Tuesday, January 31, 2012


What is the best way to please a citizen whose vote is important in a democracy? Normally answer would be to serve the voters through developmental projects and help to make life easier but in India the political parties with all hues have discovered that populist measures with huge financial commitment from the exchequer are the surest bet! The ever vigilant Election Commission is trying its level best to prevent direct "bribing" of the voters through cash payment, obviously with the ill-gotten black money though those caught are minuscule of the vast amounts deployed during election time. In the US the government makes payment to the tune of billions of dollars to its super rich farmers who in turn fund the election of many law makers there. The not so "brand new" program for mass appeasement through the proposed Food Security Bill which is yet to be enacted into a law has the flavor of a massive corruption in the name of citizen welfare. In stead of identifying and supporting those who are in dire need of food, lacking the necessary purchasing power, here is a government trying to give food grains at literally throw away prices with hope that voters will be grateful to it and support the ruling political party in coming elections. Here is a take on this national folly which can cause irreparable damage to the working morale of the population at large! 

'The new Food Security Bill would provide subsidised grain to 75 percent of people in the countryside and half the urban population -- about 810 million -- who cannot afford to eat properly. The extra annual requirement for rice and wheat under the draft law will be at least 45.6 million tonnes -- doubling current levels handed out by the world's second-biggest rice and wheat producer. The food ministry is assuming it will need about 30 percent of total wheat and rice output which tops 180 million tonnes to cover the subsidised food, relying on increased yields and lower wastage to meet demand and keep exports on the agenda".

The investment by its sheer size is astronomical but what is of concern is that such ostentatious spending cannot be considered an investment at all because it is going to be a regular commitment from which no future government will have the courage to backtrack if required. Though it is suggested that this policy will continue till the people are brought out of the poverty cycle, this will be almost like the reservation policy for which the constitution had laid a time limit of twenty years but politicians found it expedient to perpetuate this policy indefinitely for enriching their vote banks. Imagine how effective it would have been if this amount were to be invested on creating permanent assets that will benefit all segments of population. After neglecting agriculture for decades and creating a situation for mass suicides of poor farmers, here comes a policy of appeasing the voters through  supply of food grains practically free without bothering to look at the logistics of producing the expanded need under the new Bill. Government's priority ought to have been to modernize the PDS regime making it pilfer proof and delivering the food to the really needy and deserving consumers in "decent" condition. What will be the future of a country where people do not have to work and earn to get their "daily bread" when it is offered on a platter, practically free of cost!



Being born in a rich country like the US or in Europe is considered a blessing because of high per capita income enjoyed by the population there. It is true that on PPP basis the citizens might not be as rich as thought to be because of high cost of living experienced there. A note worthy phenomenon which cannot escape notice of a discerning observer is the relatively low cost of the food as part of the family income. While in a country like India an average family in the lower middle class category may be spending almost 50% of the income on purchasing food and groceries, the same works out to less than 10% for a US family. In spite of constant inflation eating away part of the purchasing power of the citizen, the food is considered affordable because of huge subsidies being showered on the farmer community by the government. In spite of the above, recent reports suggest that there are significant pockets of poverty across that country with many families unable to muster even the minimum money required to buy essential foods for meeting the daily nutritional needs. A human tragedy of herculean dimension. Here is a take on this queer phenomenon.

"Food prices have risen in recent years due to growing demand in developing nations and speculative shenanigans in the commodities markets, but food in America is still cheap. As Michael Pollan noted in The New York Review of Books, President Richard Nixon reacted to a spike in food prices in the early 1970s by shifting policy from supporting price stability for farmers to increasing output of a few crops such as corn and soy (this explains why there's corn and soy in everything). As a result of this policy shift and technological gains that have increased productivity per acre, Americans spend less on food as a percentage of their income — slightly less than 10 percent — than at any time in modern history. Hunger persisted, however, because at the same time the cost of housing increased markedly, which left people with less money for food. Thankfully, the cost of housing in Las Vegas decreased with the housing bust. Still, hunger persists, though now it's because people can't find work or their income is swallowed up by medical costs."

The food inflation in many developing countries has witnessed alarming spurts and the condition in these places is not congenial for supporting a decent life style. It is not long ago the Prime Minister of India "lamented" about the sorry conditions in the country where majority of children are suffering from gross malnutrition and under nutrition with insufficient access to foods due to economic factors. It is not a solace that the government economists declare the inflation for the last 4 weeks coming down to below zero, though the food markets tell a different story. The fact is that there is no price stability practically for any food, especially the protective foods like fruits and vegetables and government does not seem to have any clue as to what needs to be done to make them available in plenty at affordable cost. Could it be a cold comfort to people in poor countries to know that there are plenty of cousins feeling the pangs of hunger in rich countries too? In stead of trying to conquer the outer space or amassing nuclear bombs, world must redirect its resources, efforts, energy and focus on eradicating poverty where ever it exists and restore the human dignity.



It is only in India that governments, whether local, regional or federal,come in the way of developing entrepreneurial talents to its full blossom. Though the old "Permit and Licensing"  regime was supposed to have been progressively brought down after the bold economic liberalization policy of early nineteen nineties, nothing much seems to have changed at the ground level when it comes to small scale entrepreneurs in the food sector struggling to eke out an existence against the powerful MNCs and big fish already well established with many incentives by the government to increase investment in food industry at "any cost". The corrupt bureaucracy which holds the power strings to make or break an industry through manipulation of rules, obviously has less sympathy for the small players because of the limited capacity of the latter to pay "grease money" for getting what is legitimately due as per constitution. Here is a typical example of what is happening in the country under the very nose of the Prime Minister who rarely sees such things except for expressing his sympathies belatedly through "hollow" words!   

