Sunday, January 31, 2010


Production of plastics is estimated at about 270 million tons (mt) per year world-wide and most of it originated from petroleum resources.
The huge quantity of non-biodegradable plastics generated year after year due to limited recycling practices is posing an enormous challenge in disposing them of, after use. Bio-plastics are being touted as the answer to the hydrocarbon based plastics of to day. Of course, it certainly is not a panacea but if the world is compelled to move to a fossil fuel free state, some alternative options should be available to make plastics on which the modern society depends so heavily. If the studies by scientists from Utrecht University are any indication, Bio-plastics will definitely be a potential option in the years to come.

"In their study, Martin K. Patel, Li Shen and Juliane Haufe demonstrate that up to 90 percent of the current global consumption of polymers can technically be converted from oil and gas to renewable raw materials." But while that's a pretty huge number, this is a theoretical ceiling. In the short to mid-term, the numbers are much lower: "Based on recent company announcements the production capacity of bio-based plastics is projected to increase from 360,000 tons in 2007 to about 2.3 million tons by 2013." The production of Bio-plastics could grow by on average 37 percent annually until 2013. Ceresana Research predicts the largest growth rates in electronics and auto industries. The Freedonia Group, an industrial research company, sees demand growing fastest in the Asia-Pacific region, and some predict the U.S. market to reach $10 billion a year by 2020, a tenfold increase from 2007.

Probably world will be left with no choice but to use Bio-plastics, once the fossil fuels start dwindling and their cost starts climbing steeply. Most eligible candidates in the Bio-plastic group would be Starch based plastics, poly lactic acid (PLA) and Bio-based Polyethylene (PE) and Polyhydroxy Alkanoates (PHA). World has to go a long way before bio-plastics production can assume a dominant role for industrial use.


Saturday, January 30, 2010


Food losses are estimated differently by different people through more of a guess than figures based on any definitive data. Ever since our independence, figures varying between 20% and 50% were routinely used by people to "stress" on the need to develop and deploy technologies that could reduce this wastage. While estimation of pre-harvest food losses is an extremely hard task, post-harvest losses can be quantified by bench mark surveys in different agricultural regions of the country. Food Corporation of India which procures about 10% of country's food grain production reports that their handling and storage losses are less than 2%. In the recent food convention at Bangalore a top scientist put the value of annual food losses at an astronomical figure of Rs 765 billion, though it is not clear how this figure was arrived at.

"Out of the loss of Rs 76,500 crore,equivalent to the annual budget of three big states, Rs 52,400 crore accounts for perishable fruits, vegetables and poultry products. This calls for augmenting infrastructure facilities,including storage and gearing up food processing industry", Dr A K Srivastava, Director and Vice-Chancellor NDRI Deemed University said.

According to some social scientists in India practically nothing is wasted because of the prevalence of abject poverty amongst more than one third of the population. Of course due to insufficient cold storage facilities there can be some quality losses but quantitatively the loss is considered negligible because there is a substantial clientele for low quality perishables also at lower prices. If a realistic estimate of real losses is to be made, only scientific survey of the entire food chain at the ground level can bring out the facts.


Agitations and protests by farmers whose land holdings are being usurped by the government in the name industrial development are on the increase in India lately. Forcing Tata Motors to shift their Nano car production facilities from West Bengal to Gujarat is an example of the virulence of such farmer organized agitations. With massive investments being made in SEZs, Technology Parks, Food Parks etc, more and more land will be required and state governments take up the responsibility in providing land to investors while inviting them to their regions. Why agricultural land is being taken over, that too paying meager compensation to the poor farmers is some thing that defies logic. Gujarat is an example where only land not suitable for economic farming is being given for industrial development.

'"n analysis of Gujarat's industrial areas will clearly show the approach of the Government of Gujarat has been to facilitate industrial development in areas that are not productive for agriculture. Industrialization in double-crop areas has been avoided and industrial areas have been located in coastal saline areas and other less fertile land".

In a country where food availability is progressively shrinking while the population is increasing, such diversion of land to non-agricultural purpose is bound to compromise the food security of the country. Governments, both at the state as well as the central level, are in possession of millions of hectares of land which could be easily utilized, in stead of allowing land mafias to grab them under the benign policy that exists to day.



It is always fashionable to compare the developments in India and China, the two Asian giants, both of them growing economically posing challenges to the developed countries in the current millennium. The very fact that President of United States in his "State of the Union" address to his nation mentioned about India as a threat to its domination, speaks volume about the resilience Indian democracy has amongst the comity of nations to day. While China has out paced India in several areas of development, it is yet to catch up with the latter in skill based industry and service sectors. This is a left handed compliment from the economic gurus of the West.

"India, in contrast does have conglomerates, such as the Tata Group. For all Chinese firms' success in capital-intensive industries, they have been outpaced by Indian companies in skill-intensive sectors such as pharmaceuticals, information technology and business processing. There is no Chinese Wipro ( WIT - news - people ) or Infosys. Not yet, at least. Nor has China developed substantial food and beverage or retailing companies, two industries still dominated by Western giants such as Nestle ( NSRGY.PK - news - people ) and Wal-Mart ( WMT - news - people )".

Now it is the turn of India to emulate China's achievements in capital-intensive industries through sustained efforts in the coming years. Technological, industrial and economic power can only help any nation to reach the top and it is within India's reach to achieve an eminent position in the world through hard work, commitment, sound policy and strong infrastructure.


Micro enterprises, confined largely to cottage scale processing of foods do not have the wherewithal to judge the quality or safety of the products made by them. They generally do not use sophisticated process technologies, confining them selves to dehydrated, fried, baked, pickled and sugar preserved products. Most of these products are relatively stable for a few days and do not pose high safety risks. Governments with responsibility to assure food safety to the consumers are always pulled between the plight of small processors and the potential risks the foods produced by them pose to the public. Here is an example from the US itself where the share of micro food enterprises is negligible in the market.

