A report some time back implicated uncontrolled pollution of Thames River in the UK with birth control pills, for the fish to change their sex with females predominating over males! It is known that estrogens present in water can be endocrine disruptors causing fertility problems and other adverse health effects. While well protected water supply systems are supposed to be free from such contaminants, most of the population exposed to untreated or semi-processed water are in danger of consuming significant levels of estrogens and other endocrine disruptor that can have undesirable health implications. Recent studies, though some what limited in its scope, have highlighted this problem more succinctly. It is scary to imagine that improper sewage treatment and stable nature of the estrogen contaminant can affect the fertility in human beings. This is especially true in many developing countries where open defecation is so common and natural streams and rivers are exposed to contamination from human waste. Unfortunately no worth while study has been carried out in this area so far in these countries.
"Amber Wise, Kacie O'Brien and Tracey Woodruff note ongoing concern about possible links between chronic exposure to estrogens in the water supply and fertility problems and other adverse human health effects. Almost 12 million women of reproductive age in the United States take the pill, and their urine contains the hormone. Hence, the belief that oral contraceptives are the major source of estrogen in lakes, rivers, and streams. Knowing that sewage treatment plants remove virtually all of the main estrogen -- 17 alpha-ethinylestradiol (EE2) -- in oral contraceptives, the scientists decided to pin down the main sources of estrogens in water supplies. Their analysis found that EE2 has a lower predicted concentration in U.S. drinking water than natural estrogens from soy and dairy products and animal waste used untreated as a farm fertilizer. And that all humans, (men, women and children, and especially pregnant women) excrete hormones in their urine, not just women taking the pill. Some research cited in the report suggests that animal manure accounts for 90 percent of estrogens in the environment. Other research estimates that if just 1 percent of the estrogens in livestock waste reached waterways, it would comprise 15 percent of the estrogens in the world's water supply".
it is time that a concerted effort is made to assess the situation vis-à-vis the extent of presence of estrogens in public water bodies in countries like India. Naturally one assumes that exposure to natural elements and action of soil organisms would have broken down these harmful substances before reaching the water bodies. In a lighter vein one may ask why the fertility rate is so high in most developing countries if the water consumed by the population has high levels of anti-fertility estrogens originating from human and animal wastes? Similary has any one estimated the presence of estrogen like substances in organically grown produce materials as natural fertilizers are used for raising the crops? Probably these issues need some clarification through further scientific efforts.
The poor High Fructose Corn Syrup! Commonly known as HFCS it is a hexose sugar just like glucose but it is perceived to be metabolized slower than the latter. It is also a normal metabolite in the body with all necessary enzymes present in humans to push it all the way to CO2 while generating energy. But there is a growing controversy regarding its alleged role in accumulating fat around the waist and many consumers seem to be convinced by this argument though not absolutely supported by much scientific evidence. That the processing industry has adopted it as the most economical sweetener in most of the packed food products has made the matter worse. Sustained campaigns by many activist organizations against use of HFCS seem to be affecting the business of the industry in a significant way and a trend is slowly emerging wherein many industrial players are either reducing its use already or contemplating doing so progressively to protect their business.
"First it was calories, then it was fat and sodium. Now, the latest health concern is high-fructose corn syrup. As the country deals with obesity issues, ingredients in food have come under increasing scrutiny, bringing some confusion to the marketplace but also opportunities for companies as they try to differentiate themselves in a competitive grocery store. Consumer concern has been getting a quick response from food companies, as many remove high-fructose corn syrup from well-known products, replacing it with cane or beet sugar. Sara Lee Corp. is the latest to jump on board, removing the sweetener from its two best-selling breads. Among the big-name products that already have undergone recipe overhauls are Hunt's ketchup, Gatorade, and everything in Starbucks' pastry case. High-fructose corn syrup, the widely used and historically inexpensive sweetener, has been getting a critical look from food scientists and many American families, due at least in part to books, movies, and studies looking at why Americans continue to gain weight. First lady Michelle Obama has said that she won't feed her daughters products containing the ingredient. Many medical and nutritional experts, as well as the Corn Refiners Association, say that all sweeteners are metabolized in the same way. A Princeton University study, on the other hand, has found that long-term consumption of high-fructose corn syrup does lead to abnormal increases in body fat, especially around the belly. Books such as The Omnivore's Dilemma have added to the debate, asserting that widespread use of high-fructose corn syrup is part of what's wrong with the American diet. And movies such as Food, Inc. have heightened many consumers' skepticism".
