Friday, April 30, 2010


CO2 emission due to human activity, especially fossil fuel burning, is supposed to cause global warming and consequent damage to the ecosystem and human life. Now comes the report that the oceans act like a vast sink for CO2 absorption as more than two thirds of earth's surface is covered by water and the acidity of the oceans is increasing perceptibly due to dissolved CO2. According to eco scientists, such a change can bring about unprecedented changes in the marine life with catastrophic consequences.

"The level of acid in the oceans is increasing at an unprecedented rate and threatening to change marine ecosystems, says a new study by the US National Research Council. It says the oceans are absorbing more than 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide an hour - one-third of today's carbon dioxide emissions - and are 30 per cent more acidic than before the Industrial Revolution started roughly 200 years ago. Unless emissions are reduced, ocean acidity could increase by 200 per cent by the end of the century and even more in the next century, said James Barry, a senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California and one of the study's authors".

It is amazing how a mere drop in pH from 8.2 to 8.1 in two hundred years could have such serious repercussions on the marine eco system affecting practically every species that is sheltered by the sea. What is more alarming is the prediction that the pH drop can be steeper during the present century unless CO2 emission is brought under control through inter country cooperation and renewed resolve.



Export and import of foods require rigorous quality and safety check to ensure substandard foods are neither exported nor brought into the country. With ISO system and HACCP regime in place with many food processors, dependence on testing of samples by government laboratories is progressively being reduced. Privately owned advanced testing facilities with international reputation also are working in the country with great success. Under such a prevailing situation the recent announcement by the MFPI to set up a testing lab in the public sector at Bangalore for assessing export samples does not make any sense. By its own admission MFPI officials are admitting that the present arrangement at CFTRI Mysore is not satisfactory because of inordinate delays involved in getting the results. How another Laboratory under government aegis can do better is a million dollar question. Interestingly the responsibility for setting up and operating the proposed Lab facilities is to be entrusted to a little known agency under MFPI, Indian Institute of Crop Processing technology which was formerly known as Paddy Processing Research Center (PPRC) at Thanjavur. If and when the proposal sees the light of the day, how it can improve upon CFTRI record remains unclear.

"We are willing to set up a food test lab of global standards in Bangalore. The food industry in the state can come out with details of the infrastructure availability," said Ajit Kumar, joint secretary, Ministry of Food Processing Industries, at an interactive session with food sector officials in Bangalore at the behest of the BCIC (Bangalore Chamber of Industry and Commerce). Currently the Karnataka food industry needs to send the samples for export to the Central Food Technology Research Institute (CFTRI), Mysore, which takes time. In order to speed up the process and to make the food industry vibrant, an advanced food lab was mandatory, he said. While no details of investment were disclosed, Kumar said a built-up area of 3,000 sq. ft was needed. One of the locations to set up the lab was the University of Agricultural Sciences. There were also suggestions by the food industry on land available at Yelahanka, close to the Bangalore International Airport. This would allow the food sector to have better proximity for exports.

Power politics and rug pulling are common amongst personnel working with government organizations and it looks as if the proposal is another attempt to make CFTRI more and more irrelevant as far as the Indian food industry is concerned. By systematically down sizing the stature of the once renowned CFTRI through setting up NIFTEM in Haryana and upgrading the status of the erstwhile PPRC, the only thing MFPI can achieve is to reduce the technical prowess of this country in the food sector. What role CFTRI itself has played in its progressive decline during the last few years under a pedestrian leadership may be for history to judge!


Consumers pay through their nose for organic foods under the impression that these foods do not contain any man made ingredients, every thing being natural. But the blatant manner in which infant foods containing nutrients isolated, probably from fish, were allowed to be marketed under organic food banner is scandalous. In their quest for increasing profits, food industry is accused of indulging in many unfair manufacturing practices often injurious to the consumer. After allowing these mislabeled products to be sold in the market for quite some time, the authorities are waking up to the reality and under the new administration in the US the practice has been banned.

"The Obama administration announced Tuesday that two synthetic additives will no longer be permitted in infant formula or baby foods certified as organic because the widely used ingredients have not received legal approval for use in organic products. The additives -- omega-3 fatty acid DHA and omega-6 fatty acid ARA -- are present in 90 percent of organic infant formulas and are marketed as promoting brain and eye development in ways that mimic breast milk. The Washington Post reported last July that U.S. Department of Agriculture employees had concluded three years earlier that the fatty acids violated federal standards and should be banned from products carrying the federal organic label. Their findings were overruled by a USDA program manager who had been heavily lobbied by the formula industry".

While inclusion of DHA and ARA in infant foods helps to boost their nutritive value, making it comparable to breast milk, what is objectionable is to brand them as organic. Extraction of DHA/ARA involves use of Hexane as the solvent and the final purified product will invariably contain traces of this carcinogenic chemical. Feeding infants with such products cannot be condoned under any circumstances and the belated ban deserves to be applauded.


Thursday, April 29, 2010


After the environment report of the UN was found to have inaccurate data, the the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had to eat its words and the very credibility of such agencies, supposed to be manned by eminent persons is being questioned by all those concerned with the fate of this globe under stress due to indiscriminate man-created pollution. Here comes another bloomer on world hunger projected by no less an authority than the FAO, according to some analysts knowledgeable on the subject. Probably there is some substance in the arguments by the UK group which contests the conclusion arrived by the FAO.

"A declaration that global food production needs to double to feed the world by the middle of this century provoked shock when it was announced by the UN food chief. It has since become a founding pillar of food policy, cited by leading British politicians and government scientists, farming leaders and some of the world's biggest agricultural companies. But the source of the now infamous statistic did not actually say that, claims a new report by the Soil Association, the UK's leading organic group.The study, entitled "The big fat lie about doubling food production", traced the original source of the doubling claim back to a report published by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation in 2006. However, using the FAO's own figures, the Soil Association says the forecast increase needed in production would be closer to 70% by 2050".

It will be tragic if such gross discrepancies are found in policy reports prepared by international servants serving the UN agencies, with enormous cost incurred for maintaining them. Whether such distortions are deliberate or accidental is immaterial because the ultimate adverse effect on mankind due to misreporting will be same. Probably UN agencies will have to be more diligent in selecting people with unimpeachable integrity while compiling policy reports with far reaching consequences.