"Legislation that eased restrictions on cottage food businesses in Wyoming has touched off a debate over government's role in overseeing homemade food products. Some health officials worry rules that allow home-produced foods to be sold without inspection at farmers' markets and roadside stands expose people to risk from food-borne illness and unlabeled allergens. They also say inspectors can regulate cottage foods without placing an onerous burden on the people who produce them".

In India food processing in the so called unorganized sector is more than that by the organized licensed industries and there is little control government has on the quality and safety of the products made by the former. While in urban areas Municipal Health Officer is "supposed" to keep an eye on food handling groups including restaurants, very little is done in practice due to severe constraints vis-a-vis technical man power and monitoring infrastructure. As for rural areas it a free for all situation with any one and every one being able to deal with food, unnoticed, unchecked and unconcerned!


Friday, January 29, 2010


About 212 million babies are born every year adding to the 6 billion population that live on this planet. Out of this 130 million new born babies are in regions where industry manufactured infant foods are marketed and consumed. Approximately 2 million tons of infant foods are made annually by the industry valued at more than $ 16 billion. In spite of the relentless campaign world over under the aegis of international bodies like World Health Organization (WHO), promoting consumption of breast milk, formulated baby foods based on cow's milk serve a useful purpose of supplementing the breast milk, especially towards the latter half of the first year after the birth. Concerned about the vast difference in nutrition between human milk and cow's milk, continuous efforts are made to upgrade the quality of manufactured baby foods by the international Food Chemicals Codex authorities.

"New standards to help ensure the quality and enhance the safety of key ingredients widely used in infant formulas and a variety of functional foods are being proposed for inclusion in the Food Chemicals Codex (FCC), an internationally recognized compendium of quality standards for food ingredients. The proposed standards are for three nucleotides, present in breast milk and commonly added to infant formula, and two docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) oils, essential omega 3 fatty acids present in fish and often added to both infant formula and a host of functional foods. The proposed standards are now available for public review and comment by industry and consumer representatives".

There was a time in India, almost 5 decades ago when the Indians invested heavily to imitate western type baby foods using buffalo milk in stead of cow's milk which was the industry standard. The success of Amul baby food at that time, based on indigenous technology, was a land mark in the scientific achievements of the country. To day better understanding about pediatric nutrition and industry's prompt acceptance of many of new findings have made available products approximating human milk, though not completely.


Wide prevalence of visual impairment is a matter of concern in many developing countries and deficiency of vitamin A in the regular diet has been identified as the major causative factor. WHO and other international bodies have been advocating massive administration of vitamin A once in a year to vulnerable children at young age to prevent development of blindness during later years of life. The practice of regularly taking Cod liver oil rich in vitamin A or the encapsulated products containing fish oil was considered adequate for preventing deficiency in some populations not consuming enough green vegetables or fish regularly. Against such a background, the recent findings that leafy vegetables like spinach and colored fruits if consumed in sufficient quantities regularly, can protect vision is significant.

"After reviewing the various studies, the authors concluded that macular pigments, such as lutein and zeaxanthin do have an effect on visual performance. Lutein and zeaxanthin can reduce disability and discomfort from glare, enhance contrast, and reduce photostress recovery times. They can also reduce glare from light absorption and increase the visual range".

Biological means of improving vision is always preferable to others like surgery and if fruits and vegetables can protect the retina and lens and prevent age related eye ailments, why not GOI take up promotion of this practice amongst children through a well coordinated policy frame work in collaboration with the states. Billions of rupees spent on the "Horticulture Mission" will have a meaning only if the increased production is utilized inside the country instead of exports. It is for the Food scientists in the country to come up with visually, organoleptically and nutritionally acceptable preparations, liked by children, that can attract more and more consumers to the concept of fruit and vegetables dominated diets for better health.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


How about feeling full after eating a food which is actually not in sufficient quantities necessary to evoke that feeling? According to a group of scientists in the Netherlands feeling of satiety can be induced by modifying food structures such a way that the food stays in the mouth for longer time generating a complex set of aromas that help to stimulate the areas in the brain related to hunger and satiety. While in case of liquid foods viscosity can be increased to achieve the effect, solid foods should be made more chewable for the same effect. These findings have significance in the current fight against the obesity epidemic confronting mankind. Probably a product like chewing gum should be a right medium to carry the identified aromas which is released slowly and ensure satiety.

"Scientists at an independent food-research firm in the Netherlands say they can help create food and drink with aromas that fool your body into thinking you're full. Researcher Rianne Ruijschop and her team have found a way to enhance the familiar aromas in food enough to activate areas of the brain related to a full-stomach feeling".

Past efforts were directed at quenching hunger stimuli through means other than eating, focus being on stomach and after effects of eating. What is surprising is that the present understanding of food flavors stimulating hunger is contradicted by the new study. Good flavors generated during cooking in restaurants and bakeries invariably attract customers boosting the business. Further studies on the role of aromas on hunger and satiety are required to bring more clarity to the situation.



Food flavor is a multi-dimensional quality feature which has five clearly defined attributes which include visual, touch sensing, aroma, taste and texture. All these quality factors are routinely assessed by sensory or organoleptic evaluation by trained panelists or specialist tasters. Cup quality of coffee or tea and quality of alcoholic beverages is tested even to day by specialized judges familiar with various aromatic notes associated with these products. Color and texture can be assessed reasonably well using computerized electronic instruments with good correlation with subjective evaluation criteria. Electronic instruments have now been developed for assessing food aromas in place of the present system of smelling by human nose.