The Delhi high court on Monday put DDA and MCD on notice over the absence of a coherent policy for parking and licensing of food catering vans in the city. Justice Hima Kohli pulled up both the agencies for "complete chaos" and wondered why there is no single-window clearance system in place for van owners to obtain required permissions. Giving a day's time to MCD and DDA to come clear, HC noted, "There is complete chaos whenever two agencies are involved. Why isn't there a system in place for parking and licensing of the vans, why can't there be a single-window clearance so that people don't have to go to authorities for clearance," Kohli said, posting the matter for hearing on Tuesday. HC was hearing a plea by a group of van owners who moved the court challenging the "arbitrary and unjust" manner in which they were evicted out by the civic agencies from Dwarka. According to the authorities these vans parked in various sectors of Dwarka were responsible for traffic congestion and caused a parking mess and were therefore shifted. However, the petitioners through advocate Manjit Singh Ahluwalia argued that the civic agencies had no policy to follow with respect to mobile food vans that permitted them to resort to high-handedness.

Catering is a business dominated by micro enterprises which are omnipotent by their presence in every corner of the country and the street vending phenomenon is traditionally accepted by the consumers, especially those coming from the "aam admi" category with low income. Why should the government agencies harass them is a point that must be addressed at the national level. Licensing is an unavoidable feature of safety management system but it must be simple and affordable. How many violations the Delhi Government had detected vis-s-vis food safety during the last 3 years and how many culprits had been brought to book?  Wielding power comes with responsibility which is rarely "understood" and if the court finds these babus of dereliction of duty they must be punished severely for failing in their assigned role of facilitating the small scale food business activities. While the above case focuses on Delhi, same is true every where in the country. One can hope that suitable lesson will be learned from the strictures from Supreme Court


Monday, January 30, 2012


Communist system of governance depends heavily on government sponsored and managed industrial enterprises to control the market and ensure steady prices for all the daily needs of the citizens. In contrast free market philosophy leaves it to the entrepreneurship and enterprising spirit of the individual citizen to flourish under a competitive market environment, the fittest and the ablest surviving eventually. This is supposed to weed out weak performers and increase the overall efficiency of the economic activity. Spurt in food prices is fraught with social unrest, fostering a feeling of shortages and scarcity which has the potential to even destabilize established regimes. The 2008 food riots in 25 countries across the world are too fresh in the memory of the world and every government makes sure that food inflation is kept to an unavoidable minimum. Chines government, though preaches the Marxist-Leninist communist ideals, it had embraced almost all features of free economy that enabled it to become a strong economic power in the world to day. Now that the food inflation is showing signs of turbulence, government there wants to invest more of state funds in the market to control prices. Here is a take on this recent policy orchestration being propounded by the government. 

"China will focus on government-invested markets as an important way to stabilize agricultural produce prices and
meet people's basic needs according to a document from the State Council. The document released on Monday said
governments at all levels should increase investment in purchasing or constructing agricultural produce wholesale 
markets,farmers' markets and vegetable markets.It is the first State Council document that requires local governments
to purchase and have a stake in agricultural produce wholesale markets, and to clarify the public welfare nature of fresh agricultural produce markets, Dai Zhongjiu, director of the China Vegetable Marketing Association, 
told the Economic Information Daily. Beijing is pioneering government-invested markets and is promoting the model
of using reduced stall fees to lower vegetable prices in government-invested markets, said Dai. Beijing plans to hold 
stakes in 10 vegetable markets and purchase five vegetable markets in each of the city's districts in the future, said
Zhang Yuxi, the board chairman of Xinfadi, the largest wholesale market in the capital, the Beijing Business Today
reported."The main benefit of involving local governments in running vegetable markets is that it will help the 
government control retail sales of vegetables, which will then stabilize prices," said Zhang. "In government-invested
markets, stall fees are easy to control, as the government can just shoulder part of the cost," Li Binglong, a professor
with the China Agricultural University, told the Global Times. It would rely heavily on government investment 
while pushing forward the model, Linoted, while the existence of government-invested markets would influence other market operators. "Rising costs in other areas also affect agricultural produce prices,such as labor costs." Linking sales
directly to production has become a common method of reducing overall distribution costs. The State Council 
proposals encourage large- scale distribution enterprises to have stable relationships with leading agricultural 
enterprises. However, the "hard to sell and expensive to buy" problem is still an outstanding issue across the country. 
In October, potatoes sold at four yuan ($0.63) a kilogram in Beijing, while in the Inner Mongolia 
Autonomous Region, about 300 kilometers from the capital,the price was just 0.6 yuan a kilogram, with fewer
people buying them, the Beijing Business Today reported earlier".

How far government intervention in the market can control food inflation remains to be seen. It is a cardinal truth that no government managed system in business activities can vie with private players in terms of economic efficiency and lowering of the cost of production or manufacturing. Still since the government in China is not based on democracy, it can indulge in many arbitrary and draconian measures to control the market prices. India, in spite of being a democratic country, has shown how prices can be manipulated by creating monopolies in certain commodities with no competition allowed under a protectionist policy regime. Of course this tendency is slowly becoming less and less with many sectors open to private investment. Still the market environment in India is much more competitive than that in China. One big difference between these two Asian "cousins" is the predominant role of "middle men" in India who connect the farmer to the consumer, gobbling hefty margins in the process and often indulging in hoarding and creating artificial shortages. The Onion fiasco last year was a prime example of the vice like grip middlemen have on the food market in India. The hope by GOI to reduce the marketing muscle power of these middlemen through clearing of FDI in retail may be misplaced if one goes by the experience of other countries which had chosen this route in the past.


Sunday, January 29, 2012


Industry is invariably averse to any strict surveillance against their questionable practices among some of its members and will never agree, if given an option, in making any standards stricter. There are hundreds of instances in the history of food industry during the last hundred years to prove the point that result of any voluntary action for making the food safer and healthy at best is very disappointing! take for instance the current efforts on moderating salt or sugar or fat in processed foods which do not seem to be taking the world any where near a solution to the obesity epidemic that promises to make people sick and morbid progressively! Voluntary action by the processing industry, if really sincere could have reduced the number of unhealthy foods and limited the aggressive commercial promotion significantly but it can only be a Utopian dream with very little chance of success. Here comes the latest instance of industry defiance to an innocuous proposal to curtail presence of the deadly Dioxins in foods in the US.   

