Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Hunger is a phenomenon common to every living creature in this planet and as far as man is concerned daily intake of adequate calories, proteins and essential micro nutrients is a prerequisite for sustaining the life. As against this there are millions of people who have limited access to regular foods in adequate quantity & quality and according international agencies, Africa is the epicenter of acute malnutrition and starvation due to regular cycles of drought and famine. Countries like Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia bear the brunt of this tragedy. However they do get succor and solace from "generous" countries like America in the form of "Food Aid". Though the rich countries had promised aid to the extent of $22 billion for "licking" the food crisis through a sustained development program, actual economic aid is just trickling, grossly inadequate to tackle the crisis on hand. Without accusing the donors for basing their aid on self interest, it is a fact that the "strings attached" food assistance program is not effective as it ought to have been. An exhaustive expose of the real time ground reality in Africa has been recently brought out and it offers some valuable lessons to all the donors 

A common misconception is that hunger crises are about a lack of food. Yet there is food in Kenya and Ethiopia, and even in many parts of Somalia. The real issue is poverty. The people affected are poor to begin with; when things turned bad, they had no recourse. In April the World Bank reported that 44 million people worldwide were pushed over the edge by skyrocketing food prices. Such a perspective is largely missing in our food-aid program. It's like a health insurance system that waits until someone has a full-blown illness before he or she can get treatment. By the end of June, with the crisis in full swing, the United States had committed a total of about $64 million to Kenya, much of it in the form of food supplies (this doesn't include relief for the Somali refugees). But food aid loses at least half of its value, according to the Government Accountability Office, because we ship actual food instead of sending cash for local purchase, like most countries. And only $5 million was allocated to agriculture, nutrition, water and sanitation — about $1.33 per hungry person — things that would have helped people during lean times. Blame politics. Medium- and long-term planning is often the first thing to be cut from an aid budget. After the food price crisis of 2008, when hunger riots erupted around the globe, President Obama got the Group of 8 to promise $22 billion for agricultural development and food security. But many of those commitments have not been met. Meanwhile, this summer Congressional Republicans voted to cut the foreign food aid budget by a third, and more cuts are planned. And, of course, there is the matter of optics: donors want to see dead babies before they provide significant assistance, one frustrated aid worker told me. Blame also lies with the Kenyan and Ethiopian governments. In the northern district of Wajir, for instance, by July the central government provided only about half the food assistance that local governments requested, while Ethiopia, according to the BBC, misused aid for political purposes. It is an old story: sending emergency aid is clumsy, and often fraught with problems. As I was leaving a village that depended entirely on delivered water, I passed the water truck the villagers were waiting for, broken down by the side of the road. Aid officials say they realize that prevention is better than reaction. "We know how to do this," Rajiv Shah, the head of U.S.A.I.D., told me during a trip he made in July to Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp. "It is one-tenth the cost to provide effective agricultural support and help communities gain food security than it is to provide food aid at a time of famine."

It is no doubt laudable that the US government agencies have established significant presence in some of the vulnerable countries to monitor and predict drought and famine but the outside world comes to know about the seriousness of the crisis only after the worst is over. inordinate delay in responding to the call for help by these countries extinguish many lives due to starvation and diseases. The argument, that instead of outside food being delivered to the needy, a system of cash transfer enabling the affected population to buy local foods would be more effective, deserves consideration. It must be shocking to many to realize that hunger need not be due to insufficient food availability but on account of acute poverty with most poor ones having no money to buy food from local shops. Even in a country like India cash transfer system is being considered in place of Public Distribution System that will enable beneficiaries to buy the food from the open market. Unfortunately in almost all cases of food aid, the donors try to help their own cause by sending foods from their own country through their own vessels, transporting the same thousands of miles across oceans. This mindset must change and if aid is promised it must be provided the most efficient way with maximum benefit derived from it by the targeted population.



If meetings and press notes are an indication of the effectiveness of functioning of an organization, the FSSAI at Delhi must be the most admired food safety agency in the world! Though India is known to be the world capital of sub-standard, adulterated and unsafe foods in this planet, precious little is done by GOI during the last 5 decades except setting up a paper tiger called by the exalted name-"The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India" (FSSAI) supposed to take up the onus of safeguarding the interests of 1.2 billion citizens in the country. The state machinery on which FSSAI depends for carrying out vigilance against unsafe foods are hardly functioning while convictions for food related crimes are insignificant due to non-performance of the safety auditing by the national as well as state systems. Here comes another "Press Note" with a grand declaration that a product recall system would be introduced in the country soon! Who will do this is the million dollar question and such grandstand with no track record to back up, hardly inspires any confidence among the citizens that India is a country for safe foods! 

"The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) recently held a Product Recall Pilot meeting under the Chairmanship of V N Gaur, CEO, FSSAI. According to a press note released by the body, Gaur welcomed the representatives from various food industries and organisations, while Ravi Mathur, CEO, GS1, described the objectives of Global Product Recall Portal. The Product Recall Pilot is going to be conducted using recall portal service involving food producers, modern trade retailers and FSSAI to test the efficacy of recall prior to finalisation of recall regulation by FSSAI. The FSSAI has prepared draft guidelines on food recall procedures, primarily to guide food business operators to carry out a food recall through an efficient, rapid identification as well as removal of unsafe food and to inform the consumers about the potentially hazardous food in the market. In order to overcome the drawbacks in the Internal Product Recall System set up by the food producers and retailers, and to benefit the Indian food industry and exports through enhanced market shares with the implementation of Standardised National Recall Portal. Through this mechanism, the entire Indian food sector would be able to inspire greater trust and confidence of Indian and international consumers, buyers, regulators etc. in their products and their ability to manage food crisis". 

With about 12 million retail stores peddling thousands of products made by industries coming under the categories of micro enterprises, small scale manufacturers, medium and large scale players including many transnational companies and their subsidiaries, how the new ambitious program is going to be implemented is a mystery. In a country where the traders blatantly defy the food laws with impunity, consumers have long resigned to buying sub-par products at exorbitant prices stoking the inflation and putting their lives in jeopardy. Though food cannot be retailed without pilfer-proof packing with transparent labels as per the existing law, loose vending still continues and how can any one enforce the product recall regime with these prodigal business groups? First priority for any sincere efforts to streamline the food marketing is enforcing the existing laws ruthlessly and accord severe deterrent punishment to those who take liberty with the law of the land. As long as the retail sector is not organized, it is doubtful whether the unorganized sector can ever be forced to follow the regulations that exist in the statute book.  


Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Reliable statistics can only be the basis for any credible planning process and India is a nightmare as far as this area is concerned. Most data available with the government and quoted extensively all around are mere guesstimates arrived at after some cursory survey carried out unscientifically with limited number of subjects. A recent example is provided by the GOI when it was announced that there are 53 towns and cities eligible for investment on retail by foreign companies when in reality there are only 46 of them! Here comes another gem from GOI which wants to continue with its targeted food security program, involving thousands of crores of rupees subsidy, all based on highly unreliable data at its disposal. This fault line has been exposed by a recent survey in Delhi by those concerned with such distorted planning process which is not inclusive but leaves many eligible beneficiaries in the cold! 

"If you have a kutcha house or have a tarpaulin to cover youself, the socio-caste survey will not consider you homeless. If a farmer has a hand-pump provided by the government or a kisan patra to take loans against that, the same BPL scheme could now disqualify him from a BPL card. If a widow has a 16 year-old son, she may end up losing the BPL status because the child is defined as an adult - even though MNREGA refuses to engage those below 18 years. If you have two rooms instead of one in your kutcha house, you could also lose out the BPL status. The Right to Food (RTF) campaign on Monday brought out these glaring examples of the failure of the new Socio-Economic Caste Survey to demand a universal PDS instead of a targeted approach as planned by UPA. Claiming that the survey would leave several lakh rightful claimants outside the new BPL list, the RTF campaign will gather a 1,000 such 'zero scorepati' people in Delhi on Tuesday, demanding that government needs to clarify on selection of beneficiaries before it considers the National Food Security bill. "The criteria being used to identify the poor under the survey are dubious and the food bill is a blunder," said National Advisory Council member jean Dreze addressing the media here on Monday. "How can the food bill be enacted without knowing the criteria for selecting the beneficiaries," he said. "It's like putting the cart before the horse," he added. Earlier, the Planning Commission and the rural development ministry had announced that it would dispense with the artificial poverty-line based cut-off for beneficiaries of the proposed food security bill. They had said the survey would be used as the basis for the identification of the poor, and set up a committee to finalize it. But Dreze and his colleagues pointed out that even as such glaring lacunae continued to exist, the survey had begun in several states like Rajasthan and Orissa and completed in some like Tripura. Another member of the RTF campaign said the Union rural development ministry had been insensitive when approached with the problems in the survey, and had given 'non-answers' to its pointed interventions even as the exercise continued'"

The controversy as to whether the Public Distribution System (PDS) should be targeted or universal is another issue which divides the nation, though there are points for as well as against both the mode of food security systems. Considering that India is a poor country, though the government may entertain the grandiose stance of being an economic super power, the resources required for universal PDS is mind boggling. Simple common sense should tell the planners that a family with income around Rs15000-25000 a month does not deserve state subsidized food grains and protagonists of both universal and targeted PDS policies want these relatively rich people to be included under the food security program being considered. On the other hand another alternative suggested calls for cash distribution to the beneficiaries in lieu of food grains. The tragedy is no one in this country knows who is really poor deserving state help for food security, how many of them are there and where they are located! When there will be clarity on these issues? Earlier this puzzle is solved better it will be for the country as well as the real poor people hoping in perpetuity for a better tomorrow!



Public sector industrial entities in India are known to be notoriously inefficient unless they are bestowed with some sort of monopoly guaranteeing little or no competition in the market place. Government of India as well as States receive practically no dividend on the huge investments made on these white elephants set up under the old discredited policy of achieving "commanding heights" in the national economic landscape. In the food area every one knows the tragic fate of companies like the Agro-industries Corporations at state levels, erstwhile Modern Bakeries, Civil Supplies Corporations, NAFED, etc and how these organizations were either wound up or sold to private sector or maintained with no hope of redemption,  bleeding the exchequer. If at all government can claim some credit, it comes rom the cooperative sector companies like dairy cooperatives in different states, chocolate cooperative CAMPCO and a few others. This goes to show that doing business is not government's cup of tea! Food Corporation of India, a monolithic and monopolistic company of the government is limping along with no appreciable efficiency and is continuously being indicted for the food grains mismanagement. Kerala State Cashew Development Corporation (KSCDC) was recently in the news regarding its "ambition" to get into value added segment in Cashewnut, already having a monopoly for procurement of the nuts in the state at government dictated prices from the growers. With no worthwhile technical base within the organization their endeavor has very little chance of assuming any significance. Here is a take on this program as enunciated by its CEO.    

"Three years after introducing branded value-added products in the domestic market, the Kerala State Cashew Development Corporation (KSCDC) is all set to roll out new products. The chocolate-coated cashews are the new addition to the innovative range of products by the KSCDC. The technology for the cashew chocolates has been developed by the Central Food Technology Research Institute (CFTRI), Mysore, and the product is poised to be launched by the end of this financial year. They would be available in milk chocolate and brown chocolate varieties and the production will begin at the Kottiyam and Ayathil units of the KSCDC once the machinery is installed. Another product in the pipeline is cashew noodles. Marketed as 'CDC cashews,' the four value-added products now offered by the KSCDC include Cashew Soup, Cashew Vita, Cashew Powder and Cashew Bits.� KSCDC Managing Director K A Retheesh told 'Express' that the sweet and crunchy chocolate cashews are expected to be� a hit among kids. "The vitamin content in cashew is very important for growing children, but many kids are reluctant to have cashew kernels. On the other hand kids will find the chocolate coated ones attractive,'' he said.While cashew kernels contribute to the lion's� share of exports, the value-added products target the domestic market. The turnover from� value-added products during the previous financial year was Rs 12 crore against the total turnover of Rs 212 crore. Almost 90 per cent of the value-added products of the KSCDC are sold in the domestic market. The CDC cashews are marketed also in the Gulf countries. Establishing a strong domestic market is important for the survival of the industry in the country. ''With countries such as Vietnam giving Indian exporters a run for their money in the international market, we should be able to establish a strong domestic market," he said.

Those, who have some memory of the past track record of this Company, may still remember the fiasco during late nineteen nineties when some attempts were made to develop value added products and get into the market to expand the user base for Cashewnuts. Unfortunately the products, in spite of being excellent in quality, were not marketed successfully for which he Company did not had any expertise and experience. One can only wish the Corporation better luck this time, though it does not require too much intelligence to predict that the result may not be different now too. It is not realized that Cashewnut is one of the costliest nuts in the market and any value addition is bound to make it beyond the reach of many consumers in India. Export option is limited since most value added products in foreign markets are branded with strong recall credentials and it is beyond comprehension as to how the value added products of KSCDC are  going to be sold in such countries.One can only hope that the current plans, if and when executed will not end up as another financial disaster!    


