Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Front of the pack labeling regulations are in force in almost all countries in the world and often questions have been raised regarding the effect of such declarations on the consumer. It is true that the consumer has no means to check on the veracity of the declaration and there have been instances when the values of the nutrients or the list ingredients do not match with the real values of the contents! Besides in a country like India often the label is printed in English which most of the population cannot read or understand. Same must be true in many countries where more than one language is spoken. Still putting in the public domain the characteristic chemical and nutritional features by brand conscious companies can have a salutary effect in making false claims which are likely to be exposed one day or the other. Here is a report about a major beverage company of international repute modifying its ingredient list surreptitiously to omit some of them, obviously because of public sensitivity on them!

"Take another look at that food label. An ingredient or two may have vanished. As Americans pay closer attention to what they eat, food and beverage companies are learning unfamiliar ingredients can invite criticism from online petitions and bloggers. The risk of damaging publicity has proven serious enough that some manufacturers have reformulated top-selling products to remove mysterious, unpronounceable components that could draw suspicion. Earlier this year, for example, PepsiCo Inc. said it would stop using brominated vegetable oil in Gatorade and find another way to evenly distribute color in the sports drink. Last year, Starbucks said it would stop using a red dye made of crushed bugs based on comments it received "through a variety of means," including an online petition, and switch to a tomato-based extract. Kraft Foods plans to replace artificial dyes with colors derived from natural spices in select varieties of its macaroni and cheese, a nod to the feedback it's hearing from parents. Ali Dibadj, a Bernstein analyst who covers the packaged food and beverage industry, says the changes reflect a shift from "democratization to activism" by consumers. "It used to be that people would just decide not to buy the product. Now they're actually agitating for change," Dibadj said. "There's a bullhorn - which is the Internet - so you can get a lot of people involved very quickly." Companies stand by the safety of their old recipes. Although they don't typically provide details on production decisions, their reasons for using certain ingredients can include cost and manufacturing efficiencies".

The fear of labeling is manifested in the on-going struggle between anti GM food activists and GM foods promoting industry in making declaration of presence of GM ingredients in packed foods. Though most people in the US do not know that almost 80% of processed foods they consume contain one or more GM ingredients as there is no indication to this effect on the label, they do not seem to be unduly worried about this on-going fight regarding mandatory labeling of GM foods. Added to this the safety authorities in the US has taken a stand that GM foods are not unsafe because of the undue influence of the GM food lobbyists. If the industry is not scared of the labeling regulations why should they spend billions of dollars in defeating ballot initiatives in states like California? It can be safely said that mandatory labeling is the best thing that has happened to help the millions of hapless consumers in understanding what food they are buying and what they should avoid for being healthy.  



Delhi citizens were treated with a feast of mouth watering foods commonly prepared and offered by thousands of street food vendors through a "Carnival" organized by their association recently. Though this event was started as a novel experiment a few years ago, it has blossomed into a full fledged gala festival attracting big crowds. It is bit logical to expect exciting crowds because most of them, genuine lovers of street foods, usually keep away from them for fear of health consequences arising out of unhygienic environment, unclean facilities, improper personal hygiene and above all suspect quality of water used. Here is a report on this event at Delhi which was declared an unqualified success by the organizers. 

"What started as a small congregation of 70 to 80 street food vendors at the Constitution Club of India four years ago has bloomed into a large-scale food carnival. Organised by the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI), a not-for-profit federation of street food organisations from across the country, the festival hopes to create awareness about the struggles of vendors and dispel the myth that street food can't be hygienic. "We tested the concept with the first few editions. The festival has become very popular since then. Last year, we did a similar event in Patna and this year we have seen demand for the concept in Hyderabad and Bangalore as well," says national coordinator Arbind Singh, who is right in the thick of things, from organising security arrangements to ensuring the wellbeing of participants. "We have six lakh members and they are very important in the urban commodity distribution system. Hopefully, in the next couple of years this festival will become a well-known brand," he adds. NASVI has tried to create awareness about India's delectable street dishes not only within the country but internationally as well. "Last year, we took eight vendors from India to participate in the ten-day long World Street Food festival in Singapore and their food was quite a hit," says programme manager Anurag Shanker".

The Association that represent the street vendors must be applauded for their efforts to upgrade the image of their members through demonstrating how safe are their foods through such events. It is gratifying to hear from them that food festivals of similar nature would be held in all major cities in the coming years for the benefit of citizens there. Also laudable is their attempt to popularize Indian cuisines in other countries through participation in international events. Ultimately the street vendors across the country will have to care for the susceptibilities of their customers and must endeavor to improve their offerings in terms of nutrition, quality and safety. The Association must strive to train these vendors continuously to improve their awareness about the quality and safety of food preparations which otherwise can outsell those from the organized sector restaurants. 


Sunday, December 29, 2013


There was a time in India when every Tom, Dick and Harry were singing the famous song " small is beautiful" and governments at the state as well as at Delhi were promoting small scale industries "left, right and the center"! There were more than 800 products exclusively reserved for the small scale sector to manufacture making them out of bounds for big fishes. The "liberalized" economic policies and open arm welcome of transnational giants to India during early nineteen nineties sounded death knell for these small units and the branded products of the former took hold of the consumer imagination. Also the economic and management pundits, most of them foreign educated propounded the "economy of scale" theory which proclaims that larger the manufacturing plant lower will be cost of production. Availability of large capacity automated machinery further facilitated the creation of mammoth plants obliterating the small players with brutal force. Tea processing and sugar manufacture were two areas where captive growing areas were attached to the factories to feed their capacity and small scale processing was just not possible. Now comes the news that GOI is going to promote small scale tea brewing plants in small tea gardens so that they are in a better position to manage the logistics of plucking the leaves and feeding the factories with minimum time lapse. Naturally this will improve the quality of final tea products and introduce tremendous varieties in marketed tea products. Here is a take on this issue being actively considered by the tea Board which will be a good thing to happen to the industry as well as the consumer.   

