Thursday, May 31, 2012


Economists world over consider inflation as a dampener for growth and suggest fiscal discipline to control inflation. Running into uncontrollable debts is not considered an ideal way of managing development though its avoidance completely is not practical. When it comes to food which is consumed day in and day out for life sustenance, unless there is price stability it may be difficult for the people to balance the family budget and higher the inflationary pressure lesser will be the purchasing capacity of the citizen forcing reduction in the intake of food with disastrous consequences in the long run. Thus any government worth the name must consider controlling food inflation as a high priority effort to protect its population from vulnerability to frequent price escalation. If Asian Bank experts are to be believed countries in the South Asian region are undergoing stress from food inflation caused by many factors and unless the governments in these countries tighten their policies to control inflation their population may be most vulnerable to food related discontent leading to unrest and misery among them. Blaming developments else where in the world for their problems can bring very little solace and the solution has to come from within. Here is a discussion paper put out by ADB for guidance of the countries in the SAARC Region. 

"Asian Development Bank (ADB) said major direct impact of persistent higher food prices in South Asia to have adverse impact on growth as it reduces real income consumption, saving and investment. Interest rate tightening as policy response to control inflation would reduce aggregate demand and lead to further economic slowdown.  Implementation of food subsidies and other social safety net programmes are likely to increase current expenditure and worsen the fiscal deficit. In particular Bhutan, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Maldives, which already have relatively high fiscal deficits, according to ADB South Asia Working Paper Series, 'Food Price Escalation in South Asia-Serious and Growing Concern', released on Monday. The ADB Working paper pointed out South Asia is arguably the most vulnerable region to increasing food inflation given the large segment of the population living below or near the poverty line. This paper deals with the problems related to food price inflation in South Asia in a comprehensive manner. It presents an in-depth empirical analysis of the possible factors that could explain the increase in food inflation and discusses the impact of food price inflation on poverty and macroeconomic stability in South Asia. The paper proposes some practical policies to address the situation, including how regionalism may be a solution to food inflation".

High fiscal deficit is a continuing feature of the economies of these countries and invariably raising interest rates has been the standard response by the governments. Whether such fiscal policies can impact the food inflation is a matter that needs to be considered though many believe it is so. The net effect of food inflation will be progressive reduction in the purchase of food by those who are already languishing in poverty, making their lives more miserable. The massive food subsidies help to insulate those who are below poverty line from such inflation to some extent but such subsidies are confined only to food grains whereas for a healthy life one needs protective foods like fruits and vegetables, pulses and edible oils which are the victims of uncontrolled price inflation. Whether ADB's suggestion to cork the Geni of food inflation will work or not is some thing remains to be seen in these countries if and when they accept them. 


Based on the predominance of the type of diet people consume, population is broadly classified as carnivores (meat eaters) and omnivores (vegetarians) but such distinctions get blurred because there are people who are flexible in their approach to food. Those who are not compulsive meat eaters but can manage with plant based foods are now being called "flexitarians" reflecting their flexibility in choosing the type of food they want to eat. A pure vegetarian can never reconcile to a food which is derived from a dead animal and there are natural non-vegetarians who can be reconciled to a vegetarian diet due to economic compulsions. Recent emergence of a generation willing to switch over to a vegetarian diet is compelling the food industry to come out with products which are not animal based but still gives them the feeling of consuming a meat based preparation. It is some thing like a smoker trying to cut down on smoking realizing its dangers to health. Such products make the efforts of people trying to change their predominantly meat based diets into predominantly plant based foods and this trend augurs well for the sustenance of this planet. Here is a take on this important development.

"Flexitarians — health conscious and mostly younger consumers — are drawing the attention of the food industry, which is developing new meat-mimicking products. One of the latest innovations is soy chicken from the research laboratories at the University of Missouri. The market potential is huge. Only 2 to 3 percent of Americans consider themselves vegetarians, but 4 percent of American eaters aged 18 to 29 choose to eat a meatless meal at least once a week, according to market research firm Innova Insights. The Vegetarian Research Group, meanwhile, estimates that 13 percent of Americans over 20 eat meat with fewer than half of their meals, and 25 percent say they are "working to eat less meat." For Sholar, the driving force was concern about cholesterol. Though the change wasn't easy here in barbecue country, after seven years living the flexitarian life, he's pretty used to it. "Sometimes you're looking to make something taste a bit like meat, a lot of times you're not. You're just realizing you just don't eat meat," Sholar said. High-end supermarket chain Whole Foods is seeing more demand for meals that aren't based around meat, according to Sarah Morgan, a healthy eating specialist for the Rocky Mountain region of Whole Foods. "A lot of our customers tell us that they're looking for some alternatives, and they're looking for new ways to think, instead of this standard American diet that's very animal-protein focused," Morgan said. Many of those customers haven't had to live without the foods they grew up eating.Enter the new Holy Grail for some food companies: vegetarian foods that replicate the carnivore's food experience so they don't feel that they're sacrificing while giving up meat".

In India where vegetarians are supposed to be predominant, it is often not clear whether this situation is due to economic factors or life style evolution. But the proportion of vegetarians in the total population will definitely go down if the economic development puts more money in the hands of the consumers to buy meat foods which are invariably costlier. Those who swear by meat diets are forgetting the reality that, just like fossil fuels sources running out, this planet will never be able to sustain production of adequate meat foods and even if quantitatively production is achieved it will be at a terrible price unaffordable to generations that follow the present one. The very fact that to raise one kg of animal protein one has to waste at least seven times more plant protein must have a sobering influence on the thinking of present generation. Same is true with water consumption. With environmental degradation taking place at a faster rate during animal raising, the quality of air is bound to be adversely affected jeopardizing every form of life on the earth. Global warming is bound to be more pronounced under the above conditions which in turn affect the production of plant foods. Sooner this realization dawns on the humans of current generation, lesser will be the danger that will haunt the world in future.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012


It is fashionable these days to demonize processed foods, with many really convinced that processing destroys the health conferring properties of food significantly if not totally. Is it not amazing that even to day there are powerful people's movements shunning pasteurized milk or frowning upon cooking of eggs? While one has to respect their beliefs and convictions, it is wrong to impose their narrow view on others who are more adventurous and realistic in consuming products which have undergone some form of processing. If processed foods with long shelf life and convenience built into them are not available in the market the living quality of millions of families would have been compromised. Once in a while some one has the guts and conviction to refute the opinionated views of critics of food technology and here is an excellent example of the same.  