What is the truth? Logically HFCS has to get metabolized like glucose and a naturally occurring fructose containing product cannot have any undesirable effect on human body. How ever one of the critical questions raised in this controversy is whether HFCS can be considered as a normal fructose source as it is a product derived from corn by hydrolysis and isomerization reaction to increase the fructose content using industrial enzymes. In contrast sucrose contains glucose and fructose in equal concentration to which human body is accustomed. Whether high concentration of fructose impairs the normal carbohydrate metabolism in the body is not precisely known. The situation is similar to bis-phenol A (BPA) controversy now being faced by the packaging industry and may countries are rushing to ban this artifact chemical supposed to be leached into the food from the package causing some harm to the consumers. Though there is no conclusive proof that BPA really poses any hazard at levels it occurs in processed and packed foods, many industry players are voluntarily shunning the packaging materials with potential for contamination from this chemical. While as a general philosophy use of natural materials and consumption of natural foods are ideal, the modern society cannot live without processed foods and all such products are presumed to be put in the market after weighing the risk-benefit aspects while formulating.V.H.POTTY
Voluntary reduction of salt in processed foods by the industry without coercion by the government is a dream being pursued in many countries with practically no impact on the issue. That salt intake, if reduced significantly can help in cutting down of mortality due to health disorders like CVD and others is well known but the common citizens does not seem to have much control on the problem in countries where they depend more and more on processed foods. Industry is reluctant to cut the use of salt in many products because of serious apprehensions regarding the acceptability of these salt-reduced products in a fiercely competitive market. There are reports that in some countries voluntary efforts by the industry in reducing use of salt have yielded results, albeit at a slow pace but experts believe that only mandatory and restrictive policies can expedite the goal. Here is a typical case of the bead industry in Australia where voluntary salt reduction assurances were not effective.
"Although various targets had been outlined and it had been agreed by the industry by 2009, a recent research has shown that the level of salt in the nation's bread supply has not undergone any changes in the last four years. A study had been carried out by the Sydney-based George Institute for Global Health (GIGH) which showed that there had been some reduction in the salt levels of some of the bread makers while for some other products it had increased with the net effect of no change. "Less than half of the bread products on Australian supermarket shelves currently the sodium target (400mg/100g) established by the government's food and health dialogue", the reports said. Between the years 2007 and 2010, there has been no change in the average sodium levels in Australian bread products. This report also puts forth the names of the best and worst bakers on their effort to reduce salt".
It is not clear as to why bread industry is being accused of not reducing salt since a product like bread contains very little salt but more serious culprits are snacking and restaurant industries which are responsible for a large part of salt ingestion by the people. Also not clear is why the bread industry cannot reduce the salt levels because salt is not a significant ingredient that can influence the quality of the end product. While the bread industry can be forced to cut down drastically on the use of salt, what about the consumer who is likely to go for that ubiquitous "salt sprinkler" on the dining table to satisfy his taste buds? What can be done to persuade him not to consume too much salt in his every day cuisine? The only answer is "education" and unless a wider awareness about the dangers of too much salt in food is dinned into their ears, no worthwhile results can be expected in achieving universal goal of salt reduction.
The Locavores movement which started in a small way in the US is becoming more and more popular day by day making the large retailers take note of its impact on their bottom line. This passion for fresh produce grown locally is based on the increasing awareness of consumers about the so called "harmful" effects of industrialized agriculture on their health. It is known that large scale production of foods in commercial farms involve use of fertilizers, pesticides and other inputs which could leave traces of chemicals on the produce with some possibility of harm to the health of the consumers in the long run. Besides the large carbon print left behind by the process of cooling, cold storage and low temperature transport and the chilled vending shelves in the super markets, seems to have persuaded the consumers to patronize locally grown produce offered through farmers' markets in their locality. Now that the local food lure has caught on in a big way, large retailers are jumping into the band wagon to corner a slice of the pie for their survival.
