Monday, October 29, 2012


The reputation for stringent punishment meted out to wrong doers in the Gulf countries is well known and probably the low crime rate reported there may be due to the fear instilled into the population regarding the consequences of violating the laws of these countries. When it comes to food safety, the authorities are supposed to be extra vigilant in preventing frauds and adulteration by the trade and the industry. Of course with a low technical base in food science, the quality and monitoring functions are invariably carried out by foreign technicians and experts, though the infrastructure facilities are excellent with heavy investments going for most modern instruments. As there are many people from Kerala working in United Arab Emirates (UAE), an idea seems have germinated among some of them to transplant the experience of Dubai Municipality to Kerala in food safety management. If recent reports are to be believed serious consideration is being given to such a tie-up for improving the Food safety management landscape in the state. It is good that the Food Commissioner in the state considers this new initiative as desirable and wants to go ahead with the collaborative project. Here are some details about the proposal.

The State Food Safety wing is looking to the Dubai Municipality Food Control Department to help it develop food safety manuals and food inspection checklists so that the food safety initiatives here can be made more scientific and standardised. The Dubai Municipality Food Control Department is already in talks with the Food Safety wing here on developing safety guidelines which are totally science-based and in drawing up a programme for the surveillance of food-borne illnesses.
A formal collaboration with the Dubai municipality for initiatives in improving food safety is also being contemplated, said Biju Prabhakar, Commissioner of Food Safety. "We thought of seeking the assistance of Dubai Municipality Food Control Department because even though their food safety initiative is fairly nascent, it is fully backed by science, is well-streamlined and has found considerable acceptance in the food industry too," Mr. Prabhakar said. Bobby Krishna, Senior Food Studies Officer in the Food Control Department of Dubai Municipality, told The Hindu here on Saturday that food safety was a global concern and had to be approached in a larger perspective, as a crucial component of public health, and a vital element of economy, especially with Kerala exploring its tourism potential in a big way. "Just as it happened in Kerala, in Dubai too, the food safety drive gained momentum in 2009 following the death of two young children, reportedly due to food poisoning. It gave us the impetus to drive hard — the licensing process, grading of food businesses, hygiene and safety standards, classification of food items, and the shelf life of each… everything was fully backed by evidence. We also invested quite a lot on educating those in the business about the basics of food safety, like hygienic food handling and preventing cross-contamination etc," Mr. Krishna said.

While one may consider this venture as some thing good for the state, it may be naive to place too much hope on the outcome of this endeavor. After all Dubai, for that matter the whole UAE has a some what weak food science basis, with many senior personnel trained in India or western countries. Most of the food products in the marker are packed, manufactured in other countries with quality standards and safety parameters well known internationally. But in Kerala the product basket is entirely different with most of them not having their standards of identity and quality and safety parameters not scientifically studied. According to one of the food safety experts who claims to be instrumental in helping Dubai Municipality to streamline its food quality management protocols, there is nothing India can learn from Dubai in this area though as a "social net working" it may have some value. It may be interesting to see how the proposed "twinning" will work out before passing any definitive judgement. Here is wishing good luck to Kerala's Food Safety Commissioner whose enthusiasm has to be admired!.



Innovation is the drive engine for developing new business enterprises and large food manufacturing companies are in the forefront in this creative activity. No wonder in a country like the US or for that matter in Europe, there are thousands of new products launched every year to entice new customers and expanding the existing consumer base. It is another matter that a large proportion of the new entrants in the market do not last for long, falling on the way side because of fierce competition. Invariably those players with long term vision and deep pockets are able to survive eventually. Recent move by one of the international beverage giants to launch a new product variant in its product portfolio provides interesting reading. Transformation of reusable bottle based beverage industry into disposable containers based one happened because of consumer demand for more convenience and cost reduction wanted by the industry to some extent. Will any consumer accept a concentrate containing the flavors of established beverages for use at home for making his own drinks? Here is the report highlighting this new development. 

"Although there are no set plans yet, Roddey says the next logical category for liquid drops would be tea. That's because drinks with higher sugar content are harder to turn into a liquid concentrate. The Coca-Cola Co. isn't the firstto come out with flavor drops. The category was pioneered by Kraft Food Inc.'s MiO, which was introduced in March of last year and has quickly spawned copycats, including by supermarkets that sell store-brand versions. The drops are popular because they come in small, portable containers that can be easily tucked into a purse or even back pocket. And unlike powdered drink packets, people can decide how much or little they want to squirt into their water. A small bottle can also have more than two dozen servings, meaning people save money they'd spend on bottled teas or enhanced waters. As with Kraft's MiO drinks, Dasani Drops use artificial sweeteners and have zero calories. That could be a concern for consumers who don't like artificial sweeteners, which often have a strong aftertaste. Now Coca-Cola is preparing to leverage its scale to stake a claim in the category. Roddey says the plan is to make Dasani Drops available wherever its Dasani bottled water is sold, including on supermarket shelves, in checkout aisles or in the refrigerated sections in convenience stores. "We're looking to make this as broad as we can," he said. Dasani Drops, which will cost about $4, will start hitting shelves in early October. The company is starting with four flavors, but is already planning to introduce additional flavors next year. Each bottle has about 32 servings. Without mentioning Kraft's MiO by name, Roddey said Coca-Cola saw the early success other brands had and realized the category had huge potential.Kraft has said that MiO sales through the first half of the year have more than doubled to more than $100 million. The name means "mine" in Italian, suggesting users can make drinks however they like".

In India it was a small domestic player who started mini packets that can be used to make flavored drinks at home and because of enormous cost advantage this product established itself with a brand image of its own. What is not possible is to get the same feeling of consuming a fizz drink as available in the market unless one has the soda making gadget at home. Probably the new flavor drops being launched may work in India because many people do consume still beverages based on different flavors and fruit pulps. Already powder based flavor bases are available in the US market for making different flavored still- beverages at home and how far the new flavor drops will be able to compete with these well established low cost products remains to be seen.



The most frequently asked question by the consumers world over is whether commercial foods marketed by the processed food industry are really safe for short term as well as long term consumption? It is a tragedy of Himalayan proportion that no safety agency whether national or international is willing to say these foods are "absolutely" safe! Of course such a situation is understandable considering the complex composition of foods and enormous cost of running longitudinal safety studies on each and every ingredient used while processing. But the fact that consumer is not "protected" fully must sink in and there is nothing like an absolutely safe food. Consumer must weigh in the relative risks of enjoying a food or not consuming it at all before taking a purchase decision. At least those products coming under the supervisory regime of safety agencies carry lesser risks provided the market monitoring is done with vigor and efficiency. Here is a "caustic" comment on the safety of processed foods which tells its own story!