"1. People typically think of food processing as something bad, but they fail to consider that many of the most loved foods and beverages require processing for consumption.
    * In its raw state, a cacao bean isn't edible. But thanks to food processing, the bean is turned into every form of chocolate that is available.
    * Coffee beans aren't edible in their raw, unroasted state. Roasting is a form of processing that turns those beans into a consumable form.
    * Wine undergoes processing to turn the grapes into liquid before they are aged in barrels.
2. Food processing also helps support a strong world economy. Imported foods like cheeses, pastas and bottled drinks undergo many of the same types of processing that dairy products and other foods undergo in the U.S. The processing is designed to make these foods safe to eat, and to prevent insects and other contaminants from entering the packaging.
3. Many people rely on processed foods to help them eat a balanced diet because they don't have the ability, time, or energy to prepare foods themselves.
    * Busy mothers with picky eaters often rely on processed foods for easy snacks for when they don't have time to prepare foods that their kids will eat.
    * People with disabilities often live alone with the help of mobility solutions, but they still may have a hard time with the physical requirements of preparing foods from scratch.
    * Individuals who don't know how to cook are typically consumers of processed foods because they don't know how to make meals.
    * Teens often snack while their parents are out of the house, leading them to rely on processed foods.
4. Processing also makes it possible for seasonal produce, which contains many essential vitamins and minerals, to be packaged for later consumption. This makes it possible for people, especially those who live in rural areas without easy access to supermarkets or other food sources, to eat a healthier diet all year.
Obviously, there are two sides to every story. People must understand that, while some forms of food processing are unnecessary and even dangerous, not all fall into this category. So the next time you hear someone overgeneralizing about processed food, take a few minutes to set them straight. You just may teach them a thing or two!"

Many of the stated advantages listed above are just common sense but are ignored by those who passionately preach their beliefs. One of the most convincing arguments in favor of food technology is that it enables man to extend the food supply protecting more lives which otherwise might be extinguished due to food shortages. After all, most foods are seasonal in nature and therefore cannot be produced round the year, no matter what technology is deployed in the field. That necessitates preservation of foods for some time till the next harvest. Imagine how seriously the market forces would have reacted if there are shortages with demand outstripping supply! This is an aspect that cannot be ignored easily whenever the relevance of food processing is debated. Next time somebody fulminates on negative consequences of food processing, the above fact sheet should help in rebutting such ill founded assertions.



Food losses where ever it occurs is a blot on the management efficiency in the agriculture and food sectors for which both food scientists and the governments must take the blame. According to estimates being made on food losses from the field to the fork, they can be as high as 50% of the production, sufficient to feed one more planet like the Mother Earth! Why is that such losses take place year after year since long and nothing much has been done to address this issue more seriously? Compared to the situation obtaining in the developed world where excellent infrastructure and modern storage technologies are employed for preserving food, it is the fate of the poor countries to suffer massive losses in the field as well as during post harvest handling, processing and storage, the major reason being their economic handicap for investing on technology and infrastructure. This situation is sought to be addressed in a limited way by the recent undertaking of a collaborative development project aimed at reducing losses of some crops in parts of Asia and Africa. The European Union must be lauded for its small initiative in this area by banding together scientists from different countries under an umbrella University in the UK. Here are a few details about this project with some far reaching implications.  

"The 3-year project GRATITUDE ('Gains from losses of root and tuber crops') brings together 16 project partners from Ghana, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Thailand, the United Kingdom and Vietnam. It received close to EUR 3 million of funding from the 'Food, agriculture and fisheries, and biotechnology' Theme of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). Led by scientists from the University of Greenwich's Natural Resources Institute in the United Kingdom, the project partners aim to find new ways of reducing waste during the production of food crops vital to families in parts of Africa and Asia. Another aim of the project is to develop new products such as snack foods from the crops, and seek new markets. The fact that the consortium is made up of partners from both academic and business will help meet this aim. Cassava and yam are important food security crops for approximately 700 million people worldwide, and their post-harvest losses are significant. These losses can be physical or economic, through discounting or processing into low-value products, or can result from bio-wastes. By reducing such losses, the role these crops play in food and income security can be enhanced. Post-harvest physical losses are exceptionally high and occur throughout the food chain. Losses in economic value are also high, for example, cassava prices can be discounted by up to 85% within a couple of days of harvest. The project will also focus on improving how waste such as peels, liquid waste, and spent brewery waste is used, so that higher value products can be produced for human consumption, including snack foods, mushrooms and animal feed. At the moment, growers can lose up to 60% of yam and 30% of cassava during the processing of the crops after harvesting through rotting, poor storage, transport and price discounts. The researchers hope to reduce these losses by implementing better storage and processing techniques to reduce waste and turn it into something of value". 

If one recalls the efforts in India to cut down on food wastage, an important lesson to be learned is that mere development and availability of a good technology does not ensure that this is widely adopted by the farmers and others concerned. More important these technologies need to be adapted to the field conditions, farmers trained extensively and effective monitoring ensured for the continued practice of these measures to create any impact. Till recently many agro-industries corporations at the state level were in existence to link up with the farming community for providing needed inputs for agri operations. But these government enterprises were allowed to wither away for want of greater attention and work efficiency. Unless such organizations endowed with the task of helping the farmers to practice best scientific methods to prevent losses, it is unlikely that these massive losses can be prevented to any meaningful extent.