"The demand for fresh, local food is no myth. According to the most recent National Farmers Market Survey, released in 2005, farmers market sales topped $1 billion, and for more than 25 percent of vendors, all farm income came from farmers markets. The number of farmers markets across the U.S. has grown from 1,755 in 1994 to 6,132 in 2010, according to the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service. Between 2009 and 2010 alone there was a 16 percent increase. Missouri is part of this trend with about 180 farmers markets around the state — up from 53 in 1997, according to records from the Missouri Department of Agriculture. Walmart's intention to double in-state food products in five years, announced in mid-October, shows the trend has not gone unnoticed . It's difficult to put a dollar amount on Walmart's plan; the company does not break out its produce sales. But the company's 2010 annual report said groceries accounted for 51 percent of total sales in the U.S. or $258 billion — about $20 billion more than Missouri's 2009 gross state product".
In India there is a "desi" version of farmers' market in many places popularly known as rural "shandies", assembled on some scheduled days in a week but these shandies serve mainly the rural folks living in a radius of 25-30 km. Besides fresh produce, they also sell other house hold goods at relatively low prices, having no over head costs. These markets are held in open dusty places with practically no facility for either the farmers or the buyers, being neglected for decades by the state governments. It is a pity that western countries are discovering the virtues of local farmers' markets now which were in existence, albeit in a crude form in India for decades. The difference is that Indians do it in the most disorderly way while American markets are well organized and managed. Farmers' markets also exist in many towns and cities across the country where local civic bodies provide selling facilities to the growers in centralized places and lately some of these markets have been upgraded with cold storage facilities for keeping the produce for a day or two at nominal costs. These city markets are fed by farmers from surrounding villages who do not have much of an insight into the correct way fresh produce has to be handled and invariably by the time they reach the market there is significant quality deterioration. Probably each state will have to focus on modernizing these markets as well as training the growers regarding scientific practices of handling the fresh produce to deliver them to the consumer in prime condition.
Food processing is ideally a balance between the need for preservation from spoilage and maintaining the sensory quality and nutrition of the food almost on par with their fresh counterparts. But in practice some compromise has to be struck wherein the eating quality may have to be compromised to some extent. Of the major process technologies, thermal processing using high temperature conditions is known to cause maximum damage to the end product, especially in terms of texture and some times flavor. Innovative developments in food technology are invariably targeted at evolving an ideal process that can accomplish preservation at ambient conditions and there are already a few such technologies like gamma radiation, use of chemical preservatives, etc which, of course have their own limitations when it comes to universal acceptance. It is in this context that the new innovation, recently reported involving use of non-thermal plasma for achieving food decontamination at low temperatures, has to be considered.
Gas plasma decontamination, produced by discharges at atmospheric pressure and low temperature, could make it a practical and inexpensive process for product preservation. Non-thermal plasmas can be generated by microwave, radio-frequency, pulsed and other power sources. Suitable systems that have been studied include the resistive barrier discharge (RBD), which can generate gas plasma at atmospheric conditions. Several mechanisms are thought to be responsible for microbial inactivation and depend on plasma characteristics and the type of microorganism. The electrical and chemical emissions of the plasma devices can be measured and used to calculate the electron number density of the plasma, while emission spectra can also be used to determine the rotational and vibrational temperatures of the plasma. Gas plasma could have potential for the decontamination of foods such as shell eggs that are difficult to sanitize by conventional methods, but further investigation is needed into the use of cold plasma in the food industry. A study by Ragni et al.1, describes the development and evaluation of a prototype RBD plasma device. The plasma glow was analysed by optical emission spectroscopy while the discharge was electrically characterized. The surface decontamination of shell eggs, experimentally inoculated with Salmonella enteritidis and Salmonella typhimurium, was assessed over different decontamination times and gas conditions. The RBD device generated a low-temperature, after-glow gas mixture able to reduce the populations of both microorganisms on shell eggs. The plasma emission showed the presence of OH radicals, NO radicals and other reactive species involved in the microbial reduction. Treatment times of around 90 minutes were feasible for the poultry industry, with no significant negative effects on egg quality traits.