"The Tea Board, in its meeting held in Tezpur on Monday, has given its approval to setting up of mini and micro factories by small tea growers within their plantation areas. The Board will provide subsidy to improve quality of tea made by reducing transportation time to retain garden freshness, improving plucking standards and by ensuring less handling of green leaf from small tea gardens. The Tea Board defined factories with capacity upto 200 kgs made tea production per day as ''micro factory'' and those below 500 kgs made tea production per day as ''mini factory.'' Tea growers having land holding of their plantation up to 10.12 hectare (25 acres) are considered small tea growers. The meeting, chaired by Tea Board chairman M.G V.K. Bhanu, also approved that small tea growers can set-up factories without registering themselves under Tea Marketing Control Order (TMCO), 2003. The small tea growers will now be able to set-up their own factories only by obtaining a certificate from Tea Board and will be able to sell their teas through auction centres or directly from their factories. "If the small tea growers are able to set up their own factories within their plantation area the quality of tea will definitely improve because of improvement in plucking standards, less transportation time and less handling of green leaf. It will also generate huge employment at local level," said Bidyananda Barkakoty, Chairman of North Eastern Tea Association (NETA), who is also a member of Advisory committee of the Directorate of small tea growers headquartered at Dibrugarh."

As the saying goes, it is better late than never and this is especially true vis-a-vis small scale tea gardens. Now that such a policy is going to be a reality unless the big fishes sabotage the same, there is a challenge for the engineering industry to design small machinery at low cost to meet the new needs of the small processors. Of course tea leaves processing is relatively simple with minimum unit operations and some of existing machinery already being manufactured in the country can be used with minor changes. Here are the wishes for the newly emerging small plants which must strive to reduce the price of tea in the market as much as possible, in stead of ganging up with the big players for keeping the prices artificially high.  


Saturday, December 21, 2013


That undernourished and malnourished population in India account for almost 50% of that in the world is known since long, with very little progress achieved by many schemes and programs of GOI during the last six decades. The recently enacted Food Security Bill boasts of stopping serving of processed ready to eat foods under the applied nutrition programs being run with public money, though no one knows what is the logic behind such a move. Obviously government thinks that the food industry is totally corrupt scheming surreptitiously to loot public money and hence cannot be trusted to deliver foods with approved nutrient contents. Fortunately there are some state governments which are more conscious of the limitations of localized cooking arrangements in thousands of feeding centers and still depend on the organized food processing sector to help them with RTE foods containing the prescribed nutrients at adequate levels recommended by experts. Unfortunately these states are being accused of colluding with the private sector in price fixing and siphoning of public funds. This attitude must be condemned and inability or incompetence to manage and and monitor such nutritional projects should not be used as an excuse to sabotage these programs. The action on the part of Jharkhand government in providing nutritious processed products, in stead, must be lauded.

Food Security Bill might have been amended to prevent backdoor entry of contractors to provide micronutrients in meals through industrially-processed food, but theJharkhand social welfare department is bringing in the food industry right through the front door in the name of seeking energy-dense food fortified with micronutrients to treat children with severe acute malnutrition(SAM). The social welfare department of the Women and Child Development ministry of Jharkhand has issued a tender inviting "expression of interest" from food manufacturers for packaged Ready-To-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) to be given to children afflicted by SAM. This comes close on the heels of a recent Cochrane review which looked at numerous studies on RUTF and concluded that there was little evidence that RUTF was any better than standard diet in treating Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM). The tender document claimed that the central ministry's department of health and family welfare along with Indian Academy of Paediatrics had recommended community based therapeutic feeding programme as part of a holistic approach to SAM. "The community based approach aims at provision of energy dense fortified RUTF which is nutritionally adequate for the child with SAM," stated the document. It further stated that "to initiate the appropriate and adequate nutritional treatment at the household level a specific therapeutic food is required. The food is part of the nutritional treatment and is meant only for children afflicted with SAM." However in a paper published in 2009 on whether India ought to use RUTF for SAM, the Working Group For Children Under Six, comprising paediatricians and nutritional experts had stated: "The guidelines for community and homebased treatment of SAM formulated by a large group of experts and supported by the Indian Academy of Pediatrics recommends the use of home-based food (modified from the family pot). It specifically warns that commercially available international RUTF may not be suitable, acceptable, cost-effective and sustainable. In the context of SAM in India, an Experts' Group Meeting was held under the chairmanship of the Director General of Health Services in May 2010 in which the group decided that trials would be conducted to study different indigenous nutritional interventions in the community management of children affected by SAM. Despite the clear emphasis on indigenous nutritional interventions of which there are several examples which have been shown to be very successful in the treatment of SAM in various states, Jharkhand seems to pushing for commercialisation in the name of addressing malnutrition.

Ii is ridiculous to talk about local foods, prepared by untrained and semi literate cooking personnel with no idea about either basic nutrition or the tenets of hygiene, to be fed to SAM children. Even the industry which has adequate facilities to make packed foods finds it difficult to get suitable supply of micro nutrients with assured quality and potency and to expect the local kitchens to access them is just a pipe dream! Every one seems to have forgotten the Bihar tragedy which killed scores of children after consuming locally cooked foods which was contaminated with deadly insecticides. During early seventies of last millenium Karnataka government set up 5 processing units to manufacture specialized food product under the name of energy food containing all the micro and macro nutrients in adequate amounts to feed children under different ages. It is condemnable that these factories functioning under the public sector were closed down unceremoniously under political pressure as "looters and thieves" were not able to siphon off funds from the program. It is time that Government of India stops the mindless expenditure in setting up the so called "cooking shops" with the pious hope that they will serve the impoverished children with nutritious foods. The country has not heard the last word about tragedies and miseries being hurled upon its children through such half baked programs       


Thursday, December 12, 2013


Street vendors are part and parcel of the eating culture in many countries including India. Though alarming reports appear from time to time regarding the unsafe quality of preparations offered at these outlets, people still flock around them unable to resist the mouth watering products offered by these unorganized sector food service players. From time to time efforts are made to evict them from the already congested thoroughfares where they frequent in the evenings but the movement refuses to die down because of its sheer popularity. Then came the efforts to regulate them through licensing and reformation vis-a-vis improved products. To some extent these efforts are succeeding and many roadside eateries are showing significant improvements by way of using S S utensils,covering of the preparations to shield from pollution, using of bottled water for making the food and drinking purpose and improved personal hygiene. But what is being done is grossly inadequate and such reformist efforts need to be augmented several fold. Seminars and conferences do not help in inculcating good habits among these semi-literate entrepreneurs. More hands on training on a continuous basis will be required in each civic areas to bring about real long term transformation. FSSAI must understand this basic truth when it spends huge money for conducting academic exercises like seminars. as detailed below.  