"Those unpronounceable ingredients listed on food packages are all tested, regulated and safe, right? When a company adds a new additive to its food, they have to ask permission first, don't they? According to a review by the Pew Health Group's Food Additives Project, the answer is a resounding, "No!" Of more than 10,000 chemicals allowed in human food as of January 2011, a third were approved by those with a vested interest. Either the product manufacturers themselves or the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association Expert Panel gave them a stamp of approval. The other two-thirds got the blessing of one of the agencies charged with regulating additives. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) looks after pesticides. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has responsibility for all other chemicals.It is easy to do the math. Double-blind, peer-reviewed studies are costly. Testing the safety of a new chemical requires longitudinal studies. Even those are not enough since chemicals never interact with the body in isolation. Tracking one chemical at a time or even narrow combinations is an imprecise method. So it is very difficult to be sure if something is safe or not. Neither the EPA nor the FDA has the budget for major research projects. That leaves us in industry hands. Their version of the "precautionary principle" could probably be defined as, "a rule meant to keep our profits healthy unless we are caught making people sick, in which case we will find legal means for avoiding responsibility."

In defense of the regulatory agencies, it can be said that they are doing a job as best they can under financial and infrastructural constraints imposed by the democratic governments which have many other priorities. What is reprehensible, however, is playing to the money power of the industry in bending rules or "looking the other way" when there are adequate scientific basis for hauling the defaulters and violators. It is true that industry is allowed to use thousands of chemical additives, many unnecessary, in the name of technical necessity. No wonder consumers are increasingly turning towards organic food industry which has a better hold on the chemicals used in their products. While in countries with poor food industry base people consume high proportion of unprocessed foods with their diets predominated by these components. In contrast in many wealthy countries the proportion of processed foods in the daily diet can be as high as 80% making them more vulnerable to food related safety episodes too frequently. As there are no uniform international norms practiced by all countries, such a situation is likely to persist for a long time to come.


Saturday, October 27, 2012


What ever one may say about the functioning of MNCs in developing countries, it is an undeniable fact that many of them represent most modern innovating entrepreneurship. It is true that they have enormous financial muscle that helps them to "pocket" the national governments in pursuing a policy of benevolence towards them which is not shown towards the domestic players, especially the "Desi" entrepreneurs in the small and medium scale sector. Recent reports indicate that an out and out meat food products serving international fast food company is launching 100% vegetarian outlets, providing a clue regarding their approach in India which is considered a predominantly vegetarian country. It nothing but cold statistics which reflect the fact that there are more than 500 million vegetarians, some with considerable disposable income who will not even enter an outlet where meat products are served, no matter how clean the restaurant may be. If an entrepreneur wants to tap this market, it is nothing but a smart move. Here is a critique on this new trend in catering in India.

"McDonald's Corp., the fast food chain that brought the hamburger to the world, is opening what may be its first vegetarian-only restaurants. The world's biggest hamburger chain said Tuesday that the locations in India will serve only vegetarian food because of customer preferences in the region. The company could not immediately say when the restaurants would open or how many there would be. A 2006 poll found that about 40 percent of Indians do not eat meat, and McDonald's is eager to tap that 500-million-strong market. Already, McDonald's said its restaurants in India do not sell beef or pork, and that the kitchens are separated into sections for cooking vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. They have menu items that cater to local tastes, such as the Maharaja Mac, which is a Big Mac made with chicken patties instead of beef. It also offers a McAloo Tikki, a burger made with a spicy breaded potato patty, red onions, tomatoes and a "special vegetable sauce." The chain offers such localized options in countries around the world. The opening of the vegetarian-only restaurants "further speaks to McDonald's efforts to cater to local tastes," the Oak Brook, Ill.-based company said. Without providing details, it said the restaurants will be in areas that are popular pilgrimage destinations. McDonald's said the new restaurants are the only ones it's aware of that will serve only vegetarian food. However, local franchises in India and other regions may already have meatless menus. For religious reasons, beef is not eaten by Hindus, who make up the majority of India's population of about 1.2 billion people. McDonald's has more than 33,500 locations around the world, but only about 250 are in India".

There is a famous saying that one should "behave like Romans when in Rome", just for the etiquette but here the consideration is more than that and that is to modify the strategy to suit Indian conditions. If reports from China are to be believed almost all MNCs pitching their tent there are bending backward to modify their food preparations to suit the culinary preferences of population there. Even in India products like snacks are being flavored with traditional spice mixes which cannot be found in any other countries. Similarly even internationally established soft drinks are being redesigned to make them more acceptable to Indian palate. Probably this may be a win-win situation for both the industry and the Indian consumer. One only hopes that the traditional Punjabi Dabas and Udipi Hotels will not become targets for these MNCs which can spell doom to millions of small food vendors. Indian entrepreneurs must be wise to such possibilities and improve their service in order not to loose their business to the new type of MNCs in future.


Friday, October 26, 2012


Strange are the ways consumers behave in an environment of plenty. America is a land of gluttony offering the consumer thousands of processed foods with a variety of processing aids used by the industry, all supposed to be "safe". Unfortunately the safety credentials of most of them are derived from limited studies with doubtful scientific evidence. Here is a typical example of a consumer who gorged regularly microwaved pop corn for a long time with amazing regularity as being claimed by him and then suing the company for the health problems experienced by him. Unfortunately the judicial system in the US without proper scientific validation of the claim that the diacetyl used for imparting the butter flavor was responsible for his lung ailment, awarded huge compensation to the person. Here are some details of this case which should cause worry to food processing industry in that country.  

"Wayne Watson's love of popcorn almost turned deadly after he developed respiratory problems in 2007 known as "popcorn lung", according to ABC news. Watson, a Denver native, says he ate about two bags of popcorn everyday for 10 years, and developed the rare disease possibly from inhaling the artificial butter smell of the microwave popcorn. On Wednesday, Watson won a $7.2 million verdict against Gilster-Mary Lee Corp., The Kroger Co. and Dillon Companies Inc., for his illness. "I probably look like a fairly healthy guy but I only have, on a good day, about 53 percent lung capacity," Watson told ABC News. Popcorn lung is usually found in plant workers exposed to high levels of diacetyl, an artificial flavoring used to give popcorn that buttery taste.  Watson sued the popcorn maker and the supermarket that sold it, Kroger, claiming the companies never warned consumers that diacetyl – also recently linked to Alzheimer's–was dangerous. "They thought that no consumer would ever be exposed to enough of it to make a difference well they rolled the dice and they lose," Watson told ABC News. Defense attorneys argued that Watson's health problems stemmed from working with carpet-cleaning chemicals for years, according to KCNC-TV in Denver. Watson previously settled claims against the flavor developer FONA International Inc., formerly Flavors of North America Inc., according to The Associated Press. As for the money, Watson plans on giving some to charity, but says he will not be buying microwave popcorn".