'Farmers and the food industry are trying to kill a proposed safety standard for dioxins, chemicals that can cause cancer and are widely found in meat, seafood and dairy products. Industry groups say a daily exposure limit for dioxin proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency isn't justified and could unnecessarily scare consumers away from meat and milk products. An individual could ingest more than the proposed daily limit of dioxin in a single meal, the groups say. "The implications of this action are chilling," they said in a recent letter to the White House. "EPA is proposing to create a situation in which most U.S. agricultural products could arbitrarily be classified as unfit for consumption." The proposed standard would not by itself trigger any regulations on farmers or food companies, but the government could later recommend measures, including restrictions on the content of livestock feed, to reduce the amount of dioxins that people could consume. The dioxin limit is the latest health and environmental issue that has pitted the Obama administration against industries who claim they're being subjected to unwarranted, job-stifling rules and regulations. "Dioxin is one of the most notorious and most studied chemicals," said Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst with the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization. "The industry is trying to change the definition of what is safe to avoid any further scrutiny."

It is laughable to listen to industry captains that a move like this would "scare" the consumers as if they are blissfully happy with the current range of products offered in the market! Main stream industry players must introspect regarding the progressive inroads made by the organic food industry in food business at their expense and the reasons for the same. The simple answer is lack of trust on the industry to deliver safe and healthy foods to the people. If there are technical reasons to resist such consumer safety restrictions, same much be orchestrated in a more transparent manner, in stead of indulging in shadow boxing and semantics. If one looks at history, all innovations to find alternative options for unsafe practices, take place only when forced to do so under duress! Without waiting for any nod from the industry, restrictions on Dioxin content in foods must be enforced legally.  Citizen's life is too precious to be sacrifieced to please the industry!


Saturday, January 21, 2012


Food safety considerations to day far outweigh other concerns and governments, industry and the consumers are on the edge fearing for the worst any time. Though the situation is no as alarming as being touted around, still it is the duty of all the three stake holders to strive hard to attain perfection as far as possible in this endeavor. against such a background it is understandable that there was a big hue and cry regarding the reported use of industrial grade salt in the manufacture by some processors in Europe with people differing in their perspectives regarding any danger from such a practice, deliberate or otherwise. Here is an interesting commentary on this episode.

Morgunblaðið reports that comparable research indicates that there is hardly any difference between the industrial salt carried by Ölgerðin and salt specifically intended for food production. The salt normally used in food production contains 99.8 percent NaCl and the industrial salt 99.6 percent. The copper content is 0.1 mg/kg in the food salt and 0.4 mg/kg in the industrial salt. According to Codex quality standard, NaCl content must be no less than 97 percent in food grade salt and the copper content is not to exceed 2.0 mg/kg and so both grades are safe to use for food production. The Dutch company Akzo Nobel, which produced the salt for Ölgerðin, responded to an enquiry by MAST stating that the industrial salt does not pose a risk to consumers' health but as not as strict demands are made on its production and storage as food grade salt it shouldn't be used in food products. "This matter is first and foremost about surveillance and we at Ölgerðin understand that," said CEO of Ölgerðin Andri Þór Guðmundsson. "We have carried this salt for 13 years and before that it was carried by others. It is not at all dangerous which is why MAST permitted us to finish the stock," he elaborated. "Even so we are sorry that this happened and we will review all our procedures to prevent it from happening again," Andri Þór concluded.

it must be admitted that food industry has the duty and responsibility to use ingredients that conform to food standards and safety specifications prescribed by the regulatory agencies. Same applies to medicines also where only pharmacopia specified ingredients are only used. These compulsory requirements are based on certain perceptions universally agreed to and any violation, serious or otherwise is difficult to be condoned. Though the violators argue that there is not much difference between food grade and industrial grade salt, the moot question is why then there are two different specifications at all? Food grade salt for example distinctly lays down upper limits for toxic metals like arsenic, Copper, Lead, Cadmium and Mercury but does industrial grade salt has such rigid requirements. Doubtful. Probably if such salts are used accidentally, it must be the duty of the safety agencies to examine the salt for its conformation to Codex standards before declaring that the foods containing it are safe for human consumption.



Who ever has not listened to the "heart rendering" declaration by the venerable Prime Minister of India stating that child malnutrition and stunted growth of Indian children is a national shame? Probably every patriotic Indian must have hanged his or her head in shame at least for a "minute" after hearing the "confession" of the CEO of a country after being at the helm of affairs continuously for 7 years! An investigative journalist has now brought out the gory details of the alliance behind the fulminations of the PM. It appears that the so called charitable foundation which flashed this news was indeed backed by the muscle of food industry represented by a major bakery goods manufacturer and it is suspected that the intentions are not that honest as to be expected. Though there is nothing wrong in food industry supporting charitable activities beneficial to children, it is the impact created by such programs that will determine the quality of support extended. Here is a take on this issue on which probably the last word has not yet been spoken.