"A lot of street food guys are not very scrupulous," said Tejinder Singh, 48, who serves up spicy black lentils known as daal makhani from a stand in New Delhi. "We are not sons of gods. We have a lot to learn." Singh was among about 500 vendors who took part in an October training seminar in New Delhi on the basics of food safety and hygiene, an attempt to curtail the infamous "Delhi belly" that has struck down many an adventurous snacker in India. Launched by India's Food Safety and Standards Authority and the National Association of Street Vendors of India, the seminar offered a primer on safe drinking water and disposable gloves, along with a list of food-handling do's and don'ts. Number one on the forbidden list? Don't pick your nose. Also banned are cleaning one's ears, smoking while handling food and spitting into the wash basin or sink. The goal of the program is to create "safe zones" in popular areas, but is it really possible to sanitize street food in India, where suspending any fastidious concern for hygiene has always been part of the deal? Many Indians already have ways of finding the freshest and most succulent chaat, the small plates of savory snacks sold on the streets".
It is fashionable to talk about the strong bellies Indians are supposed to have to resist the infection caused by food borne pathogens but this cannot be an excuse to neglect this sector by the civic authorities. Though it may be difficult to make any drastic changes in the existing scenario concerning street vendors and their functioning, efforts must be made to create safe and appropriate infrastructure for relocating them at several centers within cities in a cluster format. Such clusters can have common water supply, toilet facilities, covered roofs and waste disposal. Already in some states food courts are functioning on highways which give great pleasure to the traveling public to stop by and enjoy clean and safe foods.  



Lot has been said and written about the GOI policy allowing retail foreign investment in the country. However GOI with a single minded "dedication" pushed through the policy that invites giant multinational retail companies to come to India and loot the country. Why this has been done in such a tearing hurry knowing well that there is substantial opposition to this move is not clear except that GOI wanted to please the Americans! Was it not known to the GOI that in spite of its foreign phobia, not even a single investor can set up shop in India unless the state governments allow them? After promulgating this new policy there does not appear to be much interest among foreign investors because they have realized that the current environment in the country is hostile to them! On the other hand the cash and carry wholesale business which came to India is thriving well and these players have done a yeoman service to the country by doing the "procurement operations" role to feed thousands of small vendors around the locations where they are doing business. A recent report about one of the wholesale business foreign companies operating in the country being awarded top honors proves the point that they are much more suitable to the situation in the country as it exists to day than the glamorous foreign owned malls and supper markets. Following report highlights the above view. 

"Earlier this year, a team of CII experts from the food industry audited the food safety and quality processes implemented by Metro Cash & Carry India at its flagship outlet in Yeshwanthpur, Bangalore.  The assessment was done on a four-tier model consisting of social, statutory, and regulatory compliance, product specific GMPs, pre-requisite programs, HACCP and management system structure, and change management initiatives. During the Summit, John Carter, GFSI Board Member and Senior Director – Own Brands & Product Quality Assurance, Metro Cash & Carry Germany also presented the company's approach to maintaining quality standards across its global supply chain. Metro Cash & Carry entered the Indian market in 2003. The company currently operates 15 wholesale distribution centres including two each in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai, and one each in New Delhi, Kolkata, Ludhiana, Jaipur, Jalandhar, Zirakpur, Amritsar, Vijayawada, and Indore. The wholesale centre operator will shortly open its 16th outlet in the country at Bangalore"

There are reported to be more than 8 million retail outlets owned and operated by local entrepreneurs across the country. They have been serving the people near their operating areas with high rate of satisfaction to their customers. The rapport built by them through personalized service can never be built by the super markets where each customer is just a faceless "number" for the management though supermarkets do provide better service in terms of diversified quality assured products. All said and done, supermarkets can still operate vying with the local vendors but foreign investment is not really called for in this area. GOI must encourage more and more cash and carry business players across the world who can play a complimentary role in revitalizing the Indian small entrepreneurs already in the field.



That food inflation is a dangerous development for the ruling political class is reflected by the statement of the Finance Minister of GOI who rued the other day that government has to pay a price for not reigning the inflation for a long time. During the last 10 years the UPA was in power and somehow it took it for granted that the "people" would continue to "love" them because of its propensity to waste public funds on distributing freebies through one program or the other. Who will forget the soaring prices of Onion during the last one year and the government making only noises without doing any thing substantial to correct the situation. The election results have proved conclusively that electorate cannot be taken for granted and people have thinking heads on their shoulders to discriminate between what is good and bad for them. It is to the credit of the Parliament to forewarn the government about the fatal consequence much before the elections which was not heeded because of the arrogance of power among the ruling party leaders. Here is what the Parliament Standing Committee on finance had said on inflation. 

"Parliament's standing committee on financehas pulled up the government for failing to curb inflation and inflationary expectations due to lack of appropriate intervention in the market and asked it to formulate a comprehensive food management and pricing policy. The committee, headed by senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha, has asked the government to expeditiously create a food price index to truly reflect the price movement of essential food articles. "The government should formulate a comprehensive food management and pricing policy in coordination with states so that food inflation is effectively checked and price stability becomes a reality," the panel said, pointing out that the existing system of food management was beset with corruption and full of leakages. The indictment comes at a time when Congress' debacle in the recent assembly elections is being blamed partly on high inflation. The committee has also asked the government to remain alert to the possibilities of shortages and supply constraints developing in the market and formulate its response with alacrity so that consumers do not have to bear the brunt of price-spiral. The current system has failed to provide relief to the common man from unabated rise in the prices of essential commodities, the panel said in its 81st report on the action taken by the government on its earlier report on inflation and price rise."

It is very true that the GOI prefers to use wholesale price index (WPI) in stead of consumer price index (CPI) to camouflage the seriousness of the situation which amounts to fooling the public. In real terms CPI tells clearly how far the citizens are affected by uncontrolled price increases for many of the daily essential food items so that GOI can feel the sufferings of the public, if it wants to! On one hand GOI comes out with policies like loan waivers, supply of foods to the so called "vulnerable" groups at laughably low prices, free electricity to farmers, minimum support price for agri commodities etc but ultimately if these beneficiaries have to pay intolerably high prices for other "goods" needed for a decent living. advantages of all freebie programs is more than neutralized! 
Will the GOI wake up and think of holistic policies that bring cheers on the faces of millions of poor and famished people of this country? Probably a cry in vain?  .


Wednesday, December 11, 2013


It does not require much intelligence to see for a common man that Indian economy is rapidly on a slide with serious apprehensions about its impact on the lives of common man. Practically every item needed for a decent life is costing too much and the consumer products, especially are being repacked practically every 2-3 months with new MRP figures! Government continuously promises people that it is a short phase and things would improve "soon"! But no one is sure how soon such a change will take place! Under such trying circumstances, the latest report indicating that government is unduly favoring corporate industry through hefty tax concessions is indeed shocking. On one hand government is squandering the wealth of the country through unproductive "give away" schemes without bothering to control the resultant inflation while billions of rupees are written off as revenue forgone! Here is a take on this tragedy that is being unfolded by some informed critics which seems to have prima facie some substance.