Monday, November 28, 2011


The grand statement by the Commerce Minister of GOI extolling the virtues of opening the retail sector to foreign direct investment through a series of glittering advertisements in almost all news papers to day gives a rosy picture to the citizens about the advantages of major global retail giants coming to India. However a close look at the ground reality will tell a different story.There appears to be a goof up regarding the number of towns with more than a million population eligible for setting up shop by the MNC retail companies and now it turns out that in stead of 53 cities mentioned by the minister, only 46 urban entities exist in the country that are eligible to attract FDI! Besides 25 of the above are under the administrative control of non-UPA governments which are hostile to the new policy leaving only 21 urban entities available to foreign companies to invest. Here is a take on this interesting development for which GOI has to blame itself!

"With Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalitha raising the red flag against FDI in multi-brand retail, nearly half of the 53 cities may slam the doors on global chains. According to the 2011 data on the Census of India website, there are 46 cities that had a population of 10 lakh, of which 25 are unlikely to allow the likes of Walmart, Carrefour andTesco to open stores since the political leadership in these states have gone on the offensive against the government's move to permit global retailers to set up shop in the country. The statement issued by the government after the Cabinet meeting on Thursday had said 53 cities would benefit from the new policy. Apart from Jayalalitha, the BJP-ruled states,Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee and Bihar CMNitish Kumar have made public their stand against the latest FDI liberalization move from the UPA, which is keen to shake off the perception of policy paralysis. Among the BJP-governed ones, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has welcomed the opening up. Although in the past, he has been autonomous of the leadership, he is unlikely to deviate from the party's stand. That leaves the foreign retailers to tap into Congress-ruled states such as Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh apart from Punjab, where BJP ally Shiromani Akali Dal has supported the move, and Orissa". 

Whether the Central Government will be able to survive with some of its coalition partners against the new FDI policy and whether the new policy will be implemented eventually cannot be predicted at this juncture. Assuming that the doors are opened for retail FDI, another million dollar question is how many major players will actually enter the country against the pre-conditions imposed and restricted areas of operation available to them. Any how the road ahead for the foreign companies may not be as smooth as they hope for and it may take years, if not decades, before they can establish any sizable presence on Indian soil!



During these days of scams and non-governance in the country which is ruled by intellectual pygmies with no vision, the nostalgia about Dr V Kurien, the father of white revolution in India must be soothing the feelings of every Indian living to day. It is part of history as to how Dr Kurien's far-sighted efforts and strong leadership quality till recently, took the country to the top position as a milk producer among the comity of nations. Tribute is also due to him for training a strong cadre to take the challenge forward by continuing his spirit and philosophy. On the occasion of his completion of 9 decades of life, most of it spent for uplifting the lot of millions of dairy farmers in the country, nation must salute this illustrious son of the soil for his yeoman service. May God bless him with another 90 years of life so that younger generation of Indians get opportunity to appreciate and emulate him in thought and action.

"Today, the turnover of Amul-led cooperatives stands at Rs 10,000 crore as against less than Rs 1,000 crore in early 1990s. The Amul group now consists of 15 district unions with 30 lakh farmer members in close to 16,000 villages of Gujarat producing over 90 lakh litre milk a day. A majority of its farmer members are women. These dairy cooperatives produce and process a range of products such as liquid milk, cheese, curd, milk powder, milk drink, sweets, ice cream, chocolates and butter among others. Verghese Kurien, Amul founder and the father of White Revolution, turned 90 on Saturday. For the first time after 2006, the Kurien family witnessed a huge turnout of people at their residence 'Kurien Enclave' as named by the civic body of Anand. In 2006, Kurien was compelled to resign by his board members from the chairman's post of Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), the apex milk marketing cooperative body of the group. "In early 1970s, the concept for selfsustenance in animal husbandry was believed could only be achieved by large ranches with hundreds of cattle. At that time, I used to tell people at FAO that we have this man (Kurien) who is getting marginal farmers with only one or two cattle together to make India largest milk producer. Kurien went against the tide and made Amul a very successful model," former Planning Commission member and union minister YK Alagh told ET. He finds the Amul model even more relevant in present situation. Now, the Amul model has been replicated in several states where brands like Verka, Nandini, Sudha, Mahananda and Saras are dominating the market. The World Bank has identified the Amul model as one of the key tools to fight poverty. GCMMF receives frequent requests from African countries to assist them in replicating the model. Kurien introduced some of the best international technology and practices in Amul that even rivals tried to copy. "Kurien got the industry moving and put the Indian dairy industry on world map. During Kurien's stint in the sector, India developed best technology and practices during Operation Flood. However, there is a huge vacuum in the dairy sector since Dr Kurien left some five years ago," said Devendra Shah of Parag Milk Foods that markets Govardhan Ghee and Go Cheese among other premium dairy products".

What left a bad taste in the mouth after his exit from Amul/NDDB, is the way he was forced to retire from active life through intrigues and insinuations by some of his own colleagues during the early years of this Millennium.  It should not be forgotten that many middle aged people in this country were brought up during their early years of life through feeding of the first Baby Food created, manufactured and offered by Amul during sixties, seventies of the last millennium under the guidance of this stalwart. If cooperative dairy industry is live and kicking to day against powerful global dairy giants, no one else is responsible but Dr Kurien. It is a pity that he was not given the same latitude and mandate as in the case of milk, in organizing the fragmented and unorganized edible oil sector and horticultural produce industry, both areas still languishing for want of sincere and committed efforts and tall leaders with vision like him.



It took a decade of "indecision" for India to throw open its retail sector to Foreign Direct Investment though with extra ordinary caution. Uncertainty still plagues regarding the eventual fate of the policy which has just been orchestrated a couple of days ago with the government itself sharply divided on the desirability of allowing multinationals with its potential adverse impact on millions of small scale traders straddling the country, serving neighborhood families admirably well. Without entering into the raging controversy unleashed by the new policy, an insight into the rationale and logic behind the latest decision can be discernible from the following report on the issue. 

