of entertainment when electronic medium was still in its infancy. SP and LP records carry music for playing on a turn table, mostly monopolized by HMV company. To day digital music has taken over the entertainment industry. Old music scores which were available only on cassettes and gramophone record formats serve the useful purpose of reviving old memories frequently. But in the scientific field the rapid progress achieved make many old studies irrelevant and obscure. Unfortunately some scientists either do not believe or blissfully enjoy in repeating/recycling what has been claimed earlier, as new.

It was known more than 4 decades ago that food industry in India could develop if R & D, helpful policies, adequate investments and trained technical personnel are evolved. This was highlighted in umpteen number of seminars, conferences and many forums with no tangible effect. To say the same thing towards the end of the decade of this millennium, after wasting so many years and crores of rupees from the public exchequer, is at best a cruel joke. Read what head of the once famous food technology organization in the country, has to say on this, as reported in the media recently. "The industry has potential for growth but there is lack of capacity building in both infrastructure and human capital," said the food 'Pundit'. "Mechanization is required and it won't be possible through production from cottage industries. Food security also comes in the question. Even the standards are not at par with international levels," the 'Pundit' pontificated further. One is tempted to ask the question as to what he has been doing during the last one and a half decades of his stewardship to address these problems.

Normally one expects the government R&D agencies, when they are invited to deliver "key note" speech or "special lecture" during industry meets, to highlight on the occasion, what technical innovations have been achieved that are of interest to the industry. Probably poverty of ideas and practically bare innovation cup board must have compelled such "VIP" speakers to digress on the subject and indulge in generalities. Industry is partly to be blamed for not demanding better accountability from the public funded R & D organizations and allowing them to get away with platitudes.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Aging is often considered the ultimate step in producing many high quality alcoholic beverages. This is especially true when vintage wines are made by reputed brewers and distillers. The comon perception is that aging reduces the harshness associated with the raw product due to a series of chemical reations and physical changes. In the case of wines from grapes a major portion of tartaric acid and its salts are precipitated during aging while desirable esters are formed that imparts distinct flavors. But there are contrary views to the established convention and one such opinion is reproduced below

"We thought some of the aged rums were great. We found quite a few that we didn't care for at all. More often than not, though, I found myself wondering what was the point of submitting rum, which can be so distinctively and exuberantly delicious in its youth, to the tempering rigors of barrel aging, which can easily blur identity and character".

There may be some substance in the argument that aging is a waste of time because to day's technology can create a product that can feel like and taste like aged products. Besides, aging calls for huge stocks being held for long time which is not affordable under the prevailing financial cost considerations and blocked capital in the form of stored products can add significantly to the final cost of such products when marketed.



Indian food industry has been crying hoarse for the last 5 decades about high incidence of taxation on processed foods that make their products cost prohibitive to the consumer. High product cost naturally does not allow the industry to expand its production base and realize its full potential as an agent of transformation for the Indian economy. Value addition to agri-horticultural and livestock produce is a sure route for infrastructure growth and generate vast employment opportunities but the stubborn attitude of the governments both at the state and central levels in imposing taxes and duties has prevented such a positive development in the country. No seminars, conferences, workshops and lobbying during the past were able to change this attitude and therefore it is amusing to note the statement by the trade body like Assocham repeating the same argument at the fag end of the first decade of this millennium.

"But the commerce trade body cited prohibitive taxation rates on processed fruit and vegetables as a cause of the problem. Dr Swati Piramal, president of the trade association, said fruit and vegetables were liable to Central Sale Tax, VAT and local levies while unbranded food products were either exempt or taxed at concessional rates of around 4 per cent. Piramal said the tax "anomaly" was directly responsible for the low percentage of these products that are processed. The result was waste and inefficient use of fruit and vegetables reaching R500bn (€7bn) a year, according to an Assocham estimates. A developed processing industry would help to reduce these wastages and raise farm income, it said in statement. Assocham added the inequalities in tax were even more unreasonable as "branded products carry the brand owner's assurances on quality and hygiene". Consumers should not be forced to pay higher prices to obtain safer products, it said. The body also called for a flat VAT rate for all types of food and an exemption from Service Tax in a range of areas including transport of goods".