"Had the massive tax concessions to India Inc., which is clubbed under the category of 'revenue foregone', were instead invested within the country, it could have created millions of jobs. While industrial production remained dipped, equally shocking is the massive hoarding of cash that the private sector has been stacking. By Mar 2012, India Inc was sitting over cash reserves of Rs 10-lakh crore. On top of it, a Credit Swiss report shows that the top ten big corporate groups in India have shown a six-fold increase in external commercial borrowings to reach a staggering Rs 6,30,000-crore. But these massive borrowings did not result in adequate returns thereby increasing the external debt. With so much of external borrowings and with cash reserves growing, what prompted the government to provide hefty tax concessions year after year needs to be investigated. In the last two years alone, Rs 11 lakh crore has been doled out.  Sadly, all this was allowed to happen when the prime minster knew that free market policies and deregulation were behind the economic woes. Instead of taking appropriate corrective steps he allowed the Indian economy to dither and slide. This is where he faltered. In fact, the solutions that are being proposed to prop up the ailing economy are the same that initially led to the economic downturn. More of the same will only add to the crisis. From recurring economic crisis being felt across the globe, what has clearly emerged is that the growth-oriented economic model has run out of steam. It has created wealth being concentrated in the hands of few while the income disparities have grown enormously. Just 300 people in America for instance have an economic wealth that is equal to half of the American population. This is not sustainable. Reversing the trend is possible. It doesn't need market ideologues, but people with wisdom to chart the new pathway. The solution lies in a shifting focus to the revival of the rural economy. Investments in agriculture, and manufacturing sector, along with a massive programme to enable rural communities to take control over natural resources has to be urgently launched. Hiware village in Maharashtra was once a drought-prone village. It is now a bursting rural market. It boasts of 60 millionaires. Replicating it across India would mean a massive creation of jobs and at the same time stopping rural-urban migration. Bringing prosperity in the rural areas will also mean redistribution of economic wealth. In short, the answer lies in self-reliance. As the prime minister himself had bemoaned, the globalised phenomena is hurting people. It is time therefore to urgently resurrected the system, and bring in an economic model that is people-friendly and environment-friendly. It has to begin by revitalising agriculture, the mainstay of the economy".  

In a recent economic analysis, a well informed policy expert bemoaned the decline of agriculture in this country because of the reckless policies being pursued by the present rulers at Delhi and economic growth is the prime casualty of this pursuit. Small farmers are suffering because farm labor has become too expensive to be afforded and agriculture is no more an affordable activity in the face of low support price being offered by the government. Logically food production is bound to suffer and the much trumpeted food security scheme may fall by the wayside if adequate production is not sustained to meet the colossal demand created by the "Right to Food" conferred on the citizen by the very same government. If only rich and super rich people are going to be the only beneficiary, widening the rich-poor gap, what meaning does the word "growth" has in the Indian context? Unless there is a policy shift from foreign dependence to self reliance as is being propounded by some experts, India is going to be trapped in a quick sand situation with no hope of redemption for its millions!         



Overruling all useful suggestions made by many experts and other knowledgeable critics, the so called food security bill has now been made a law in a tearing hurry, empowering about two thirds of the Indian population to get highly subsidized cereals like rice and wheat. Though many citizens are wondering about its impact on their lives, what has emerged clear is that the money saved through such subsidized foods is more than compensated by galloping inflation vis-a-vis all other daily needs creating a gaping hole in the family budget! Also questionable is the over emphasis of the program on calories ignoring the nutrient needs of the citizens which only can make life livable! There are of course a few good sub-programs which if properly implemented may benefit some of the vulnerable groups like pregnant women and children. Still it is felt that this massive program would have been much more effective if adequate planning and consultations were made before passing the same. A similar program, already being implemented in the state of Chhattisgarh, in comparison seems to be a much better one in several aspects and it is worthwhile for the federal government to incorporate some of the features in the National Program without being politically hostile to the ideas contained in the state program. Here is a take on this issue which needs impartial examination by the administrators of all hues for the benefit of the country.

"With about a few weeks to go for the election code of conduct to be in place in the State, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh is fiercely promoting his food security policy through speeches, interviews and articles and branding the Congress' National Food Security Bill, 2013 as an "irrevocable failure". While launching the Hindi edition of a national magazine in Raipur recently, he said "…making a mountain out of a mole hill, is the only way one can describe the National Food Security Bill." Mr. Singh has been criticising the National Food Bill in public rallies since it was placed in Parliament a few weeks back. He feels the Bill is unable to match the Chhattisgarh Food Security and Nutritional Act, in "quality and quantity." While highlighting the differences between the National Bill and the State Act, one of his arguments has been that the Central Bill has not addressed the "nutritional requirement" of the people. "The National Bill was projected as a game changer. But without adding pulses or salt, how is it going to address the issue of malnutrition? I feel, it has failed to change the game," reiterated Mr. Singh. The State government has added two kg of pulses and an equal amount of salt to its Act to address large scale malnutrition in Chhattisgarh"

Probably politicians from different parties are trying to score brownie points through high pitched propaganda regarding the merits and demerits of each others' schemes. It cannot be denied that people in this country will stand to benefit in economic terms by such free distribution of staples though a larger question will linger on regarding the necessity for incurring such massive investments year after year, literally bleeding the country. An innocent citizen cannot help but ask a pertinent question as to what was wrong with the Public Distribution System (PDS), established decades ago for the government to be provoked to come out with the new scheme? It is well known that PDS is working marvelously well in some states due to the administrative efficiency of the governments there. It would have been worthwhile to make attempts to emulate them so that PDS is still a force to reckon with for providing access to cheap food that includes cereal, pulses, cooking oils and sugar for millions of poor people at affordable cost but definitely not free!. After all each and every citizen must understand that one must work and earn for the food and freebies can only bring disaster and misery to the country eventually!


Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Front of the pack labeling regulations are in place in one form or the other in many countries of the world during the last two decades and this can be considered as the biggest gain for the consumer in taking decisions regarding purchase of healthier foods. These laws also keep the food processing industry on its toes to be more transparent and truthful regarding the nutritional quality of the products it makes. Of course the impact of labeling laws is still a matter of conjecture, especially in countries where literacy rate is abysmally low and where nutrition awareness is practically nil. Still one can say that these laws are the first step in inculcate discipline within the industry and give consumers some relief from food products with doubtful health value and junk foods with zero nutrient  density. Recent attempts by the food authorities in USA to introduce nutrient labeling of products offered in restaurants and grocery stores is creating a ruckus which is unlikely to fade away soon. Here is a take on this new issue that is the focus of attention by the industry as well as the consumer activist organizations.   