"India's commerce minister said Friday that the decision to open the country's $400 billion retail sector to global chains such as Wal-Mart has a built-in safety net for small shops and farmers. Anand Sharma told reporters that the Indian cabinet's decision late Thursday allowing 51 percent foreign ownership of supermarkets would vastly improve decrepit infrastructure that causes massive food waste in a country plagued by malnutrition and high inflation. Sharma said the new rule would only apply in cities with more than one million people. The minimum investment would be $100 million and half of this would have to be invested in rural infrastructure and refrigerated transport and storage. Thirty percent of the produce sourced by the retailer would also have to come from small and medium enterprises. Top retailers such as Wal-Mart and Tesco have lobbied for years for a chance to build stores in the nation of 1.2 billion people and political deadlock on long-promised reforms in retail and other areas has helped cool foreign investor interest in India. Foreign retailers have Indian partners in wholesale operations, but no retail stores. The Cabinet also allowed 100 percent foreign ownership of single-brand retail operations, up from 51 percent. Advocates see the move as a way to strengthen India's creaking food distribution system. The country suffers chronically high malnutrition and soaring inflation, but it's not for lack of food. It is the world's second largest grower of fresh produce, yet loses an estimated 40 percent of its fruit and vegetables to rot because of a lack of refrigerated trucking and warehouses, poor roads, inclement weather and corruption. That translates into lower incomes for farmers and higher prices for consumers. If companies like Wal-Mart and Tesco can open shops of their own, the investments they make in improving farming techniques and getting produce into stores more efficiently, could bring down food inflation -- which has averaged 10.5 percent over the last year -- and possibly improving rural incomes. Sharma said the policy would have a "multiplier effect" and tens of millions of people would gain jobs. Wal-Mart, British-based Tesco PLC and French-based retailer Carrefour welcomed the decision. "This legal evolution should contribute to modernize the Indian food supply chain and to fight against food inflation for the benefit of Indian customers," Carrefour said in a statement. It said the decision would help India's farmers and the nation's general economic development. Opposition parties and even a key ally of the government has been opposed to the move. The country has struggled to find consensus because of concerns that competition from the foreign retail giants could hurt millions of small shopkeepers, as well as the poor. Sharma said the new policy had been reached through a "transparent and democratic process of consultation with all the stake holders." The main opposition, the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, has decried the move. "The government has clearly bowed to international pressure," spokesman Chandan Mitra told the NDTV news channel Thursday. India's $400 billion retail sector is the nation's second-largest employer, after agriculture, according to consulting firm Deloitte. The Ministry of Commerce says it will cost 76.9 billion rupees ($1.7 billion US) to build the additional 35 million metric tons of food storage India needs".

An issue which is not yet clear is why the government did not make an assessment regarding the impact, both negative and positive, of the establishment of several retail chains owned by some of the Indian lead players like Fortune group, Reliance, Godrej etc during the last five years?. Admittedly these Desi retail conglomerates have been able to conquer about 5% of the business and a critical study on their performance and effect of their operation on farmers, consumers and the small traders nearby, could have given a clearer picture, before taking the decision on FDI. How far the ruling dispensation at New Delhi will be able to garner the support of the its coalition partners, opposition parties and the state governments remains to be seen. 


Hunger is a phenomenon that knows no color or creed but can be satiated only if one has the buying power to purchase the required quantity and quality of food necessary for survival. It is also a fact that only those who have experienced the pangs of hunger due to many reasons, know the pains caused by lack of foods when needed. There are thousands of charitable organizations spread across this world engaged in helping the poor and the downtrodden to survive with donations in the form of money as well as in kind. World Hunger Program is based on donated foods and financial grants received from governmental and non-governmental organizations and millions of beneficiaries are helped to keep their hunger away at least for some time. It is a rare instance for an individual to be imbibed with a sense of charity and spend limited personal fortunes on feeding needy people. Here is an instance in the US where a humanitarian entrepreneur provides free dinner to 250 homeless people every Sunday, spending from his own pocket supplemented with donations. 

Mr. Nepali, 51, was raised in an orphanage in Katmandu. He came to the United States for college, becoming an accountant, a controller and a restaurateur. He put aside part of his profits at Taste of the Himalayas, a Nepalese restaurant in San Francisco, to get Curry Without Worry off the ground. "For a man from Nepal to see hungry people in this beautiful world-class city is difficult to see," Mr. Nepali said. He sold the restaurant three years ago and now lives on proceeds from cooking and music lessons, and Nepal tours. "I realized having a traditional business was not how I wanted to live my life," he said. "My karma was to serve unfortunate people." Mr. Nepali built an orphanage in Katmandu and last year started a Curry Without Worry there. "You feel blessed to be in his presence," said Fiona Ma, speaker pro tem of the California Assembly and a former San Francisco supervisor. Mr. Nepali's desire to help people, she said, "is very contagious." Five years ago, Ms. Ma became Curry Without Worry's treasurer. Curry Without Worry serves about 250 people in San Francisco weekly. It buys much of its food from farmers' markets and food banks; everything is fresh and vegan. Its annual $20,000 budget comes from donations.

The efforts of Mr Nepali not only help the poor people to get a fill of their stomachs at least once in a week with quality and nutritious food but also help to spread the message about the virtues of vegetarian foods of Asian origin. Of course the larger question is whether a single meal once in a week is really effective in counteracting perennial hunger that is being faced by millions of people and how come there are Americans who suffer from hunger while large quantities of food is being wasted day in and day out in that country? This reflects the hard reality that no country, however rich it may be, is immune to food deprivation at least for some citizens and only the percentage of people suffering from hunger may vary from country to country. Equitable wealth distribution is only an Utopian dream unlikely to be translated into reality! World over the gap between the rich and the poor is widening day by day and this is also a bitter truth that must shame the collective conscience of the world. 



Presence of pathogenic bacteria in food can be scary for the consumers, especially if the food is to be consumed without heating. But can such a presence be condoned because the quantum of bacteria present is too small to be dangerous to the consumers. Even the old canning technology which uses high temperatures for processing does not claim absolute sterility and they are supposed to be only commercially sterile, meaning this is unlikely to cause any risk to the consumers. However those who consume canned foods invariably heat the product for fear of Clostridium bottulinum poisoning which will take care of other bacteria also. The recent uproar in China, a country notorious for the series of food scandals involving adulteration by the industry, regarding the new law proposed for legally allowing presence of "small" levels of Staphylococcus bacteria in some frozen foods, seems to be putting focus again on the food safety issue with renewed vigor! Here is a take on this issue which needs clarity to assuage the fears of millions of consumers in that country.

"China's state-run media and web users criticised the government after it ruled that small amounts of a potentially lethal bacterium were permissible in frozen food. The health ministry ruling followed a series of recalls of products, including dumplings made by Synear Food -- one of China's largest frozen food producers -- because they contained traces of staphylococcus aureus bacterium. The bacterium, also known as golden staph, can cause a range of mild to severe infections and diseases, including life-threatening pneumonia and meningitis. Under the existing rules, food products must be recalled if any of the bacteria are discovered. But new rules announced Thursday will allow a small amount of staphylococcus aureus in frozen rice or dough products. A commentary in the People's Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, on Friday urged authorities to "address public anxiety" after the revision, which follows a series of food safety scandals in China. "Authorities cannot attempt to fudge public concerns over food safety," said the article, written by Jiang Yun. "In order to rebuild the credibility of food safety standards, they should... consider whether the making of the standards is open and transparent." Chinese Internet users went further, accusing authorities of deliberately lowering food safety standards to pander to big business".