If this trend continues probably consumers should be able to sue even water bottling industry as water can be toxic when consumed in large quantities. For that matter any thing consumed in excess can be dangerous to life and this must be realized by the consumer. Of course in a country where Cigarette industry was smothered by judicial awards of compensation to the tune of billions of dollars, it should not be a surprise that the "hungry" attorneys would pick up any issue that can be pitch forked into lime light to earn such huge compensation. Why the cigarette industry had to fork out the compensation to smokers who willingly smoked cigarettes knowing about its health hazard or why the government did not prohibit tobacco cultivation or cigarette manufacture is still a mystery! This is not to defend many of the practices of consumer industry sector which may not be justifiable but there must be a level playing field with no disadvantage to either the consumer or to the industry.


Thursday, October 25, 2012


Caffeine is a natural stimulant and consumers get this into their system generally by consuming beverages like Coffee, Tea and Cocoa. While human body has the necessary ability to metabolize Caffeine, there is no clear cut consensus regarding the safe limit for daily consumption. While a 400 mg per day Caffeine intake can be considered tolerable for fully grown adults, many countries are trying to restrict the level to 180 mg per day for teenagers after the food industry started selling so called "energy drinks" with high caffeine levels targeting the younger generation consumers. Latest mad thing to happen in the US is marketing of a concentrated caffeine product in the form of drops with each drop designed to deliver a whopping 60 mg! As the regulatory authorities are more a puppet in the hands of the powerful industry, there does not appear to be any restriction, as of now, for marketing such products. Here is a take on this crazy development in that country.

"Each half-teaspoon serving of Mio, which is sold by Kraft Foods, releases 60 milligrams of caffeine in a beverage, the amount in a six-ounce cup of coffee, the company says. But one size of the bottle, which users can repeatedly squeeze, contains 18 servings, or 1,060 milligrams, of caffeine — more than enough, health specialists say, to sicken children and some adults, and even send some of them to the hospital. Several countries are reining in sales of energy drinks, pointing to the risks of excessive caffeine consumption by teenagers and even some adults. By year's end, Canada will cap caffeine levels in products like Monster Energy, Red Bull and Rockstar. Also countries like Mexico, France and India have or are considering steps including taxing the drinks more heavily to discourage their use".

It is true that Caffeine consumption keeps the consumer alert and therefore taking natural beverages containing Caffeine is understandable. But when it comes to children, young kids, old people, pregnant women, young nursing mothers and health compromised people Caffeine can pose serious problems. It is reported that there are at least 12000 emergency cases attended to in US hospitals every year with some casualties on account of Caffeine consumption. The habit forming properties of Caffeinated drinks are well known and if high Caffeine containing beverages, both natural and man-made, and Caffeine concentrates like Mio and tablets are allowed a free run in the market with no apparent restriction, it is a question of time before a major health crisis confronts the world!


Monday, October 22, 2012


There was a time when Grandmas were dominating the kitchens providing unique traditional foods made from good quality ingredients and coaxing the best flavor through age old proven and tested cooking methods. One can only be nostalgic about those days after the emergence of modern food processing industry which dominates the market through thousands of commercial products which many old times feel have neither "life" not nutrition in them. A new trend seems to be emerging where people are increasingly turning to the past for really enjoying the food they consume every day. Hot bread shops, kettle fried potato chips, old style counterparts of some of the popular modern day products, sun dried fruits and vegetables, etc which are appearing in the market are real manifestation of such a change. Latest to hit the market is Buttermilk which was considered a dairy industry waste recently being brought to the market in beverage format, promoting it for its unique flavor, taste and mouth feel. According to historians Butter milk was a common product in the diet of American families till the middle of the last century and started its decline after the advent of modern large scale dairy processing plants and probably the revival of Butter milk owes it to small scale milk processors who find it easy to make and market in nearby markets. Here is a report on this new trend.

"Today, Kate's produces more than a million pounds of butter a year, all from the same tiny garage. And last year, the company became the first large-scale bottler of a dairy product that has almost disappeared from American tables:real buttermilk, the creamy liquid that remains in the churn after the butter comes together. "People have no idea how good this stuff is, but they are about to find out," said Mr. Patry, 62, who is possibly the most optimistic and talkative native Mainer in history. Many home cooks keep buttermilk on hand for pancakes, ranch dressing or corn bread. They might know that it makes more tender cakes (because it softens the gluten in flour), loftier biscuits (its acid boosts leaveners like baking soda and baking powder) and thicker dressings (lactic acid in buttermilk gently curdles proteins into a smooth mass). But what few cooks know is that commercial buttermilk isn't really buttermilk. It is made from regular low-fat or skim milk, usually low-grade rejects from cheese and butter companies. The milk is inoculated with cultures to make it acidic, and thickened with additives like locust bean gum and carrageenan. The result is a flattened facsimile of the real thing, as a ring tone is to a song. There's nothing wrong with it, but I wouldn't want to drink it," said Diane St. Clair, a dairy farmer in Vermont who, like many of her peers, prefers the tart, light, yet rich flavor of genuine buttermilk. That's what poured out of the bottom of Mr. Patry's churn at 6:45 on a recent morning. Real buttermilk is what's left of heavy cream once it has been churned (here, knocked around 1,000 pounds at a time, dropping from top to bottom of a 13-foot-high butter churn with great thwacks and thumps) to break its natural emulsification. In the process, the fat globules are cracked open to release yellow butterfat, which clumps together into butter. The liquid that remains is buttermilk: naturally defatted milk, with microscopic traces of butter that leave a haunting, rich flavor and a creamy mouth feel. Real buttermilk contains natural diacetyl, the same compound that makes melted butter so aromatic and infuses some Chardonnays with buttery flavors. "My buttermilk has pieces of butter floating in it, which it's probably not supposed to," said Ms. St. Clair, who has a herd of eight Jersey cows at her farm (called Animal Farm and located in the town of Orwell, Vt.), and makes butter and buttermilk for the chef Thomas Keller's restaurants. "But it certainly tastes good that way." She, Mr. Patry and a few other dedicated dairy producers here and in the South have just begun to bring old-school buttermilk to green markets and groceries, as small-scale bottling operations become more affordable. Their efforts fit neatly into several culinary trends: working with traditional agricultural products, and embracing the once-rejected byproducts and odd bits of favored ingredients. Buttermilk even manages to represent both the American South and Scandinavia, two of the liveliest influences in food today. Ambitious chefs all over are suddenly wallowing in buttermilk. In New York City alone, Roberto Mirarchi is saucing earthy sweet potatoes with tangy buttermilk at Blanca; Wylie Dufresne of WD-50 glazes sweetbreads with nasturtium-infused buttermilk; and the young gun Matthew Lightner strains the stuff till thick and uses it to fill crisp-fried sunchoke skins at Atera".
In India even today Buttermilk is consumed in significant quantities in some parts of the country. In Gujarat, diluted Butter milk, going by the local name "Chaas" is a must during lunch while it is one of the most consumed summer drinks popular in the northern region. Use of Butter milk as an ingredient in some foods including bakery products is still prevalent in the West but probably this is not really the same as the traditional product because it is made more often from low fat or skim milk rather than the left over by-product of churning cultured, fermented curd preparation. Interestingly the AMUL cooperative is marketing a standardized spiced version of Buttermilk in Tetrapack format but its marketing is not very much focused with the product availability limited to some outlets, that too occasionally. As for the future of Butter milk in America, same is likely to be very encouraging considering that farmers' markets and locally produced foods are increasingly being patronized by more and more people and small scale Butter milk producers located in these areas can find a ready market for their "original" product.