"Here is what I figured out. The report is a continuation of Naandi's malnutrition related past work for which it has had two worthy partners — India's leading biscuit maker Britannia and a high sounding outfit called Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). It is quite an intricate arrangement that links all these organisations — Britannia developed some biscuits to 'fight child malnutrition' with 'technical advice' from GAIN and partnered with Naandi to provide these biscuits to school children in Andhra Pradesh in collaboration with the state government. The success of this three or four-way partnership encouraged Britannia CEO Vinita Bali to set up Britannia Nutrition Foundation with the lofty goal of 'securing every child's right to growth and development through the right to nutrition'. New diva of nutrition? Britannia CEO Vinita Bali. For this contribution to fighting malnutrition through biscuits, cakes and breads her company makes, GAIN nominated her on its Board of Directors. GAIN website is, indeed, an eye opener. It describes Bali as a 'champion of malnutrition'. Going by the accolades showered on her I suppose it is high time the government considers shutting down its National Institute of Nutrition and other agencies and let Bali and her Nutrition Foundation take charge of India's nutrition programmes. After all, she appears to have the magic wand, or shall we say the magic cookie, to banish malnutrition from India. Britannia, according to GAIN, already reaches 176 million Indian children between 3 and 12. Britannia is not alone in the hall of fame. The list of GAIN's partners includes the who's who of the global food industry — Unilever, Pepsi Cola, Coca Cola, Mars, Kraftfood, Ajinomoto, Tetra Pack, Danone, Cargill and so on. Needless to say, they all share GAIN's philosophy of banishing malnutrition through biscuits and sugary syrups. The organisation is also one of the beneficiaries of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. GAIN has been partnering with the Indian government, particularly the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), our flagship scheme for child nutrition, bringing the 'experience' of its business partners to India. One is left wondering how keen all these convoluted alliances, partnerships and food industryled initiatives are to solve our hunger and malnutrition problems. Are factory-made, ready-to-eat products like fortified biscuits and cookies- manufactured by food giants and bought by governments at the expense of taxpayers' money — the only solution to India's malnourishment problem? Should we let food companies commercialise malnutrition? Is business in the garb of philanthropy or corporate responsibility a good idea for India's malnourished? Do we need to wait for the next report from the likes of Naandi on the solution to the problem which it has portrayed so colourfully in its just released report?"

There are industry baiters galore who suspect every action taken by the industry for some hidden agenda. Before one passes of the above comments by the critic as that of a perpetual "doubter", adequate efforts must be made to get to the real truth and this must be done by the government without further delay. Only help coming in the way with no strings attached and no hidden agenda behind the support must be accepted and the impact of such alliances with the government must be periodically assessed to defuse criticism of favoring one or the other support organizations. National Institute of Nutrition is a pioneering establishment and it must be associated with any survey or study on malnutrition and under nutrition in India.  

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Sanitizing food handling areas is assuming more and more importance against the background of increasing bacterial food poisoning episodes occurring in many parts of the world. Good old chlorine is considered the industry standard for sanitization and is widely used by the potable water industry with telling effect. However handling chlorine is fraught with some risks and any alternative should be welcome to the industry. it is against such a background that the new sanitizing agent electrolyzed water (EW) was developed as a green alternative. From the following accounts it is clear that this product may eventually replace chlorine gas as the industry standard, the only limitation being the capital cost and recurring expenses in producing electrolyzed water.

"The process works by passing a low-voltage electrical current through salt water, which separates the water's sodium and chloride ions. The sodium ions are then exposed to a negative electrical charge, which creates sodium hydroxide, commonly known as lye. The chloride ions are exposed to a positive electrical charge, which turns chloride into hypochlorous acid - the active sanitizing ingredient in bleach. The solutions are then stored in two 55-gallon tanks where employees can fill up spray bottles without having to worry about mixing or spilling the product, Fitzgerald said. In the past six months, Massachusetts-based Lynnfield Green Technologies has sold 10 devices, which have been shipped to schools and companies that use the solutions to clean everything from cafeterias to semi-trailer trucks, according to the company's cofounder, Patrick Lucci. Lucci helped enhance the technology while working at Electrolyzer Corp., a Woburn-based start-up, in 2006. In 2009, Ecolab Inc. purchased Electrolyzer Corp. without bringing the technology to market. Lucci, eager to keep the idea alive, started Lynnfield and partnered with PathoSans, a subsidiary of Spraying Systems, a global manufacturer of industrial spray products, to sell PathoSans's version of the device. The solutions are being used throughout the Endicott House, in guestrooms, conference rooms, and the kitchen. Executive chef Eddie Cerrato, one of 50 staff members at the conference center, said he uses the hypochlorous acid cleaner to sanitize everything from meat thermometers to Endicott's freight elevator. "Bleach used to be the disinfectant in every kitchen but it eats into plastic,'' Cerrato said. "This solution is idiot-proof.'' He said rashes and skin problems from working with chemicals have since disappeared. Yen-Con Hung, who studies electrolyzed water's effect on food safety at the University of Georgia's Department of Food Science and Technology, said the water "has a good cleaning effect,'' if it is used according to the direction. "For cutting boards, sodium hydroxide is effective in removing fat and protein,'' Hung said.But Rebecca Sutton, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, said many consumers expect green cleaning products to be evaluated and approved by certification companies such as EcoLogo or Green Seal".

Sodium hypochlorite solution in which nascent chlorine is entrapped, is already in use by many and is a house hold beach with considerable popularity. In what way EW is superior is not clear. Standard hypochlorite solutions with 1-12% dilution are already available in the market though presence of alkali in these preparations are known to weaken textile fibers on prolonged contact. EW is not a panacea as being claimed because it is not very stable losing its potency in a few hours of storage. Probably installing an electrolyzer in one's own premises may provide the convenience in producing EW as when necessary for immediate use.  



With sophisticated electronic instruments available to day, detailing the features of any material on earth has become easy and reliable. It was not long ago that personal identification was being done on the basis of photographs but to day biometric measurements have become standard techniques for such tasks widely used world over. The fact that each living species has its own genetic sequence has enabled their identification in a cocktail using the well established DNA printing. This technology has now found a new use in the hands of regulators in detecting adulterants and contaminants in many foods. By compiling a master reference DNA finger prints of all species whether animal based or plant based or microorganism based, it is possible to day to compare the DNA sequence of a particular food material and find out what ingredients are present in it. Here is the fascinating story of DNA Barcode system evolved in Canada that is likely to revolutionize the safety monitoring protocols world over.  