The consumer in India is caught between the proverbial "Deep sea and the Devil? It appears so if the recent war of words between branded food manufacturers and consumer activist organizations  regarding the unhealthy character of foods offered by the former in India is any indication. While the industry rests its case on the contention that no rules are violated by it, others beg to differ. According to consumer activists many major brands of food in the market are guilty of hiding truth regarding the contents of trans fats, salts and sugar in them and the right of the consumer to know the truth is violated too frequently while the FSSAI looks on with nonchalance! Where lies the truth? Both parties may have to share the blame because of wrong interpretation of the food laws. While responsible industry probably may not indulge in misinformation or mislabeling, consumer expectation is raised too high by the campaigns taken up by the activist organizations. But one thing is sure that the present labeling system has become too complicated by including many irrelevant information while most industry players try to make the label as an advertisement medium rather than as a helping guide to the consumer. Read the following report which appeared in all major media recently.   

"Do you know that a packet of instant noodles has over 60 per cent of your recommended daily salt intake or that a Happy Meal contains 90 per cent of your child's daily requirement of trans fats? Consumers are usually unaware of such facts since most companies in India don't bother to put such information on their labels. But a consumer has the right to know all these facts so that he or she can make an informed choice. If one is to believe a recent study carried out by Delhi-based public interest research organisation, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), many leading national and international brands as well as food chains may be misinforming customers or, worse, misbranding their products, sending wrong impressions about the products. Last month, CSE carried out tests on food items of 16 leading brands, including some products of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Happy Meals of McDonald's, instant noodles such as Maggi and Top Ramen, Pepsico's Lays Chips and Haldiram's Aloo Bhujia. The results they came up with were alarming. "The products we tested contain either very high levels of sugar or salt and trans fats that can have a devastating effect on a consumer's health, especially on kids," says Souparno Banerjee, programme director, media, CSE. Trans fats are found in hydrogenated vegetable oils such as vanaspati. "But what is worse is that labels, in most cases, have either no mention of these ingredients or give wrong data on the percentage content of ingredients such as fatty acids, cholesterol, sugar or salt in their products," he added. "Trans fats get deposited on the walls of arteries, making them narrower or clogging them. When trans fats combine with large amounts of salt that usually packaged foods under the scanner contain, the heart is exposed to greater risk from increased blood pressure," warns Calcutta-based family physician Kanchan Gurtu. But brushing aside the CSE claim, leading corporate food giants say the study is making an issue out of a non-issue. Says Himangshu Manglik, communications manager of NestlĂ© India, whose product Maggi Noodles is listed under CSE results, "The level of trans fats in Maggi is below 0.2 per cent, which is well within the recommendations of Indian Council of Medical Research, a premier government body. If the percentage is below 0.2, there is no need to mention it on the label as per food safety department's rules. So how can you say that we are misleading consumers and where is the wrong information on the label," he asks. "Food provides pleasure when eaten with balance and understanding and Maggi Noodles is a good light meal that all members of the family can enjoy as part of a diversified, balanced diet," he adds. And it is true that the food items put to the test by the CSE are not usually a part of the regular diet. "They are primarily junk or pleasure foods," points out Gurtu".

It is interesting to hear some pundits saying that those aggrieved by the misinformation being carried by the label can go to the consumer courts for compensation but is an Indian citizen destined to fight for every right to day that is bestowed on him by the constitution? Has the citizen no other business but to spend his time in such courts? A honest citizen expects his right to be protected by the government and if the industry and the safety authorities cultivate a cozy relationship which blinds them to the cause of the consumer, both are culpable for criminal collusion for defrauding him. Similarly a section raises the question as to why the food laws are not enforced while dealing with cooked foods at home or restaurants! What an argument! Another "critic" finds fault with the consumers, arguing out that they should not over eat junk foods! Justification comes also from learned pundits that after all junk foods are not eaten regularly and they do not substitute for the main meal! They further aver that the amount of salt, sugar, trans fats and other "  friendly poisons" in branded foods getting into humans would be too small to cause any grievous injury! Ultimately it is a fact that the citizens in this country cannot count on industry, trade or the government for his health when it comes to consuming any food or ingredients sold in the market and he has to fend for himself!


Tuesday, May 29, 2012


What does it mean when one is "advised" to practice healthy eating? Does it refer to the way one eats the food or what type of food is to be eaten to maintain good health? If it refers to the eating practice, slow eating as Buddhists practice is considered most healthy. But the foods that are healthy can be many depending on who talks about it. Industry always avers that their food products are good and even if they are not nutritionally balanced, they still do not cause any harm. Nutritionists beg to differ with this stand because scientifically one must eat more and more protective foods like fruits and vegetables, less and less of animal products and high fiber foods. Most consumers are either unaware or mindlessly ignore the principle that one's calorie intake must be balanced with calorie expenditure through physical activities to maintain decent health. Some experts promote the idea that there must be a "facilitatory" environment for helping consumers to practice healthy eating. Most importantly the present situation where healthy foods are priced out of the reach of most people while nutritionally empty products are flooding the market at ridiculously low cost, in every nook and corner in the US, must be reversed if perceptible improvement in the health of population there is to be expected. Here is an interesting expose on this important issue by a learned expert.  