Sunday, October 14, 2012


Global food security issues are getting more and more complicated with different experts taking conflicting views and it is not yet certain that the 10 billion population expected by the year 2050 will be able to get their minimum needs of food as recommended by international nutrition agencies. The great Green Revolution has already run its course and while achieving record breaking yields it has also ruined the soil health to the extent that it is impossible to think of another such feat unless the land is rehabilitated and rejuvenated at great cost. The wonder technology going by the name Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) is not able to achieve significant production increase though food wastage in the field is controlled to some extent in some cases. Expansion of cultivated land or the irrigation infrastructure can achieve limited gains, not to the extent demanded by the situation. It is against this context one has to view the exciting development in wheat breeding taking place in Australia where scientists are reported to have identified wheat strains with yields, 30% more than traditional varieties grown at present. Here is a take on this new development which may have a far reaching positive impact on future food security.

"A CSIRO research team has made a chance discovery that could increase Australian wheat production by 30 per cent a year, The Australian reports. Grains Research & Development Corporation chief John Harvey described the discovery as 'serendipitous', and worldwide it is being heralded as a potential solution for future food shortages. The breakthrough occurred while researchers were experimenting with the genetic make-up of wheat, Mr Harvey says. "Researchers at CSIRO's division of Plant Industry were looking at ways to change starch in wheat (for industrial processing reasons) and noticed when they grew (these new wheat types) the plants ended up 30 per cent larger, with 30 per cent bigger heads and a 30 per cent increase in grain yield." This 'super wheat' is being grown in three locations around Australia after initially being bred in Canberra by the research team headed by Matthew Morell. Researchers hope this advancement will provide the leap in wheat productivity for which they have searched for years. CSIRO Plant Industry chief Jeremy Burdon says that researchers have changed their approach since the 1960s and 1970s from creating disease resistant varieties of wheat, to increasing wheat biomass and grain head yields. "That's why this new development is potentially so significant; a 30 per cent yield increase is an extraordinary achievement if it can be replicated in the field." Wheat is one of the most important food crops, with an estimated 650 million tonnes produced globally each year. Australia produced a record 29.5 million tonnes last year. With world wheat
prices hitting a record high in recent times due to drought in the US, Canada and Russia, the expectation is that process will rise in the next five to ten years. "With this technology, we see more vigorous wheat with larger seed heads, and larger seed," said Bruce Lee, director of CSIRO's Food Futures Flagship. "If we can achieve significant yield increases in the field, this will have a major impact on food production on a global scale." 

Wheat is by far the most sought after food grain with practically all industrialized nations consuming large quantities as it is the staple food there. Besides the multi billion bakery products industry is founded upon the unique protein, gluten present in wheat and the demand for this grain is bound to grow in the coming years. While Australian scientists deserve kudos for their chance discovery, what is disturbing is that the new technology is going to be "bottled up" through patenting, denying its benefits to those population which really deserve it. There must be a universal agreement at international level to share results of such vital scientific findings beneficial to people in all countries through some form of compensation to the discoverers for their investment in research.


Friday, October 12, 2012


The high priests of GM Foods, the American Government seems to be practicing a fraudulent deception on the citizens, if recent reports suggesting that members of the administration including the president do not eat GM foods, scrupulously following an organic food based diet! Added to this the creators of this demonic foods the monopolistic corporate players which has a vice like grip on the government are also consuming only organic foods. The problem is that there is no regulations in the country that could have forced the industry to label foods containing GM food ingredients. Same appears to be true in China also where elite is fed with safest foods containing no dangerous chemicals or genetically mutilated ingredients. Can there be a more disgraceful practice of double standards than these examples? While America is considered a "bastion" of democracy, the Chinese is at the other end of the spectrum with no personal freedom available to its citizens! What a remarkable situation where democracy or communism does not make much difference to the food safety environment. Here is a take on this paradox!  

"With a sad twist of irony, corporate and government elite dine on safe, organic food while the masses, those very people who are supposedly represented and protected by their governments, are poisoned by hidden genetically modified organisms, pesticides and dangerous contaminants. The presidential family demands organic food in their kitchen, yet behind closed doors, shake hands with the biotech industry. China's top brass is fed by an exclusive, gated organic garden while the rest of the population consumes GM food, steroid contaminated meat and dairy laced with melamine. Even Monsanto's own employee's command non-genetically modified food in their canteen. Access to clean, organic and healthy food is not a given right anymore -- it has become a political battleground with the average citizen suffering the loss".

What is reprehensible in this situation is the reluctance on the part of the ruling elite to even provide a transparent labeling policy that would have enabled the citizen to choose the food one wants! The mammoth procession of American citizens from New York city to Washington D C to plead with the president to make the food industry label appropriately foods tainted with GM ingredients does not sem to have moved the President to order such a policy. The forth coming referendum in California regarding compulsory labeling of M foods made and sold in that state may yet arouse sufficient urgency on the part of the US government to join more than 50 countries where such labeling laws are in force.


Thursday, October 11, 2012


Food research is supposed to bring about better foods with better nutrition and health promoting properties. It is another matter that the R & D by the consumer food industry has a different take on this issue. After investing heavily in food processing enterprises, industry naturally wants to increase its business volume by enticing more consumers to better tasting foods with high sensory stimulation. If high sugar and high fat foods dominate the market to day the reason is not far to seek and it is a well established fact that human beings, especially kids are attracted and addicted to foods containing high amounts of sugar and fat. In an interesting study recently, scientists were able to peep into the human brain to understand how it reacts to ingestion of different foods and the findings were indeed amazing. If the interpretation of the results of studies as propounded by the scientists is to be taken at its face value, the capacity of the human brain to react and response to the sensory aspects of a food progressively diminishes with increased fat content of foods consumed. This finding has both negative and positive implications for the industry and the consumer. Here is a take on this interesting area of food-brain relationship.