Technologically if the products are going to be heated probably there might not be any danger and the new rule permits presence of bacteria in frozen rice and dough products which are any how processed further by the consumers in their kitchen. Therefore it is doubtful whether these products can be considered dangerous. Probably before arriving at a decision to modify the existing provisions in the statute books, Chinese authorities must have evaluated the cause and consequences of such practices which is obviously an action supporting the industry. Retrospectively Chines authorities need not have lowered the bar for the industry at this juncture when internationally there are grave reservation regarding the safety of Chines foods in general.


Saturday, November 26, 2011


Any source of information that gives an idea about product recalls in different countries can always be useful for food scientists as well as the industry in general. Consumers also will get an insight into the problems with food products of similar nature in their own country. Given below is the information source which can be tapped regularly through the web site indicated.

'Here is today's list of food safety recalls, product withdrawals, allergy alerts and miscellaneous compliance issues. The live links will take you directly to the official recall notices and company news releases that contain detailed information for each recall and alert. If you would like to receive automatic email alerts for all new articles posted on eFoodAlert, please submit your request using the sidebar link"

It is the duty of every country to document and publicize major food safety violations by its own food sector which can be a lesson for others to be more cautious in repeating the same mistake in its day to day operations.


Remember about the bt Brinjal controversy last year when the MNC giant Monsanto through its local collaborator tried to unleash its GM based version of this common man's vegetable on the Indian field? What followed was literally a circus in which many performers like GOI Ministers, scientists and consumers had "consultation" meetings in different cities in order to enable the government to take a "decision". It is another matter that eventually the MNC had to bite the dust as necessary permission was not granted. Now comes the news of another " circus" like performance by the GOI on the very same issue but this time GOI is aggressively "chasing" the MNC by slapping an unheard legal notice blaming it for "Biopiracy"! How long this circus will last and whether it is animosity to the MNC or love for the domestic brinjal grower that has prompted the government to pursue the legal case, no one knows. Right now there seems to be a lull in the front and one has to wait and see whether this is the beginning of another scam involving bt Brinjal clearance first, then legal action against the very company and present "inaction" to pursue the case. It is interesting to note the tortuous route GM crops are facing in India and the ultimate outcome remains an uncertainty.

"Add a new word to your lexicon: Biopiracy. That's what U.S.-based agribusiness giant Monsanto has been accused of in India, where the government is planning to charge the company with violating the country's biodiversity laws over a genetically modified version of eggplant. In doing so, India has placed itself at the focal point of the movement to challenge genetically modified crops, which opponents say are destroying traditional crops and threatening farmers' livelihoods. "This can send a … message to the big companies [that] they are violating the laws of the nation," K.S. Sugara of the Karnataka Biodiversity Board told France 24 (see video below). "It is not acceptable … that the farmers in our communities are robbed of the advantage they should get from the indigenous varieties." India announced last month it is pursuing charges against Monsanto for "stealing" an indigenous crop -- eggplant -- and using it to create a modified version without permission, a violation of India's decade-old Biological Diversity Act. It's the first prosecution of a company for the act of "biopiracy" in the country, and possibly the world. At the heart of the issue is the phenomenon of the commercialization of indigenous knowledge. Indian farmers argue that they developed the strains of eggplant grown in India over generations, and Monsanto has no right to come in and build a product out of their own indigenous species. Monsanto took locally-grown eggplant "without any conformance with the biological diversity act, and therefore it is biopiracy," said Leo Saldanha, director of the Environmental Support Group, an Indian NGO. Saldanha filed the initial complaint that prompted India to pursue charges".

If "Biopiracy" becomes an internationally accepted crime, no GM food will ever be successful in any country due to local opposition. Looking back, the farmers using bt Cotton have ruined themselves by massive crop failures and no farmer in his right sense will support a government that encourages introduction of GM versions of any agricultural crops fearing unknown consequences. GM crops are receiving global attention, rightly or wrongly and there are wide differences in the perspectives of scientists themselves regarding the potential for the technology to address the world food shortages. Added to this are apprehensions regarding safety aspects and impact on biodiversity.
Preservation of germ plasm in many countries is intended to protect the indigenous varieties evolved over hundreds of years and the geographic patenting system prevents foreign players from using them without legal clearance from the country concerned. India should try to patent its unique crops which only can protect them from "poaching" by GM crop developers. 


Friday, November 25, 2011


In a world where use of chemicals has become common for every endeavor of man to gain maximum advantage from natural resources, any development that precludes use of these substances with doubtful safety credentials is bound to be eagerly accepted by the consumers. Organic foods clearly fall into this category as they are produced with no chemical fertilizers or synthetic pesticides giving an impression they are much more safe than conventionally raised food crops or animal food products. But there is always a catch in that even the best foods turned out from organic farms can get contaminated during storage, distribution and marketing and accepting blindly these products may not be absolutely safe. The supervisory and monitoring regimes that help in safeguarding the quality and safety of organic foods, no doubt are doing a yeoman service but difficulties in covering all farms, small and bag invariably leave out some for self restraint and discipline. Ultimately the consumer must heat process the food, for his own safety to prevent food related safety hazards. A recent appraisal of organic food sector reveals some gaps in monitoring efforts calling for action by the consumers to be aware of possibilities of contamination. 

"Organic foods are foods that are produced using methods that do not involve synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers; do not contain genetically modified organisms, and are not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives. For the vast majority of human history, agriculture can be described as organic; only during the 20th century was a large supply of new synthetic chemicals introduced to the food supply. As generally perceived, organic food may not be nutritionally superior than non-organic food. A report revealed that organic food are also immune to contamination and care should be taken while consuming it. Organic food production is a heavily regulated industry. Currently, the European Union, the United States, Canada, Japan and many other countries require producers to obtain special certification in order to market food as organic. The producers have to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. If livestock are involved, the livestock must be reared with regular access to pasture and without the routine use of antibiotics or growth hormones".

No doubt setting up an organic food farm is a tough task and only dedicated and industrious entrepreneurs can achieve success. While there can be many operational problems at the farm level, especially to ensure contamination free inputs, rigorous inspection and certification procedures can be time consuming and expensive. Because of these strict regimens, organic foods can never be cheap in the foreseeable future. Still many consumers do not feel the economic pinch as long as there is absolute safety and it is the responsibility of the government, farmers and the retailers to guarantee the safety of organic foods, being sought after increasingly by the concerned consumers. One of the critical questions that confront the policy makers is whether the normal commercial foods churned out by the industrial farms are really safe? While there cannot be a straight answer to this question, considering that life is a balance between potential risks and extent of benefits accrued, main stream foods cannot be considered unsafe measured by any major yardstick.