Though the development is in an early stage, the gas plasma technology for preservation may revolutionize the industrial processing of foods in the coming years, if it can be applied to many foods, especially those vulnerable to pathogenic infection. Limited studies on egg preservation offer some encouraging results and there is a long way to go before it becomes a reliable means of ensuring safety of perishable foods. One of the limitations could be the long exposure time required to achieve a satisfactory kill of pathogens which may make it difficult to make the process continuous. Also to be ensured is the safety of artifacts produced in the food, if any, during the process on human health.V.H.POTTY
Resorts are claimed to provide ideal environment to restore mental and physical health of people needing some relief from their stressed out life style. According to modern definition a resort is a center for "relaxation and recreation". Resorts attract visitors for holidays or on vacation and depending on the quality and range of services provided, it can offer facilities like food, drink, lodging, sports, entertainment and even shopping experience. With tourism becoming a big money spinner, there are well promoted resort towns and on-line promotion brings people from all over the world. A recent example of a successful brand creation of tourism comes from Kerala, which was able to create the iconic slogan " God's own Country", though it is ruled by atheists not believing in any God at all! Here is a small instance of an individual promoting a resort in Karnataka on a "healthy" food platform
"But Ambika also clarifies that by making the modifications, they are not depriving themselves or their bodies of anything. "We've not become social misfits… we're not militant about it." They do use ghee and butter, but not as a cooking medium. "And we use our own cow's milk to make sure it's stress and hormone-free milk." They use sesame seeds in salads so there's enough calcium, dates are used to provide iron content. Coconut milk is used instead of dairy milk where necessary. "We make butter out of almonds, cashew and peanut and consume them fresh." Their aim at the resort is to keep it all fresh and organic, "from the farm to the pot," says Ambika. And as wholesome as possible — they have said no to refined white sugar, white rice and maida. Whole grains, pulses, red rice, and jaggery rule; even the staff at the resort eats the same food served to guests. Koftas are steamed instead of fried. Samosas are baked and they bake their own multigrain bread. The kitchen runs on strict time schedule "so that everyone eats their meals on time; when you eat is also as important as what you eat," says Ambika. And that one ingredient that always sets food apart is the love we put into the cooking, insists Ambika. So she always has a chat with the boys who cook at the resort before entering the kitchen; she makes sure they're happy and singing while cooking".How far this is an "inspired" promotion based on the real time experience of the journalist is a matter of conjecture. May be the set up is a genuine health food center but absence of any national standards to evaluate the credentials of such food oriented resorts make it difficult to believe what ever is dished out by journalists with little knowledge of food, nutrition, health and safety. It is fair to claim that it is using organic foods raised in its own farm but to talk about radical innovations and deviations from accepted scientific norms needs expert confirmation. Of course the traditional foods as encrypted in ancient Vedic literature are used extensively by many modern day health restoring centers though how far they conform to original system is not verifiable. There are hundreds of "weight shedding centers", spread all over the country but invariably within a short period of leaving these facilities, customers tend to regain the weight because of indisciplined eating. To claim that love is an important component of the food served in any commercial establishment, it requires extraordinary bend of mind to even think of it, let alone practice. If this logic is extended, home cooked foods, prepared lovingly by one's mother or wife must be the best and eating out practice should have disappeared long ago. Well meaning people may be trustworthy but whether their system is credible requires careful assessment.
For the last 5 decades systematic attempts were being made to target Palm oil and label it as unhealthy. Probably the fact that it is the most affordable edible oil in the world is working against this common man's oil and some of the Western countries with their large production base of Canola and Soybean Oil, have a vested interest in this diabolical plot as they find it difficult to face competition from oils coming from Asia like Palm oil and Coconut oil. Though both Palm oil and Coconut oil have been proved conclusively to be safe, the orchestrated charade against them continues unabated. It is unfortunate that a country like Australia with no stake in this controversy has got into the band wagon of Palm oil "haters".
"As per the prediction of a manager with one of the most popular food companies in Australia the food industry will gradually play a key role in phasing out just like the building industry phased out asbestos. oilPalm oil is frequently used in the production of snacks, frozen foods and bread spreads since it is a cheap alternative which is very high in saturated fat. It is also disguised as 'vegetable oil' companies on labels. Some prominent brands use this oil for their products like Nutella, Kraft peanut butter and chips by Smith's. This oil has recently become a controversial product which is being used in foods because of its high saturated fat content. The palm oil plantations also have several other harmful effects on the environment. The manager of Dick Smith Foods, Paul Grundy said that his company is among those who have asked this ingredient to be removed from all the spreads after customers have expressed their concern about this ingredient. He said, "Asbestos was used in building materials 50 years ago and today it is not, because they [the manufacturers] recognized the hazards with it. The same happens in food products: ingredients change over time, based upon more a more enlightened view of the world."