It is true that India is a land of many paradoxes in every field of human activity. While democracy is preached day in and day out, for many citizens it is more a combination of bureaucracy and aristocracy that control the economy with very little focus on the perennial poverty stricken population. Here is a commentary on the ironical situation that prevails in the country reflecting the frustration being felt all around.

"There is no other country that presents a more shameful paradox of plenty- grains rotting in the open while millions live in hunger. At the same time, no other country allows its staple food to be exported while the population of hungry and malnourished continues to multiply".---- "In the United States, from where India borrows its economic prescriptions, food is only allowed to be exported after the country ensures that in addition to 309 million people, 168 million cats and dogs have also been well-fed. In India, food — and that includes wheat, rice, maize, pulses, fruit and vegetables — is routinely exported, and the government often provides subsidies to offset the losses incurred in trade"----"In America, where one in every six citizen lives in hunger, it provides a massive federal support of US $ 205 billion for a period of five years to feed its hungry under various nutrition supplement programmes. This marks a continuous increase over the year. In India, which has the world's largest population of hungry, the food subsidy bill is proposed to be pruned, from Rs 56,000-crore for 2010-11 to Rs 28,000-crore, under the proposed National Food Security bill".

Why is that the planners, administrators, social scientists and economists do not see the writing on the wall and do some thing to arrest this drifting trend? Hopes were raised when a truly accomplished economist of international repute took over as the Prime Minister of this country but after 6 years of his rule, common man does not see any thing positive happening to cheer about. On the contrary people are being crushed under the burden of uncontrolled food inflation and all round shortage of critical food materials. Is this country heading for a crisis of Himalayan proportion, with no solution in sight? No wonder people are flocking in increasing numbers to places of worship like temples, mosques, synagogues and churches, seeking divine intervention to overcome their woes!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


The ever widening gap between the food and beverage industry and consumer groups is reaching crisis proportions and it is difficult to come to a judgment regarding who is right. While industry has every right to earn profit for the investments it has made, consumer has his own right to expect honest and transparent practices from the industry. Probably it may be too much to expect that industry would be able to sacrifice its profits for ensuring global food security and if some one representing the industry takes such a stand, it is nothing short of hypocrisy. Hunger is related to food production for which farmers have to be galvanized through affordable inputs and helpful public policies.

"If we are to successfully combat global undernutrition, efforts must be sustained by multiple stakeholders from various sectors. We believe that trust is built through industry's demonstration of practical actions that improve health, and recognition of these actions by governments and nongovernmental organizations. Only through new and innovative public–private sector partnerships can we truly make a difference.Three international public health leaders counter with no, it can't, in an article entitled "The snack attack." They point to irreconcilable differences between the the goals of private industry and public health: The problem lies with food, drink, and associated companies whose profits depend on products that damage public health and that also have damaging social, economic, and environmental impacts. These most of all include transnational companies, of which PepsiCo is one. To succeed, big business must sustain and increase annual turnover, profit, and share price…We suggest that public health professionals see papers such as those of Yach et al. as part of the marketing strategies of transnational food and drink companies…The privatization of public health does not work".

As for consumer health, it is the responsibility of the processing industry to ensure that what is delivered to the consumer is at least not "worse" than the raw food material processed by them. Voluntary efforts are ideal to stem the present trend of ignoring consumer well being by flooding the market with imbalanced foods of "questionable" nutrition. If self-restraint is not practiced governments have the power to impose mandatory guidelines for forcing the process industry to respect the right of the consumers to have healthy foods from them.



Easy money has attracted many greedy business players from time immemorial. Adding water to milk was one of the easiest and most profitable businesses till the advent of instruments that can easily detect such economic fraud, though even to day in the unorganized dairy sector in India the practice still continues with the consumers unable to decide whether he is really getting standard quality milk. Fast development of frozen food industry has given unscrupulous processors another easy route for making a fast buck through water incorporation in their products, that too in a country like the US where quality enforcement is considered sacrosanct. This unethical practice has been exposed recently by the enforcement agency in that country.

"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday it is reviewing a multistate investigation that found shoppers have been paying for large amounts of ice that are not supposed to be included in the price of frozen seafood. The investigation — conducted by weights and measures inspectors in 17 states — found that a coating of ice applied to frozen seafood to preserve quality during storage and distribution often was wrongly included as part of the labeled weight of seafood. In some instances, the investigation found, ice accounted for 40 percent of the product's weight".

How a consumer can detect such devious practices is a critical issue that needs practical solution. After all the frozen packs purchased from the retail outlet goes straight to the kitchen freezer to be used after a few days and there is no way consumer can find out as to how much ice is present in the serving portion. Considering that industry even uses additives that can infuse water during processing, it becomes difficult for even a well equipped laboratory to come to any meaningful conclusion regarding the extent of water incorporated intentionally. Only the process log book of the processor can reveal the input-output ratio from which the extent of raw food that has gone into the retail pack can be determined. Can the consumer be given the "Right to Information" tool that will require any processor to reveal the facts from his records, as a mandatory procedure?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Who ever could think of "recall" of bottled water products from the market based on safety considerations, that too in a country like the US where normal piped water supply is considered safe for drinking? But such things do happen and the industry deserves some appreciation for this action, though the intention behind such recalls might have more to do with brand image protection that consumer safety.

"This list (which I will soon post online) includes a remarkable list of contaminants. In addition to the benzene found in Perrier, bottled water has been found to contain mold, sodium hydroxide, kerosene, styrene, algae, yeast, tetrahydrofuran, sand, fecal coliforms and other forms of bacteria, elevated chlorine, "filth," glass particles, sanitizer, and in my very favorite example, crickets.Yes, crickets. In 1994, a bottler in Nacogdoches, Texas issued a recall for sparkling water found to be contaminated with crickets. The water was distributed in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia and the recall notice wasn't issued until seven months after being bottled and distributed, making it unlikely that consumers were notified in time to avoid buying the contaminated bottles. Maybe they thought it was a bonus, like that worm in tequila, or the weird things sometimes found in flavored vodkas".