"A study released last month by the Drexel University School of Public Health found that consumers ordered a healthier meal at full-service eateries when labeling information was in place. But it noted that diners still picked high calorie foods. Overall, the difference between a healthier meal with menu labeling and one without it amounted to about 155 calories, the researchers found in the first field-based survey of the label laws. Diners viewing labeled menus also consumed 224 milligrams less sodium and 3.7 fewer grams of saturated fat. The study found that 26 percent of all customers used menu labels when they were available. But even those diners ate too much because many restaurant portions are oversized. As a result, diners often exceed total daily need of about 2,000 calories in just one restaurant meal".

There is a point in the contention that the application of labeling rules to grocery store products may not be of any impact as most products are already packed with front of the pack providing information provided by the manufacturers. However restaurant preparations which are not standardized across the various eateries can vary in nutrition enormously from one vendor to another and nutrition labeling, especially with respect to calories, fat and sodium is a must. The USFDA should not budge from its stand under any circumstances if it is to help the consumers in a positive way. The Drexel University finding is a timely warning that in spite of the mandatory labeling, consumers will still over eat if portion size is not down sized sufficiently to restrict consumption. The current trend of offering every thing in jumbo size must give way to mini sized preparations with much less calories and other undesirable components in the products.


Sunday, December 8, 2013


What should be the role of industry in shaping food safety policies that affect the consumers? This issue has recently cropped up in Europe where industry representatives have been included in the the highest policy making body which many feel may vitiate its decisions not in the interest of the consumers. This issue can cause dilemma among policy makers in many countries because the powerful industry lobbies have a way of influencing their decisions through money power and political muscle. A classical example is the FDA of USA which finds itself in a helpless situation to stand up against the power of the food industry lobby and therefore many decisions are taken or not taken in time or never taken at all, as per the diktats of the industry. The refusal of FDA not to insist on compulsory labeling of GMO foods is purely based on industry interests whereas the consumer has a fundamental right to know what is offered in the market through the label declaration! Here is a take on the European situation which may have far reaching implications. 

"The commission's justification for these nominations is its interpretation of EFSA's founding regulation 178/2002, which states that four of the 14 board members "shall have a background in organisations representing consumers and other interests in the food chain".  But nowhere is it mentioned that the food industry should be involved, in fact quite the contrary: EFSA's 2011 independence rules stipulate that "persons employed by industry shall not be allowed to become members of EFSA's scientific committee, scientific panels and working groups."  If industry employees are not allowed among EFSA's scientists, why should they be allowed on EFSA's board, where the minimum they get is a say in important internal decisions, excellent access to key EU decision-makers and insights into how to influence the agency's risk assessment procedures for their benefit?  While DG SANCO's decision does not breach any rule strictly speaking, such a decision is politically incomprehensible". 

Looking from the industry angle why should they allow policy decisions concerning their working by a body where they do not have a representative to speak their mind? It is of course a legitimate concern but it it necessary that they should have formal representation in such bodies? Why not they insist on being invited to air their views without the voting power? Generally bodies like EFSA have sub-groups consisting of representatives of all interests and decisions taken on extensive consultations and interactions are reflected in the recommendations of such specialized sub-groups. Why not EFSA also follow the same mechanism and as the decision making is the sole prerogative of the Board nothing untoward can happen adversely affecting the interests of any one.


Friday, December 6, 2013


If the birth of communism is traced back, it was a reaction to suppression of labor by the employees through low wages and facilities. The world has traveled a lot since the early years of communism and its domination in s few countries under the aegis of erstwhile Soviet Union during 19th and early 20th centuries and to day communism exists as a force only in Russia, China, North Korea, Cuba and Vietnam, that too in a liberalized form. The success of Capitalism in bringing prosperity to the citizens was touted as the USP of this form of economic system. However if recent agitation in the US where fast food industry labor for increased wages is an indicator of what type of strain Capitalism may face in coming years. Here is a take on this development in a country which is supposed to be a shining example of successful capitalism.

Hourly wage increases advocated by labor groups could kill more than 450,000 jobs, according to a new report. Union-backed labor groups, including Fast Food Forward and Fight for 15, are staging nationwide walk-outs and demonstrations at fast food chains across the country calling for starting wages of $15 per hour. Their success could spell economic disaster for nearly 20 percent of the nation's 2.5 million fast food workers, according to an analysis from the Employment Policies Institute. "We find that roughly 460,000 jobs would be lost in the fast food industry as a consequence of a $15 minimum wage," the EPI report found. "This is a conservative estimate because it only includes employment loss among those who hold a fast food job as their primary employment. Including those who work in the industry as a second job would increase the estimates." The group estimated that employment falls 3 percent for every 10 percent increase in labor costs. The $15 wage is more than double the federal minimum wage of $7.25—and nearly 50 percent higher than the $10.10 wage proposed by congressional Democrats. EPI warned that the doubling of wages would lead the restaurants to "replace jobs with less costly, automated alternatives—including self-service ordering kiosks and even automatic burger makers."

Is it not interesting to hear the argument that increasing wages will cause acute unemployment?
Does it imply that the workers must work like slaves sacrificing the quality of life in order to help the corporate industry to make hefty profits, harm the society through junk foods at low prices and blackmail the government  to toe their line? It is pathetic to hear that if the wages are increased to a level where the workers can outpace inflation , the country will face the consequences of unemployment, resulting in economic stagnation! At a time when this country is facing the obesity epidemic with people suffering from bloated bodies and many life style disorders, is it not fair to makes the very same foods more costly in order to discourage their consumption? Government must seriously consider raising the wages of these workers to a decent level in tune with the increasing inflation.


Thursday, October 31, 2013


Human requirement for water is still a controversial subject with no unanimity among health pundits. While 2 liters a day is considered essential there is no clarity as to whether this quantity has to be consumed over and above the moisture that is present in daily diet. The food consumed varies from culture to culture but basically most cooked foods will have a moisture level averaging about 50%. Considering that the daily calorie requirement of 2000 kCal will have to be taken through foods, considerable water enters the body through the food. It is indisputable that water is needed both for physiological and thermo regulation and some quantity has to be imbibed in pure form. The phenomenon of thirst is a part of human body's signaling system to compensate for water loss due to perspiration and evaporation and consumption of water based products like juices, soft drinks and others contributes to water "make up". It is during the last five decades that beverage industry started exploiting the thirst phenomenon for commercial gain through natural and synthetic beverages with diverse flavors and the explosive growth of sugary beverages is telling on the health of the population as reflected by the fast developing obesity epidemic in many of the financially healthy nations. In spite of global campaigns against these non-nutritive high calorie drinks, not much progress was visible in curbing their consumption. It is against this background that one has to welcome the news, reported recently, about a new trend of declining "soda" (sugary beverages) consumption in countries like the US which is considered a good omen. Here is more about this development.