"Scientists have discovered a range of new uses for a Canadian technology that can be used to peer into 30,000-year-old permafrost, detect phoney herbal medicines and catch invasive species before they sneak across borders. Researchers from around the world are fingerprinting most of the planet's species by taking samples of their DNA and cataloguing them in a comprehensive reference library.
The DNA creates a so-called barcode that can identify real ingredients in food, quickly analyze water quality and reveal how the environment has changed over millenia. Bob Hanner, a professor at the University of Guelph where the technique was developed, said barcoding gives governments, businesses and people a reliable way of knowing what they're eating, importing and buying.
We have a very powerful tool to identify species in processed products that you wouldn't normally be able to identify using traditional morphological techniques, Hanner said from Guelph, Ont., before heading to an international conference on barcoding in Australia starting Monday. It's a very exciting time. Researchers from dozens of institutions are steadily building the library of barcodes by taking short gene sequences from samples of birds, fish, mammals, insects and other life forms at herbaria, museums and other facilities.
They hope it will one day give them a master list of the world's species that can be used by corporate interests and government agencies for a growing number of applications. Since being developed at Guelph in 2003, the technique has been adopted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a regulatory tool and was used to identify mislabelled cheap fish being sold at American restaurants as more expensive species. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is using barcodes to collaborate with its U.S. counterparts to identify seafood, pest insects and pathogenic fungi. Environment Canada is also using it to measure species diversity in watersheds and identify materials they've confiscated, Hanner said. But Hanner says that as the library grows, so do the ways they can use barcoding.
Scientists in Malaysia who are contributing to the plant barcode library used it to reveal that a herbal medicine didn't contain the ingredient it promised would treat malaria and diabetes. Others found weeds in herbal teas".

Such efforts to establish reliable monitoring technology should not be left to any one country but must be based on collective efforts and cooperative endeavor. An agency like WHO or FAO must step in to take this program further for common benefit of all countries. Setting up of regional reference DNA libraries and networking them globally can be expected to bring down food poisoning episodes dramatically in coming years. Besides this will also help in settling trade disputes regarding food quality among the exporting and importing countries.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Meat industry is notorious for its vulnerability to dangers from deadly pathogens like Salmonella, virulent E.coli and others. Even if the sanitation regime that is required to keep the carcass free from microbial contamination is scrupulously deployed, the chances of cross contamination is still possible. If at all any sector of food processing faces high risk during its operations, it is the meat industry. Repeated pleas to allow low doses of gamma irradiation for maintaining freedom from pathogens have not yet been heard sympathetically and the risk factor remains as high as ever even to day. Against such a bleak background comes the news about development of vaccines that can be used for protecting animals till slaughter from the dangerous vectors. It is an interesting development that must please the industry to no end. Here is the take on this issue.

"Imperfect" but potentially effective technologies to control foodborne pathogens in beef pre-harvest are now available to government and industry, according to experts at a Nov. 9 meeting on pre-harvest pathogen control convened by the FSIS, the Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service, and the Agricultural Research Service. But can they be usefully implemented? A number of vaccine technologies have demonstrated a significant impact in reducing levels of E. coli 0157 and Salmonella bacteria detected in bovine feces pre-harvest, said Guy Loneragan, PhD, professor of food safety and public health at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, who presented the opening address at the meeting. For example, Epitopix/Pfizer Animal Health's SRP vaccine has shown a 40% to 60% reduction in Salmonella levels in feces in various commercial studies—and even more in so-called "high shedders." "These technologies have repeatable and predictable, if imperfect, efficacy. Even given that imperfect efficacy, if we have broad adoption of these technologies, we can have quite a meaningful public health impact. But how can we develop an environment that fosters their adoption?" The burden cannot be placed solely on producers, Dr. Loneragan said. "We have to find ways to pull these technologies through the system, not just at the packing plant level but at the retail level as well. Retailers need to develop a coordinated plan with packers, suppliers, and producers to share the costs and rewards of these technologies." At the meeting, industry representatives and other experts also suggested that more open testing of the vaccines in the marketplace is needed—and called for the FDA and USDA to expand licensure. "Right now, we have one vaccine that's conditionally licensed," said Dr. Loneragan. "But the conditional license comes with real barriers to adoption, such as a 60-day slaughter withdrawal. If there were a full license for these vaccines, sponsors could do studies that could show support for a shorter withdrawal period, which is much more practical. There has to be a mechanism by which the vaccines can move forward to full licensing and the industry can look at them in a more open and complete way."

One of the drawbacks cited against the vaccines is that they are not 100% effective, the degree of protection being in the range of 40-60%
which raises doubts about their overall impact under field conditions. Besides the conditional approval given to them stipulates that animals cannot be slaughtered for at least 60 days which naturally can put some burden to the industry in maintaining large stocks for long periods. If this work is carried forward there is good possibility that a multi-valent vaccine may emerge eventually that can take care of most predominant pathogens which are causing sleepless nights to the meat industry. In stead of leaving every thing to the industry to near the burden, Government agencies must play an effective supporting role in expediting such developments which will have far reaching benefits to the consumers.



With the advent of many electronic appliances, the life has become more easy for the present generation and the old day home making practices are becoming a part of history. Microwave oven, food processor, Refrigerator and freezer, baking gadgets, bread makers, dish washers, washing machines and many others have reduced the time spent in the kitchen by the modern day house wife to a few minutes, leaving lot of leisure time for spending on professional and family matters. New developments in electronic gadgetry as being reported are taking the concept of kitchen management to a much higher level with more controls and reliability. Here is a report on the new appliances being offered by a leading player as unveiled in an international exhibition. 

"LG has differentiated its smart appliances with its advanced and highly complementary technologies. These four core technologies – the Linear Compressor, the Inverter Direct Drive™, the Infrared Grill and the KOMPRESSOR® – enable superior performance. At the same time, Smart ThinQ™ technologies – Smart Manager, Smart Diagnosis™, Smart Access, Smart Adapt and Smart Grid – bring smart savings and enhanced convenience to consumers. Technology enthusiasts will notice that LG's Smart ThinQ™ technologies have evolved considerably since their introduction at CES 2011. For example, LG's smart refrigerators and smart washing machines are now connected to Smart TVs and smartphones, which enables convenient monitoring of the operational status of the two appliances*. 