Indians can take solace that no one has so far complained seriously about the safety of bottled water though there are more than 1000 bottling units working across the country. Here again the reason for such a "clean" record has more to do with the slack safety vigilance system than the efficiency of the industry! There was a hiccup some time back regarding presence of pesticide residues in the products manufactured by some major players but nothing much has happened there after. The ISI marking and safety overseeing by the Bureau of Indian Standards are nothing but a sham as this agency is more interested in the revenue coming out of the licensing process rather than enforcing the specifications for which it has neither the expertise nor the personnel and the infrastructure. Indian consumers are left to fend for them selves while the bottling industry is laughing all the way to their banks with their undeserved bounty.


Defense forces in any country has a vital role to play in safeguarding its integrity and security. Armed forces depend heavily on regular recruitment of young, healthy and strong soldiers to manage attrition as well as expansion. Of course with high tech fighting tools now available in the global market, the concept of old "foot soldier" is not relevant any more and physical strength has to be complimented with intellectual quality. That armed forces world over are finding it increasingly difficult to attract suitable candidates into their ranks is a problem faced by many countries, in spite of attractive compensation packages. The crisis being faced by the US is a different type as illustrated by a recent report from that country.

"Too fat to fight? Many American children are so overweight from being fed french fries, pizza and other unhealthy foods at school lunchrooms that they cannot handle the physical rigors of being in the military, a group of retired officers say in a new report. National security is threatened by the sharp rise in obesity rates for young people over the last 15 years, the group Mission: Readiness contends. Weight problems are now the leading medical reason that recruits are rejected, the group says, and thus jeopardize the military's ability to fill its ranks. In a report released Tuesday, the group says that 9 million young adults, or 27 percent of all Americans ages 17 to 24, are too fat to join the military. The retired officers were on Capitol Hill advocating for passage of a wide-ranging nutrition bill that aims to make the nation's school lunches healthier".

Is it not a paradox that a wealthy country like the US is experiencing the undesirable consequences of its richness as the phenomenon of "over eating" and "wrong eating" is an offshoot of its high economic status? The problems encountered by less developed countries like India are of different nature. Those who are wealthy and healthy will not offer themselves for military service while others with low income and less than optimum health, may find it difficult to meet the stiff health standards for recruitment. Still there are plenty of people with required health standards willing to serve the military if compensation is more attractive. Probably "soldiering" may also become a service, "ripe" for out sourcing by wealthy countries with more and more of their citizens either unfit or unwilling to "die" for their country. Of course it may be viewed as "mercenary" by the conventional wisdom but the world, probably will have to live with it.


Why is that Japanese food processing industry has not been able to make such an impact on the world scene like its counterparts in the electronic and automobile sectors? An obvious answer could be the total dissimilarity between what they consume and that consumed by rest of the world. But it cannot be the only reason. Chinese, both the mainland as well as the Taiwanese, have been able to achieve much greater success in the food sector than the Japanese. It has dawned on the food industry in Japan that its survival is not guaranteed by dependence on the domestic market only, forcing it to look outwards for growth and development.

"While Japanese products in the technology and auto sectors are household names worldwide, the same is not true in the food industry. But that may be about to change. As birth rates and the consumer market shrink at home, food companies in Japan are increasing the pace of their overseas expansions and trying to improve promotion of their brands. Analysts say that increasing sales abroad is crucial for manufacturers. To do so, the companies are combining, undertaking joint ventures, cutting production costs and creating strategies for new markets. "The domestic market is shrinking, deflation is cutting into sales and the sense of crisis is looming stronger and stronger," said Arihiro Muroya, a senior economist at Norinchukin Research Institute in Tokyo, an organization affiliated with the leading Japanese agricultural lender, Norinchukin Bank. The sector's strategy has been twofold. First, Japanese companies have been infiltrating the health food and condiment categories overseas with soy-based products like tofu in countries where few domestic companies can compete. Second, Japanese producers capitalize on cute Asian-themed characters like koalas and pandas and apply technology to make amusingly shaped treats to attract snack-happy consumers".

Japanese can play a strong role by getting into the machinery sector for which they have the necessary experience and expertise. Success however will depend on the cost as processing machinery made in Japan can have a ready acceptance. How far it can sell these machinery at costs, cheaper than those made by its counterparts from the US, Europe, Canada and Australia will decide about success in this direction.


Monday, April 26, 2010


Hundreds of health foods are in the market offering the advantages of antioxidants which are supposed to neutralize oxyradicals generated at the cellular level posing health risks like cancer. Though many of these foods look impressive on paper their efficacy is not beyond doubt. The major problem is the extent of the added antioxidant ingredient absorbed in the digestive system and delivered to the cell sites for making them work. In formulation itself, there is a practical problem because many antioxidants, especially phenolic compounds are astringent to taste and pose a logistical challenge to the food scientists in formulating acceptable products with out the off taste. The report that Carboxymethyl Cellulose (CMC) is helpful in masking the astringency is a welcome development.

"The study, published in Food Quality and Preference, found that the CMC(carboxymethylcellulose) outperformed other common gums, including Guar, Xanthan, and Arabic, in the masking of the astringent flavour of polyphenols."The addition of CMC to the polyphenolic extracts from fruits of chokeberry, green tea and walnut significantly lowered the perception of the astringency," wrote the researchers, led by Greg Lamparski from the Polish Academy of Sciences."These results may be useful to prepare functional food characterised by the high antioxidant properties that could meet the consumers' acceptance," they added.The days were healthy products were deemed unappetising are coming to an end, and food manufacturers are acutely aware of the need to make healthy products taste good. Fortifying foods with polyphenols is limited by the inherent bitter taste of the compounds. Polyphenols are antioxidant compounds with health benefits reported to range from improved cardiovascular health, to protection against certain cancers and Alzheimer's".

In an earlier study scientists had found that adding CMC in batters used for frying snack foods reduced the oil up take in the final product significantly and was touted as a possible method to prepare low fat snacks. But subsequent finding that inclusion of CMC adversely affected the texture of the fried products ruled out commercial use of CMC in snack foods. This aspect needs further investigation and what effect presence of CMC will have on the overall taste and texture characteristics of the final product must be ascertained.