No doubt the situation to day is far better than that existed before the advent of the specialized Ministry of Food Processing Industries at the Center, especially the reduction of duties on packaging materials used by the food industry. Taxes imposed by GOI are not considered burdensome, especially after drastic changes in Excise Duties on food products during the last one decade. Sales tax, Octroi, entry tax etc come under the purview of state governments and it is here that not much perceptible change has taken place. These local taxes are the main constraints for the development of food sector.



"Pangasius is a tropical warm water catfish that grows to a maximum of 1.3 meters in length and 44 kilograms. It is an air-breathing fish (bi-modal respiration), which enables it to tolerate low dissolved oxygen levels. Under semi-intensive fishpond culture, the fish can reach 1 kilogram harvest weight from 20-gram fingerling within 6 months culture period. Fast growth and high survival rate offers opportunity for fish farmers to achieve far more production and income per unit area compared to traditional farmed fishes. However, it also has to consume more feeds, thus higher production expenses. Acceptable feed conversion ratio (FCR) for the fish is 1.5. This means 1.5 kilograms of feeds is required to produce 1 kilo of fish".

Fish is considered a protective food because of its rich protein content and presence many micro nutrients essential for good health. Consumption of the heart-friendly fish 2-3 times a week is strongly recommended by nutritional experts. World harvest of fish is estimated at about 150 million tons out of which one third is raised through the aquaculture route. As many of the edible fish species are getting extinct due to over fishing, aquaculture technology has been able to meet the  global demands for fish foods to a great extent.

Pangasius species, also known as riverine catfish, Siamese shark, Sutchi catfish or Swai catfish with their habitat in the Mekong basin has been able to capture the imagination of many fish exporting countries. Besides Vietnam, it is also cultured widely in several countries in Asia including Thailand, Nepal, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Laos, Myanmar, Indonesia and Cambodia because of its fast growing characteristics and efficiency of feed conversion. Vietnam has been able to make great strides in the farming of Pangasius, ever since it was taken up in 1983 and to day 50% of its fish export of more than 1.2 million tons is made up of this particular fish. Other Asian countries must emulate the example of Vietnam which has shown the potential for Pangasius in meeting world demand for fish in the coming years.


Monday, December 28, 2009


Retailing business, as it is organized to day world over, is based on a trust between the consumer and the retailer and pilferage is not expected on a large scale. The viability of the business depends heavily on limiting the losses due to pilferage from the shelves by a few unscrupulous customers. But honesty seems to be at a premium if the reports about losses incurred by the organized sector of retailing due to dishonest customers are to be believed.

"This isn't little Johnny going into a grocery store and stealing a pack of bubble gum or Aunt Betty selling a vacuum cleaner on an on-line auction site," he said. Rather the sophisticated practice costs retailers billions. Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-IN) told the teleconference that the FBI estimates ORC will result in $30 billion in retail losses annually. "While businesses across the country are struggling, business is booming for the criminals," he said. Often these criminal gangs conduct counter surveillance, noting security sweeps and camera technology, before they hit a retailer. Once inside the store, the gangs use cellphones and hand signals to steal thousands of dollars worth of goods in minutes, LaRocca said"

Introduction of RFI tags was supposed to ensure fool proof security for products from being taken out side the premises without proper billing but the pilferage technology seems to be one step ahead of the industry! Probably stringent punishment to such criminals may only act as a deterrent in the long run and national legislative measures are being expected in many countries affected by such large scale retail level criminal activities.



With the Copenhagen climate change meeting looming ahead, there are expectations amongst environmentalists that definitive targets for green house gas emissions will be set by the participants to save the planet from further global warming and the consequent catastrophe. Similarly end of the cheap petroleum resources in another 2-3 decades and lack of alternative cheaper energy resources, will see the energy cost soaring with all its attending consequences.

"It's a lethal cloudscape of high energy prices and climate change that threatens to send prices soaring – but this may not be a bad thing: Provided the world's poorest are insulated from its effects. Today's historically low food prices will end soon with significant and, for some, catastrophically high, rises in the years ahead. That means food policy-makers and food companies should plan now how best to mitigate the effects of this building storm".

It is a scary scenario because even with the existing low food prices almost 20% of global population cannot access adequate food that can ensure a good quality life due to low purchasing power and endemic poverty. Discussion about insulating the poor and the downtrodden from this price spiral must be a priority for the world leaders when they meet at Copenhagen.