Though these developments are creating a flutter among the home makers, it may not be quiet affordable to many middle income families due to high price tag, especially during the first couple of years. A pertinent question that is raised often when "labor sparing" technologies become accepted standards is whether moving in this direction is really desirable, especially for a population adopting more and more sedentary life styles, considered responsible for many health disorders among citizens living in industrialized countries. Cooking and serving food to the family is a prerogative enjoyed by the female head of the family and if the thrill of making a good dish is lost because of the increasing role of appliances what could be its repercussions on the society? Will the emotional linkage between husband and wife or between the mother and children forged through food, already weak because of the intrusion of these gadgets, be further weakened? These are questions for which there is no ready answer.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012


One of the prime claims of achievement, made by the Ministry of Food Processing Industry, GOI was that it was instrumental in creating the food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) by integrating various central agencies dealing with this subject in different ministries. It is another matter that the "Authority" lacks real authority to enforce discipline in the food market, the fraudsters and adulterators still ruling the roost! It is very true that, for any organization to show its efficiency, it requires some time and the food industry seems to be optimistic that FSSAI would be able to show results soon. Whether the recent FSSAI surveys across the country that highlighted the prevalence of wide scale adulteration in milk and other foods, (already well known?) is a forerunner of more deterrent actions in future remains to be seen. Diagnosing a disease is a different ball game compared to surgical intervention to remove the malaise detected. According to international reports the much heralded FDA, USDA inspection system for meat and animal products and supervising agency for imported foods are likely to be merged, hoping for more effective safety compliance by the industry. There appears to be critics as well as supporters for the new proposal and here is a take on this new development.    

"FSIS regulates by inspection and enforcement. Their daily presence in nearly every single meat and poultry plant in this country is mandated by law and funded by Congress. They can shutter a plant simply by having the inspectors not show up for work. FDA regulates by education and writing Good Manufacturing Practices and suggesting policies to follow when producing food. Foods like sprouts, cantaloupe, peanut butter and shell eggs come to mind. And FDA inspection is either by a state entity, a third-party auditor paid by the company or themselves when an outbreak is recognized. The FDA has no mandate in inspection or audit frequency, and very little in funding to do so. And therefore they very rarely inspect or audit unless a disaster mandates it. This is not to say one agency is better than the other. They are very different entities, and the laws that they follow are very different also. To blend them into one might be like mixing oil and water".

People are always apprehensive about mergers creating monopoly and power centers not responsive to their problems and same fear is influencing the views on the proposed merger also. One need not agree with the critic above that the new mega dispensation would be worse than the fragmented players controlling food safety administration. As long as the new agency created is answerable to the elected body and if adequate built-in protection is provided for preventing hegemonic tendencies, there is no reason why the integrated system cannot work more efficiently than several independent agencies under different departments.



This Blogger has been crying hoarse for the last 3 decades to no avail regarding the neglect of Indian ethnic foods by food scientists in the universities as well as specialized food research institutions. The yeoman work carried out during fifties and sixties of the last millennium on products like Idli, Vada, Dosa etc to develop ready mixes served admirably to popularize these foods with younger generation and nuclear families but further progress was not perceptible as most younger scientists considered working on western foods like biscuits and others more appealing to further their career. If to day only Gulab Jamun and Rosagolla are available with long shelf life while all others are perishable within a matter of few days, no one is to be blamed but the native scientists for their total neglect of these products. Recent reports of CFTRI Mysore developing suitable packaging technology to preserve products like Laddu, Bombay Halwa, Carrot Halwa, Doodhi Halwa etc are most welcome, hopefully heralding a renaissance of this sector. It is highly satisfying to see a foreign company based in the US getting international quality certification for about 3 dozen products based on Indian cuisines which are popular in that country. Here are details about the accomplishments of this pioneer.  

"Deep Foods, the leading producer of restaurant quality frozen Indian cuisine, announces its vegetarian and vegan qualification by the prestigious American Vegetarian Association™ (AVA). As part of their commitment to producing only the highest quality Indian cuisine, Deep Foods is pleased to take this next step forward in achieving nationally recognized vegetarian and vegan food certification.
The AVA was created to promote the interests and concerns of individuals and organizations involved in the preservation, propagation, and distribution of vegetarian ideas and products. The primary goal of the AVA is to provide a widely recognized certification program that will enable vegetarian-minded people to make accurate food choices, being certain they can be confident in their selection and that of the manufacturer's claims. "As consumers become more and more health conscious, it's our responsibility to offer a diverse range of restaurant quality Indian cuisine that is 100% safe for vegetarians and vegans, and for those with allergies," said Mike Ryan, VP Marketing, Deep Foods. "For that reason, Deep Foods is proud to manufacture products that are AVA vegetarian and vegan certified." The AVA-certified logo will be clearly displayed on a total of 35 Deep Foods products, denoting either vegetarian or vegan certification. The Deep Foods product line offers 19 vegetarian and 16 vegan options".

Food manufacturers in the US are fortunate in that they have well managed Indian stores, spread across that country with frozen and refrigerated display facilities with high capacity while the cold chain infrastructure is one of the best in the world. It is amazing that there are at least 100 Indian origin processed products made in or imported into the country which can vet the appetite of any food connoisseur
while in its land of origin one cannot even see 10% of these items! These products represent almost all major ethnic segments in the south as well as north providing a wide choice for US settled families. With such certification facilities available at least for vegetarian items, the clientele for Indian foods can be expected to expand very significantly among local population.            


Monday, January 16, 2012


What is the right formula to maintain a reasonably decent health for many ordinary citizens who are caught between the "deep sea and the devil" when it comes to choose the right food? Is too much dependence on products churned out by the process industry really bad? Are processed foods addictive? These are some of the issues that bother the common man in his day to day fight to stave of diseases and health disorders. Here is a list of suggestions by a concerned critic who finds fault with many food industry products in the market and one may take it or leave it! 