"The smelling device is an electronic instrument equipped with chemical sensors and a chemometric programme for pattern recognition which recognises and compares individual or complex odours. Like the human olfactory system, the instrument compares new aromas with those stored in its electronic memory in order to rank various smells".

After the advent of HPLC technique and Mass Spectra instruments, chemical nature of most of the aroma constituents in foods has been elucidated. What the new "electronic nose" does is comparing the chemical profile of the product being tested with stored reference standards to give an objective judgment with high reliability. Of course the instrument needs to be calibrated and stored with reference standards for it to pronounce a judgment. Food and beverage industry can be expected to avail off this new techniques for improving the consistency in quality for their products.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Thailand in South East Asia is an enterprising country and is globally ranked 34 amongst 125 countries by the World Economic Forum. Though it had one of the highest GDP growth during the last two decades of last millennium, the economy was adversely affected during the economic melt down subsequently. Thailand ranked 7th for its exports valued at about $ 105 billion and it is the top rice export country in the world. Almost 55% of its arable land is cultivated with rice. Thailand was once known for its Cassava exports and Pineapple industry though these have declined dramatically during the last few years.

"Asia is a major food supplier for the rest of the world, while Thailand is ranked as the seventh top food-exporting country globally. The continent must urgently adopt more sophisticated technology and innovations, in order to ensure sustainable growth in the industry amid rising concerns about food problems". Darunee Edwards, president of the Food Science and Technology Association of Thailand, called climate change the greatest challenge for the food industry. "Many countries are becoming increasingly concerned about this problem, as it will affect food production and the environment. Food suppliers must increase their efficiency in the use of raw materials, energy and water in response," she said."Darunee warned more non-tariff barriers based on environmental and food-safety concerns would be imposed by importing countries. Thai food manufacturers must develop themselves to meet these standards or else face export difficulties".

That Thailand is well aware of the problems it may face in future, to sustain its role as a global leader in some of the areas, is reflected by the above admission by the country's senior food expert. What is true for Thailand applies to all countries with aspirations to find an honorable place in the comity of nations vis-à-vis global trading and there is no alternative to technology upgrading through innovative R & D, improved food safety and high product quality.



The fight against pathogenic microorganisms that infect food every day in some parts of the world is turning out to be increasingly difficult in spite of modern knowledge gained over the functioning of these bugs. Recent findings that bacteria can also think and plan for their protection from hostile environment is a revelation with far reaching consequences. It is in this context that development of newer and faster testing techniques and advanced instrumentation assumes critical significance. The development of a comparatively faster method (SEA Test) for detecting Staphylococcus Enterotoxin A, one of the major causes of food poisoning, with out involving culturing or use of lab animals, is considered a break through.

According to the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) of the US, "the turnaround time of 48 hours for the SEA test is "comparatively fast. Currently, regulatory agencies generally need to culture a bacterial contaminant before issuing a recall – which can take 3-5 days, said the spokeswoman. The new process is practical, said the body. Experienced technicians can quickly learn how to perform the test using standard laboratory equipment. It is also cheaper than current tests. Using immunomagnetic beads that capture and concentrate the toxin, the cost of the assay is $ 3.88 per assay, which makes it affordable. The new assay is quantitative, reproducible and does not require lab animals".

The significance of this development can be understood when one realizes that suspected foods can be recalled back with in 48 hours by the SEA test or manufactured stocks can be retained for just 2 days to confirm their safety before releasing to the market. Industry can have a sigh of relief because of this new weapon against food poisoning. More such developments will augur well for improving the safety of foods manufactured and marketed by the industry.


Monday, January 25, 2010


One of the concerns being raised in every forum that debates the pros and cons of GM crops, is the high rate of royalty farmers have to pay to the seed supplier for using the technology. The recent decision by one of the pioneers of GM technology Monsanto Chemicals of the US not to renew its patent on GM soybean after its expiry in 2014 appears to be a ploy to deflect the on going anti-trust investigation by the concerned authorities.

"The letter countered a widespread impression in the agriculture business that Monsanto planned to force farmers and seed companies to migrate to a successor product called Roundup Ready 2 Yield, which will remain under patent and is more expensive. The issue has potentially broad implications for the agriculture industry because Roundup Ready soybeans will be the first widely grown biotechnology crop to lose patent protection since gene splicing became a mainstay of crop science in the 1990s. Because farmers and seed companies would no longer have to pay royalties to Monsanto on the gene after 2014, Roundup Ready soybeans would become agricultural biotechnology's equivalent of a generic drug.

Such a move may buttress the argument against seed monopolists like Monsanto to some extent but whether this is a one time exception or going to be a future trend remains to be seen. One of the serious reservations about genetically modified foods has been the incorporation of terminator genes that forces the farmer to purchase the seeds from the supplier every time new crops are to be raised, restricting his ability to generate his own seed materials from the previous crops.



Melamine tainted milk continues to haunt Chinese government as more and more dairy plants are being identified indulging in milk adulteration, in spite of the capital punishment meted out to some of the "identified" perpetrators in the first episode. Under more stringent laws put in place recently Chinese government is reported to have canceled more than 6000 licenses of food processors for violation of the food laws. Whether such actions will be a permanent feature or just a temporary measure to deflect the criticism from buyers of Chines foods in the global market remains to be seen.

"Meanwhile, quality inspectors conducted 1.07 million checks on food producers and rectified 140,000 problems, according to the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ).Wang Yong, director of AQSIQ, told quality inspectors across the country at a year-end working conference that the crackdown on unsafe food products would continue this year as the general situation remains grim"

The huge numbers being mentioned about checks, presumably meaning inspections and problem identification and rectification are really impressive and if true, probably China could become a model for other countries for ensuring safety of foods for its citizens.