Hunger for publicity and attention can be a disease with some people including scientists. There have been many instances in the past that based on half baked research, tall claims are made in the media which ultimately fizzle out. Human memory being extremely short when it comes to subjects of no immediate concern personally, many such habitual "loud mouths" get away unscathed to repeat the same after some time. Here is an example of a scientist from Bihar "claiming" development and transfer of a technology for making wine from litchi fruit!

"It's sweet, pulpy, juicy and perfect wine material. The litchi may soon be seen in a new avatar as two private companies are keen to use the fruit - that grows in abundance in Bihar's Muzaffarpur district - to produce wine.Kingfisher and Litchika International have approached Muzaffarpur-based National Litchi Research Centre to sign memorandums of understanding (MoUs) to use its technology for making litchi-flavoured wine, said K.K. Kumar, director of the centre. Kumar told IANS that scientists at the centre had developed litchi-flavoured wine by mixing pulpy extracts of the fruit with various types of spirits. They replicated the technology after conducting preliminary laboratory experiments in Thailand and Beijing. The union agriculture ministry recently approved the litchi centre's proposal to transfer its technology of making litchi- flavoured wine".

In what way Litchi wine making is different from wine processing from other fruits such as grapes is not clear. Why preliminary experiments were carried out in Thailand and Beijing is also some thing which does not make any sense. During the peak prohibition days in nineteen sixties, there were many bootleggers in Bombay, with illegal cottage scale breweries in their backyards fermenting practically any sugary material into readily acceptable liquor products with varying alcohol concentration. They neither were technologists nor had any technical help from scientists. Assuming that Kingfisher really approached the above Center for buying the so called technology, it is a mystery as to what such a well established liquor giant, is going to gain from the above government organization when the company has some of the top brewing experts in their fold, capable of making wine from Litchi in their existing facilities.



With the European safety regulatory agencies getting more and more vigilant many label claims are under a cloud with the industry unable to substantiate them with scientific data. Most recent case is that of the French food industry giant Danone which launched its yoghurt drinks some time back with several health claims printed on the label of the pack. These claims are now being with drawn against more stringent evaluation of health claims by the concerned authorities.

"FRENCH food giant Danone has withdrawn an application to have the health claims of Actimel and Activia recognised by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Actimel, a yoghurt drink, contains cultures of Lactobacillus casei bacteria which Danone says improve the body's natural defences against illness. Activia, a brand of yoghurt, also contains bacterial cultures, and the company claims it regulates the body's digestive system. Both products are marketed on these claims, which have proved controversial. The UK's Advertising Standards Agency banned one television advert in 2009 which claimed that Actimel was scientifically proven to help children's immune systems".

Though the manufacturer says that they are withdrawing the application for claim approval by EFSA because of lack of clarity in the current policy governing health claims, the truth of the matter may be that sufficient scientific evidence through clinical trials either does not exist or is inadequate to convince the authorities. As prebiotics, yoghurts already have a preeminent position in the minds of the consumers and why Danone chose to make an overkill, may be to increase the clientele base further.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Though Nano Technology is a controversial subject with many antagonists ranged against it on the grounds of questionable safety, there are commercial considerations that seem to be gathering controversial proportions. Just because the word "Nano" has Greek origin, that country is trying to capitalize on it by patenting the same for purely economic consideration. Probably the hard pressed economic problems being faced by this country is forcing its government try the patent route to emerge out of the dire economic straight!

At the core of the patent application is a detailed list of nanotechnology terms and products that is grouped into seven major categories – electronics, medicine, materials, equipment & instrumentation, food, cosmetics, and services. Alluding to the industry's outlook if this patent gets granted, critics have already nicknamed this list Pitchblack and the Seven Dwarfs. One industry that is clearly unfazed by this development is the food industry. In wise anticipation of brewing troubles, all major food companies like Nestle or Kraft have already years ago purged all reference to nanotechnology from their websites. Cosmetics industry is not too far behind. Interestingly the Greek trade marking efforts are not undisputed within their own country. A group called "Cultural responsibility in the Aegean" has challenged the government's plans. Publishing an essay in the main Greek newspaper Parthenon World News titled "Self assembling patent claims. What would Aristotle do?", the group strongly condemns the government's move.

If the above trade mark protection request is conceded what will be the next target of the Greek government? Can other cultural groups else where in the world can make similar claims on popular words and phrases now in vogue universally for the sake of economic gains? Probably the "geographical" patent system internationally recognized for protecting heritage names of local origin has opened up a "Pandora's Box" and where this is going to end up with what consequences remains to be seen.


Tomato is one of the most sought after vegetables by consumers all over the world. Though there are many technologies that can preserve tomato in some form or the other, the preference is still for fresh brightly colored material for which no price is considered too high. While tomato chunks in brine, puree and paste in aseptic packs, dehydrated chunks, etc are still being used extensively in food preparations requiring tomato solids for flavor, fresh salad products need firm and ripe tomato slices which can be available only during the season. With the advent of greenhouse technology which has ensured production of some fresh vegetables year round, tomato seems to have gained an advantage and providing vine-ripened tomato to the users all 365 days an year is a practical reality to day.

"Those tough pink ones are still good and cheap enough for most fast food restaurants and the food service industry, which buy about half the fresh tomatoes sold in the United States. But with shoppers willing to pay a premium — even $4 to $5 a pound — for red vine-ripened ones with more flavor, greenhouse tomatoes now represent more than half of every dollar spent on fresh tomatoes in American supermarkets, according to figures from the Perishables Group, a market research firm in Chicago".

Vine-ripened tomato, considered the best by many consumers, can be produced only through greenhouse technology as the conditions for ripening can be simulated inside the artificial chambers once the crop matures to facilitate the biological process involved in ripening. That consumers are willing to pay a premium price for such visually attractive products gives the growers the much needed incentive to continuously innovate for going up in the value addition chain. How far such vine-ripened, greenhouse grown tomatoes deviate from naturally grown counter parts in the open is not very clear at present.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


America is a country with practicing dichotomy in every field of economic and political activity. While professing democracy, it invariably promotes dictatorship amongst its vassal states across the world. Terrorism has different meanings for this country as terror against the US is abominable but if the victim is India it is condonable! India and China get differential treatment at the hands of this country with the latter invariably being treated with "kid gloves". Any violation of food safety by Indian exporters gets harsh treatment where as repeated violations by Chinese are glossed over. Though violations are routinely reported there is no mutually agreed protocols for food trade between these two countries, in spite of high volume of bilateral food trade.