"People are bombarded with conflicting advice, much of it from sources with a vested interest in selling particular foods, supplements or diet plans. Nutrition studies tend to focus on single nutrients, making their results difficult to apply to real diets. No wonder people have a hard time knowing what or whom to believe. This is too bad, really. The basic principles of healthy eating could not be easier to understand: eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, balance calorie intake with expenditure, and don't eat too much junk food. If such principles seem hard to follow, it is surely because of how they affect the food industry. Balancing calorie intake often means eating less, but doing so is bad for business. Food companies must do everything they can to sell more food, not less. So they make foods available everywhere — even in drug, book and clothing stores — and in very large portions. Few people can resist eating tasty food when it's right in front of them. Large portions alone explain rising rates of obesity: they encourage people to eat more calories but to underestimate what they have eaten. Healthy eating requires a food environment that makes it easier for everyone to make better choices. It also requires a food system that makes it cheaper to buy fruits and vegetables than less healthful foods, so everyone can afford to eat healthfully". 

It is true that to day's environment is not conducive to creating clarity in the mind of the consumer, even if he is well read because the vast information surge vis-a-vis food across the global media causes more confusion due to severe contradictions and conflicting ideas. Consumer education is a very difficult task and the current efforts in all countries are grossly inadequate to raise the awareness about all aspects of food among the citizenry. The present curricula followed in primary schools need radical changes and this is an area neglected by many governments world over. If the basic principles of healthy eating whether referring to mode of eating or healthiness of foods consumed are not inculcated at young age, it will be difficult for grown ups to imbibe the same later. Industry cooperation may be difficult to get because business flourishes only when tasty foods are sold which in most cases are invariably unhealthy. A blend of coercive enforcement of discipline in food products marketing and persuasive efforts to wean away the industry from developing recklessly bad food that cockle the taste buds only ignoring the well being of the consumer, can only succeed in the long run.   


Friday, May 25, 2012


Common sense tells that shortage of food or inaccessibility to food is associated with hunger, bad health and under nourished conditions and there is a direct relationship between poverty and under nutrition. Naturally talking about poverty as a cause of obesity does not make any sense. Unfortunately many families with low income and food insecurity have members tending to be over weight or obese, a contradiction hard to understand. This riddle is sought to be resolved by a recent study where it was found that poverty modulates the eating practices with children being fed with more food than it is necessary by the mothers under the impression that they are protecting their children from under development. Here is a take on this issue as reported recently from the US.
"Being worried about not having enough food to feed one's family, a situation called food insecurity, is common in low-income families. These families often are overweight, too. "Understanding the reasons why poverty puts families at greater risk of obesity is essential to addressing the epidemic," said study lead author Rachel Gross, MD, MS, FAAP, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and The Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York. Dr. Gross and her colleagues at the New York University School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital Center, interviewed 201 low-income mothers with infants younger than 6 months about their feeding styles (whether they tried to control how much the child ate), feeding practices (e.g., breastfeeding, adding cereal to bottles) and concerns about their child becoming overweight. Studies have shown that feeding patterns leading to obesity often begin in infancy. The mothers primarily were Hispanic, and all participated in the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Results showed that about one-third of the mothers reported food insecurity". 
Probably there may be some truth in this paradoxical situation as every mother considers her children precious gift to be nurtured at any cost and what else is more important than food? Therefore early feeding practices shape the attitude of the growing children to food and the habit of gorging on food continues during adulthood and later. How such a seemingly contradictory situation can be addressed is a complex question requiring inputs from sociologists, psychologists, nutritionists and government administrators. Constant help from the medical community in the form of counseling to such families may be of some help but the logistics to arrange such services are considered difficult. Ultimately education is the right answer and more literate the family, better will be the chances for understanding the nuances of eating healthy food in correct proportions. 


China is a country loved by many, hated equally by many and admired by many, depending on what criterion is used. Its pole vaulting into global economic summit and talking as an equal with established world powers has been both dramatic and amazing, calling for admiration all around. But it is hated world over when one looks at its brutality and remorseless suppression of the citizens denying the fundamental rights enjoyed in many democratic countries. No doubt China has built a solid foundation for its technological and industrial growth though the inputs from the erstwhile Soviet Union during early stages should not be forgotten. Full credit must be given to the farmers of the country for raising food production and productivity in almost all crops, making it the top producer of many foods. All said and done, China still lives in rural hinterlands and through shrewd policy orchestrations the country was able to back up the farming community remarkably well. Latest instance of governments long term vision is reflected in the frenetic pace with which it is trying to build up its swine food industry by transforming small scale rural farms into large industrial production centers. Unwittingly the US is helping China to achieve this goal through supply of technology and other inputs with a short term objective of earning dollars from this dollar rich country! Here is a take on this interesting development which should be an eye opener for others like India.

"In a country where pork is a culinary staple, the demand for a protein-rich diet is growing faster than Chinese farmers can keep up. While Americans cut back on meat consumption to the lowest levels seen in two decades, the Chinese now eat nearly 10 percent more meat than they did five years ago. China's solution: to super-size its supply by snapping up millions of live animals raised by U.S. farmers as breeding stock - capitalizing on decades of cutting edge agricultural research in America. By taking this step, say breeders and exporters, China will move from small-scale backyard farms, to the Westernized tradition of large consolidated operations to keep up with demand. "I liken it to their telephone system," said Mike Lemmon, co-owner of the Whiteshire Hamroc farm, which specializes in exporting breeding swine to China. "Most of China's mainland went from having no landlines to everyone having a cell phone. They're doing the same thing with farming." Focus on livestock genetics also represents an emerging economic bonanza for two of the United States' most powerful industries: technology and agriculture. Worldwide, the United States exported a record $664 million worth of breeding stock and genetic material such as semen in 2011. But as fortune shines on breeders, concerns are being raised. While U.S. consumption of meat falls, the price of producing a pound of protein rises, meaning meat companies are seeing their margins shrink. That has prompted some critics to question whether the short-term gains of this trend will result in a longer-term loss of a key export market for American meat producers. This is, after all, a well-trod path in China's pursuit of efficiency: import a technology or create a joint-venture; learn the best practices; apply those practices at a lower cost than overseas rivals; and emerge as an aggressive competitor in the global market".