Sunday, December 27, 2009


In many developing countries weak industrial base and strong political-bureaucratic machinery make the life miserable for honest entrepreneurs to survive. Corruption and the political power do not allow for a congenial atmosphere for growth of the industry. But if the industry is strong and do not indulge in practices that are anti-national, such traits can be faced boldly. Even small industries can fight back provided they stand united. In Zimbabwe, where unbridled nepotism and political thuggery are the order of the day, how an industry could counteract the state sponsored "terrorism" was demonstrated by one of the industry leaders recently. Instead of being cowed down by threats, it chose to shut down its facilities to protest against unjustified state interference.

"Nestlé, which has its headquarters in Vevey on Lake Geneva, said it had received an unannounced visit from government officials and police on December 19 and was forced to accept milk delivery from non-contracted suppliers. Two of its managers were questioned by police and released without charge the same day. The Herald quoted Zimbabwe Industry and Commerce Minister Welshman Ncube as saying a deal had been reached allowing Nestlé to continue operating".
Probably Nestle has the strength to face such bullying and come out unscathed from such a confrontation. What about the fate of lesser mortals under such an intimidating environment? It is a pity that the poor people of Zimbabwe become sufferers because of the high handedness and thoughtless action of its rulers.



The recent Copenhagen deliberations have once again brought out the dangers lurking ahead due to uncontrolled CO2 emission that results in global warming. Contrary to the common perception that automobiles and industries are the major culprits, a realization seems to dawning at least amongst some that our present food consumption habits contribute as much CO2, if not more than other sources. Here is an argument that may convince some more people that we need to moderate our living style if to save this planet from impending catastrophe.

"More horrors: According to Diet for a New America and The Food Revolution author John Robbins, the average vegan uses about one-sixth of an acre of land to satisfy his or her food requirements for an entire year; the average vegetarian who consumes eggs and dairy products, like cow's milk, real cheese toppings on pizza, and even non-soy yogurt, requires about three times as much land; and the average meat-eater requires about 20 times as much land. Obviously, a lot more of the food grown on any given parcel of land can be made available to humans if it's not being funneled through animals first".

Probably protagonists of meat eating may frown upon such a stand though there is enough scientific evidence to support the view that food through animal route is a tremendous waste of energy, resources and land, besides other invisible losses through adverse productivity on account of health debilitating diseases caused by consumption of foods from animal sources.


Friday, December 25, 2009


But for the large scale adoption of Aquaculture all over the world, most of the fish species coming from the wild would have been extinct long ago due to over harvesting for meeting the ever increasing demand for this highly nutritious food. With regular meat consumption being frowned upon because of its adverse effect on health, fish is the only safe food from the animal world that is universally recommended.

"Aquaculture is the production of seafood including shrimp, fish and plants under controlled conditions for at least part of their lifecycle. According to the FDA, the aquaculture sector has grown more than 11 percent annually. Aquaculture is now the fastest-segment growing segment of agriculture worldwide, accounting for 52 percent of all fish produced, according to the agency. In the US, 85 percent of all seafood consumed is imported from approximately 50 different countries, of that 40 percent comes from aquaculture and 60 percent is from wild harvest".

Most of the fish species are rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids, the essential nutrient, the body cannot synthesize in vivo. Aquaculture technology has assumed the critical role as a dependable way to produce various fish species that are in demand. Many rivers and the sea water are invariably polluted with man-made chemicals and industrial wastes and the safety of fish harvested from these water bodies is increasingly being compromised. In aquaculture system the producer has control on many parameters and the safety of the fish produced is more or less assured.



World Food Program(WFP), doing yeomen service to the poor and famished populations around the world, had to face stinging criticism recently in Nepal where it was accused of supplying unsafe foods causing serious diarrhea episode and several deaths. Though the agency denied vehemently that the problem is caused by the foods distributed by it, a sustained campaign is still going on to tarnish its image.

"Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC) today disputed the claim of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) that the food it had distributed to far-western region was of acceptable standard. The human rights watchdog also raised serious concerns over the recent government report which had ruled out the correlation between the WFP-supplied food and diarrhoeal toll in the region. Condemning the government and the WFP's findings, the organisation has sought a clarification from the government as to why 450 people died of diarrhoea in mid and far western region of the country. Subodh Pyakhurel, INSEC's president charged that the government has surrendered itself before the UN agency (WFP) by publishing a report that was biased without trying to find what actually triggered the diarrhoeal toll. INSEC claims that the food that had been distributed to the people in the region was 'unfit for human consumption'. A report released today by INSEC and Consumers' Right Protection Forum (CRPF), based on a field visit, has cited WFP's poor quality supplies as causing diarrhoeal toll in the region.