To look pretty or handsome is a weakness as old as mankind and people can go to any extent to improve their appearance. To aspire to live long, preferably eternally, is another human weakness. Both areas are well served by the multi-billion dollar Cosmetic industry and food supplement industry offering a wide range of products. Medical intervention in the form of plastic surgery, botox treatment, liposuction surgery, Bariatric surgery etc is also popular with some people. Unfortunately none of the known techniques work effectively with every one and the scientific evidence is not so strong to believe them blindly. It is in this context one has to appreciate a recent break-through finding that brings out the biological mechanism at the cellular level that expedites aging. The hope is that a drug therapy will eventually emerge with which people can be treated for slowing down the aging process. Here is a take on this new development.

"The findings raise the prospect that any therapy that rids the body of senescent cells would protect it from the ravages of aging. But many more tests will be needed before scientists know if drugs can be developed to help people live longer. Senescent cells accumulate in aging tissues, like arthritic knees, cataracts and the plaque that may line elderly arteries. The cells secrete agents that stimulate the immune system and cause low-level inflammation. Until now, there has been no way to tell if the presence of the cells is good, bad or indifferent. The answer turns out to be that the cells hasten aging in the tissues in which they accumulate. In a delicate feat of genetic engineering, a research team led by Darren J. Baker and Jan M. van Deursen at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., has generated a strain of mouse in which all the senescent cells can be purged by giving the mice a drug that forces the cells to self-destruct. Rid of the senescent cells, the Mayo Clinic researchers reported online Wednesday in the journal Nature, the mice's tissues showed a major improvement in the usual burden of age-related disorders. They did not develop cataracts, avoided the usual wasting of muscle with age, and could exercise much longer on a mouse treadmill. They retained the fat layers in the skin that usually thin out with age and, in people, cause wrinkling".

Though these findings may create excitement all around, it may still take years of further developmental work before effective drugs are made available in the market. There are several issues still to be sorted out which include whether there will be side effects that can neutralize the advantage of slowing down of aging. While introduction of drug therapy has to be at an early stage to get the full benefit, will such a pill-dependent life reduce the quality of life. It is rare that healthy individuals are introduced to any drug regime except health sustaining nutrient pills. A healthy person does not even need such supplements if right type of foods are consumed.


Thursday, November 24, 2011


Why is that Americans spend only a fraction of their income on buying commercial foods churned out by the processing industry where as in many developing countries more than 50% of the family income goes for expenditure on foods necessary for survival? The answer lies in the billions of dollars of subsidy showered by the American Government on big farms that produce major foods like beef, poultry, corn etc which in turn makes the processed food very cheap and easily affordable to the consumer. In contrast protective foods like fruits and vegetables cost a fortune discouraging average consumer from buying them regularly. No wonder Americans are becoming increasingly looking like aliens in this planet with huge bloated bodies due to obesity. Here is a take on this unfortunate trend in many rich countries which spend tax money on big farmers due to the tremendous lobbying power of the farm sector.  

"Butterball turkeys are only generically reminiscent of the turkeys that roamed the continent before our European forebears stumbled on our shores. Turkeys could never fly but now most of them can't walk either, as they are now bred to have such enormously productive breasts that they collapse under their own weight. Quantity over quality characterizes the industry, as it does so much of our food system. Turkeys, chickens, cattle and pork are farmed in factory conditions that produce 130 times more waste than those of us who eat them; the EPA reports that runoff from factory farming is the biggest source of pollution to our waterways. The meat produced from factory farming is also less nutritious and not always safe; the 29 million pounds of antibiotics fed to factory-farmed animals is creating resistant strains of bacteria. Most vegetables fare no differently. Pumped full of fertilizer and water to grow the crops fast, the average tomato is on a veggie version of steroids. The faster a plant is grown, the less optimal its nutrient level. The price of cheap is enormous. This big price of cheap is a paradox that is familiar to many, but in this season, the nested ironies are worth remembering: apples cost $.99 to $2.99 per pound, a price for which you can get an entire meal of burger, fries, and a soda at a fast food chain. Why is that? Because the burger, fries and soda have been pre-occupied with our tax dollars, starting with the subsidized water that it took to grow the alfalfa and the 17,000 pounds of subsidized corn to feed just one factory farmed cow, to the subsidized wheat in the bun, and the subsidized sugar in the soda".

The WTO negotiations on free trade are making no headway because of the continued refusal of rich countries to modify their farm subsidy regime which makes the agricultural commodities from the third world non-competitive in the world market. Tragically such distorted policies not only affect the poor countries, even the citizens as well as small farmers within these countries suffer due to unhealthy foods from the industry and most subsidies being cornered by the big farmers. Look at the enormous waste caused by the wrong technological practices and negative impact of agriculture and livestock on the world environment with global warming threatening the very existence of this planet. When will common sense dawn on these super rich countries that a food starved world is not an ideal place to live in peace? Sooner it happens better it will be for homo sapiens, giving a ray of hope regarding future!



Seminars are organized on a variety of topics with the intention of exchange of ideas and evolving a consensus regarding action needed to be taken for achieving the objectives of such meets. Food is no exception to this trend and during the last 5 decades hundreds of seminars have been organized on different facets of food with varying objectives but mainly to help the food processing sector to perform better in tune with the expectations of the consumers. Unfortunately if the track records of the past so many seminars are examined it becomes clear that except providing an opportunity for bon homie among the participants, precious little is achieved in practice. Here is the latest "outcome".of such a get together in the form of a set of recommendations. What follows this event can be easily predicted and if one goes by past experience nothing worth while is likely to happen! 

"In a recent regulatory meet Foodworld India, 2011, organised by the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), the industry voiced its demands to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) with regard to the implementation of the new Food Safety and Standards Act. At the meet, Prabodh Halde, VP, AFSTI, Mumbai chapter, said that there was an urgent need to formulate a negative list for additives. This would help manufacturers identify the additives which were not approved by the Authority and avoid their usage in products. Halde also stressed on the role of academicians in policy-making. "We have faculties across India and we should utilise their knowledge in making standards," Halde said. Shaminder Pal Singh, vice-president, scientific and regulatory affairs, PepsiCo Holdings Ltd, suggested channelising efforts in building a knowledge repository about product information. This would help gauge cost benefits and other regulatory information about the products to all the stakeholders, he opined. Pal also stressed on inclusion of regulation in the syllabus of food science students so as to build a strong human resource base in the country. Deepa Bhajekar, managing director, MicroChem Silliker, sought upgrade of the Director General of Health Services manual. She also stressed on upgrading labs for newer methodologies in method validations"

There are two recommendations which are interesting to read at least. The suggestion that there should be a list of chemicals not permitted for use in foods instead of a positive list is fraught with grave implications because there are thousands of chemicals "available" in the market and if the above recommendation is accepted there will be total chaos with serious consequences in the long run. Probably evolving a GRAS list as that exists in the US, might be much better to give industry further scope to diversify their product portfolio. The other suggestion regarding swapping of personnel between those working in the industry and others in the safety enforcement agency is some what far fetched considering that no industry will ever accept people with practically no experience to run their operations. Such half baked proposals with no chance of implementation make many seminars merely an exercise in futility!    .