"The Pringles saying "once you pop you can't stop" couldn't be more factual. In fact, these foods are made to be habit forming! With their high fructose corn syrup, sugar and chemicals who could resist them? And as for diet coke, don't even get me started. I once cut out all sodas and lost 20 pounds—and my weight gain was mostly attributed to diet coke. Diet coke is proven to increase caloric intake….it signals your body to crave more carbs than you really need! It's truly the Devil's drink. If you're a constant consumer of these detrimental foods…don't feel bad! You're not the only one. Everyone has the propensity to become addicted, but everyone also has the capability to break the vicious cycle. I did. I went seven months without sugar/bread/dairy and felt like a million bucks. Eating healthy doesn't have to be boring and it doesn't have to be expensive. I am here as a testament to say that I felt better than ever on this healthy lifestyle change and spent less. Did you know that these chemically enhanced foods can really break down your immunity? If you're not getting the healthy fruits, veggies, and protein you need you're not only going to be lacking in key "happy" chemicals (aka, dopamine, serotonin, etc…), but you'll also probably suffer from a weakened immune system! I am not supporting you radically switch your entire diet to organic, (because I know some organic foods are no different than regular ones) however; there is something to be said about buying organic fruits and veggies if you're going to eat their skin. I challenge you to try organic celery up against their pesticide alternative and tell me if you don't taste a difference. The lack of chemicals is refreshing. The pesticides are a huge reason why many people don't want to eat their veggies! The taste is noticeable when comparing. The positives for healthy eating outweigh the negatives. says that foods rich in antioxidants can really stave off colds and other illnesses that could plague you down the road. You can get your Beta-carotene and other carotenoids from foods such as: Apricots, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, corn, green peppers, kale, mangoes, turnip and collard greens, nectarines, peaches, pink grapefruit, pumpkin, squash, spinach, sweet potato, tangerines, tomatoes, and watermelon. Your Vitamin C from: Berries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit, honeydew, kale, kiwi, mangoes, nectarines, orange, papaya, red, green or yellow peppers, snow peas, sweet potato, strawberries, and tomatoes. And your Vitamin E from: Broccoli, carrots, chard, mustard and turnip greens, mangoes, nuts, papaya, pumpkin, red peppers, spinach, and sunflower seeds. Webmd goes on to talk about other foods you can find that provide the same immunity boosting power: Zinc: Found in oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, seafood, whole grains, fortified cereals, and dairy products. Selenium: Found in Brazil nuts, tuna, beef, poultry and fortified breads, and other grain products. My recommendation is that if you have a hankering for sweets or starchy foods try alternative ways to satiate those cravings. Here are some of my top replacement foods/sweeteners and drinks that kick my sweet tooth in the bud:"

One thing must be understood by every consumer when it comes to food selection and that is the compulsion of modern life in depending on factory processed products. But restricting the intake of such foods and opting for more healthy home cooked foods can always pay rich dividend in terms of good health. The expert recommendation that basing the diet on as many diverse foods as possible reflects the fact that mutual supplementation from different food components in a diet guarantees freedom from health related crisis in life. The new MyPlate icon of the US government says the same in a graphic mode for easy understanding



Aiming for the moon is never a crime but doing nothing to make even an attempt or doing the same shoddily is definitely some thing to be frowned upon. This statement is very relevant when one looks at the Vision Document 2015 prepared and released for public consumption by the Ministry for Food Processing Industry (MFPI) of Government of India (GOI) recently. It has become a fashion for the babus in GOI to write voluminous reports to boast of their achievements and project their future plans from time to time. In the absence of an accountability system that can pull them up for non-performance or under-performance, they get away with practically nothing to show, except more promises, in their progress card. Latest to arrive is the new projections of performance for the next three years in "promoting" food processing in the country. It is intriguing as to why such a document is prepared for a short period of 3 years because only long term targets are normally projected in any vision document. Here is a take on this new pompous report whatever it is worth for!

"Government has prepared Vision Document 2015 for food processing sector. It envisages tripling the size of the processed food sector by increasing the level of processing of perishables from 6% to 20%, value addition from 20% to 35% and share in global food trade from 1.5% to 3% by the year 2015. To realize the targets set for the growth of the food processing sector, 11th Plan Schemes have been restructured with appropriate management/implementation arrangements in Public Private Partnership mode, with strong project implementation capabilities. The core elements of the strategy are better project selection, development and implementation, decentralized cluster based development, particularly for creation of infrastructure and fostering linkages to retail outlets, industry led capacity building and upgradation of standards, integrated food law and science based food standards. During the 11th Plan period out of 30 Mega Food Park projects, Ministry of Food Processing Industries has already approved 15 projects and is in process of approving remaining 15 Mega Food Parks. CCEA approval for the 15 Mega Food Parks has already been obtained and EOI has been issued for inviting proposals. As against 30 Cold Chain projects envisaged for the 11th Plan period, Ministry has approved 10 integrated Cold Chain project out of which 8 have started commercial operation in terms of value addition, reduction in wastage and enhancement in farmer's income. In the second phase, 39 projects of integrated Cold Chain have been approved. In case of Modernization of Abattoir, 10 projects have been approved. Under the scheme for Technology Upgradation/ Establishment/ Modernization of Food Processing Industries, a total of 2532 units have been assisted. Under the scheme of Quality Assurance 22 Food Testing Labs have been assisted and 14 units under HACCP/ ISO certification have been assisted. Under the Human Resource Development Scheme, assistance has been provided to 33 units, 140 Food Processing Training Centre (FPTC) and 805 Entrepreneurship Development Programmes (EDP) for creation of infrastructure facilities. Under the Institutional Strengthening, the NIFTEM, IICPT, IGPB and NMPPB have been established to give further impetus to the development of food processing sector".