Whether such a move will prove to be beneficial in the long run is a big question mark only future can provide the answer. While increased production of pigs can definitely have an adverse impact on the carbon emissions globally, higher consumption of meat will have undesirable consequences on the health of the citizens in that country. As for the US, this is a country which does not seem to be learning any thing from the past dealings with China. If at all any single country which has continuously assisted China for more than 3 decades in its technological frog leaping it is the US with its huge investments on the industry there based on technology sharing mode. Chinese products made with US technology but with cheap Chinese labor are creating serious unemployment in the US because Chinese made products are invariably much cheaper than that made within the country. It is time the US wakes up to the real danger posed by China in the economic development through ways and means that cannot be considered truly transparent and honest.


Thursday, May 24, 2012


Wasting the food whether unconsciously or as a part of the life style cannot be defended under any circumstances and the fact that the quantity of waste generated by the affluent people can feed half the world must prick the conscience of every human being in this planet. Added to this the difference in calorie intake between those in affluent countries and others in poor countries is too wide to be ignored any more when almost one billion people in this globe go hungry every day for want of food or due to inaccessibility to food. In a country like Pakistan there is a regulation that is supposed to prevent people organizing ostentatious parties where large quantities of food are routinely wasted and India did experiment with a similar law called "Guest Control Order" some years ago. However not much impact could be made by such laws in the statute book because of tardy implementation. Here comes the news that some restaurants in the West are imposing a fine on those who leave large portions of food on their plates uneaten and probably this is a new initiative worth watching for its impact on food wastage. Here is a take on this interesting development.

With so many choices, the buffet table can be an overwhelming place. But those who overfill their plates may have to pay with more than just their pride at some restaurants. Kylin Buffet, a Chinese restaurant in the northeast of England, is now charging customers £20 ($32) for food wastage costs if diners leave food on their plates. According to the UK Daily Mail, the policy has upset some customers, including Beverley Clark, 40, who spoke out after being told she'd be fined when her son Sam, 10, and niece Toni, 6, allegedly left two onion rings, a piece of prawn toast and a spring roll on their plates. Clark opted to hide the leftovers in a napkin she placed in her bag so the wait staff would think the family cleaned their plates. She succeeded in hoodwinking them. Last year, reported about a similar policy at Marmar restaurant in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. "There are many clients who make large orders in order to impress the people around them and boost their social prestige," owner Fahad Al Anezi said. The policy was aimed at reducing food wastage and extravagance, with the fine being calculated according to the quantity of the leftovers.  Paying extra for unfinished food isn't unheard of stateside. Hayashi Ya Japanese restaurant in New York City charges diners 3 percent for not finishing a meal from the all-you-can-eat buffet. Manager Belson Lin told he doesn't believe customers get upset by the policy, because they know they'll be charged, and have the option to order a la carte. And, in case you think all this is in bad form, we found that etiquette guru Emily Post would agree that wasting food is a serious no-no. In her June 15, 1952 column, Post was firm: "Leaving food on your plate is not good manners — and never was because it not only shows lack of appreciation for your hostess' food, but also 'wanton' priorities. Wasting a precious commodity could never be an ethical choice."

In a fiercely competitive market environment how such a restrictive practice can succeed is not certain because this move may have the effect of diverting the business to those who do not charge additionally for wasting food. But in a buffet system such restrictions may be justified since the price of food served is fixed regardless of the quantity "consumed". While any one can "eat" ad libitum, this does not give the customer right to load the plate full indiscriminately and leave bulk of it unconsumed to be thrown away. It will be interesting as to what yardstick is used to punish such customers and what will be the criterion for deciding that food is wasted. Suppose a customer leaves  only 10% or 20% of the food on the plate will it be considered a waste? Who decides that a customer is wasting significant quantity of food on the plate? Will there be arguments and scuffles between the customer and the manager in such situations? These are practical problems that have to be faced when such new initiatives are adopted.



Lot has been written and debated upon about the new Food Law of the country that was supposed to begin a new chapter in the history of India for protecting the citizen's right for having good quality and safe food. It took fifty years of constant and continuous pleas by the consumer right acivists, industry and food scientists to government of India to unify the safety enforcement regime in the light of hundreds of loopholes found in the erstwhile "Prevention Of Food Adulteration" (PFA) Act and more than a dozen scattered laws administered by various ministries. When the Laws were revised through the Food Safety and Standards Act in 2006 and a unified regime was sought to be put in place it raised hopes and vision of an India where the unbridled run of fraudsters and merchants of harm would be curtailed. Unfortunately, in spite of taking more than 5 years to come out with the appropriate frame work of rules under the Act, what came out was a disappointment of herculean magnitude. It is now contented that the evolution of the operating regime has been marked by lack of foresight, callousness, inaccuracies, discrepancies and contradictions and these issues are now being raised by the industry which is feeling the heat. Whether there is any truth in the stand taken by the industry remains to be seen. Here is a take on this development.  
"A delegation of the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) met senior officials of Food Safety Authority of India on controversial Food Safety & Standard Act today at New Delhi. The CAIT while presenting a detailed memorandum to the Authority drew its attention towards various contradictions, discrepancies, ambiguity & disparity in the said Act and its Rules & Regulations. The CAIT also pointed out several contradictory provisions between the Act and Rules and Regulations. Beside CAIT National President B.C. Bhartia and Secretary General Mr. Praveen Khandelwal the Authority officials include it?s Director (Enforcement) Mr. S.S. Ghankrokta, Assistant Director (Enforcement) Mr. K. Madhavan among others. While challenging the merits of the Act and its Rules, the CAIT expressed utter dismay over provisions of taking license by several entities including religious places like Temple or Gurdwara etc, Transporters, Warehouse keepers, Landlords or by persons delivering Food & other items by mobile distribution vehicles and called for necessary clarifications from the Authority. The CAIT also drew the attention of the Authority over turn over limit of Rs. 12 lakh for the Cottage and Small Industries, which contravenes the definition of Cottage, and Small Industries under the SSI Act. The CAIT also said that many provisions of the Rules and Regulations are superseding the Act, which is a legal infirmity. The Rules and Regulations of FS&SA therefore needs a careful study and re-consideration-stressed the CAIT. The Authorities gave patient hearing to the delegation and assured that the intention of Law or Authority is never to put the food business operators in to any sort of difficulty. The issues raised by the CAIT will be given due consideration by the Authority and hoped that clarity will surely emerge in the next meeting which will be held shortly".
Of course while designing of any national system for application through out the country is bound to have unexpected operational problems, what is being contented is that these rules are totally impractical at the ground level. It is disturbing that these rules are being challenged in many judicial courts and with stay orders brought to nullify its operations, cases related to prosecution of food adulteration may come to a grinding halt leaving the field free for the food criminals to make money through their heinous activities. Probably there is case for creating a Food Safety Ministry under which all the erstwhile laws relating to food quality and safety can be brought together as the these laws have wide acceptance among the stake holders including the industry. Amendments can be made from time to time to improve the standards and safety practices and even if these are challenged the basic features of the system remain in tact.  