"China, which exports about two billion dollars each year in food products to the United States, is a top violator of American food safety standards, according to US authorities. In April, for example, the authorities rejected 257 Chinese food shipments, far more than from any other country. Regulators, in calling for more stringent import and food safety laws, now have an agreement between the Chinese government and the FDA, who have comitted to work towards a mutual agreement to improve inspections and overall safety of food products and drugs. Up to now, China and the FDA did not have a binding agreement on food and drugs; there were no standard safety regulations between the two systems, and no mechanisms in place to inspect food production facilities and secure travel visas for investigations. China is the second largest source of imports for the United States while the United States is China's largest overseas market and second largest source of foreign direct investment".

Whether it is the economic muscle power of China or their strong foreign policy orchestration that is responsible for this "respect" from the most "powerful" country in the world, one cannot be sure. The fact that China can cripple the economy of the US if it so desires, may be a factor weighing with successive governments in that country. In contrast India practices a "benign" foreign policy typical of a country with a soft "under belly" and it may be too much to expect that other countries would pay any genuine respect in the international arena.



It is recognized universally that there is a health crisis in many developed countries because of wrong eating practices by their population consuming calorie and fat rich products from the processing industry ignoring the need to balance their diet with protective foods like fruits and vegetables. The health "convulsion" has reached crisis proportions and health insurance sector is worried about increasing pay outs to their subscribers affected by such wrong food habits. Against this background it is shocking to find that some of these very insurance companies are in collusion with the so called fast food industry through their financial stake in their operations!

"Health insurance companies in the U.S., Canada and Europe hold nearly $1.9 billion in fast-food company stock, according to a new study from researchers at Harvard Medical School and the department of medicine at Cambridge Health Alliance. In the study, published this week in the American Journal of Public Health researchers examined major insurance companies' stock holdings with five leading, publicly traded fast food chains: McDonald's, Burger King, Jack in the Box, Yum! Brands (which owns KFC, Taco Bell, and others), and the Wendy's/Arby's Group. They found that, as of June 11, 2009, major health insurers owned $1.88 billion in fast-food stock, representing 2.2% of the companies' total public holdings".

Could it be that the insurance companies preferred to rake in huge profits from the fast food industry realizing that insurance industry is no more lucrative? The huge profits generated by some of the fast food companies year after year are "mouth watering" for any investor wanting to maximize returns on the investment but such a thing happening in the insurance sector cannot be considered ethical or conscionable. Health insurance is to guarantee good health to its subscribers and helping those doing harm to the health of the citizens cannot be condoned.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Indian food industry is highly fragmented with major manufacturing activities concentrated in the hands of small scale players with very little technical strength. The result is that consumer is faced with the daunting task of identifying good products from the indifferent and low quality products. The branded food segment has high visibility though their share in total production is much less and most of them have some form of rudimentary technical infrastructure for meeting their immediate technical needs. But it is the long term requirements that cannot be met by such limited facilities and this is where dedicated R & D institutions come into the picture. The Food Industry Center at University of Minnesota in the US is a model set-up geared to serve the industry through many imaginative collaborative programs.

"The Food Industry Center supports its work as an academic thought leader and researcher on the food industry through general operating support from its Sponsoring Membership program and contributions from individuals. Donors ensure continued success in the education of current and future industry leaders through the Center's Symposium and Networking events and student intern programs. They also support the Center's working paper series and the continued production of primary research on the food industry".

Despite the existence of the 60 year old CFTRI at Mysore and the establishment of the "brand new "NIFTEM in Haryana, the distance between the industry and these institutions remain as wide as it was decades ago with no initiative forth coming from either side to bridge the gap. Added to this there are umpteen number of universities in the country with potential to carry out technical service for the industry but this is only on paper with practically no university having any decent research program for or from the industry. Public funded R & D agencies are cozy with the situation as there is hardly any accountability for millions of rupees from the tax payers being guzzled year after year in the name of research with practically no relevance to the needs of the industry at large. If these institutions are not able to create workable net work with the industry, they can as well be closed for good. GOI must take this matter seriously and "wake" them up to deliver what is expected from them. It is time for creating a mechanism for "twinning" them with the processing industry for better accountability and service.


Chocolate confectionery is a much maligned group of food products being blamed for many health related problems but fortunately this adverse image has not dented its popularity amongst the consumers young as well as the old who continue to enjoy the delicate flavor of many chocolate products. That cocoa bean contains many health protecting phytochemicals has been known for many years but the high fat content, that too highly saturated ones and high sugar levels in most of the products have given a bad image to chocolate products. Recent studies have brought out clearly that chocolate consumption in limited quantities can do wonders to protect human health.

An extensive study by German nutritionists has produced results many chocoholics have been dreaming of for years. They monitored more than 19,000 people and their chocolate consumption over a decade, finding those who ate the most got the greatest benefit. The experts found eating 7.5 grams of dark chocolate could reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke by 39% and could also lead to lower blood pressure. As always though, there is a catch - the most expensive, purest chocolate is the best for you. The nutritionists found dark chocolate produced the best results when it contains at least 70% cocoa. June Davidson from the British Heart Foundation also cautioned the amount identified in the study did not offer the chance to pig out.

"This was a really interesting study and it found that a very small amount of chocolate actually reduced your blood pressure and your risk of heart disease. "With it being Easter, chocolate lovers could get very excited about this report, but you really do need to read the small print about this study and it's perhaps not as good as it seems. "The amounts of chocolate were very small - only seven grams - and that's about a square a day or about half a small Easter egg spread over a whole week, so we are talking about very, very small amounts of chocolate." Dianna Muriarriz, who runs a boutique chocolate store in Leamington Spa, said chocolate becomes fattening and higher in calories when other things are added to it. "The more natural it is, the better it is for you. So the darker the chocolate, the better it is for you." Ms Davidson added: "Dark chocolate has had a lot of publicity in the past about it being beneficial and that's due to the flavonols that are actually in the cocoa. "There's some suggestion that chemical has heart-protecting effects." Some boutique chocolates even contain real fruit, so does that mean they count towards your five a day? Doubt it. The problem now is likely to be whether chocolate will taste as good, now that it is so good for you.