Iron is a critical mineral nutrient for normal body function and is present in the body as heme and non-heme iron. The absorption of iron from the food is not very efficient and many foods are fortified with iron compounds to ensure a daily delivery of 5-11 mg of elemental iron per day. Higher iron needs are indicated during pregnancy, for strict vegetarians and old population with poor dietary intake. Meat foods are generally rich in iron containing the more absorbable heme iron up to 12-13 mg per serving while plant sources like beans, green vegetables such as spinach provide non heme iron of about 2-4 mg per serving. For fortification most commonly used sources are ferrous sulfate (20% elemental iron), ferrous fumerate (33% iron) and ferrous gluconate (12% iron). Ferric sodium EDTA is comparatively a new source and its use had raised some concerns regarding its safety. This has since been cleared.

"EFSA's Scientific Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources added to Food (ANS) also commented on the bioavailability of iron from this source, stating that studies demonstrate that iron in the form of ferric sodium EDTA is 2 to 3 times more bioavailable than ferrous sulfate and that it is efficiently incorporated into haemoglobin. Iron deficiency is estimated to affect half of all children in the developing world, and undermines the health of 500 million women of reproductive age, according to UNICEF.The ANS concluded that, "ferric sodium EDTA as a source of iron in food supplements, PARNUTS and fortified foods is of no safety concern at the proposed use levels as long as it does not lead to an exposure to EDTA above 1.9 mg EDTA/kg bw/day."The ANS found that overall exposure from all food sources was in the range of 8.6 mg/kgbw/day for children and 4.2 mg/kg bw/day for adults on average and to 9.5 mg/kg bw/day for children and 4.8 mg/kg bw/day for adults at the 95th percentile".

Anemia affects majority of the populations in most of the developing countries because of their poor buying capacity and consequent inability to access to meat foods which are rich sources of heme iron. With higher bio-availability guaranteed when ferric sodium EDTA is used as the source of supplementation, care needs to be taken to avoid iron toxicity due to excess intake of iron and consequent dangers.


Saturday, January 23, 2010


Salt reduction is now considered universally as a desirable step to avoid serious health afflictions like CVD, blood pressure and kidney diseases. Policy makers, world over, have an arduous task in making people reduce the salt intake at home from levels as high as 10-12 gm a day and therefore are targeting the processed food industry to cut down on use of salt in their processed foods. The recent report that even marginal reduction of salt intake can have dramatic benefits on a national scale gives further hope for continuing this campaign persuading people to reduce salt in food preparations with out compromising seriously on taste.

The team's results were derived from the Coronary Heart Disease Policy Model, a computer simulation of heart disease among U.S. adults that has been used by researchers to project benefits from public health interventions."A very modest decrease in the amount of salt, hardly detectable in the taste of food, can have dramatic health benefits for the U.S.," said Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, PhD, MD, lead author of the study, UCSF associate professor of medicine and epidemiology and the co-director of the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations at San Francisco General Hospital."It was a surprise to see the magnitude of the impact on the population, given the small reductions in salt that we were modeling," Bibbins-Domingo added.

If the results of above studies are so dramatic, there must be conscious efforts to intensify the salt lowering campaign with well designed "message delivering" format in order to reach the essence of the message. Industry will certainly respond to such causes voluntarily but their action can be further facilitated through financial incentives for marketing low salt foods progressively.



India has been proud of its achievements in reaching the top amongst milk producing nations with fluid milk out put touching 105 million tons. Sadly what has been gained through hard work of the dairy farmers is about to be frittered away through short sighted policies of GOI and to add to the humiliation a senior minister has given sufficient hints to the hoarders that there is going to be a milk shortage in summer so that they can get ready to squeeze the consumer in the coming months!. In order to have a better perception of the bungling by GOI have a look at the following report.

"Diversion of milk to produce casein has been a serious concern. This is the reason for seeking a ban on export of milk, casein and other milk products," an agriculture ministry official said. There is a shortage in the local markets as exporters pay an extra Rs 2-3 per litre more for milk, he added. During August – December 2009, about 7,000 tonnes of casein was exported from Tughlakabad dry port in Delhi and Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust in Mumbai. About 35 litres milk is used to produce a kg of casein. The 7,000 tonnes of casein consumed 24.5 crore litres or over 16 lakh litres a day of milk. This is nearly 60 per cent of 26-27 lakh litres milk marketed every day by Mother Dairy in Delhi, of this 6-7 lakh litres per day is by re-converting milk powder into liquid form. Casein exports enjoy 9 per cent duty entitlement passbook (DEPB) benefit on the free-on-board value of their shipments.

Imagine the consequences of India entering the international market for important of milk powder! The world price for milk is going to hit the roof if such a thing happens and EU countries would be the happiest lot as their surplus milk powder and butter, being procured under a purchase scheme from their



Corned beef which is a salt cured meat preparation was originally developed by Irish immigrants who settled down in the American continent as a substitute to Bacon, not available at that time of history. Smoking the corned beef by traditional smoke process became popular as Pastrami in many parts of that country. Canned Tuna is an established category of fish product, accepted by the consumers readily because of its texture and nutrition. With the advent of modern freezing technology, canning process took a back seat, practically disappearing from the market. 'Corned' tuna is an attempt to revive the fortunes of canned tuna industry by reorienting the profile of the product.

"CORNED tuna, the latest discovery in tuna processing, has been found to be a good source of Omega 3 fatty acids, the nutritional elements that supply significant health benefits to the heart and the whole body. An entirely new food category resulting from meticulous research and studies, corned tuna is a product of food technology combining the systems used in corned beef preparation and canned tuna process. Corned tuna contains Omega 3 fatty acids or essential fatty acids that have been discovered in recent years as active protectors of the body's main organ, which is the heart. Scientific studies found that food rich in Omega 3 fatty acids help reduce triglycerides or unsaturated fats that accumulate in the human body and increase HDL cholesterol, also known as the good cholesterol. Higher HDL cholesterol levels translate to lower risk of coronary artery disease, according to health experts. Other studies also suggest that Omega 3 fatty acids may help lower high blood pressure".