"Fat can reduce activity in several brain areas responsible for processing taste, aroma and reward, says the first ever study on the subject. The research, carried out by the Britain's University of Nottingham and food major Unilever, provides the food industry with better understanding of how in the future it might be able to make healthier, less fatty food products without affecting their overall taste and enjoyment. This three-year study investigated how the brains of a group of participants in their 20s would respond to changes in the fat content of four different fruit emulsions they tasted while under an MRI scanner, the journal Chemosensory Perception reports. All four samples were of the same thickness and sweetness, but one contained flavour with no fat, while the other three contained fat with different flavour release properties, according to a Nottingham statement. The areas of the participants' brains which are responsible for the perception of flavour, were significantly more activated when the non-fatty sample was tested compared to the fatty emulsions despite having the same flavour perception. Joanne Hort, associate professor in sensory science at Nottingham said: "This is the first brain study to assess the effect of fat on the processing of flavour perception." Unilever food scientist Johanneke Busch, based in Vlaardingen, Netherlands, added: "There is more to people's enjoyment of food than the product's flavour, like its mouthfeel, its texture and whether it satisfies hunger, so this is a very important building 
block for us to better understand how to innovate and manufacture healthier food products which people want to buy."                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    
There are a couple of aspects of this study which deserves further attention. Association of a multinational food giant like Unilever is praiseworthy because this study proves that high fat foods, as being marketed to day are not good, affecting the natural working of the brain. The fact that the so called "lean foods" allow the brain to appreciate the flavor of foods better leaves adequate scope to develop better flavored foods with low fat contents. Naturally such foods presumably are better tuned to good health. On the negative side, industry might be tempted to invest less on improvement products by just hiking the sugar and fat contents in their new products. Of course such strategy may not work any more as the consumers are becoming increasingly conscious about sound nutrition and good health.




Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Transformation of agriculture from small farms to big industrial conglomerate activity over the last 50 years has certainly ensured that those countries with plenty of wealth are never starved of food. But it has also resulted in significant over production of food with enormous wastage being experienced across the food chain. While food losses in poor countries are attributed to lack of infrastructure and limited access to technology, losses in developed countries are more due to apathy and gluttony in consumption. If to day's environmental problems causing global warming are attributed to big scale burning of fossil fuels by nations richly endowed with wealth, there is the blame game floated by well to do countries pointing out the accusing finger to the poor mans "earthen hearth" that provides some succor to the people here in cooking whatever little food they can lay their hands on! Added to this precious food materials like Corn, Soybean, Palm oil etc are being diverted to make bio-fuels for running automobiles in wealthy countries. The fact that agriculture farms are getting bigger and bigger each year in Europe and the US, edging out millions of small farmers into oblivion is slowly sinking now and the forthcoming gathering of European farmers to protest against such brutal changes in the policy spectrum favoring industrial agriculture is an ominous pointer to what this planet is going to be confronted soon. Here is a take on this new development.

"Behind tractors, several hundred protesters, some of whom have been cycling or walking for weeks in the Good Food March, gathered for a mass brunch outside the European Parliament in Brussels, where a reform of the costly pan-EU farm system is being discussed. From the culinary Slow Food movement to the Friends of the Earth environmental group, eight major organizations set up the march to push demands to drastically revamp policy away from industrial farming. The coalition united under the slogan "EU farm policy must be fundamentally changed" regarding a new seven-year program that kicks in after 2013. Within the 27-nation EU, the protesters charge that farming is geared far too much toward big agribusiness at the exclusion of family farming. The demonstrators carried signs saying "Size does matter" and "No to mega sties," in their calls for small farming initiatives. They claim that large farms and agricultural multinationals are endangering the environment with chemicals and genetically modified organisms, while also increasing pressure on food prices. "We are going around and around, and nobody wants to take responsibility for the current situation and the misery in which the agricultural world is in," said Erwin Schopges, chairman of the Belgian Milk Producers Association, after he had an argument over milk prices with EU Farm Commissioner Dacian Ciolos outside EU headquarters. The 50-year-old Common Agricultural Policy has been a cornerstone of EU plans and was instrumental in staving off the threat of hunger early on before it got mired in overproduction and runaway subsidies that distorted the global agricultural markets and gave rise to trans-Atlantic trade conflicts.
"How can the EU citizens continue to accept this agriculture?" said Green farmer Jose Bove, who is vice chairman of the European Parliament's farm committee. The European Commission has made proposals to promote employment and growth in rural areas to make sure the bloc's 16.7 million farmers can continue to keep a leading place in world farming, but Wednesday's protesters want it geared more away from industrial farming and subsidies that help undercut global prices.
"We want fair conditions for farmers, a greener countryside and an end to policies that are harming poor people in developing countries," said Stanka Becheva of Friends of the Earth".

Whether such demonstrations and protests will have any impact on the powerful monopolistic industrial organizations remains to be seen. If the American experience is any indication, small farmers are unlikely to win this unequal battle. Take the case of Genetically Engineered foods which have crept into the American diet virtually unnoticed and unsolicited, dominating the food landscape of that country to day because of a benign government eternally obliged to the GM food lobbyists for their political and financial support, consumer interest taking a back seat. The cursed "subsidy system" that benefits big farmers is perpetuating a situation where small farmers whether in America, Europe, Asia or Africa are continuously being throttled. Unless another revolution takes place to unshackle theses unfortunate victims from this type of "neo slavery", this planet is going to be a poorer place to live for millions of its denizens.


Monday, October 8, 2012


Stimulating appetite and attracting customers through typical aroma of foods being cooked is an age old strategy and many restaurants and bakeries do resort to such techniques to boost their business. Some super markets even use familiar aromas through their air conditioning ducts which will pervade through the aisles of the shopping area. It was not long ago that Hot Shops were a rage where people could wait for their fresh bread and bakery products to be delivered directly from the oven. People always associate aromas with different foods and therefore using them to tickle the palate is nothing but logical. However using scents different from those associated with foods is a novel approach being adopted by some chefs as a part of their presentation style. Here is an instance of a renowned chef using such a technique to enhance the eating pleasure which may catch up diners looking for new experience.

"There are no flowers or wine glasses on Chandler Burr's white linen–draped dinner table. Nothing ruins a pure raw scent like a brazen floral invasion or the aromatic bouquet of fine wine. There are no distractions at Burr's table at all—no colors, no decorations, no noise—just a blank slate on which the senses of smell and taste are laid bare, gently teased to the surface. Smell, when done right, is a very sensual experience. But smelling one's way through dinner is not about catching a whiff of sautéing garlic or grimacing over a Gorgonzola. It's about identifying an essence—the soft skin of a peach, the ruddy leaf of a fig tree, the earthy peel of a carrot—first through the nose and then, long lingering moments later, through the mouth".