It is the height of stupidity and sense of arrogance for a spokesperson of the Australian food industry to compare Palm oil with Asbestos which is banned because of its proven involvement in lung related ailments. What harm Palm oil has done to human beings for it to be compared with Asbestos? One has to only point out the enormous damage done by the Western originated "Hydrogenated Fats" which contained high levels Trans fats considered a major culprit in the rampaging incidences of heart disease being seen all over the world. What right do these antagonists of Palm oil have in condemning it with no scientific evidence? Another excuse to condemn Palm oil is that the producing countries in Asia are denuding the jungles for expanding its cultivation thus causing harm to the environment. Same applies to Brazil also which is cultivating sugar cane in thousands of acres of land after clearing Amazon forest and do the Western countries shun Sugar or Bio-ethanol exported by Brazil? Palm oil producers must counter such discriminatory practices by banning import of soy oil and Canola and products made there from originating in these countries as a "tit for tat" response to the irresponsible campaign against this "innocent" oil.
Information Technology has become so omnipotent that there is practically no field of human activity which is untouched by this powerful tool. In the food area use of electronics and advanced computing systems have made it easier to increase productivity, improve quality and safety of foods and improve management efficiency. The ultimate in electronics, the robots are likely to be normal fixtures in the production floor of many food processing companies in not too distant a future. Digital technology has enabled consumers to make informed choice of the foods they can buy and derive maximum benefits. Advances in mobile telephony are slated to empower the consumers to obtain important information about the products available on the super market shelves for comparison of various products and choose the best suiting to individual requirement vis-à-vis nutrition and health.
"The back story of a particular food item is valuable to consumers, too, for reasons such as managing health to being able to make moral or ethical judgments. As the Christian Science Monitor recently noted, "every gadget, piece of food, or article of clothing comes with a back story." There is already a growing movement to quantify data about the way we live - and eat. From web apps like Health Month (which enables you to set health goals and track them over a month, including dietary goals) to the self-explanatory TweetWhatYouEat. These apps will become much more sophisticated once food businesses give consumers data from the supply chain. The web site The Quantified Self, run by Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly, has more tips and tools for consumers who wish to track and manage the data about their lives. As a diabetic (type 1), I'm more careful than most people about what I eat. So I can't wait for the day when I'll be able to scan a food item with my smart phone and find out if it's a healthier option for me than a competing product. This is a huge opportunity for the food industry. Compete on the quality of the data you provide; and win. Let us know in the comments if you've spotted some early examples of food companies utilizing sensor or similar data".
Consumer of to day is much more worried about the safety of foods they buy and eat and digital technology is providing the required tools to monitor the history of supply chain of any product to get a feeling of confidence before buying them. It is a paradox that in spite of such powerful tools at the disposal of the industry and the consumer, there is a perceptible trend of the consumer shifting his loyalty to locally grown produce and locally made foods. While green house gas emission is certainly a factor, it may be more due to the inability of the organized commercial food producers to gain the confidence of the people because of the perception that industry does not care for consumer health, their focus being profitability "at any cost". Unless this issue is addressed no technology can come to the rescue of the industry.
Agriculture is receiving increased attention from climatologists because this sector has been found to be contributing substantially to green house gas emission which is responsible for significant warming up of the planet with its attendant adverse consequences to the world at large. Though every one agrees that there is an urgent need to cut down on emission, no unanimity seems to be emerging regarding the modus operandi to achieve the goal. While most of the developed nations do not want to sacrifice the comforts their citizens enjoy because of the liberal use of unsustainable fossil fuels, developing countries aspiring to catch up and achieve decent economic growth cannot be expected to commit to any drastic reduction in CO2 emission without condemning their people to a life of eternal misery. It is unlikely that there will be any agreement on this controversial but critical issue in the foreseeable future because of the wide divergence and perception amongst the countries as of now.
"An 80-nation conference on food security urged U.N. climate negotiators Friday to consider agriculture when drawing up strategies to fight climate change. The five-day meeting ended with a call to invest in new farming practices that will curb greenhouse gas emissions and will better use currently available land to feed a global population of 9 billion by 2050. About 30 percent of carbon emissions come from farming, livestock and forest destruction. Despite its huge share of global emissions, accounting for the use of land is one of the toughest issues under negotiation at U.N. climate talks, and the one which has made the least progress. The talks involve creating incentives for emission reductions by vast agricultural conglomerates and by farmers still using wooden plows on tiny plots. It also touches an industry that is heavily subsidized in many countries. Dutch Agriculture Minister Henk Bleker said funding for "climate smart" agriculture should be integrated into U.N.negotiations. Investment "in agricultural development has been declining in the last 10 years,"Bleker told reporters. "We want to change that." Negotiators reconvene in Cancun, Mexico, later this month, in the most important session since the summit last December in Copenhagen. That convention in Denmark fell short of any legally binding agreement to regulate the pollution blamed for global warming, concluding instead with a statement of principles. But the leaders in Copenhagen agreed to channel $10 billion a year to developing countries through 2012, and to raise $100 billion annually starting in 2020 to help poor countries curb their own emissions and to adapt to changing climate conditions. "Climate change negotiators are frequently not familiar with agriculture," said the World Bank's special envoy on climate change , Andrew Steer. "Nobody expects a global deal at Cancun, but there will surely be one before too long," and agriculture must be part of it, he told the conference earlier this week".