With salt becoming the biggest villain of peace because of its adverse health implications, how far corned tuna can become popular remains to be seen. Probably the industry must be aware of this dimension and as canning preserves the product by thermal processing, salt content could be much lower than that present in conventional curing and the medium of canning.


Friday, January 22, 2010


Is the world about to give up the efforts to safeguard the quality of foods produced because of repeated episodes of food contamination being encountered in many advanced countries in spite of the excellent infrastructure and expertise available with them? If the tenor of statements by some of the experts is any indication, consumer may have to eventually face the uncertainties of food contamination by himself, not sure about the ability of the system that is in place, designed to pre-empt such episodes. Here is the confession from an expert.

"We work on a number of foodborne diseases here at WSU, but there are no easy tricks to solve the problem," he said. "These issues are complex." Besser and Sischo are researching foodborne diseases, including the O157:H7 strain of E. coli. E. coli is a hardy, prolific disease found in a wide range of locations and foods, Besser said. Besser said the U.S. slaughters about 10,000 infected cattle per day. There's no way to tell which ones are infected because of insufficient testing. "We don't do enough testing to show that all the meat is safe," he said. "But when testing for E. coli, it destroys the meat." The best way to tell if food is E. coli contaminated is through human exposure, he said.

It is difficult to agree with the contention that these aberrations are taking place because Americans are taking more meat and spending less money on foods. Probably the fact that organic food industry is able to command a better price, reflects the willingness of the consumer to pay more if safety is guaranteed. No problem on this planet is too big for human ingenuity to overcome and food scientists must not give up or dilute their mission to come up with more and more reliable and practical systems to counter act the threat from pathogens that contaminate the food chain.



The GM FOOD debate is hotting up with hardening attitudes amongst people holding diametrically opposite views. Latest salvo was fired by one of the doyens of Biotechnology in India with pronounced interests in pharmaceutical area declaring that Bt Brinjal is evolved based on a "safe science" and therefore by inference passing her judgment that it is safe for human consumption. Of course if one asks the same question to Monsanto company the answer would not have been different. Here is a take on the issue.

"However, she was quick to be countered by food policy expert Devinder Sharma, who said Mazumdar was only interested in 'making money' and therefore does not mind 'lying'.Speaking for Bt brinjal and the use of biotechnology in agriculture at a curtain raiser event for Bangalore Bio 2010, Shaw said, "There is a danger of false propaganda against Bt, especially at a time when it is going commercial".She said, "We need to tackle this on a scientific basis. Bt is a very safe science and we are all very responsible stakeholders".

It is the tone of the declaration that is amusing because all those opposing including scientists, environmentalists, activists, safety experts and farmers groups have been tarred with the brush "false propaganda". A clear sign of intolerance of others' views which does not bode well for this country.


Thursday, January 21, 2010


The on going Chicken 'war' between Russia and the US makes an interesting reading. The Chicken export to Russia from the US valued at about $ 800 million is in jeopardy after the objection raised by the former to the use of Chlorine for sanitization. While the US maintains that use of immersion cooling with 30-40 ppm available chlorine is a permitted protocol for destroying pathogenic bacteria, no less a person than the Prime Minister of Russia declared that such chickens cannot enter his country. Whether this is the politics of the old "Cold War" era being revisited or there is a genuine technical problem, one does not know.

According to some US Senators "while the Russian government's varied justifications centered on sanitary measures, analyses or guidelines of international agencies such as the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) or the Codex Alimentarius do not support Russia's conclusions. As such, attempts to manage the flow of imports raises questions regarding Russia's willingness and readiness to become a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO)".

If the US can impose its quality and safety standards on other countries exporting food materials for American consumers, Russia also may be justified in taking the stand that Chlorine treated chicken is not acceptable to it.There are many alternate technology options to the US avoiding Chlorine and if it has to maintain its exports of Chicken to Russia it has to meet the buyer's requirements. It will be interesting to watch the development and see who is going to blink first in this ridiculous trade war!.


A tiny country like Taiwan seems to be more serious in its food safety surveillance responsibility than India as reflected by the market monitoring efforts in that country according to a recent report. That the Food Safety Authorities there covered both the big super markets as well as small local market players speak well of the even handed policy not favoring any one in this task of ensuring food safety. Probably the relatively small sample size might invite some criticism but the intention is clear that food products would continue to be under surveillance leaving no scope for malpractices.

"Nearly 30 percent of dried fruit and pickled vegetables on the market do not meet food safety standards, as they contain excessive levels of additives, a Taipei City health official said Monday.
The Taipei City Government Department of Health recently conducted random inspections of 97 dried fruit and pickled and dehydrated vegetable products sold in hypermarkets, traditional markets and the Dihua Street Commercial Circle in Taipei City, said Chiang Yu-mei, director of the department's Food and Drug Division. Some 26 of the products, or 26.8 percent, failed to pass the food safety tests, she added. In addition, it was found that 11 of the products were improperly labeled"

While the findings may sound alarmist, what action the government there will take to tackle such a situation will be of interest. Nothing much is known about the effectiveness of deterrent steps already in place in Taiwan which is a democratic country unlike the mainland China.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Indian Railways (IR) is again in the news recently regarding its "plans" for improving the quality of rail food served in important trains. Ever since the new regime assumed power in Delhi, rail food has been the subject matter of several press releases, statements by officials, press conferences etc conveying an impression that serving good quality food with safety at reasonable price is the top priority of IR. Scratching at the surface of a deep rooted problem like serving decent food, is not going to bear fruit unless the root cause of this malady is understood by the Railway Board. Look at the statement from this organization "identifying" the reason for bad quality of food in "some" trains

"Sources said Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation, which handles the arrangement of pantry cars in over 400 trains including Rajdhanis and Shatabdis, had received several complaints about lack of cleanliness and substandard fare available during the journey. In order to probe into the matter, the corporation carried out a survey, according to which pantries in 18% trains were in a miserable condition. Keeping the findings in mind, the officials proposed to the railway board for adding AC pantries in trains". An official said "the boilers in normal pantry cars affect the quality of food stored there. Moreover, cleanliness was not up to mark. Therefore, we've decided to attached the new AC cars.''