It is said that consumers eat a food first through their eyes, then with the nose and finally through their oral cavity. Walking through the aisles of a super market the consumer is drawn to shelves where highly attractive packaged items, followed by visual dissection from close quarters before deciding to buy those items most satisfactory. Of course repeat purchase happens only after taking the packet home and tasting the contents. In contrast visiting a restaurant and deciding on the items on the menu depend entirely on reputation of the quality of foods served there. Just like the eating experience which is registered in the minds of customers, the new technique of using scents to attract customers has an inherent surprise element in that one cannot have a predilection about the experience waiting for him. According to the practitioners of this "art" this mode of dining provides both olefactory feast and gastronomical delight in one go!


Sunday, October 7, 2012


Science is synonymous with truth and can any one believe if those practicing scientific research will falsify their findings to gain name and fame? It is true that the ethical and moral standards among the people in almost all countries are getting diluted and the political and business class of people are the most obvious examples. If a country like the US with all its power can succumb to interests other than that of its citizens through policies and administrative manipulations, where can the honest citizen go for justice! Look at India where financial scams, one after another are rocking the country with the political class multiplying their wealth by 100% every year while the annual GDP growth rate is sliding down from 10% to less than 6%! Probably the scientific community has also succumbed to this disease as reflected by a recent report about the increasing frauds being perpetuated among scientists. Here is a take on this shameful decline of values among the supposed truth seekers.

"Last year, Nature, a leading scientific journal, calculated that published retractions had increased tenfold over the past decade — to more than 300 a year — even though the number of papers published rose only 44 percent. It attributed half of the retractions to embarrassing mistakes and half to "scientific misconduct" such as plagiarism, faked data and altered images. Now a new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has concluded that the degree of misconduct was even worse than previously thought. The authors analyzed more than 2,000 retracted papers in the biomedical and life sciences and found that misconduct was the reason for three-quarters of the retractions for which they could determine the cause. The problem is global. Retracted papers were written in more than 50 countries, with most of the fraud or suspected fraud occurring in the United States, Germany, Japan and China. The problem may even be greater than the new estimates suggest, the authors say, because many journals don't explain why an article was retracted — a failure that calls out for uniform guidelines. There are many theories for why retractions and fraud have increased. A benign view suggests that because journals are now published on-line and more accessible to a wider audience, it's easier for experts to spot erroneous or fraudulent papers. A darker view suggests that publish-or-perish pressures in the race to be first with a finding and to place it in a prestigious journal has driven scientists to make sloppy mistakes or even falsify data. The solutions are not obvious, but clearly greater vigilance by reviewers and editors is needed". 

While one can console oneself by the statistics that implicate only a small percentage of scientists indulging in these corrupt practices, it still is a blot on the entire scientific community. Absence of honesty, lack of transparency, greed for easy and fast recognition and a sense of false confidence on getting away with such mal-practices seem to be drawing more and more scientists into this wretched trap. The so clod peers, many of them not wanting to be "unpopular" with those whose papers are referred to them for evaluation or because of fear, also have to bear part of the responsibility. The so called research leaders under whom R & D is performed are increasingly becoming laggard in guiding their wards or leaving things to them without actually performing their supervisory role properly. A rigorous and deterrent punishment system must be put in place, in stead of the present practice of allowing errand scientists to withdraw their articles, if this undesirable and abhorrent practices are to be checked.


Saturday, October 6, 2012


Those food companies which enter tradition bound countries like China, India, Vietnam and others have two routes to get into the heart of the consumers to make enough money for survival. The first approach as tried out by many MNCs during the last five decades involves converting the mindset of local people into accepting new foods through massive promotion bordering on "brain washing" and stay in the country for long time with sustained investments incurring losses for many years before getting to the break even point. The other route is based on the precepts that "when you are in Rome behave like Romans" by adapting their products to the native tastes and flavors. If Americans have been able to convert many populations in Asia into Wheat eating societies by switching over from Rice, it is entirely due their over whelming marketing muscles, deep pockets and unlimited patience to influence the minds of people to accept wheat as a staple. However modern American enterprises seem to be taking the second route through a process of reinventing their product mix to suit the palates of the consumers in countries and establish their presence. Here is an example of an American MNC going through this route to score significant success in India where there are more than 5000 traditional ethnic foods popular with some or the other segments of the population across the length and breadth of the country.

"When McDonald's first came to India 15 years ago, it ditched the Big Macs and Quarter Pounders to try to fit in in a country where cows are sacred and most people frown on eating beef. The chain tried re-creating its American classics with lamb, but it was a flop. Instead, McDonald's introduced homegrown alternatives like the vegetarian McAloo Tikki potato burger to go along with its non-beef standards like chicken nuggets and fish sandwiches. Now, following the success of its vegetarian meals, which make up half of its current menu, McDonald's is going one step further. This month, the chain announced a plan to open its first 100 percent vegetarian McDonald's in India. "India has been a huge experiment for McDonald's. The issue in India is, a vegetarian is a strict vegetarian. There have been instances that I've seen where a person who's vegetarian would not even sit with a person who's eating non-vegetarian food. It is that level of seriousness," says Rajesh Kumar Maini, head of communications for McDonald's in India".

Probably there may be a few examples of similar approach adopted by other MNCs. Though the popular potato chips market which is dominated by one or two players  who were able to establish their foot prints by "killing" many local entrepreneurs, there are unmistakable signs that they are also bringing out products with traditional flavors to increase their business. Even local names are being used to promote their brands in a sustained manner. Frantic efforts in buying out some of the leading domestic brands engaged in manufacture of many savory/snack products as reported some time back, fits into their new strategy that "if you cannot beat them join them" philosophy. Of course one cannot find fault with such a strategy as the gainers would be the Indian consumers in this game of making more and more diversified products suiting Indian palate. More interestingly the concept of 100% vegetarian food products is bound to be an unqualified success as vegan population in India is sizable compared to situations obtaining in other countries. The practice of printing a green dot on the label of products, free from animal derived ingredients, is a pointer to the consumer behavior in this country.