It is in the interest of WFP that it proves itself above suspicion by commissioning an impartial agency from a third world country to look into the allegations through a comprehensive investigation. Even if there is an iota of truth in the claims made by those who are in the forefront of the campaign against WFP, that should serve, at least, as a guideline for future.



The three stakeholders in food related issues are the industry, consumer and the government. Unless there is a harmonious relationship and mutual appreciation of the responsibilities of each one of them, no nation can prosper, irrespective of its wealth and power. If food safety is a major concern even in a country like the US considered richest and most powerful, it is because of mutual suspicion and lack of confidence amongst the stake holders regarding the ability of the system to ensure food safety. Therefore the approach in the UK for voluntary efforts in improving food safety is most refreshing.

"Meat products and dairy foods are key contributors of saturated fat and calories to our diet, the FSA noted. Many savoury snacks have been reformulated to reduce saturated fat recently, but they remain a focus because they are often high in fat and calories. As a result, the Agency is proposing the following voluntary recommendations for industry:* Dairy foods - further promote the supply and sale of 1% fat (or less) milk, reduced-fat Cheddar cheese and lower-fat ice cream.* Meat products - reduce the fat and saturated fat content of sausages, meat pies and pastries.* Savoury snacks - make single packs of 30g or less more widely available and increase promotion of/encourage consumer interest in the smaller pack sizes.* All products - increase marketing efforts towards the promotion of reduced/low-fat options, with particular emphasis on lower-fat spreads.The consultation also covers the scope to amend the legislation on ice cream and Cheddar cheese. The current Food Labelling Regulations do not allow lower-fat versions of these products (below a specified fat content level) to be labelled as ice cream or Cheddar cheese".

Though these guidelines are not intended for mandatory compliance, many major food industry players are reported to have adopted them on their own. This is probably due to the involvement of industry during the process of drawing the guidelines. In India, unfortunately, the attitude is to condemn the industry and treat the manufacturers with contempt for their alleged over focus on profit with no care for the consumer. Unless the industry, government and consumers come together for evolving such guidelines as being followed in the UK, no forceful compliance can work due to the magnitude of the work involved in such a system of safety management.



Though the IT boom has established India as a major player in BPO with huge foreign exchange earning during the last one decade, whether this has brought in any durable and long lasting benefits is a matter of conjecture. The economic upturn contributed by higher wages to those engaged by the IT industry had a spread effect and the entire manufacturing and service sectors had to face the salary "inflation" entailing a significantly higher outgo on account of human resources employed by them. During the last 5 years salary range for employed people showed almost 100-200% increase which is indeed a burden on the small scale industries and contributed to some inflationary pressure on the price front. From the perspectives of many experts, the indigenous innovation potential has been severely hampered by the BPO system.

"There are historical reasons that starting a business in India is difficult. During British rule, imperial interests dictated economic activity; after independence in 1947, central planning stifled entrepreneurship through burdensome licensing and direct state ownership of companies and banks. Businesses found that currying favor with policy makers was more important than innovating. And import restrictions made it hard to acquire machinery, parts or technology. Inventors came up with ingenious ways to overcome obstacles and scarcity — a talent Indians used the Hindi word "jugaad" (pronounced jewgard) to describe. But the products that resulted from such improvisation were often inferior to those available outside India".

It is indisputable that "Made in India" label does not inspire any confidence contributing to the mindset of the consumer that "foreign" is always good! One of the main reasons for the industrial products in India being castigated for their poor quality is insufficient research on materials and the prevalent lack of priority for R & D in different sectors. Even the existing R & D inputs, mostly under public funding, are wasted on irrelevant priorities with no commercial potential. Unless the S & T priorities are reworked keeping in view their long term application and utilization potential, the present "no-win" situation is likely to be perpetuated.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009


The importance of fiber in the diet cannot be over emphasized. Though in the strict sense it is not a assimilable nutrient, dietary fiber plays an important role in maintaining good health for a normal individual. Besides being a prebiotic which is used by the intestinal microbes to produce a few nutrients of importance to the body, dietary fiber is also involved in controlling serum cholesterol significantly. The importance of Oats arises because it contains soluble and insoluble fibers beneficial for the body. There are many other sources of dietary fiber which include whole food grains, fruits and vegetables. Recommended level of fiber intake is 25-30 gm a day for a healthy person.