In what way AC pantry car will improve the quality of food served is some thing difficult to understand when the food is of indifferent quality during preparation itself. It is true that bacterial proliferation and chemical spoilage is retarded at lower temperatures but no measure can improve the eating quality of a bad food. Unless IR goes in for a PPP model with food industry and introduce hygienically processed "heat and serve"foods with high stability and long life, it is unlikely that rail passengers will ever be able to lay their hands on a clean and safe food.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Old timers will always swear by what all the practices they were used to during their life time and one of the reasons is their discomfort with the fast changing science that is making inroads into practically every aspect of modern life. A typical example is use of modern cooking utensils. The ancient iron skillet, still being used in many rural households in India for making some of the popular shallow fried foods, is claimed to give a product much superior to those made in stainless steel or Teflon coated pans. If this is so why the younger generation house wives shun them and opt for the modern versions? Have they lost their culinary skills and sensory faculties, not to appreciate the old taste and flavor of products made in iron skillet? Or could it be due to non-availability of utensils like iron skillet in the market? This transformation is not confined to India alone is borne out by the report quoted here under.

"Old-time cooks swear by the mysterious power of these antique-like cooking wares to not just to cook, but to impart a special tasty quality that can only be achieved by the heat distribution properties of this common metal.Of course, most have to be seasoned, cared for properly and should not be hustled through the dishwasher".

Scientifically it may be difficult to prove that products prepared in iron skillet is superior to those made in stainless steel or Teflon coated pans. This is some what similar to the claim made by many people that water heated with traditional hearths using firewood is better than that made in electric geyser for a hot water bath. To obtain validity for such "age old" practices, scientific research needs to be carried out and unfortunately there may not be any takers amongst scientists in India to take up such work, considered non-glamorous by to day's standards!


Food self-sufficiency is a goal every responsible government tries to achieve to avoid uncertainties of future supplies and achieve reasonable food security. Those countries blessed with plenty of water, vast land area and modern farming technologies have ample opportunities to control global food market through exports. Malaysian example in palm oil where it is the global leader can be emulated by other countries also with perseverance and dedicated pursuit. Indonesia is another country that has the potential to become a major player in international food landscape if adequate efforts are made from within.

"Given the global scenario, Indonesia must take full advantage of the situation by shoring up the food supply for its citizens, while at the same time becoming a food supplier to the rest of Asia and beyond. The country has all the necessary attributes — climate, plentiful rainfall, arable land and the necessary manpower — to become a major global food supplier. This will not happen automatically, however. It will take vision, the right policy environment and modern management to realize this opportunity. The two biggest challenges facing the government are land resources and the necessary policies to attract private investment into the sector. Potentially, the government can set aside 12 million hectares for large-scale food cultivation. This utilization of land, which would otherwise be left unproductive, would be a tremendous resource that could boost economic growth and create wealth. It could lead to the development of food processing and service industries that would create millions of jobs across the country".

Indonesia is already a major player in the global market with respect to palm oil, spices, tea and rice. As the largest economy in South Asia with a GDP of $ 511.7 billion and a per capita annual income of $ 3979, the country has the necessary core strength to build further on its varied resources. Being a democracy it has its own limitations in increasing the pace of reforms and decision taking unlike China where communism still prevails but with more exposure to international developments, Indonesia is bound to be a super power in the global arena in the near future.


Monday, January 18, 2010


After postponing a decision on banning Bis-phenol A (BPA) several times, the USFDA has come out at last with a tame declaration that existing data would be inadequate to justify any ban on this chemical which finds its way to foods through feeding bottles and other containers and packings. To add insult to injury, this agency has made a non-binding suggestion that children may not be exposed too much to BPA tainted foods till adequate scientific data emerge regarding its absolute safety.

"Reporting from Washington - The Food and Drug Administration said Friday that the safety of a controversial chemical found in some baby bottles, children's drinking cups and other food containers merited further study but did not warrant immediate restrictions on its use. The FDA, the Department of Health and Human Services and other health agencies have committed $30 million to studying the health effects of bisphenol A, or BPA, and expect results in 18 to 24 months. "We have some concern, meaning in part that we need to know more," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in a conference call with reporters. In the meantime, the agency has issued guidance for limiting the exposure of children and babies. FDA Deputy Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein said that for the present, "the FDA does support the use of baby bottles with BPA."

What about the views from FDA on safety of BPA? "But because BPA was classified years ago as an indirect food additive, it is not subject to the kind of scrutiny that other chemicals are. Without critical data about BPA, it is impossible to regulate the chemical, officials said. BPA, first manufactured in 1891, was later developed as a plasticizer in the early 1960s. It was classified in 1963 as an indirect food additive and is listed among some 3,000 chemicals that are "generally regarded as safe." That designation exempts them from scrutiny. According to the FDA's regulations, a substance that is granted that status is not subject to FDA review. So, while the agency can broadcast its opinion that the chemical is not safe, it can't compel companies to provide certain information about the chemical".