Business is always interested in knowing what lies ahead for them among the uncertainties of economic situation and there are many "experts" and "consultants" who exploit this suspense offering "valuable' reports. These reports are supposed to be the basis for future investments and course corrections, though how realistic or dependable these reports is a matter of speculation. It is like one's belief in astrology which has spawned a flourishing "industry" of predictions and projections in one's life. Here is such a report prepared by a reputed consultant firm for the benefit of different sectors of industry, obviously hoping that there would be many takers willing to buy these glossy documents for a hefty "price".  

"According to Frost & Sullivan, China, Brazil and Russia are the top priorities for construction and utilities players, while for transportation players the focus is on China, India and Brazil. In particular, the Indian demand for chemicals will grow on the back of massive growth in end-user industries such as automotive production. China's development of green technology will draw in strong chemicals investment, even for technologies such as electric vehicles. The Western European market remains the priority for EU based manufacturers over other regions. North America and Eastern Europe are the next priority while Russia presents significant opportunities across sectors, especially in construction, water treatment, transportation and PPE. Latin America will be the hub for bioethanol and Brazil will continue to export it to neighbouring nations. There will also be increasing focus in oil and gas exploration with restructure in the state petrochemicals companies. Brazil, in particular, is forecast to become a major centre of supply for biobased feedstocks and will be the construction hot spot until 2016 (supported by the 2014 Football World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games). The food and beverage suppliers are looking at the following three emerging markets - China, India and Brazil while in Europe the focus is and will be on bakery ingredients'. 

It is true that in the absence of any data, the industry may find it difficult to base its business projections and therefore such reports serve the purpose to some extent. Surveys and market analyzes are bread and butter of the management courses being peddled by the exalted business schools and therefore these activities are a part and parcel of the industry environment that exists to day. Common sense tells that food industry is bound to grow by leaps and bounds in populous countries like India, China etc and this understanding is already is factored into the invest plans of many corporate entities. In defense of the consultants, suffice to say that unless there is a demand for such reports, they have no justification in investing on them!  

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Is it not a fact that on every issue that confronts the nation there are at least two opinions and in a democracy there there can be as many views as the population itself? Latest issue that is inviting rave views concerns the bumper production of food grains being claimed by the government and what should be done with it because the grain storage capacity cannot accommodate the entire grains procured by the government agencies at an MSP considered high by many economic pundits. Added to this there are proposals to increase the MSP further to play to the farm lobby interest. Extent of wastage due to rotting of wheat which are stored in Godowns and open space under the CAP system is no body's business with even the Supreme Court castigating the government for its shirking of the responsibility to feed the nation qualitatively and quantitatively. The paradox and irony of the situation are graphically illustrated by a recent report which is highlighted below.

"Why are we paying Rs 20 for a kilo of atta when India has gathered a historic wheat harvest of 90 million tonne, enough to comfortably feed us all? Why is bread going out of the reach of lakhs of school kids, when grain is rotting in government godowns? Why is the Manmohan Singh government willing to subsidize wheat exporters but not ready to sell more in ration shops? There is only one answer to these troubling questions: it's no accident, it is policy. It starts with the government's inability to say stop. Government supplies wheat to ration shops and welfare feeding programmes through the Food Corporation of India. This year, after keeping aside buffer and strategic reserves, the FCI can be comfortably off with 35 million tonne. On April 1, when the new wheat marketing season began, government started with 20 million tonne left over from last year. And it has bought 10 million tonnes more since then. In other words, government can shortly exit the market. FCI has enough space to store this wheat safely. Thefood subsidy bill would be manageable. And there would be ample wheat left with farmers for food companies to buy. With a minimum support price of Rs 12.80 per kilo, atta would not cost us more than Rs 16. But this scenario doesn't reckon with politics. The government does not dare stop buying as long as even one farmer in Punjab and Haryana wishes to sell. The political reprisal would be swift and deadly. Till two years ago, there was a natural limit to government purchases because FCI was largely absent in other wheat-growing states. Then, under pressure from other chief ministers desperate to replicate Punjab's political success with wheat, government allowed states to buy on FCI's behalf. This opened the floodgates. Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan began offering farmers the MSP plus Rs 1 per kilo extra, creating a stampede of sellers. Bihar, Gujarat, and Maharashtra are also buying enthusiastically". 

While large farmers are cozying up to the government to reap big profit from their large holdings, it is the small and marginal farmer with a tendency to commit suicide because of the inequities that stare at them are adversely affected, no matter how high the MSP is! How about the consumer who is sidelined in this raging debate and what are his thoughts? Desperation, frustration and helplessness are his fate! Why not government sit up and take note of the daily sufferings inflicted on him by the policy paralysis that is evident for the aam aadmi of this country? It is true that there is no magic bullet to save the country from chaos brought upon by the present power class which seems to be more obsessed in staying in power "at any cost". But displaying statesmanship and ability to recognize the sensitivity and sufferings of the people should be the hallmark of good governance and lot of the problem that face the country can be sorted out through sincere consultation and cooperation among the political class. Any body at Delhi listening?