If industry can reorient its strategy to make more health friendly products from cocoa beans and position it as a "desirable and nutritious" well being category of food products, it will earn the respect and love of humanity for years to come.



The overwhelming hold the antiseptic preparation Dettol (Parachlorometaxylenol or PCMX 5%) has over the consumers in India seems to be unabated probably due to its proven effectiveness as a bactericide, out performing all other brands available in the market. In contrast Dettol is not found in many developed countries for reasons not very clear. However Triclosan is the predominant antiseptic in use and hundreds of consumer products like soaps, deodorants, shaving creams, mouth wash preparations, tooth paste etc contain this antiseptic chemical for achieving protection against bacterial infection. Triclosan which is chemically Polychlorophenoxyphenol, inhibits fatty acid synthesis in bacteria preventing uncontrolled proliferation of the contaminant. The recent statement by USFDA that Triclosan soaps do not have any advantage over normal soaps has thrown a spanner in the promotion of this product at least in the US.

"The Soap and Detergent Association today expressed concern over statements made by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the effectiveness of a key ingredient used in beneficial antibacterial soaps and body washes. SDA said it will continue providing an informed perspective to the FDA on the ingredient triclosan. "The Food and Drug Administration has in its hands a wealth of scientific data showing a distinct germ killing benefit of antibacterial soaps containing triclosan." Two recent scientific papers have been published demonstrating the effectiveness of antibacterial soaps in comparison to non-antibacterial soaps.(I) A substantial body of data demonstrates that over-the-counter (OTC) antibacterial hand wash products are more effective at reducing the risk of bacterial infection compared to washing with non-antibacterial soap.(II) Additionally, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 76 million cases of food-borne illnesses occur each year in the U.S. The acquisition and transmission of bacteria during food preparation play a significant role in causing these infections, and published studies have linked outbreaks of gastrointestinal disease to poor hand washing practices.(III)(IV) Most importantly, these ingredients are used in products that play a beneficial role in the daily hygiene routines of millions of people. Antibacterial hygiene and cleaning products continue to be used safely and effectively in homes, hospitals, and workplaces every single day. Science-based risk analysis backs this up, thanks to the industry's long-standing research and product stewardship efforts. Antibacterial ingredients like triclosan are regulated by governmental bodies around the world and have a long track record of human and environmental safety, many of whom have specifically found these ingredients to be safe for use in hygiene and cleaning products. In the U.S., these ingredients are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration or the Environmental Protection Agency, depending upon the type of product that contains them".
It is but natural that the manufacturers resist any attempt that can affect their business and same has been orchestrated well by them through some scientific documentation. It is well known that most soap preparations, be it fatty acid based or synthetic detergent based have the property to destroy bacteria through surface tension phenomenon and therefore it is incumbent upon the Triclosan industry to prove that their products are better than plain soap. Last word on antibacterial soaps has not yet been heard.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Mushroom is a valued food material with high nutritional value and food connoisseurs consider them very tasty with typical delicate flavor. While many wild mushrooms are consumed in different parts of the world, commercial production needs specialized expertise and infrastructure. The productivity being low under commercial cultivation conditions, mushrooms fetch high returns to the growers. The white button mushroom, Agaricus bisporus, the most favored species for commercial cultivation and other varieties like Shiitake, Maitake, Oyster, Crimini, Portobello, Morel and Enoki also have found acceptance in the western world. Since mushroom is an important part of cuisines in the West, China and Japan efforts to increase productivity have led to the new finding that electric shock can boost the growth of mushroom.
"The results could lead to new harvesting methods that would significantly increase food production. That's good news for a Japanese food industry where mushrooms are a popular staple, and where around 50,000 tons of mushrooms must be imported a year, mainly from China and South Korea, just to meet the high demand. The study reached its conclusions after four years of bombarding mushrooms with artificially induced lightning, reports National Geographic. Ten varieties of mushroom were tested, and eight of those species responded by growing at an increased rate when electrified. The fungi reacted best when exposed to between 50,000 and 100,000 volts for one ten-millionth of a second. Researchers were able to get the shiitake crop to yield double the amount usually harvested, but the best performing species were nameko mushrooms, which produced a whopping 80 percent more mushrooms".

The scientific basis for the above phenomenon is still not clear but the ability to multiply when exposed to lightning could be a knee-jerk reaction to a hostile environment for ensuring survival. Such increased reproductive capacity helps production of more mushrooms, preventing total destruction. There appears to be some damage due to the electrical bursts but the loss is more than compensated by accelerated rate of protein synthesis and activity of some vital enzymes. The present market size for mushroom is estimated at $ 50 billion and some of the leading consumers include Japanese (14 kg/year per capita), Chinese (10 kg/year per capita) and the US (2kg/year per capita). New technology as and when commercialized is expected to provide adequate production to meet the ever increasing demand for mushroom.



The recent volcanic eruption in Iceland has world wide repercussions and clear contours of economic damage from this natural disaster is yet to emerge. As reported millions of passengers have been stranded in hundreds of air ports in the world because of the potential hazard for flying due to high ash content spewed by the volcano that has spread over most of the Europe. The unpleasant and miserable experience will be a wake up call for the international community regarding the need to remember that national boundaries have no meaning and the need to consider that every human being is more a denizen on this planet than a citizen of any country. Look at the effect the volcanic eruption has on a poor African country like Kenya which has to bear the consequences, though situated far away from Iceland.

"On Monday, Mr. Maundu stared at the towering wreckage: eight-feet-tall heaps of perfectly good carrots, onions, baby sweet corn and deliciously green sugar snap peas being dumped into the back of a pickup truck. "Cow food," he said, shaking his head. "That's about all we can do with it now." If farmers in Africa's Great Rift Valley ever doubted that they were intricately tied into the global economy, they know now that they are. Because of a volcanic eruption more than 5,000 miles away, Kenyan horticulture, which as the top foreign exchange earner is a critical piece of the national economy, is losing $3 million a day and shedding jobs".