What is baffling is that 90% of the processors who were using packing materials like Poly carbonates earlier have stopped using them voluntarily responding to consumer concern while the food safety agency is not unduly bothered about it. In a clear strategy to buy more time, obviously favoring the industry, a research project has been suggested, that too funded by the government! USA must be the most favorable place for business in this planet because of such "friendly" gestures from the government, even though it is at the cost of the citizen and the exchequer.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


In the quest for renewable energy to replace the fast dwindling petroleum resources, to day's energy researchers are leaving no stones unturned, with hope against hope that eventually the much anticipated Eldorado will appear sooner or later. How can one ever imagine that biofuel can be derived from poultry wastes? But it seems to be a reality according to a report by one of the technology providers for biofuel production.

Currently, a $5 Million dollar plant is in the works to begin processing some of the estimated, 2.3 billion pounds of chicken fat produced annually by the Dexter, Mo. Tyson poultry plant. The two men planning to produce biodiesel from chicken fat are Jerry Bagby, and Harold Williams and together, they are hoping to produce around 3 million gallons of biodiesel a year. Animal fat, while the primary ingredient, will not be the only ingredient when making this biodiesel. Soybean oil will be added to the gooey substance as it will aid in lubrication of engine parts, as well as helping the system to run clean. All but about 12% of biodiesel fuel stock is soybean oil; the rising cost of soy bean oil is creating a trend where the industry is looking for cheaper product to use as biodiesel fuel stock..

Large poultry farms that operate with millions of birds in a country like the US make it possible to organize such production on a viable scale. Though technically it may be feasible to make biofuel from poultry waste, what problems will emerge in utilizing these fuels in engines designed for petroleum fuels and the cost economics of new production lines remains to be seen



There is a general understanding that sugar is not good when consumed at high levels and that too regularly. Many people are not sure what can be construed as "high level" and even nutrition pundits are not unanimous on this issue. For many food industry players such an awareness and the existing ambiguity seem to be providing a "tailor made" opportunity to re-position their existing portfolios rich in sugar by reducing the same marginally. Here is a typical case of a food giant, with products marketed in 130 countries around the world making a grand stand statement on its sugar reduction policy.

"General Mills (GIS), the maker of super-sweet cereals like Trix and Lucky Charms, has announced plans to reduce sugar in ten of its cereals that are most aggressively aimed at children. It's a good and important move — some of these products are among the sugariest in the industry. But though General Mills is touting the move as good news for health-conscious consumers, the truth is that even with the cuts, these products will hardly qualify as good-for-you. The goal is to cut back to a maximum of 11 grams per serving, but the goal only applies to certain products, and the company hasn't specified when it will meet these targets".

A voluntary declaration like this is always welcome if there is a time frame for achieving the target. Bringing down the sugar content into single digit level can be significant provided other sweeteners, not considered sugar, are not added to make the product highly attractive to children. Such a trend where industry voluntarily imposes self-restraint mus be emulated by all the manufacturers of major brands of foods containing high amounts of sugar, salt and fat.


Saturday, January 16, 2010


Human beings with normal health need energy, proteins and micro nutrients to keep themselves going and inadequacy vis-a-vis any of the above can lead to deficiency diseases and other physiological and metabolic consequences. Many people resort to starving for a variety of reasons, religious, medical, political etc. Mahatma Gandhi used fasting effectively in connection with the freedom struggle during the first half of the last millennium and the most recent one seen in India was the "fast unto death" by a politician for gaining a political goal in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The Jain sect follows the practice of fasting regularly and no serious adverse consequences have ever been reported. Generally there is not much awareness about the effect of fasting and the duration of fasting one can safely indulge in. Read what some one has to say on this issue.

"However, there are many people who cut down on food for various reasons. Some choose not to eat for days for religious reasons. And there are still others who do so due to vanity. Still others would like to try fasting just out of curiosity. Therefore, considering the fact that food is vital for survival, how long can a person go without food? While this generally varies from person to person, the average amount of time that a person can survive without food is around 3 weeks. The longest verifiable time on record of a person surviving without food stands at 70 days"

Probably the information contained in the above commentary may not be truly scientific as a general physician only can determine whether a particular person can withstand fasting and if so for what duration. While partial starvation is a common occurrence amongst famished population, complete fasting, even without water is some thing considered very dangerous. Even if, for a short while, such deprived state may not cause noticeable immediate adverse effect, what damage it can inflict on the life span is not clear.


Packaging of a food is necessitated by the need for the contents to be preserved for sufficient time till it is delivered to the consumer. While functional packaging will ensure the quality, design of the packs serves to attract the consumers while they are on the market shelves. The choice of packaging material and the design of the pack will depend on the product price. Higher the value of the content, more room is available for the manufacturer to use expensive packing mode. From the simple poly ethylene pouches that were common 4-5 decades ago, the industry has graduated to more complex packaging systems involving multi layer laminates with sophisticated printing, performing as well as solid packaging materials like metal and glass. According to some projections, food packaging in India is slated for unparalleled innovative achievements in the coming years.

"Demographic and food consumption changes in Indian society means that consumers are turning in increasing numbers to packaged and ready-to-eat foods. The group said a recent analysis had revealed the emergence of four major trends driving packaging innovation in the sub-continent: convenience of usage, freshness and improved shelf life, sustainability, and packaging as a tool to position and promote the brand".

The "small pouch" revolution that has been in the making during the last few years made it possible for practically any product costing as high as Rs 300 per kg to be within the reach of low income population. The retail shops in the informal sector offer at least two dozen products in the price range Re1 to Rs 10 per unit, sufficient for consumption by one or two. These pouches are mostly made out of laminates of metalized polyester and polyethylene available in the country with dependable performance in terms of gas and water permeability. With the Rs 1 lakh crore (1000 billion) investment in food industry envisaged by GOI during the next few years, packaging industry is indeed heading for a boom time.