The recently concluded climate summit at Cancun, Mexico also ended up with lot of platitudes and sermons without any conclusions regarding who must do what! The commitment of $ 100 billion for helping the poor countries to achieve carbon reduction is at best a token though no one is clear as to the source of such a fund. It is amusing to hear that the wood fired hearth used by poor families in the third world are generating carbon particles which are responsible for destruction of ice cap and other climate changes! Next would probably the emaciated animals roaming around freely in countries like India generating Methane gas that is more potent than CO2 in global warming!. The moot question is whether the rich nations want the poor countries to remain poor till the end of the world? If so this planet will never be a peaceful place to live with a perpetual cycle of violence and unrest prevalent in many parts of the world..
The food industry in the US is gigantic measured by any yardstick and the safety of the products marketed by it is supposed to be overseen by the regulatory agency Food and Drug Administration.(FDA). Because of extraordinarily high consumer expectations about food safety and greater vulnerability of the American consumer to food contamination, even occasional and minor food related episodes create an impression that all is not well with the food industry there. On the contrary FDA has been doing its work reasonably well considering the relatively few incidences of food poisoning out of billions of dollars worth manufactured products in the food sector. The phenomenon of private party auditing resorted to by most manufacturers as a voluntary program for avoiding costly lapses in quality and safety, is deeply ingrained in the US system though there have been instances of abuse of confidence by some errant private auditors. Whether the recent criticism about the private audit system is serious cannot be confirmed unless supported by reliable statistics.
"Problems are rife within the quality control system of the U.S. food industry, which relies on private-sector auditors, industry experts say. Food retail executives and other experts say the voluntary system used by the country's $1 trillion food industry is plagued by conflicts of interest, inexperienced auditors and cursory inspections that produce inflated ratings, The Washington Post reported Friday. The use of private inspectors has increased as companies try to protect themselves from lawsuits and recalls that can damage their brand names. But the inspections don't necessarily mean safer products for consumers, experts say.
"It's a business strategy, not a public-health strategy," said David Acheson, former assistant commissioner for food protection at the Food and Drug Administration. Large chain stores and food producers, wanting assurances about the products they place on their shelves and the ingredients they use in making food, often require that their suppliers undergo regular inspections by independent auditors. This all takes place outside any government involvement. Industry experts say that while such inspections can be useful, a major problem is that auditors are typically paid by the companies they are inspecting, creating a conflict of interest for inspectors who might worry about losing business if they don't give high ratings".
The manpower cost in the US, being one of the highest in the world, employing full time technical personnel permanently in required number to monitor can be a costly proposition for the industry and hence dependence on private auditing system cannot avoided altogether. Besides, the private auditors with no Axe to grind can be expected to be more pragmatic and practical in assessing the processing environment and give a right perspective vis-à-vis safety related issues. If there were no private auditors, the task of FDA would have become unmanageable because of resource and personnel constraints. A few auditors becoming wayward cannot deflect the value of the entire system and more stringent performance standards may have to be evolved for their function.
With the white sugar becoming a villain in to day's health landscape, there is a constant endeavor to find alternate sweeteners that do not contribute to calories in formulated foods. Also there are millions of people suffering from diabetes and they are in need of a substitute to natural sugar that will not tax their insulin need. While there are many synthetic sugar substitutes like Saccharine, Aspartame, Acesulfamate, etc which are man-made, Stevia Glycosides isolated from the Stevia plant leaves stands out as a unique natural sweetener with zero food calories. Though the leaves of the plant were used for centuries in the South American continent, safety of the isolated and purified preparations has been an issue under consideration for quite some time in the past. Now that many countries and international agencies have found these products safe, there appears to be increasing interest from the food industry in using them in many preparations, especially the health foods. Probably sensing the huge business potential ahead, manufacturers are trying to bring some order into this unorganized industry through forming of associations with definite objectives.