"Sales of water in standard lightweight plastic bottles grew at a rate of more than 20 percent every quarter from 1993 to 2005, he said. The growth has continued since, but now it has settled into percentages within the high single digits. If the estimated drinking of water from the household tap is included, water consumption began exceeding that of soda in the mid-2000s. That significant shift has posed a tough challenge for the Coca-Cola Company and rival PepsiCo in recent years. While both companies sell bottled water lines, Dasani for Coke and Aquafina for Pepsi, they have had trouble establishing dominance in the more profitable business of so-called enhanced waters — including flavored and carbonated waters and those with added vitamins and minerals — where a horde of new beverage companies like TalkingRain, Hint water and Fruit2O are giving them a run for the money. "Given where pricing has gone, I would assume that on the average 24 pack of bottled water, Coke and Pepsi are selling at break-even at best," said John Faucher, who tracks the beverage and household products businesses at JPMorgan Chase. "The one thing keeping them in plain, old bottled water is that both have a very large and highly profitable single-serve business in it." Plain bottled waters are little more than purified tap water with a sprinkle of minerals tossed in, which makes the business one of producing bottles and filling them. Factors as varied as innovations in bottling technology that have helped drive down the price of water as well as continuing concern about obesity and related diseases are also driving the trend. A recent study by North Dakota State University, for instance, used dietary intake data collected by the federal government to draw correlations between decreased consumption of soda from 1999 through 2010 and improvements in the biomarkers that indicated cholesterol and other chronic diseases. A study by Coca-Cola asserted that the government's data, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, was flawed, but that had not stopped public health officials from encouraging greater consumption of beverages with less sugar. Last month, Michelle Obama heavily endorsed water, teaming up with Coke, Pepsi and NestlĂ© Waters, among others, to persuade Americans to drink more of it. Health advocates complained that Mrs. Obama had capitulated to corporate partners by not explaining the benefits of water over the sodas they sell and that her initiative promoted even greater use of plastic bottles when she could have just recommended turning on the tap".

It is ironic that water, one of the cheapest materials in this planet, considered God's gift to the residents of earth, has now become a money spinning business with billions of bottles of processed water flooding the markets in every country! There was a time when the water coming through the taps of toilets in a country like the US was fit for consumption because of the water treatment plants working in each and every city in that country. Same applied to Europe also and a recent attempt by a city in Italy to brand its tap water reflects the mania among the citizens to go for bottled water incurring significant expenses for the consumer. Of course a bottle of water is always a convenience and this factor has modified the human behavior to shun tap water and buy processed and packed water. It is rather unfortunate that even in a country like India with half its population considered very poor there is a roaring market for bottled water though the citizen cannot be blamed for this craze due terrible fear about the safety of the so called piped water supply in almost all urban areas. Some time one gets the feeling that holding a bottle of attractively packed water bottle is becoming a status symbol among Indians! While bottled water industry is obviously serving the community by providing clean and safe water, the blame for such a skewed development must be borne squarely by the civic bodies, state and central governments for neglecting this fundamental right of the citizen, viz access to safe water.    



Eat or not to eat? That is the million dollar question before the consumers when hard decisions are to be made regarding the advisability of consuming food products past their "expiry" date or "best before' date! Though from time to time many experts express their view that most foods past their expiry date are still edible and fit for consumption, consumers still do not have sufficient confidence on their safety leading to millions of tons of foods being wasted all over the world. Britishers were wise to take the stand some time back that food should not be wasted just because it is past its expiry date. Many other countries are also realizing now that such declaration on the front of the label, though supposed to be advisory, forces the industry as well as the consumers to throw them out into garbage. While industry needs legal protection against consumers suing them if some thing happens after consuming a date expired food, consumers with no basic awareness about food safety faithfully follows the expiry date as a gospel truth refusing to even buy them, let alone consume them. What a dilemma in a world where almost one third of the population are famished for want of access to good food. Here is a take on this situation in some of the countries like the US, Australia and New Zealand and views of some experts regarding the safety of some of the foods with their expiry date over.

"Consumers should be aware that the expiry date is only a guide for quality and when a product is at its best, according to new US Department of Agriculture guidelines. But while giving the thumbs-up to some foods, it still cautions against certain meats and food items such as spinach and lettuce. Hard cheese, cured meats and hard vegetables can be eaten so long as mould is removed. Other items can be eaten at your own discretion, according to Jena Roberts, vice president of business development at the National Food Lab. Foods that never go off. Ms Roberts told ABC News that she couldn't pinpoint a single food safety issue that happened because food was past its used by date. She agreed the dates should be used as "only a guide". She said spinach and lettuce were the only foods which should be thrown out because "there isn't a heat step or a process to kill pathogens." Meat should be followed to the date, unless it is frozen, while condiments including mustard are fair game. "Bacteria isn't going to grow in them. It's just a quality issue," she said. Food Standards Australia New Zealand is a little less relaxed, advising that foods that have an expired used by date should not be eaten "because of health and safety reasons". However food with a best before date may be safe, although the quality and taste of the food may be affected. Spices: The quality of spices declines with age but they don't go off. Olive oil: Keeps for about two years unopened in the pantry or fridge. Vinegar: Keeps indefinitely although the quality will decrease. Dried pasta: Keeps for years in the pantry. Sesame seeds: Keep for years in the pantry or the fridge".

In general many dry foods with low moisture content or water activity keep well without causing any ill effect from most pathogenic microbes but they may be vulnerable to attack by insects of different types if not properly fumigated before packing. A sure way of keeping even the dry foods safe is to store under low temperatures obtained in domestic refrigerators. Consumers face the difficult choice while deciding about the safety of high moisture and rich foods with high pH which are easily vulnerable to microbial attack under ambient conditions. Here again there is a mistaken conception that the contents would be safe after properly heating the same. It is true most of the time reheating of high moisture foods will kill all microorganisms but one has to be aware of the toxins excreted by them before dying which can cause some health problem among many consumers. On the whole keeping any food under vacuum or at refrigerated temperatures or in frozen state can ensure a reasonable degree of protection to the consumer. All said and done it may be time to revisit the present system of indicating storage life on the packed foods by suitably including another provision to say such foods are unsafe after a certain date to be compulsorily thrown away. Is it practical? Will the industry agree for it? No harm in trying! 