The utter helplessness of man against nature's fury is amply demonstrated by this latest calamity and it is time for recognition that, no matter how mighty a country is, living harmoniously with nature can only sustain life in this planet. Mindless tinkering with nature for short term economic gains does not pay in the long run. Having done enough damage already, is it possible for the world community to set up a massive contingency fund that can help the victims of natural calamities though economic assistance. Kenya deserves a helping hand to over come its losses suffered for no fault of its own and recover from the misery.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Health insurance is almost universal in a country like the US while only a very small segment of population is covered in India. Compared to the premium charged in India, an average citizen in the US pays much higher premium probably because of the high cost of hospitalization and medicines there. The recent health care programs signed into law in the US makes health insurance almost universal. Insurance companies are paying out higher amounts to their beneficiaries year after year because of more incidences of health disorders experienced by the population due to many reasons. A pro-active policy to help the population to improve their food habits and consequently reduce incidences of life style disorders can help the insurance companies to bring down the expenditure on pay out on medical claims and improve their business prospects.

"The UnitedHealth Group, one of the nation's largest health insurers, is teaming up with the Y.M.C.A. and retail pharmacies to try a new approach to one of the nation's most serious and expensive medical problems: Type 2 diabetes. Rather than simply continuing to pay ever-higher medical claims to care for its diabetic customers, UnitedHealth is paying the Y.M.C.A. and pharmacists to keep people healthier. The result, they hope, will be lower costs and lower premiums for everyone".

Basing the premium charged to the insured on the basis of age, is most frequently followed by all companies. While children and youngsters pay very small amounts as premium for a certain coverage, those beyond 60 years of age are either denied insurance or charged exorbitantly which is indeed a paradox! A different parameter that may be more appropriate is the Body Mass Index or BMI for a normal person with no previous disease history, lower BMI subscribers being charged much less than others. As a person with BMI less than 20 is unlikely to be a candidate for any major illness, the annual premium can be 20-25% cheaper while those beyond 25 can be charged extra.



Food is playing an important role in boosting business for many sectors and the latest to play around with food is the civil aviation industry. This comes on the heels of a perceptible trend noticed in the entertainment sector with the Cinema Theaters creating new dining experience for its patrons through well designed and gastronomically stimulating foods served under high ambiance environment to attract audience and improve their viability as a business. The civil aviation sector in many countries and also many international airlines are toying with the idea of serving gourmet foods to their passengers during the flights. How far this strategy will succeed remains to be seen. Logistical consideration rules out the possibility that in-flight meals can ever compete with regular restaurants in Terra firma in quality, ambiance and service.

"The buy-onboard movement has inspired airlines to upgrade their menus. Some have teamed with celebrity chefs, others with national chains. Come fall, Continental Airlines, which had been the last major holdout, will stop offering free food on domestic coach flights and start charging for what it promises will be more appetizing fare. Even JetBlue, while not giving up its gratis Terra chips, is testing a pay menu. The twin goal is to generate profits and customer satisfaction as Virgin America has done with its microbrews and freshly muddled mojitos. David Johnson, a mechanical engineer in San Francisco, recently paid $40 more for his Virgin ticket than the price a competitor would have charged him. "I would say I fly Virgin 50% for the food and 50% for the wi-fi and the atmosphere," says Johnson, who dropped $17 on a cross-country flight for a Black Star beer and a chicken tarragon wrap".

Probably if, not serving food during the flight becomes an industry standard, priced and premium food may tip the scale while choosing a carrier. Price may play a part in such decisions eventually. It is natural that flights of duration beyond a couple of hours should provide access to good food as passengers cannot be expected to carry "lunch boxes" with them to avoid starvation. Those airlines with good food at reasonable price will score over others in the long run.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Sound science seems to have won the day for sugar that has been derided day in and day out, blaming its consumption for every conceivable human disease that stalks this planet. The so called "Modern" science "invented" the "truth" that sugar causes obesity through metabolic disorders leading to further health complications for human beings, forgetting conveniently the old sound scientific finding that excess calorie consumption, in whatever form, can cause disequilibrium in any living system and such excess calories can come from a variety of carbohydrates and fats contained in the diet. The clamor for fixing an upper limit for sugar consumption has been brewing for some time now and some experts even suggest an upper limit of 44 gm of sugars a day which does not seem to have any logic. Probably the latest pronouncement from European safety agency should put to rest any such move by any country.

"Advocates for severely limiting sugar intake in the name of fighting obesity received another set back last week at the hands of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The EFSA, Europe's food regulatory body, found no scientific evidence to recommend a limit on the amount of sugar people should consume. This finding is consistent with the 2002 U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine report, which stated scientific evidence did not justify setting an upper level for sugars intake and found "no clear and consistent association between increased intakes of added sugars and [body mass index]." Sugars have become a focal point of the obesity debate and some are advocating for strict limits that would target many everyday foods, such as a cup of yogurt, a carton of chocolate milk, or an unbuttered piece of toast with jelly. "Obesity is a problem that America must address," said Andy Briscoe, president and CEO of the Sugar Association, "but dietary guidelines need to be the result of sound science. Caloric sweetener consumption is down nearly 10 percent over the past 10 years, according to the USDA, yet obesity rates have risen".

Of course the above judgment does not give a clean chit to unlimited consumption of sugar which obviously will have disastrous consequences. Any substance consumed improperly and at uncontrolled levels is considered a "substance abuse" event requiring harsh remedial measures. Same applies to sugar also and probably to every substance man consumes through oral-gastro system!



Who ever has not experienced the tear jerking effect of onion when it is cut during preparation of many foods containing this root vegetable? In spite of this nuisance onion is liked universally by one and all because of its characteristic flavor and aroma imparted to foods. Besides some of the sulfur containing compounds present in onion have healthy properties. Now comes the report that the flavonoid chemicals contained in this popular vegetable has antioxidant and antibacterial capabilities not known earlier making onion a very desirable component of daily diet. That onion is a regular item of consumption in Mediterranean diets, considered one of the healthiest in the world, adds up to its credentials as a well being food. Globally onion production stands at a staggering 66 million tons providing an average annual per capita consumption of about 10 kg, a significant quantity to confer the health benefits attributed to onion.