Apple pomace which is a by-product in processing industry contains the peel and the fibrous fractions with no economic value. "Incorporating an apple skin powder, an under-utilised food-processing by-product, in bakery products could boost the fiber-content of the product, says new research. Replacing flour in muffins with 24 per cent of a dried apple skin powder could boost the fiber content of the product without detrimentally affecting the sensory profile of the product, according to findings published in the Journal of Food Quality".

Why the study has focused on apple peel, leaving the pectin rich pomace, is not clear because pectin, considered a soluble fiber has several beneficial effects in humans. More over, separating apple skin from the pressed residue of apple juice industry cannot be easily achieved. It is understandable that incorporation of the fibrous fraction in baked goods could boost up the dietary fiber level in the final product as it is not destroyed at the baking temperatures but it can affect the raising properties of bread dough to some extent due to dilution of gluten content.



Historically foot wears were being used, primarily for protecting the feet against getting dirtied or injured while walking. Wearing comfort has been the main consideration while designing such foot wears. With the advent of athletic shoes using tough soles and soft pods which provide good support and cushioning, value addition in footwear industry reached astronomic proportions. Designs of shoes and the multicolor pods have made them almost on par with jewelery, capable of enhancing the personality of the wearer! Recent claims about the ability of the shoes to improve muscle health indicate the newer opportunities the footwear industry has in becoming a player in the personal health care business.

"While most athletic shoes offer support and cushioning, the new muscle-activating shoes are engineered to create a sense of instability. Design elements like curved soles and Reebok's "balance pods" are said to force the wearer to engage stabilizing muscles further, resulting in additional toning for calf, hamstring and gluteal muscles. That sounds great, but do they really work? To support the claims, the shoemakers each offer company-financed exercise studies suggesting that the shoes produce a higher level of muscle engagement, at least in a controlled research setting. But the studies don't show whether more engagement leads to meaningful changes in muscle tone or appearance over time. Nor is it clear whether the high level of engagement continues once the walker becomes accustomed to the shoe".

Shoes with claims to cure arthritis, back pain and obesity are also being offered by manufacturers. The basic design feature in all these new brands is to create a sense of instability forcing the wearer to engage in stabilizing the muscles further, especially the calf, harmstring and gluteal ones. One of the least considered areas by the footwear industry is the vulnerability of the wearers to fungal and other infections spread by microorganisms that develop inside the shoes, especially under high humidity conditions, causing a variety of skin afflictions. Probably some efforts are needed to be directed to this area for coming out with future models that can ensure freedom from shoe related skin problems on the feet.



How about a guide that says which foods are the most contaminated and which are least contaminated with respect to the presence of pesticide residues in the market? It should be of great help for the consumers to look for organic versions of most contaminated and buy normal versions in case of least contaminated ones. According to the NGO Environmental Working Group (EWG), a knowledge about the safety of various fruits and vegetables will help the consumer to stretch his money to the maximum extent possible by restricting the buying of costly organic products to those categories known to carry high levels of contaminants.

"It's not always easy to find organic foods and sometimes they cost a bit more. So not all of your food has to be organic. But foods which contain higher amounts of pesticides are the ones you should try to buy organic.Pesticides are hard to wash off completely and they can seep into fruits and veggies. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), consumers can reduce their pesticide exposure 80-percent by avoiding the most contaminated fruits and vegetables".

The list compiled by EWG contains many popular fruits and vegetables like Apple, Peach, Celery, Strawberries, Lettuce, Grapes and Carrots and it is preferable to buy these with organic label. Availability of accurate data on pesticide residue will be of great help in drawing such a guideline. In many developing countries such information is difficult to be accessed, a handicap for creating consumer awareness.



According to Islamic Religious Rules, all foods consumed by its members must conform to Halal standards which are universally respected. As many countries do not impose any restrictions if the products are certified as Halal by the industry, disputes have often arisen because of lack of credibility of its certifying arms. New Zealand, one of the top beef and dairy products exporters in the world had experienced serious problems regarding quality and has now brought the certifying organizations, New Zealand Islamic Meat Management (NZIMM) dealing with meat products and Federation of Islamic Association (FIA), managing dairy product exports under its direct overseeing control.