Friday, October 5, 2012


The debate about vegetarian diet against animal foods is as old as human history. Those who consider that animal foods are absolutely essential for good health and a life without these "valuable' foods is not worth living! Such protagonists are in majority is a fact of life and converting them into vegetarians is not a mean task. While nutritionally vegetarian diets have been proved to be as good as animal foods, if not superior, the food consumption habits nurtured over centuries are hard to change. In spite of many campaigns intended tp promote vegetarianism as a way of life have sound rationality and scientific foundation, their success at best is only minimal and not dramatic measured by any yardstick. Indians are considered predominantly vegetarians either due to religious considerations or economic compulsions, the pro vegan movement is not that strong within the country. In contrast more aggressive groups are taking up cudgels on behalf of vegetarianism if recent reports emanating from there are any indication. Here is a strong advocacy group in Australia arguing with the government that by 2020 there should be a total switch to vegetarian diets in the country which only can save the country from future environmental and health disaster.

"There is sound evidence that vegan diets are nutritionally adequate during all stages of the life cycle. In fact science supports a low‐fat, plant‐based diet for optimal health," said McFarlane. The vegan group's submission recommends that the National Food Plan aim to: * Ensure all Australians have access to affordable and adequate fresh fruits and vegetables and other plant foods irrespective of income by 2015. * Improve the health of Australians and lower the burden on the health system by reducing the incidence of dietary related diseases * Use Australia's land resources more effectively and sustainably.
* End the use of animal agriculture systems within the next 20 years by building up and supporting Australia's fruit, vegetable and grain producers. "We have known for some time now that climate change is a real threat to Australia's food supply, yet we continue to produce and consume greenhouse gas intensive meat and dairy products that only contribute to the problem."  "Animals are suffering and being killed in order to meet our unhealthy and unsustainable appetite for meat and dairy products. We really need to question our practices and begin the necessary changes as soon as possible."  "It is crucial that the Australian Government initiate regulatory reforms and develop innovative measures to facilitate the uptake of plant based diets. This should include the setting of targets for the reduction and eventual elimination of meat and dairy consumption".  "Australians deserve to be educated about the many benefits of plant‐based diets and supported by government. A good first step is to make sure fruits and vegetables and other plant foods are accessible and affordable to all Australians, including those living in regional and remote communities." 

One is reminded of the era, not long ago when cigarette smoking was universally frowned upon because of its association with lung cancer. In spite of taking every step conceivable to persuade people from smoking, no significant dent has been made on the smoking front and people continue to smoke knowing pretty well that it is dangerous! Similarly eating junk foods is known to be linked to many life style health disorders including obesity but still people refuse to cut down on sugary and fatty foods though millions of dollars are being spent to inculcate good eating habits. The Vegan advocates may be good meaning people but the proposal by them to convert the Australian population into vegetarianism may be too far fetched. Of course the attempt to do some thing in this area is itself praise worthy.


Thursday, October 4, 2012


Dramatization of figures is invariably resorted to by human beings for getting the desired attention. Probably this trait is embedded in the psyche of people since time immemorial and there is always a thin dividing line between an outright lie and a reasonable fact. This practice is especially popular with politicians who indulge in over estimation of their achievements, especially during the election time! Even scientists are not immune to this malpractices, if it can be called one, as reflected by a recent study which says that two thirds of publications withdrawn in reputed periodicals are due to deliberate distortion of results and unsubstantiated claims! An interesting report on post harvest food losses in India reveals how a nation can indulge in whole sale cooking of figures, obviously to highlight the need for investing on projects that can save these losses. Interestingly the loss figures of 30-50% being mentioned routinely in government circles during the last 5 decades remain the same in spite of pouring billions of rupees by the government on R & D, infrastructure and other areas! If this is not shameful what else it is! Is it not pathetic that no sustained studies have been conducted nationally to put down precisely what losses occur from the farm to the fork? A few scientific field studies do indicate that the post harvest losses are no more than 1-8% in case of most durable foods while the corresponding figures for perishables are slightly more, in the range of 6-18%. yet the Prime minister of this country had the gumption to solemnly declare before the country that one third of the food produced in India go waste! Here is an excellent piece of analysis on this subject which must make every Indian hang his head in shame for the sheer callousness, mismanagement and insensitivity to the welfare of its citizens!

"The figure has been in the air for long, so it has become acceptable. However, there is no hard study to back this number," said Pronab Sen, principal adviser in the Planning Commission. Sen told Business Standard the figure might just be a "guesstimate as he has serious doubts if such a study could even be conducted, especially for vegetables, which are seasonal and too diversified, unlike food grains and fruits". The 35-40 per cent loss claim does not even figure in the Planning Commission's working group report on agriculture marketing infrastructure for the 12th Five-Year Plan. It states that among vegetables, the post-harvest loss ranges between 6.8 per cent and 12.4 per cent, with the lowest loss in cauliflower and the highest in tomato. According to a study by the Indian Council on Agricultural Research (ICAR), among fruits, the minimum post-harvest loss is in sapota and the maximum in guava at 18 per cent. "The number for fruits is still believable as fruits are not seasonal in nature, but vegetables are seasonal, which makes data on production and wastage even difficult," said Sen.
Among cereals, the post-harvest loss ranged from 3.9 per cent to six per cent, with the lowest loss in sorghum and the highest in wheat. In pulses, the lowest loss was seen in chickpea at 4.3 per cent and the highest in black gram at 6.1 per cent.
A department of industrial policy and promotion paper on multi-brand retail in 2010 had said: "As per some industry estimates, 25 to 30 per cent of fruits and vegetables and five to seven per cent of food grains in India are wasted". This paper quoted industry estimates and not any hard study. However, even this number does not match the 35-40 per cent wastage being cited by the government now. The traders' community, too, has slammed the government for "cooking up" the figure. "Based on the ICAR study and the Planning Commission working group report, these post-harvest losses are nowhere around the staggering percentage quoted by the government. It appears that the government is coming up with these bogus figures for making up a case for allowing FDI in multi-brand retail," said Praveen Khandelwal, secretary general of the Confederation of All India Traders".

Looking back every Five Year Plan coming out of the corridors of National Planning Commission must be viewed with some apprehension because most data based on which planning is done in this country must be more of guestimates rather than real field generated information through scientific and representative studies. If at all there is a country in this Globe which consistently fails to keep the target dates for completion of any project, it is none other than India. Time over runs were between 50% and 500% and one can imagine the cost over runs as a result of these costly management lapses during the last 3-4 decades. The tragedy is that no politician seems to be serious or unduly worried about such enormous wastage of resources of the country while the neighboring China is galloping towards numero uno status in the world through their well planned and executed development projects on time in all critical sectors of economy. The astronomical sized financial scams, whether in coal sector or telephone sector do not speak well of the country's track record as a serious nation, capable of rubbing shoulders with countries like the US, the EU, China, Korea or Brazil.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Estimates vary regarding the percentage of global population that go hungry every night, especially in African, Asian and South American continents. Probably it may be fair to presume that at least one third of the population are suffering from food shortage either due to inaccessibility or unavailability. There are many field studies which go to support the above assumption. The prices of staple grains like rice wheat and corn have an important bearing on the peace on this planet and unrest becomes a norm when these prices rice uncontrollably due to many reasons. While natural causes like drought and flood cannot be controlled or predicted, diversion of food for non -food purpose like bio-fuels is definitely avoidable to reduce the impact of shortage on international prices of food grains. The issue of food riots assumes added significance in the light of unexpected drought in the US creating supply shortages for grains like corn. It is in this context that recent attempts to predict riots in some of the undeveloped, under developed and developing countries on the basis of price movements in the global market need to be appreciated. Here is an expose on this interesting theory that seems to be helpful in anticipating food riots and taking preventive action to reduce such incidences in the world.