Friday, October 18, 2013


A recent report about seizure and destruction of huge quantities of Chutney products in Ahmadabad by the food safety authorities there because of their low quality and unhygienic environment focuses on the impunity with which food fraudsters thrive in the country. These raids do not address the core of the problem, that is about the inability of the safety agencies to sustain activities that could be deterrent to such fraudsters. True people love chutneys of different types as accompaniments to a number of traditional Indian cuisines and the recipes vary from region to region, the most common property being their susceptibility to rapid spoilage as they contain high water content. Most chutneys, except may be the sweet variety are liked when consumed fresh and preparing them under insanitary conditions using sub standard ingredients can be dangerous because of infection by bacteria that can easily cause stomach upset, especially among consumers with "weak" stomach and low immunity. Here is a take on this episode in Ahmadabad.

Dabelis, sandwiches and vada pavs, laced with the red and green chutney, are a hot favourite with Amdavadis. But ever wondered about the quality of that chutney, often prepared in completely unhygienic conditions and that, too, with substandard material?  The health department of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) raided one such chutney manufacturing unit in Vatva ward on Tuesday and destroyed over 4,000 kg of low-quality chutney.  During the raid, six food inspectors found that vegetables, acetic acid and colours were being used to prepare the chutney. "We found that the manufacturer used boiled potatoes to make the thick chutney, which was later filled in huge plastic barrels in unhygienic conditions," said one of the inspectors requesting anonymity. The health officials also found that the chutney manufacturer had been functioning without health and food licences. Also, the chutney, which was packed in 5 kg bottles and sent to food stalls and hotels across the city, did not have information like date of manufacture, name of manufacturer, date of expiry, etc. "We have seized more than 4,000 kg of the chutney and destroyed it in the Pirana dumping yard. Also, samples have been collected and sent to the public health laboratory for testing," said Suhas Kulkarni, AMC medical officer of health. Incidentally, the health department had been trying to trace the illegal chutney manufacturer for the past three days. This was because the packet or the bottle has no mention of the manufacturing place in the city.

Street vending is an unavoidable phenomenon in countries like India and people flock at these vending carts because of the taste and freshness associated with them. Generally these foods are safe as long as they are hot served. How ever there are some preparations served cold and the chances of infection could be very high depending on the quality of water used. Unfortunately some of these vendors use water of suspect quality though lately use of processed water in large carboys is becoming the standard. The manufacturers of the Chutney in Ahmadabad obviously indulged in making a product without getting the necessary permits from the authorities and therefore had suspect intentions regarding the quality of their products.


Sunday, October 13, 2013


The world has traveled a lot since the industrial revolution which brought about the concept of economic viability for industrial production. Over the decades the mantra was to make production plants bigger and bigger without much focus on sustainability, especially when fossil fuels were available in plenty and that too cheap. Time has changed after the "oil shock" about 4 decades ago when fossil fuels became expensive and realization dawned on the humanity that they are not inexhaustible leading to sterling innovations in the energy front. Large scale mechanization of unit operations, evolution of giant manufacturing plants with lesser and lesser workers needed to manage them and integration of electronics with plant operation for better efficiency all saw the industry in general piling profits with apparently no concern for the environment or the welfare of workers or the consumer well being. Things are changing as new concepts are emerging with features like energy efficiency, water saving, waste disposal, improved worker welfare, down sized plants with better controls and back up facilities in case of break down etc becoming bench marks of newer plants. Here is a commentary on these emerging trends which cannot be ignored by the industry if to survive in the coming years. 

Bigger is better was the industry's mantra through much of the last century. Cedar Rapids, Iowa, holds two prime examples: General Mills' million-square-foot facility and, across town, Quaker Oats, a 22-building complex on 25 acres fronting the Cedar River. Centralized manufacturing enabled low-cost production, but the downside of the eggs-in-one-basket approach became painfully obvious over time. An electrical substation fire once took GM's plant off line for 18 hours; a 2008 flood knocked Quaker completely out of commission for three weeks. By the time full operations resumed two months later, lost throughput at the world's largest cereal plant would have fed a small country for a year. Regional production is today's trend, and that will continue. Logistics dictate site selection, and hauling finished goods halfway across the North American continent doesn't make economic sense. Diesel generators and even solar panels are being installed as a hedge against power outages, and energy conservation efforts increase the likelihood that at least partial production will continue in a worse-case scenario. Smaller facilities are being laid out for maximum flexibility. The Dr. Schar bakery in Logan Township, N.J., exemplifies this. Riding the crest of the gluten-free diet trend, the Italy-based company opened the 60,000-sq.-ft. plant in the Philadelphia metro area in June 2012. More than 100 different products are produced, the company boasts, from breads to cookies and crackers to pasta. It was the company's fourth new facility in six years. Equipment is getting easier to clean and sanitize, in part to meet higher food-safety standards but also because managers recognize that older designs mean more downtime and much higher labor expense over a machine's useful life. Stainless steel is the material of choice, and suppliers are redesigning their equipment to meet cleanability expectations.

As far as food industry is concerned, notable changes were taking place to make the manufacturing more sensitive to consumer safety and health. But the "profit at any cost" mentality is still ruling this sector with the industry being hauled for many ills of the society. Blaming food industry for many modern day health afflictions like CVD, Kidney ailments and Obesity is more or less become a standard criticism from which it cannot easily escape. Here again winds of change are perceptible with many large players trying to improve their products from nutritional and health angles and implementing many worker welfare programs. Energy and water are receiving priorities. It is a question of time before industry performance norms become more and more rigid and universally applied. This makes one wonder whether world is going back to the earlier concept, "small is beautiful" which may be good for the industry, environment as well as the consumer.  


Wednesday, September 25, 2013


It is unimaginable as to why hundreds of chemicals are allowed for use by the food industry for one reason or the other. While pharmaceutical industry is shackled, forcing it to be more careful and cautious in using different ingredients in medicine formulations, food industry is allowed to get away, mostly under the so called GRAS provision under which proof of safety is not insisted on!  The result is that many of the food ingredients had to be withdrawn after consumers were exposed to their dangers unnecessarily. Latest to join the list of monster chemicals are phthalates and Bisphenol A. Though indications about their suspect safety credentials were known earlier, they were allowed to be used for technical reasons ignoring the harm they could bring upon the consumers. The dangers posed by the above chemicals have been highlighted succinctly in a recent report which has some credibility. 