"The study, that has just been published by the International Journal of Food Science and Technology, shows that the flavonoids of onion, in addition to having beneficial properties for health, increase the life of foods, and so "they are a natural alternative to artificial additives used in the food industry". Flavonoids are phenolic compounds (with the phenol group) which are synthesized by plants. The results confirm that, especially the yellow variety, is "a good source of these types of substances, and there is a positive correlation between the presence of flavonoids and their antioxidant capacity". "The onion can be effective for delaying lipid oxidation in emulsions of oil and water -a model system of foods like margarines and mayonnaises-, and it also inhibits the growth of microorganisms that alter foods", Santas indicates. The scientific team analysed onions of the White varieties "Fuentes de Ebro" and "Cal├žot de Valls" and the yellow variety "Grano de Oro". Using them the researchers demonstrated that phenolic compounds in the onion prevent the development of bacteria such as Bacillus cereus, Staphylococcus aureus, Micrococcus luteus and Listeria monocytogenes, microorganisms typically associated with the deterioration of foods".

No wonder onion is a regular component in many vegetable salad combination where it is included in its raw form. In traditional meals in many parts of India, onion, cucumber and sliced lime or lemon are routinely served, probably realizing the well being attributes of these vegetables to supplement a complete meal. Since the report is published in a peer reviewed journal, the basic scientific premise may be valid. But whether these properties are universal for all varieties of onion needs to be elucidated. Also in many traditional practices onion is sauteed or heated at high temperatures for generating artifact flavors liked by many and it is known whether the flavonoids are stable at such temperatures.

Monday, April 19, 2010


A balanced food with adequate calories and proteins can prevent many life style disorders in humans where as high carbohydrate or fat containing foods when consumed regularly may cause havoc to the health condition of even a normally healthy person. The calorie rich foods containing too much sugar or high amounts of fat have been found to cause inflammation at the cellular level leading to undesirable changes in the functioning of the body causing varied disorders. While moderating food consumption is the most logical step to protect one's health, the recent findings that consuming orange juice can neutralize the adverse effect of bad diets can give some comfort to consumers.

The study involved three groups of 10 normal-weight healthy men and women between the ages of 20 and 40. After an overnight fast, participants ate a 900-calorie breakfast composed of an egg "muffin" sandwich, a sausage "muffin" sandwich and a serving of hash browns. The meal contained 81 grams of carbohydrates, 51 grams of fat and 32 grams protein. Along with the breakfast, one group drank 300 calories of "not-from-concentrate" orange juice, a second group drank a 300-calorie glucose drink and the third group drank an equal amount of water. All participants were given 15 minutes to finish their food and drink. Blood samples were collected before the meal and at 1, 3 and 5 hours after wards. There was no significant difference in inflammatory mediators among the groups before the meal.

Analysis of the samples after the meal showed that oxygen free radicals increased an average of 62 percent with water, 63 percent with the glucose and 47 percent with orange juice. There also was an increase in blood components known as toll-like receptors, which play an important role in the development of inflammation, atherosclerosis, obesity, insulin resistance, and injury to cardiac cells than can occur after a blocked vessel is reopened. Orange juice also prevented a significant increase in SOCS-3, an important mediator of insulin resistance, which contributes to development of type 2 diabetes. "These data emphasize that a high-fat, high-carbohydrate meal is profoundly and rapidly pro inflammatory, and that this process occurs at the cellular and molecular level," says Paresh Dandona, MD, UB distinguished professor of medicine, director of the Diabetes-Endocrinology Center of Western New York at Kaleida Health and senior author on the study.

"In addition, specific pro inflammatory genes are activated after the intake of glucose and a high-fat, high-carbohydrate meal, and these changes are observed in mono nuclear cells that participate in vascular inflammation and insulin resistance," he says."These observations extend our previous work showing oxidative and inflammatory stress following such meals by demonstrating a remarkable increase in the mediators of insulin resistance after a single meal, and the equally remarkable prevention of these changes following the intake of orange juice." Dandona emphasizes that vascular inflammation is an essential component of atherosclerosis, and that this inflammation may become permanent if a person consumes similar meals regularly."The choice of safe foods that are not pro inflammatory may provide protection from the unending cycle of postprandial and cumulative inflammation," he says. "This choice may lower the risk of atherosclerosis and resistance to insulin."

Drinking a glass of orange juice during breakfast is a standard practice in many countries and people there invariably take heavy breakfast which is the first food of the day on an empty stomach. How far this good habit has given way to uncontrolled consumption of other high calorie drinks amongst the young consumers is a matter of conjecture. It is up to the parents to bring orange juice back to the dining table as a part of the breakfast sooner than later!



After "solving" all the food safety problems being faced by 30% of the population in the country residing in the urban areas within one year of its establishment, the GOI created Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has "proclaimed" its "intention" to serve the rural folks with the same exalted "objective" of solving all the problems associated with food quality and safety! Can there be a more farcical cameo than this? Is it not a cruel joke being perpetuated on the billion plus population in this country? Except meetings, pronouncements, cross country jaunts, extravagant media events for self glorification and bringing out glossy reports, what else this "paper tiger" can achieve remains to be seen.

"What is the quality of food prepared and given to students under various schemes? Are the ingredients cleaned well and cooked safely? What are the junk food that children have access to near their school and are they aware of the impact of such food on health? These are some issues that the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) will address shortly when it lays down the standards for service delivery of food safety at the panchayat and municipality levels". "The idea is to bring into focus issues relating to food safety so that these are discussed in the general body and gram sabha meetings, and each citizen is made aware of the issues and responsibilities in these critical areas," FSSAI chairman P.I. Suvrathan told The-Hindu.

Talking less and doing more should be the hall mark of an organization and its CEO. The pedestrian existence of this agency cannot infuse any confidence amongst the citizens of this country. What India needs is a strong willed agency like the USFDA staffed with experienced and knowledgeable experts, reliable high tech infrastructure, endowed with powers, to ruthlessly bring to books, millions of culprits, stalking this country who poison and defraud the innocent consumers, depending on foods made by them. A bureaucratic set up like FSSAI can as well be disbanded with no one feeling sorry for it.