Suppliers and stakeholders in the stevia industry are organising to maintain standards and pursue scientific enquiry into the use of stevia sweeteners. But two trade organisations have been announced this week, with very different membership criteria and ostensibly different aims.Stevia, a South American plant in the sunflower family, has atttracted massive interest in the last two years following FDA GRAS (generally recognised as safe) of high purity Reb A as a sweetener in the United States in late 2008. The European Food Safety Authority has published a positive safety opinion on extracts will a high purity of all steviol glycosides, and approval is expected from the European Commission in the first half of 2011. The formation of the International Stevia Council was announced yesterday, and is open to companies that process and/or manufacture and market stevia products in accordance with the JECFA purity specifications on steviol glycosides. Its main focus is on safety, quality and stakeholder understanding. Founding members are Cargill, Corn Products, GLG Life Tech, Granular, Morita Kagaku Kogyo, PureCircle, Sunwin, Sweet Green Fields, SweetLeaf Sweeteners, Verdure Sciences Europe and the Whole Earth Sweetener Company. It has its headquarters in Brussels and an office in Washington DC, USA. Meanwhile, the organising committee of Malta Strategic conferences has also announced the formation of a group to be called the World Stevia Organisation. Expected to be formally launched at the Stevia and Salt Reduction Conference in Malta at the end of this month, this organisation will be open to stakeholders throughout the entire supply chain, including agriculture, academia, manufacturing at all production stages, food and beverage companies, regulators, consumers, practitioners and media. The president and board will also be elected at the Malta conference.
Recent interest in China points to the possibility of using Stevia glycosides as a sugar extender where in natural sugar is blended with the Stevia sugar so that lesser sugar can provide the required sweetness. China produces one of the cheapest Stevia products, though its purity is not as high as that made elsewhere. Probably the International Stevia Council and World Stevia Organization will have to work on a common platform to evolve uniform standards and specifications and bring in Chinese producers also to prevent confusion regarding the quality of market products amongst the consumers.
Healthy eating habits are inculcated at early stages of life before rigid attitudes develop amongst children towards various foods. Invariably the "toxic food environment" that confronts the children, especially the high pitch promotion of so called junk foods by the food industry containing too much of sugar, fat and salt, lures them with uncontrolled eating, eventually leading to obesity. True, the labeling information printed on each and every pack is supposed to guide the consumer regarding nutrition status of the contents on a per serving basis, but for majority of them it does not make much sense. Nutritionists and sociologists believe that if consumers are made to read the label more carefully and understand the significance of information contained therein, there is evidence to show that more healthy foods with high nutrient density are selected while shunning unbalanced and unhealthy ones. It is in this context that one has to appreciate the efforts of Canadian Government in allying with the food industry to enlighten the citizens there through a sustained campaign highlighting the significance of reading and understanding the food labels.
"By choosing food that is healthier for them, they'll be eating healthier, and of course if you're eating healthier, then of course you are going to have less problems with chronic disease down the line." The campaign is simple enough. It tells consumers to read the nutrition label and focus on foods with higher levels of nutrients they may want more of, such as fibre, calcium and vitamins A and C. It also warns consumers to avoid products that contain high levels of fat and sodium. "This initiative provides information to Canadians in a variety of ways to help them when choosing a food or deciding between products," said Nancy Croitoru, president of FCPC. "Using the per cent daily value is a quick way for consumers to know if a packaged food contains a little or a lot of a nutrient." The nutrition label campaign begins its rollout with messaging on consumer packaging, in magazines and online. Health Canada has set up a website to lead consumers through nutrition labels.In January, the campaign will move to television and social media".
Such campaigns are good in educating and persuading the consumers to go for foods containing high nutrients during their shopping trips but how far it will have a lasting impact is a matter of conjecture. A more appropriate course of action could be tackling this problem in the schools when the children are at impressionable age, capable of assimilation of the information more effectively that may lead to lasting habits. In a country like Canada where literacy is practically 100% it is easier to evolve school curriculum that will integrate learning about food and nutrition. In India most labels are printed in English while majority of the population cannot read or grasp the significance of label information. Probably GOI should consider pictorial presentation mode for targeting those who are English illiterates. Schools can also be a fertile ground for creating awareness about good foods and their nutritional superiority. .