Wednesday, November 23, 2011


The simple truth that eating more than what the body demands rarely sink in people who are slaves to foods with practically no control on their craving for food. No matter what dieting practices are forced on them, they invariably tend to go back to their frenetic eating habits when food availability is unlimited. There are a number of restrictive diets with low calories and fats that are supposed to help reducing weight if religiously adhered to regularly and systematically but it requires lot of will power and discipline to follow the recommended regimen. There are innumerable weight control clinics, health clubs and hospitals where controlled feeding is done for a certain time under expert guidance and supervision. Unfortunately all these organizations serve a limited purpose in showing the way how weight reduction can be achieved but once the beneficiaries leave these programs they relapse easily into their old habits, regaining their weights in no time. Recent development of a device costing about $ 1500, approved in the US called Mandometer may be the answer to families which want to control body weight for their members. If reports are to be believed this device is effective in influencing eating behavior through involuntary action. Here is a take on this interesting development.

"New technology that monitors portion sizes and how fast people eat could be instrumental in fighting obesity, a new study reveals today. Obese adolescents who monitor the speed at which they clear their plates learn to lose weight far more effectively, the dietary study has shown. Tests in which patients were given instant feedback on their eating habits – using a computerised, talking scale known as a Mandometer – enabled them to modify their behaviour, researchers in Bristol discovered. The portable weighing scale, slipped under the plate of food, is connected to a small screen that plots food removal over time – and compares it to a rate of consumption recommended by a food therapist. By tracking portion size and how fast people eat, the youngsters, aged between nine and 17, managed to lose more pounds than those merely following standard dietary advice, according to the article published on today. The Mandometer was developed at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm. It encourages individuals to eat less, more slowly and to develop a more normal pattern of satiety. If the patient starts gulping a meal too quickly, the device tells them to slow down".

The debate on obesity often focuses on the undesirable practices of the processing industry in catering to the palates of the consumer, ignoring the consequences on the health by consumption of most of the packed foods offered in the market. In this never ending debate, industry holds the consumer solely responsible for choosing wrong foods which are rich in calories, fat and salt and not leading an active life. Without taking any side in this ping pong game, consumer must realize that body weight can be maintained at a healthy level only when the input and out put of food calories are equal and any distortion can cause weight changes.      



Eating food is a biological necessity to provide the basic components of nutrition for survival. It is universally agreed that human beings require around 2000 calories obtained mainly from carbohydrates, some from 50 gm of protein and 50 gm of fat besides essential amino acids, essential fatty acids and micro nutrients like vitamins and minerals. What happens if the calorie intake overshoots the required level? That will be the beginning of the modern day disease "Obesity". When calories that go in are more than that which is burned by the body for various biological functions, excess is stored in different parts of the body resulting in progressive increase in body weight. Why should humans eat more than that demanded by the body? It is here that there is no consensus among the scientists. Recent studies are showing that eating can become a disorder or addiction like alcohol or drugs for many people due to a variety of factors and situations and chucking this addiction is more difficult than other substance abuses because of the omnipotence of calorie rich foods all around. Here is a revealing report on this interesting issue from a psychiatric point of view.

"Can we classify food as an addiction? Persistent use despite problems related to the use of the substance... check. Compulsive and repetitive use... check. Cravings... check. Withdrawal? There is certainly withdrawal -- just ask anyone who has tried to change his or her diet cold turkey. This is why it is so difficult to make healthier food choices and cut off the foods that we crave. The hypothesis that food is an addiction is currently being studied by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Research is showing that there are similarities in the way the brain responds to drugs and highly-palatable foods. Certain neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine and serotonin, are released in response to certain drugs, and the same pathways seem to be cross-linked with certain foods. The addictive nature of foods is important to understand because we are sometimes too eager to blame obesity on lack of willpower or fortitude. Yes, we make choices, we can choose not to smoke, we can choose not to take drugs, but we cannot choose "not to eat." If we are genetically susceptible to addiction and we are given the right trigger, such as an overwhelming stress or in our life that causes us ongoing anxiety, then we will connect certain foods to those pathways in the brain that release those "feel good" neurotransmitters and we have a full-blown addiction. The thing about food addiction is that, unlike drugs, alcohol or smoking, food addiction is not yet frowned upon by society. It's still "okay" to be addicted to food, plus it's cheap, readily available in large quantities, it's packed with high density carbs and fats, it's promoted all over the media, and it is legal! What an ideal substance to abuse, right? In my many years of treating people with weight problems and with my own experience as a recovering binge eater, I identified certain recurrent factors that affect overeating. These factors fit together in a specific order to create a cycle that explains why we overeat and why it's so hard to break the habit. If we never manage the triggers, we're bound to repeat this cycle. Even after a "successful" diet, we'll gain the weight back".

A raging debate is going on between industry stalwarts and health pundits regarding the responsibility for curtailing consumption of so called junk foods being turned out by the food manufacturers. While the industry feels it is the responsibility of the individual consumer to make informed choice of foods from the aisles of super markets based on the information provided on the label, critics point out the deceitful practices of many industry players in camouflaging their patently bad foods as good ones, making the food cheaper than good ones and promoting their products through incessant and misleading advertisements. However with the new findings that eating food can be an addiction, it is apparent that those who over indulge will have to be treated on par with those addicted to drugs and alcohol. Food industry must realize its responsibility to such a society where there are millions of food addicts and a deliberate policy of shifting its food portfolio from less healthy foods to more healthy ones can deny these new class of addicts easy access to them.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Lahore has the distinction of having a Food Street which is supposed to concentrate all eateries in one street. This is a concept similar to Gold Sauk in the Gulf countries where people looking for a particular specialized group of items or services can visit and choose their requirements. There are similar specialized streets for electronic goods, house building materials, hard wares, etc in some cities where concerned wholesalers and retailers set up their shops. The Food Street in Lahore conceived with good intentions, seems to be attracting criticism from the customers who find it increasingly difficult to visit the place due to severe logistical problems and indifferent quality foods served there. It is time that civic authorities pay more attention to the grievances of the customers to make the experience of eating a pleasurable one. Here is a critique on the issue which should serve other similar ventures in future.   