"Children exposed to two chemicals commonly used in food packaging are more likely to be obese or show signs of diabetes precursors than those with lower exposure, new research suggests. Researchers found urine levels of one type of phthalate, used to soften plastic, were tied to a higher risk of insulin resistance among teenagers. Based on data from the same large nutrition survey, another study group linked bisphenol A, or BPA - used to line aluminum cans - to obesity and larger waists in youth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in six U.S. children and teenagers is now obese. "Clearly unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity are the drivers of this epidemic … but increasingly environmental chemicals are being identified as possible contributors," Dr. Leonardo Trasande, a pediatrician from New York University, said. He and his colleagues analyzed data from a nationally-representative health and nutrition survey conducted in 2003 to 2008, which included urine and blood tests for 766 adolescents aged 12 to 19. They found urinary levels of one particular type of phthalate, known as Di-2-ethylhexylphthalate (DEHP), were closely tied to a teenager's chance of having insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes. Just under 15 percent of study participants with the lowest one-third of DEHP levels were insulin resistant, compared to almost 22 percent of those with the highest levels. DEHP, Trasande said, is often used to soften plastic bottles. It's used in plastic that is printed with the number 3 for recycling. The researchers said their findings don't prove that eating food packaged with phthalates causes insulin resistance. For example, it's possible children who are already insulin-resistant have unhealthier eating habits and eat and drink more packaged products - thus the higher phthalate levels in their urine. But Trasande told Reuters Health the chemical may influence how the body secretes insulin in response to sugar. Because of that, he tells parents to avoid buying plastics made with DEHP. "I advise them not to wash plastic containers in the dishwasher," he said. And, "When the plastic is clearly etched or damaged, it's time to throw it away." For a separate study published concurrently in Pediatrics, Dr. Joyce Lee from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and her colleagues used nutrition survey data through 2010 to compare BPA levels in the urine of six- to 18-year-olds with other health measures. In their analysis of 3,370 kids, BPA - an industrial chemical that may mimic estrogen in the body - was not linked to insulin resistance or blood sugar. But children with higher BPA levels were more likely to be obese, and tended to have a higher waist circumference-to-height ratio, than those with the lowest levels."

The particular variety of Phthalate-DEHP is implicated in developing insulin resistance leading to diabetic conditions, especially among children. Similarly BPA is now being confirmed as an obesogenic chemical causing early obesity among children. On the face of the fact that almost 20% of American kids are obese and the consumption of processed foods is very high in that country, there is a definite cause for alarm. It is high time that safety authorities wake up to this shocking reality and revisit the issue of safety of all food ingredient currently allowed for use by the industry before further damage is caused to the innocent public.


Friday, September 20, 2013


Wonder as to how many people have heard of the "Bellagio Declaration" which became a rallying point for awakening all the countries in the world to fight against the money and muscle power of the giant and brutal multinational food companies against health safety policies of the national governments? International Congress of Nutrition held at Granada in Spain recently focused on the health problems created by the wrong products churned out by the food industry causing uncontrolled obesity among the population, young and old alike. The Bellagio Declaration was made at Bellagio in Italy earlier exhorting developing countries to be on the guard against the steam rolling tactics and strategies of food giants in sabotaging good and useful government policies intended to safeguard the health of their citizens. A look at the declaration contained in the following commentary will reveal the dangers posed by the industry created obesity epidemic while rampant under nutrition is widely prevalent in these countries.

"In June, a meeting on the progress of obesity prevention efforts in low and middle income countries was held in Bellagio, Italy. The Bellagio Declaration was released yesterday at the International Congress of Nutrition in Granada, Spain, calling for greater efforts from organisations and governments to protect healthy food policies from the lobbying efforts of large food corporations, or 'Big Food and Big Soda.' Professor Barry Popkin from the University of North Carolina said, "Governments see the rising tsunami of obesity flooding over their countries, but as soon as they put up serious policies to create healthier food environments they get hammered by the food industry." The policies which provoke this response are regulations to reduce the marketing of unhealthy foods to children, front-of-pack labelling systems to help consumers readily assess the healthiness of the food, and taxes on unhealthy foods like sugar-sweetened beverages, said Professor Carlos Monteiro, University of Sao Paulo, a co-convener and one of Brazil's leading public nutrition researchers. Different countries' experiences were published this week in Obesity Reviews, and showed that the obesity epidemic is rising very fast in many developing countries, rapidly catching up or overtaking undernutrition as the dominant nutrition problem. "This is creating a double burden of co-existent overnutrition and undernutrition within many populations or even within households," reads a statement from the International Association for the Study of Obesity. The director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Margaret Chan, has recently called the lobby forces of 'Big Food and Big Soda' one of the biggest challenge that countries face as they try to reduce obesity and diet-related chronic diseases. She outlined some of the tactics the food industry has been using such as lobby groups, promises of self-regulation, lawsuits, and industry-funded research. The Bellagio Declaration calls on WHO to develop norms for government engagement with the private sector so that partnerships are not detrimental to nutrition goals. "The first priority for food policies is to improve nutritional outcomes for the population, not the bottom lines of multi-national corporations," said Professor Boyd Swinburn, co-chair of the International Obesity Task Force. Earlier this week Oxfam updated its Behind the Brands scorecard ranks, and found that leading food brands are being very sluggish in improving their social and environmental policies. No company performed better overall than the 'fair' category, with companies including Nestle, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Danone and General Mills experiencing slight increases in their scores. Associated British Foods, General Mills and Kellogg's are at the bottom of the scorecard with few signs of progress".

It is understandable that in a rich country like the US, the government is influenced overwhelmingly by the powerful food industry due to election politics. But what is shocking is the unimaginable influence the same industry through its multinational food giants is exerting in many under developed and developing countries like India where malnutrition and under nutrition are widely prevalent, in deciding about food safety policies! Also true is the scant disregard these food companies have for the life and welfare of the citizens in these countries where they operate. One must remember the Union Carbide caused Bhopal gas tragedy where thousands perished and a few more thousands were crippled but the multinational got away with barely a rap on their knuckles! History is being repeated when MNCs are again trying to influence these governments to allow GMO food crop cultivation with no control over the long term consequences of these crops on the health of the population. It is the responsibility of the governments in these less fortunate countries to stand up against the machinations of the industry which is more concerned with its bottom line than the well being of the citizens who consume their products!