One wonders whether any body in the GOI has made any effort to evaluate the past promises made and the extent of fulfilling them before allowing the Ministry to make further tall claims. While inspired reports and glossy publications from the GOI and friendly media praise the past developments in this sector, for a dispassionate observer nothing much has changed in the food processing sector during the last two decades of existence of this specialized Ministry set up with lot of hope. While the setting up of the "paper tiger" FSSAI is touted as a big achievement, the ground reality is that this has happened in spite of the working of MFPI. The statistics doled out in the so called vision document lacks credibility if ground realities are seen with most small scale food industries languishing in the country while the unorganized sector is thriving, churning out sub-standard foods with practically no help or guidance forthcoming from GOI. The progress, if at all any, is due to major branded products coming out from the stables of multinationals and domestic giants who any way do not need government prop!.


Friday, January 13, 2012


It is a "startling" news of the New Year that the railway catering specialist IRCTC is mulling over extending its arm beyond the trains and the platforms of Indian Railways seeking greener pastures so that it can justify its existence. Railway Board, whether in its wisdom or recklessness, took over catering services in the trains from IRCTC purportedly on account of persistent complaints from the traveling public regarding indifferent quality of foods served by the latter in some of the prestigious trains. Whether this move has satisfied the passengers is a moot question as they have no option but to eat whatever is offered by whoever has the licenses to do it. But IRCTC with a large infrastructure and personnel with experience in catering is left with no choice but to seek to diversify its activities beyond the trains and the stations. The news of IRCTC planning to establish food outlets in petrol bunks, Malls and other public places is welcome in one way that it is utilizing its experience to justify its existence as a viable entity in the public sector. Here is the take on this new development. 

"After complaints related to poor quality food being served to passengers began pouring in, the Indian Railways (IR) took over from the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Ltd (IRCTC) the job of arranging food on its long-distance trains. Unfazed by the move, the IRCTC, a Miniratna company in its bid to recover the losses it suffered, will now be trying its hand at opening food stalls, multi-cuisine cafeterias and food courts at petrol pumps and outside shopping malls in the city. To do so, IRCTC had hired professionals from the catering and hotel industry to check out whether the idea of serving food beyond railway stations and platforms is feasible or not. At present, the IRCTC is on the lookout for spaces for inaugurating food courts and cafeterias at different locations all across the city. "We have already signed a memorandum of understanding with Hindustan Petroleum for setting up our cafeterias at their petrol pumps. These outlets will be operational after April," said an IRCTC official, requesting anonymity. Sources added that the IRCTC is looking forward to similar tie-ups with other petroleum giants, such as Bharat Petroleum and Indian Oil, and have initiated talks for the same. Apart from petrol pumps, IRCTC is also exploring the option of starting food stalls outside multiplexes, shopping complexes and malls, and is keen on hiring contractors who can provide it with regional delicacies. Currently, IRCTC runs a food stall at BARC and at Loni in Pune district". 

One disturbing question about this decision is whether the bad publicity IRCTC gained in railway catering will strain its credibility as a standard operator vying with established food chains. The biggest problem that was troubling IRCTC was the rigid bureaucratic management style and government connections that hampered its style of functioning. However with less constraints in public catering area and no pressure of time IRCTC has the potential to perform better, though government controlled businesses invariably languish for many obvious reasons. One can only wish the organization better luck for its venture out side Indian trains and railway stations!



India is a great country, it is an economic power and it is a top agri-horticultural produce raising country. True at a macrolevel but at the disaggregated level India is a country no better than any sub-Saharan African country with poverty, malnutrition, under nutrition, hunger, child mortality and other vital parameters making the society at large a just surviving category. Look at the recent report by no less than an Authority, FSSAI at Delhi overseeing food safety management in the country which claimed that most Indians are drinking adulterated and unsafe Milk! This statement is touted around shamelessly as a great service by this very agency which is supposed to protect the citizens from such malicious foods! There is no word as to what it is going to do next after re-discovering a "truth" which was known all over the world. Probably more surveys and more wastage of public funds. That the adulteration and fraudulent industry that churn out such dangerous foods does not spare even children who are supposed to take milk regularly for their early stage development is a sad commentary on the seriousness of purpose on the part of the government.

"A national survey on milk adulteration in 2011 has found almost 69 per cent samples failing the quality test and have found with adulteration of water and skimmed milk powder, besides also detergents. The survey, conducted by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India to ascertain the quality of milk and find adulteration types, found all the milk samples taken from Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Daman and Diu, Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal and Mizoram failed the quality test. Testing of milk samples from Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal also found non-conforming due to the presence of detergents. Over eight per cent of samples tested were found containing detergents. Presence of sodium chloride was detected in a milk sample taken in Assam, while two samples taken in Nagaland saw presence of Neutralizers, six samples in Mizoram and a sample in Tripura saw presence of SNF and Skim Milk Powder. The study indicates that addition of water to milk is the most common adulterant, which not only reduces the nutritional value of milk but contaminated water may also pose a health risk. The survey also shows that powdered milk is reconstituted to meet the demand of milk supply. The second highest parameter of non conformity was the Skim Milk Powder (SMP) in 548 samples (44.69%) which includes presence of glucose in 477 samples and Glucose is added to milk probably to enhance SNF. The study also indicated the presence of detergent in 103 samples (8.4%)". 

An issue of great concern is whether same applies to other foods including staples. Edible oil products price of which has breached the three figure mark in the retail market in recent days is a "fraudster's delight" because of the margin of profit that can be gained for adulterating the cooking oils which are used in the preparation of many ethnic foods. Similarly pulses which also command high prices are another attractive commodity vying for the attention of food adulteration industry, assured of high margins. The moot question is why not money hungry people with high entrepreneurial talents should not use these avenues for amassing their wealth with practically no risk at all because the safety enforcement authorities rarely punish a culprit even for deadly crimes under the food safety laws of the country.