The citizens have been seen complaining about the poor quality of food and ambiance in the eateries present in the newly formed food street, outlining massive traffic, noise and dust caused by the massive activity in the Gawalmandi area round the clock as the reasons for the decreased value of the food street. The old food street was one of the key attractions for locals across the metropolis as well as for the foreigner tourists. The district administration of the city had removed the gates and other decorations from both ends of the world-famous street, reportedly to teach a lesson to their political opponents who had initiated the famous food venue during the government of former Punjab chief minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi. Talking to Daily Times, some of the visitors, Fawad, Waheed, Sobohi Gul, Sara and others said that the food street was utilised as a source of recreation and entertainment, especially by the youth. It served as a recreational outlet where people came and enjoyed desi food, forgetting all their worries for some time. "Lahoris have been deprived of a jewel and a source of recreation, and unfortunately at a time when the country is going through a economic, political and ethnic crises," Sara said, adding that the idea of the Lahore's food street had even been copied by other cities across the subcontinent. The citizens were also of the view that the decision of shutting down the food street by the current government was "visionless" as they were shutting down such a valuable venture merely to settle their political scores. They were of the view that things had changed from bad to worse in the area with poor quality of food and ambiance as the shopkeepers are forced to sell their products amid massive pollution, heavy traffic rush and deafening noise.

Generally street vending is concentrated in places where people congregate an these outlets usually small in size and portable in nature serve a purpose but the quality, safety and civic inconveniences are issues which concern many people. The Singapore experience is some thing from which good lessons can be learned and instead of earmarking a street it is far more preferable to set up Hawker Centers with modern amenities in strategic places where people can have their preferred foods under a relaxed environment. Delhi's Food Plaza cannot be a model for the simple reason that the fares served there are too expensive for common man to patronize regularly. Ideally each city should have Hawker Centers in strategic locations so that "eating out" ethnic foods made by skilled artisans becomes an experience by iteself.



The labeling provision under food legislation is supposed to make the contents of a sealed food pack more transparent in terms of ingredients and nutrition. But does it really serve the purpose for which is was designed? There are differing views on this issue but most despicable aspect of label declarations is inserting unproven or vague claims to attract the unsuspecting consumer with lot of promise but never delivered! Though many countries are making their labeling regulations more and more stringent, the wily industry invariably finds gaping loopholes for continuing with such deceitful clams. Here is the latest trend evident in some countries which reflects the mindset of the industry to make money at any cost. 

What's really behind all those new "artisan" labels consumers are seeing in their supermarkets? Loblaws has just announced its "artisan style" croutons. Metro stores boast an Artisan Deli Collection. And PepsiCo now offers artisan tortilla chips. It all raises a question: are shoppers being served up the real deal — a genuine individually produced product — or being duped by companies trying to tap consumer interest in homestyle products? Canada's labelling rules don't spell out any definition of "artisan," but they prohibit false and misleading representations on food products. That means an "artisan" food should be produced in a "traditional and rudimentary" way using basic equipment and a "significant portion of manual labour," according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Many small businesses do just that. At Ottawa's Art Is In Bakery, for instance, the breads and baked goods are all manufactured by hand at the small retail shop and wholesale bakery, which serves local stores and restaurants. In contrast, big brands, such as Pepperidge Farm and "Domino's have picked up on the word and are now making "artisan" products for the masses. In a recently published report, food industry expert Tom Vierhile found there were nearly 500 new product launches in 2009 and 2010 with the word "artisan" or "artisanal" in the brand or product name. Vierhile, the innovation insights director at Datamonitor, said the term "gourmet" has become commonplace, so the word "artisan" builds on terms such as "homestyle," "homemade" and "authentic." "The word 'gourmet' has become so overused, I just think it's become a throwaway term. That's even less illuminating than 'artisan.' At least (artisan) suggests that it may be possibly handmade," Vierhile told Postmedia News. "It has become popular and companies are using it to identify products that have more of a specialty component or is trying to distance itself from foods that are mass-produced." Vierhile said marketing a product as artisan "can be effective to convince consumers that the product is not the same old thing," but there is a risk in branding factory-made items as artisan and selling them for a premium price. "That's sort of the rub here: Can you be artisan and be mass-produced at the same time? That's part of the conundrum with these products. If you claim to be artisan, it can be a difficult thing to convince consumers that the product is truly artisan if it's a mass-market type of item."

Recent disapproval by the authorities, of hundreds of claims made in Europe by the food industry probably may be a beginning in cracking down on such "malpractices" and other countries need to tighten their rules to help consumers to protect themselves from such predatory practices. It is rather sad that consumers also fall easy prey to this strategy of the industry without realizing that they are being cheated. As long as the claims do not endanger the lives they can be considered as an economic fraud which must be punished through economic impositions. But if the claims lead to serious health problems, severe punishment including jailing the offenders must be considered. Consumer NGOs have a constructive role to play in this field.


Thursday, November 17, 2011


Here is a double edged sword that can either suppress your appetite for a particular food or enhance the craving for it! Is it believable? Obviously scientific studies seem to be substantiating this theory. According to flavor experts if the food plate is white in color, any food with its typical color, gets its appeal enhanced tempting the consumers to take more of it. If the same food is served on a black plate some degree of apathy seems to be creeping in the mind of the consumer making it less appealing. Whether this role of plate color can be effectively employed to cut down food consumption remains to be seen. Here is more information on this phenomenon.

"How do you make your strawberry mousse sweeter and richer-tasting? The answer isn't more strawberries and sugar. Instead, try serving it on a white plate. A new study has shown that plate color affects how people perceive the flavor of the food they taste. Scientists and marketers alike have long known color can affect how we perceive food. For instance, in 1957 marketing pioneer Louis Cheskin reported that adding 15 percent more yellow to green 7UP cans caused consumers to perceive the soft drink as having a more lemony-limey flavor".

Unfortunately both the manufacturing and catering industry would shun such practices that might affect their business adversely. But there may be scope for this "deception" to be part of a restrictive diet regime at home for health conscious weight watchers. Or could this be deployed to make food more appealing to kids? Possibly worth trying out! One interesting point that can provoke some thoughts is whether serving a meal on a green plantain leaf will increase the quantum of food consumed or not. Meals served on a leaf are thought to be more tasty and healthy, possibly because of the presence of chlorophyll in the leaf with its potential health boosting properties. Further studies on these "grey" areas are worth pursuing.