"The researchers define the riot danger zone in relation to the U.N.'s FAO Food Price Index, which tracks the monthly change in international prices for a basket of cereals, dairy, meat, sugars and oil/fats. Riots become more likely, their model showed, when the index goes above 210. The index has been hovering above that "disruption threshold" since July, pushed upward by the drought in the U.S., the world's biggest exporter of corn and wheat. "What happened was that food prices went up exactly as predicted," Bar-Yam says. Wheat is now at $9 per bushel — higher than the high of $8.94 hit in February 2011, when the Arab Spring was in full swing. Corn is at $7.56 a bushel, close to the $7.65 highs of 2007-2008 — though it spiked well above $8 a bushel this summer. The Mideast is particularly sensitive to wheat prices; it imports most of its wheat, which is a major staple for the region. While the drought is causing the current spike in food prices, prices have also been on a steady, long-term trajectory upward. So what's behind that trend? NECSI's model has fingered two key suspects: speculation and the conversion of corn to ethanol. (More on that later.) Even without the drought, Bar-Yam says, food prices were headed toward the riot zone by early next year. The institute's work isn't without critics. Blogging at G-Feed, economist Dave Lobell notes that NECSI's papers aren't peer-reviewed — they are simply released publicly. "But in the case of NECSI, I think they have come up with a pretty satisfying solution — making testable predictions about the next year," Lobell writes.

How far this theory will hold good in future is not sure though there is a good possibility that such predictions can enable the governments in the third world countries to be prepared to handle the situation more effectively, if and they arise. The world is increasingly becoming a global village with porous borders and no country can remain isolated from events taking place in another country related to essential materials like food. It must be realized that very few countries are self sufficient in food and inter dependency is the corner stone of WTO trade regimes and policies equitable to all. Quest for land to expand food production is taking some rich countries to buy out or lease out vast stretches of cultivable land from countries having such lands without being able to raise productivity any where near to the levels achieved in technologically powerful countries. This is a sign that food will remain the single most critical factor that will decide whether peace will prevail in this world in the coming years.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Nano technology, being hailed as a new path breaking human achievement in the field of applied science, is lately receiving attention for all wrong reasons. While the advantages that accrue to the industry are infinitesimal, uncertainties regarding its adverse impact on human health are coming in the way of its open use by many industrial sectors. The fact that nano technology has never been approved by any public agencies in the world, especially in food area, further explains the reluctance for open arm acceptance across the industrial spectrum. While nano particles contained in many consumer products other than foods may be assumed to be reasonably safe, what is uncertain is regarding the impact of these very nano particles on the environment and agriculture. A recent report, claiming that nano particles of Zinc Oxide and Cerium Oxide, contaminating the soil through sewage and other waste water sources definitely affect adversely the growth and productivity in Soybean plant, is some what disturbing. Here is a take on this alarming issue.

"Zinc oxide nanoparticles enter agricultural fields through the application of biosolid (sewage sludge) fertilizers, which are composed of dried microbes previously used to process waste water in treatment plants. Researchers discovered that soybean plants grown in soil containing zinc oxide particles bioaccumulate zinc, taking up the metal and distributing it throughout edible plant tissue. This caused a decrease in the food quality of the soybeans, and researchers indicate that it is uncertain whether the zinc that accumulates in the plant's tissues is safe for human consumption in the form of ions and salts. "Juxtaposed against widespread land application of waste water treatment biosolids to food crops, these findings forewarn of agriculturally associated human and environmental risks from the accelerating use of MNMs [manufactured nanomaterial]," the study notes. Cerium oxide nanoparticles can contaminate agricultural fields through exhaust fumes from farm equipment, a likely scenario given that most all conventional soybean crops are produced with the help of industrial machinery. Soybean plants exposed to cerium oxide show a notable reduction in plant growth and yield. Though the cerium oxide particles did not bioaccumulate in plant tissues, they did have a considerable effect on the ability of soybeans to fix nitrogen, an important ecological function specific to leguminous crops. The nanomaterial concentrated at the root nodules of the plant, blocking its ability to form a relationship with the symbiotic bacteria that convert nitrogen in the air to plant-available ammonium fertilizer. The impacts of nanoparticles could lead conventional farmers to apply increasing amounts of synthetic fertilizers to make up for the loss of this natural function. The results of this study underline the urgent need for oversight and regulation of emerging nanotechnology. While the U.S Environmental Protection Agency is required to limit industrial metal discharge into public waste water treatment plants, there are currently no regulations curtailing the release of metal nanoparticles. Researchers explain, "MNMs — while measurable in the waste water treatment plant systems — are neither monitored nor regulated, have a high affinity for activated sludge bacteria, and thus concentrate in biosolids." According to the scientists, "There could be hotspots, places where you have accumulation, including near manufacturing sites where the materials are being made, or if there are spills. We have very limited information about the quantity or state of these synthetic nanomaterials in the environment right now. We know they're being used in consumer goods, and we know they're going down the drain." Nanotechnology is a relatively new technology for taking apart and reconstructing nature at the atomic and molecular level. Just as the size and chemical characteristics of manufactured nanoparticles can give them unique properties, those same new properties –tiny size, vastly increased surface area to volume ratio, high reactivity– can also create unique and unpredictable human health and environmental risks. Many of the products containing nanomaterials on the market now are for skin care and cosmetics, but nanomaterials are also increasingly being used in products ranging from medical therapies to food additives to electronics. In 2009, developers generated $1 billion from the sale of nanomaterials, and the market for products that rely on these materials is expected to grow to $3 trillion by 2015".
It is known that the industry in general is investing large sums of money on research in the area of nano technology though no where in the world its application is approved by safety authorities. Also true is the current practice by many industries in surreptitiously using nano technology having realized its advantages to design better performing products. But if adequate basis exists for suspecting its safety credentials, there must be universal agreement to suspend its use immediately pending further studies to understand the implications fully. By all means any technology that is beneficial to society must be adopted if the benefits accruing from it far outweigh any inherent risk that may be apparent.