Friday, January 15, 2010


The belief that organic foods are safer and more nutritious sends the consumers in droves to the section in super markets offering such foods. The higher price tag that is a feature of organic food market, does not seem to be bothering the consumers as reflected by the significant growth of this sector during the last one decade. While there is a controversy regarding the claim of improved nutrition content in organic versions of many foods, consumers still believe that at least they are safer because of the cleaner production technologies used by the organic food industry. This conviction is under a cloud after an impartial report which emerged recently accusing the industry of fraud.

"In a statement released yesterday by the Cornucopia Institute, one of the agricultural industry's most aggressive independent watchdogs, it was revealed that Promiseland, a multimillion dollar operation with facilities in Missouri and Nebraska, including over 13,000 acres of crop land, and managing 22,000 head of beef and dairy cattle, has been accused of multiple improprieties in formal legal complaints, including not feeding organic grain to cattle, selling fraudulent organic feed and "laundering" conventional cattle as organic".

If the producers who indulge in such practices could get away easily for the last so many years, some thing seriously must be wrong with the surveillance system which is supposed to take care of such malpractices. Consumers can still take some solace believing that the above violations are exceptions than the rules as far this industry is concerned. The private certifying agencies who have been entrusted with the vital task of ensuring compliance have a lot to answer for such perfidies committed by some of the producers. This raises a larger question of controlling the "quality" of personnel "trained" to assess the credentials and performance of the organic foods industry and how this can be achieved on a continuing basis.


Alginates, a unique carbohydrate, is a much favored ingredient used by the food industry because of its viscosity modifying properties. See weeds, harvested from shallow oceans, are the source material from which alginate is extracted and China is the major country that harvests see weeds for use both in industry as well as at the house hold level. Kelp is another term used for long see weeds measuring 30-80 meter and there are vast kelp forests under the ocean in some parts of the world. Modern kelp farms grow see weeds under some supervision. Kelp grows at a fast rate, about half meter a day under ideal conditions which include water temperature of about 20C and abundant nutrients. Probably existence of kelp farms in the western hemisphere may be a news and here is the take on that.

"Dobbins and Olson run what is believed to be America's only commercial kelp farm. Inspired by mega-aquaculture sites in Asia, and a $7-billion global seaweed industry, the two entrepreneurs started cultivating kelp here last year and have begun marketing it as an exotic frozen vegetable. "It's a giant brown algae in the water, but it turns bright green when it's cooked," Olson said. "Think kelp noodles. And kelp salad. And kelp slaw." The aqua-farmers go to work each day in a 41-year-old lobster boat, chugging between rugged islands and rocky outcrops. They usually wear wet suits and scuba gear to tend their underwater crop by hand. On wintry days, they light a wood-burning stove below deck to keep warm".

While alginates find use in products like ice-cream, jelly, salad dressings, tooth paste, see weed per se is valued for its rich iodine content. It is used directly in many food preparations in the Orient, valued for its flavor and digestibility enhancing role in foods. Presence of unique photo chemicals present in see weeds are reported to be excellent antibiotics and antivirals. Probably frozen see weeds marketed in the US by the above entrepreneurs are patronized by the immigrant population from South Asia more than the local Americans.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


The image of processed food industry cannot be worse that what it is to day, probably because of a substantial number amongst them ignoring the welfare and safety of the consumers they are supposed to serve. "Consumer is the king" has lost much of its sheen because of a perceived feeling of dishonesty and manipulative practices on the part of the industry. No matter how efficient the surveillance system is, there will always be black sheep indulging in undesirable activities, in their pursuit for making a fast buck. But when the industry collectively comes forward promising self restraint, an opportunity must be given to test their sincerity. Here is the American experience on such an approach.

"Two and a half years ago, amid great fanfare, major food companies announced a new era in self-regulation. They created the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, promising to stop marketing foods of poor nutritional value to children. Instead, as this report conclusively demonstrates, these foods still constitute a clear majority of the food marketed to children today. Most disturbingly, companies participating in the much-heralded Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative have actually increased their manipulation of children by escalating the use of beloved licensed characters to market unhealthy food".

Probably the above experience must be a lesson for democratic countries like India where enforcement regimes are not considered very strong. It is a situation where the consumer is trapped between the "deep sea and the devil" with no hope for any immediate relief. A radical "deterrent" regime is the need of the hour with fast track indictment of those considered committing fraud on the consumers.



While in India many people have raised serious concerns about the safety of Bt Brinjal which has been recommended for introduction in the country by the concerned authorities, the genetically modified sugar beets cultivation, widespread in the US, is being challenged in the courts there. With practically all the sugar produced in that country from sugar beets coming from its GM version, any set back for future cultivation as a result of court orders, will throw the industry into unprecedented turmoil. While safety is not the main contention, it is the devastating effect on organic beets production, because of the real possibility of cross pollination from GM beets field, that is causing concern.

"Introduced into the market in 2008, farmers apparently agreed and Roundup Ready sugar beets saw the fastest adoption rate by farmers of any genetically modified crop. Sugar beets account for more than half of the United States' sugar production, and since the GM beets were deregulated nearly four years ago, nearly 95 percent of sugar beets produced in the US are genetically modified".

Some recent findings by European investigators do indicate that GM versions of corn and soybean are not completely safe and could cause some toxicity to humans. How ever no reports have so far surfaced raising serious safety questions on consumption of sugar made from GM beets. Unlike corn and soybean sugar beets undergo extensive processing leading to crystallization of almost pure sugar and therefore presence of toxic substances is unlikely. The decision of the Court will be awaited eagerly by both the protagonists and antagonists of GM crops realizing its implications on the future of GM technology.