Tuesday, May 22, 2012


It has been a mystery as to why meat products made in the US never had labels declaring the nutritional content while all packed foods carried such information on the front of the pack  conspicuously. Interestingly most safety episodes that occurred in the country had their origin in the meat packing houses, probably because of failure to follow strictly the recommended slaughtering and handling practices by the industry. While nutrient composition may not have anything to do with product safety per se, it still serves the purpose of persuading the consumers to ponder over the implications of consuming meat products because of the presence in them of cholesterol and saturated fat besides total lack of fiber. It is gratifying to see that the above anomaly is sought to be rectified by the authorities concerned through mandatory notification. Here is a take on this development.   

"US consumers will now have convenient access to important nutritional information about the raw meat and poultry products they most frequently purchase, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced. Under a new FSIS rule, packages of ground or chopped meat and poultry, such as hamburger or ground turkey, will now feature nutrition facts panels on their labels. Additionally, 40 of the most popular whole, raw cuts of meat and poultry, such as chicken breast or steak, will also have nutritional information either on the package labels or on display to consumers at the store. "Providing nutrition information on meat and poultry products in the store gives shoppers a clearer sense of the options available, allowing them to purchase items that are most appropriate for their families' needs," said Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen. "These new labels mark a significant step in the agency's efforts to help consumers make more informed food purchase decisions."  The new nutrition facts panels will list the number of calories and the grams of total fat and saturated fat that a product contains. For example, consumers will be able to compare the calories and fat content for ground turkey versus ground beef, or for pork chops versus chicken breasts, right in the store. Additionally, a ground or chopped product that includes on its label a lean percentage statement, such as "85% lean," and is not considered "low in fat" also will list its fat percentage, making it easier for consumers to understand the amounts of lean and fat content in a particular product. Consumers will no longer have to guess which products fit their diets". 

The anomaly in the food safety monitoring system in the US can be attributed to the fact that two distinct agencies are involved dealing with safety aspects, USDA and FDA and synchronization of the rules between them is happening too slowly allowing the meat and poultry industry to take liberty with the quality and safety of products they make. Besides inadequate inspection of processing facilities due to shortage of qualified personnel is great handicap faced by the enforcement agency concerned. Politicking with food safety between the two major parties is adding further uncertainty to the situation. While one party is totally aligned with and committed to the interests of food industry over riding consumer concerns, the other is not bold enough to think or plan any thing to resist the lobbyists who exercise enormous influence on the political class in general. The new mandatory labeling regulations for meat products therefore can be considered a huge success to the harried citizens of this country. 

Monday, May 21, 2012


Does any self respecting Indian like to be told that the country called India about which every one is proud of, ranks lowly at 67th in the global hunger index and only there are 14 countries, most of them in Africa, doing worse than India! The Prime Minister of India shamelessly states that it is "unfortunate" to see 42% of the children in the country malnourished while 200 million of the citizens are under food-insecurity situation! Lamenting at these bitter truths is no solution after years of bungling and even now there does not appear to be any serious introspection about past failures. While every blunder committed can be condoned, playing with the precious lives of the citizens through non-performance, delayed action and utter indifference can never be pardoned so easily. These strong words are fully justified when it is realized that the food production in the country achieved by the hard work of its farmers is going to be squandered again, in spite of past experience due to failure in building adequate storage space. The agony and misery of Indian citizen can be gauged from the following report that appeared recently in the print media. 

Two years ago, Parliament erupted in chaos as the opposition slammed the government over the issue of rotting grains due to lack of sufficient storage space, and early indications are that this year may be no different. Food ministry officials say the government will add between 3 million tons and 4 million tons of storage capacity by May or June, just ahead of this year's wheat harvest, and a further 11 million tons by the end of next year. But in the past red tape has delayed such plans, leaving food out in the open to rot. "There will be a serious storage problem this year if proper steps are not taken on time," Farm Minister Sharad Pawar said in an interview. India produces enough food to feed its 1.2 billion people and the government purchases millions of tons of grains from farmers, guaranteeing them high prices and using the food for its subsidy programs. But corruption and bureaucratic inefficiencies means that food doesn't always reach the most needy. Failure to meet promises to improve storage and distribution networks has compounded the problem. As a result, there are more than 200 million food-insecure people in India, the most of any country. The International Food Policy Research Institute's 2011 Global Hunger Index ranked India 67th out of 81 countries. In mid-January, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called India's malnutrition problem a national shame after a survey revealed that 42% of the nation's children are underweight. Inefficiencies in food distribution push up food costs even for those Indians who are not starving and is a major reason that inflation remains high. India's storage system is likely to come under even greater pressure in years ahead as India embarks on a multi-billion-dollar plan to funnel millions of tons of extra subsidized grain to its poorest people. India's cabinet last year approved a food security law and Parliament is expected to debate the legislation later this year.

It is still fresh in the memory of people in this country about the serious strictures passed by the Supreme Court last year against the government for allowing the food grains to rot in the open without utilizing the same for the welfare of the hungry and the downtrodden. The report that ready-built storage space by the private sector in Punjab is not being utilized because of corruption and callousness of the bureaucratic set up that controls every aspect of citizen's life to day, raises alarm signals regarding the intention of the government. Export of surplus is also not allowed, again due to the indifference of the powerful czars that decide on the export policy. Added to this the political expediency forces the government to raise the MSP levels arbitrarily contributing to serious food inflation making the lives of middle class and lower middle class families more and more miserable. The much "praised" food security bill which is nothing but a populist measure is bound to push this country into a quagmire!