"The Government is stepping into an arena it has previously tried to stay clear of - the certification of New Zealand exports as "halal", or "clean" in terms of Islamic religious rules. New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) has announced that organisations which certify halal meat for export will be subject to government oversight "to standardise halal certification and improve assurances to our trading partners". "While the proposed model focuses currently on meat exports, it could be extended to include dairy products in the future," said NZFSA market access director Tony Zohrab. NZFSA has added halal export certification for Indonesia, Malaysia and the Middle East to the list of additional assurances it provides to importing countries.Halal certification in New Zealand has not previously been directly regulated by government officials".

Probably the proposed ban by Indonesia on import of $ 100 million worth beef and $ 540 million worth dairy products from New Zealand in 2010, because of quality issues, must have spurred the action by the food safety authority in that country. More significantly New Zealand also has thrown open the field of certification to others for certification purpose, who must conform to the standards of performance stipulated.


Friday, December 18, 2009


Food adulteration is supposed to be rampant in many developing countries including India and China but reliable statistics are hard to come by, giving a feeling that every thing is fine as long as large number of people do not die due to severe food poisoning. Statistics can also give a false sense of comfort when the fatality from food poisoning is extrapolated on a scale of number of deaths per population of a thousand or a million! Recent reports from Ludhiana and Ahmadabad regarding widespread food adulteration instances in these urban areas, if true, mean that food adulteration must the most profitable and safest "business" in India! Many sociologists believe that present deterrent policy is not strong enough to "kill" the incentive for adulteration and the example of China is often cited.

"China executed a dairy farmer and a milk salesman Tuesday for their roles in the sale of contaminated baby formula — severe punishments that Beijing hopes will assuage public anger, reassure importers and put to rest one of the country's worst food safety crises. The men were the only people put to death in a scheme to boost profits by lacing milk powder with the industrial chemical melamine; another 19 were convicted and received lesser sentences. At least six children died after drinking the adulterated formula, and more than 300,000 were sickened".

Execution for adulteration may be too severe a punishment though in the Chinese incidence melamine adulteration caused some death amongst children. Difficulties in assigning responsibility for adulteration cases do present problems in a society like that in India which is a democracy with a sound but complicated judicial system. Recent pronouncements by FSSAI, the Authority in charge of food safety, declaring complete overhaul of the monitoring and punishment system for culprits give some hope that it will be harsh enough to be deterrent for future food criminals.



Copenhagen climate summit is drawing to a close and there does not seem to be high hopes for a universally acceptable agreement amongst the nations that could have ensured significant emission cuts in the coming years. The fact that this century cannot withstand another 2C rise in global temperature without any catastrophic consequences does not seem to have instilled any sense of urgency for which the entire world will have pay for it. It is interesting that one of the top emitter of green house gases, the US, had the cheek to sign a cooperation agreement with India recently for fostering a green partnership, probably without meaning it!

"Launch of a "Green Partnership"
to strengthen U.S./India cooperation on clean energy, climate change, and food security. This reflects our two countries' commitment to taking vigorous action to combat climate change, ensuring mutual energy security, working towards global food security, and building a clean energy economy that will drive investment, job creation, and economic growth throughout the 21st century".

Looking at the word play in the joint communication, where clean energy, climate change and food security find prominent mention, one becomes skeptic as to the outcome of such an exercise. In contrast countries like India and China, with lot of developmental aspirations for their population, have unilaterally declared drastic cut in emissions voluntarily between 20 and 40% before the year 2020. The moot question here is whether such sacrifices are really worth because it can only keep rich man always rich and allow growth of poverty further among the impoverished poor.



There is good news for the food industry which is locked in a fight against pathogens during the manufacture of processed foods to assure the consumer that their finished products are safe for consumption. Large scale food processing involves safety assessment of raw materials used and the finished goods coming out of the processing line. In between, on-line process monitoring is also important to avoid shop floor contamination that will call for higher process parameters than the one designed. It is a tribute to the pharmaceutical industry that
rapid techniques are being evolved for fighting infectious diseases and food industry is one of the beneficiaries as it can gainfully use these methods for safety assessment in foods without waiting for long time.

"Technology developments and changes have initiated sweeping changes in the market for automated and rapid microbiological tests. With probe tests threatening the survival of immunoassay based rapid tests and with advances in automated microbiological testing systems promising potential opportunities, the landscape is fraught with a unique mixture of opportunities and related threats. The new methods offer greater speed, accuracy, specificity and sensitivity than can be achieved with conventional culturing or immunoassay methods. Molecular diagnostics is the new enabling technology of numerous next generation rapid microbiology test kits".

While such rapid strides are being made elsewhere in the world, most of the food industry players in India do not have even the basic lab facility for culturing a microorganism let alone go through reliable safety assessment protocol. There are many industrial units enjoying the ISO and HACCP certication, not having such facilities. It is a tragedy that industry does not consider investment on microbiological assay facilities and experienced microbiologists as a priority, probably because of lack of product liability and accountability regime in the country and a lax system of monitoring and enforcement that allows culprits to go scotfree.


Thursday, December 17, 2009


Butter is what makes bread attractive to the consumers world over. Modern consumers, how ever, shun butter because of the "fear" about cholesterol and triglycerides that are implicated in CVD and other diseases. Imitation butter products containing less or no cholesterol and more unsaturated fats are flooding the markets to meet the demand from discerning consumers sensitive about their health. But for old timers butter in its natural form is supreme and they will not settle for any thing less than genuine butter. As with any other foods butter can also differ in organoleptic quality depending on where it is made and who produces it.

"So Shelf Life did some homework. There are any number of interesting reasons for differences in butter quality. For example, European butter is highly rich and flavourful because it contains up to 86% butterfat (the North American standard is 80-81%). Closer to home, artisanal butters get their distinctive qualities from the practice of terroir, in which elements such as the location, breed and diet of the livestock may be discerned in the finished product. When it comes to everyday, supermarket butter, salt is a factor, and colour. Salt can be sneaky".

Nearer home, in India, even to day many consumers are nostalgic about fresh butter churned out from cultured milk or curd which has its own characteristic flavor and texture. This may be the only country where gadgets are designed and made for churning curd to make butter because there is a substantial population which makes butter at home. Advent of "utterly butterly" Amul butter has weaned many people away from butter making at home and it has become an "icon" for most of the consumers and eateries in the country.


According to some food safety experts it is better to avoid eating certain foods because of definitive reasons. Whether such a conclusion is reached based on meticulously compiled safety data or just a gut feeling will determine the credibility of such advices. Looking at the list of seven foods these experts say they would avoid, most of them are grown or manufactured to day and marketed. Caution needs to be exercised regarding following of this advice because the data may be relevant only for some of them confined to some geographic region at a particular given time.

"Want to know the foods that the "food safety experts" won't eat?
Prevention Magazine decided to ask. They posed the question, "What foods do you avoid?" to the people whose work is to uncover what's safe to eat – or not"

Included in the list are tomatoes, popcorn, salmon, milk, potato and apples grown/processed in a particular way. Canned potato is avoided because of the reported findings regarding presence of BPA in the lining of the cans used while microwaved popcorn is shunned due to reported presence of perfluorooctanoic acid migrated from the bags. Similarly Non-organic potato and non-organic apples are indicted because of pesticide/herbicide residue in them. Milk produced using rBGH hormones and farmed salmon using unsafe chemicals are also shunned due to safety apprehensions.



Korean food industry with an annual turnover of about $ 100 billion at present is anticipated to grow by 50% in a decade's time and the government there is in the process of injecting about $ 4.3 billion in the next 3 years to strengthen this sector. Though it is not a major exporter of foods, annual exports which stand at $ 3.8 billion is will reach more than $ 10 billion by 2010. Korea currently spends about 0.38% of the food industry turnover on R & D which may reach 1.2 % soon, emphasizing the importance attached to innovations and new development activities.

"On the global stage, the food industry reaches $4 trillion overall and is bigger than the auto and information technology industries. Growing interest and the importance of food safety across the world shows prospects are positive for more growth in this industry. Korea's food businesses, however, are not mature enough to compete globally. Of its 8,500 food makers, more than 90 percent have less than 50 employees. Sales for Korean companies average at 5.7 billion won, and averaged annual sales of restaurants and eateries here are tallied at 930 million won ($80,485), lagging behind that of Japan with $361,092 or the United States with $511,000. Only eight local makers post annual sales over 1 trillion won. Korea's exports of processed food amounted to $1.9 billion last year, with some 40 countries ahead of it".

One of the redeeming features of future planning in the food sector in Korea is the importance attached to traditional condiments and fermented foodstuffs and priority accorded to development of Kimchi, Chilli sauce and Bean paste. A new food R & D program is proposed to be set up under Institute for Kimchi to deal with traditional foods, for which Korea is well known.