Sunday, May 20, 2012


Every consumer knows what is meant by food adulteration and its consequences. Though it is an arduous task for a common man scouting for the food that makes up the daily diet, advent of branding and the front of the pack labeling regulations make the task some what easier. The nutrient labeling provision is another tool in the armory of the consumer to pick and choose the food that fits the individual needs. After the setting up of FSSAI at Delhi the consumer expectations have soared on the possibility of adulterators being brought to book by this much heralded safety agency. That this is not happening is a big disappointment for may honest citizens as reflected by increasing incidences of food frauds reported from all parts of the country. Added to this, few courts have intervened to suspend the operation of some of the key provisions of Food Safety Act making the food market environment highly dangerous. Recent report from Indore regarding the wide prevalence of mis-branding amply reflect this reality. Here is as take on the same.

"The problem of misbranding is on the rise in the city, especially when it comes to food products. For starters, misbranding means wrong packing number and dates on the product. This problem is as dangerous in nature as the adulteration was. Out of a total of 80 samples of various products as collected by the food department based on complaints since the coming into force of thefood safety Act, 2006, nearly half of them were found to be misbranded. The manufacturers normally involve themselves in such illegal acts to cheat the customers so as to keep their cash register ringing, say experts. First, by not mentioning the batch number and date of manufacturing of the product, they can simply keep selling the product even beyond the expiry date, add they. Talking to ToI, Manish Swamy, food safety officer, said that we have started working according to the provision of the new Food Safety Act. Forget adulteration, the misbranding of the products by the manufacturers has become a big problem in the city, said Swamy. It is why we have issued only 130 fresh licences as against 1000 applications received by us from the prospective food traders, said he.
Meanwhile, the Federation of Madhya Pradesh Food Product Manufacturers and Sellers Association is planning to call on the opposition party parliamentarians in New Delhi shortly to urge them to raise voice against the Food safety Act in Parliament. It was confirmed by the president of the federation, Ramesh Khandelwal."

FSSAI itself had reported some time back that milk vended through out the country is adulterated heavily and unsuspecting citizens are being taken for a ride in places like Delhi under its very nose! What is disturbing is the stand taken by small traders to resist the operation of food safety laws in the name of harassment to them by the inspection officials in the market. Though there may be some truth in this claim, not enforcing the Act is not the remedy. Democracy does not mean chaos because of misuse of the freedom enshrined in the constitution. The much maligned branded foods offered by organized industry and major players offer safer products and small players must understand this situation. Food safety regulations must be enforced no matter how strongly the small scale industry and the unorganized traders protest their operation.


Saturday, May 19, 2012


Industrial wastes generated during processing of foods pose problems of disposal and in many countries anti-pollution laws forbid letting them out of the factory without reducing the BOD and solids content to very low levels. Take for instance the condition in a fruit processing unit where hardly 40-50% of the fruit is utilized for preparing various products and the waste generated include the solid wastes as well as enormous volume of water that need to be disposed off. While solid wastes have some demand for use as cattle feed, the liquid waste has very high BOD and requires to be treated for reducing its pollution load. It is in this context that any attempt to economically utilize these wastes will be beneficial to the industry. The international program recently launched with India as as partner to beneficiate the food industry wastes is indeed laudable provided the results are utilizable by the industry in these partner countries freely without any intellectual property restrictions.

"Primarily, the project focuses on utilising the molecules generated from food processing waste of mango, pomegranate, orange and rice bran. The ingredients have been used to develop aqua feeds and bakery items like biscuits, jams and jellies. In this regard, upscaling the research for the industry will be the next step in the right direction, since in India, a number of food companies are looking at the possibility of maximisng their potential.  Dr D Seenappa, chief scientific officer (IF) and university head, animal sciences and fisheries, inland fisheries division, UAS, Bangalore, informed FnB News, "The project is all about identifying and introducing innovative and industry-relevant approaches for the valorisation of fruit and cereal (rice bran) wastes. This is being currently achieved through holistic conversion into functional and health-benefitting beverages, foods and aqua feeds by means of environmentally and economically sustainable protocols and technologies. Production of food processing waste is being minimised and has helped to build a synergistic research programme between the EU and India to serve the future knowledge-based economies." Peel wastes of mango, orange, pomegranate and rice bran in powdered form have proven to show high levels of carotenoids, polyphenols, pectins, high fibre and carbohydrates. These have demonstrated health benefits with high antioxidant and immunity resistance properties. Peels which are been sourced from the food processing industry have been characterised, stabilised and assessed to be converted into powder form by food chemical engineers and scientists, according to Dr SeenappaIn addition, prebiotic and probiotic effects of the peels are evaluated. Mono dose products like fruit paste, snack foods, enriched beverages, breakfast cereals and biscuits have already been developed. From the EU, seven countries - Italy, the UK, Spain, Hungary, the Netherlands and Germany - have teamed up professionals with domain expertise in food and chemical engineering. India has five partners represented by the North East Institute of Science & Technology (NEIST), Jorhat, Assam, with the Indian scientific coordinator as P K Goswami; Euro India Research Centre (EIRC), Bangalore; University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore; Nature Fresh Logistics Pvt. Ltd, Pune; and Vaighai Agro Products Ltd, Madurai".  

The above project is neither the first one nor the last on waste utilization processing and there are good technologies already available in many areas that are being used to day by some industries improving their economic performance significantly. Pectin from apple wastes, essential oils from citrus wastes, alcohol from molasses, triacontanol from sugar cane mud, mango seed fat extraction, color fractions from beetroot, blue grape peel and others, rice bran oil extraction, wheat germ recovery for tocopherol rich oil, orange fruit fiber, oat bran for high fiber food, etc are classical examples of waste processing industry. One can hope that the new multi nation project will come out with technically and economically viable processes to supplement the present pool of such technologies.