Wednesday, January 30, 2013


It is a laudable effort on the part of organizations like World Health Organization of the United Nations to promote healthy foods and scientific dietary practices. If health has become the single most critical issue when food quality is considered, there is a strong logic to it. Advent of modern food technology has unleashed a glut of processed foods which are increasingly becoming more and more unhealthy causing many life style disorders like CVD, hypertension, Diabetes, Kidney diseases, cancer etc and the much abused food industry does not seem to be sensitive about the clamor for healthier foods from its clients, viz the consumers, in stead placing more emphasis on profitability and economic viability of their operations. A society stressed out because of inaccessibility to healthy foods, attention is being turned to food materials which are more nutritious than white rice, refined wheat flour or corn flour and grits. Food grains like millets including Ragi, Bajra, Jowar, Oats, Quinoa etc are considered much more healthy and there is a large surge in demand for these grains from the consumers who are willing to pay any price for getting hold of them. What consequences such a pull for these grains from the rich man in the wealthy countries on the poor man living in poverty ridden undeveloped countries which produce these foods has never occurred to the world community! Here is a commentary on this sad situation that exists in a country like Peru because of snatching away of the staple food grain Quinoa from there by consumers in America, Europe and other wealthy countries.

"But there is an unpalatable truth to face for those of us with a bag of quinoa in the larder. The appetite of countries such as ours for this grain has pushed up prices to such an extent that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, for whom it was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it. Imported junk food is cheaper. In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken. Outside the cities, and fuelled by overseas demand, the pressure is on to turn land that once produced a portfolio of diverse crops into quinoa monoculture. In fact, the quinoa trade is yet another troubling example of a damaging north-south exchange, with well-intentioned health and ethics-led consumers here unwittingly driving poverty there. It's beginning to look like a cautionary tale of how a focus on exporting premium foods can damage the producer country's food security. Feeding our apparently insatiable 365-day-a-year hunger for this luxury vegetable, Peru has also cornered the world market in asparagus. Result? In the arid Ica region where Peruvian asparagus production is concentrated, this thirsty export vegetable has depleted the water resources on which local people depend. NGOs report that asparagus labourers toil in sub-standard conditions and cannot afford to feed their children while fat cat exporters and foreign supermarkets cream off the profits. That's the pedigree of all those bunches of pricy spears on supermarket shelves".

In a unified world, evolving without any national borders and globalized marketing environment, it may be some what specious to argue that exports from one country to the other is causing social tension or depredation of the local people. But can such large scale trade be insensitive to human misery? Probably the countries which indulge in reckless export of their staple foods for the sake of earning a few dollars must think about such consequences. Blaming the buyers can never be logical since money power can introduce such distortions. However there are still some countries, though rich, still look at agricultural trade from a social angle. Examples include Palm oil trade, Cocoa trade and a few others where there appears to a consensus that users must insist on sustainable cultivation and harvesting practices without destroying forests or without use of child labor. Of course this is a complex area of international logic and logistics for which global community must find a solution.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Increasing farmer suicide cases in India is a disturbing trend that ought to be addressed by the government and there is some how a feeling persisting with successive governments that giving subsidies can take care of farmer problems. No wonder India cannot raise the level of value addition to the agricultural commodities and to a large extent this can be traced to very low entrepreneurial aspirations among the farming community. While saluting hundreds and thousands of villages in the country where millions of farmer families toil hard to produce adequate food for self consumption as well as earning a livelihood through sale of surplus production to non-farming population, the subsistence level of living in grossly under developed village environment with sub-human conditions and daily miseries make them permanently disabled to do any thing constructive. Why the country is not attempting to create village based processing facilities by providing necessary inputs for value addition to the basic commodities is despicable. Even if these unfortunate "second class" citizens of the country are provided the needed financial inputs through government agencies, from where do they get other inputs like technology, infra support and marketing muscle? Here is an example coming from a developed country like the US which has understood the critical importance of food in the local economy and facilitate the processing and marketing of locally produced food materials through creation of "Food Hubs" which link the farmer, local technical resources and the consumer in a sustainable way.  

"By developing a local "food hub," organizers hope they can provide a centralized facility that can buy and aggregate locally produced food and make it available to larger, institutional buyers in the area on a regular basis. "A food hub is that linkage between the local farmers and the institutions, like schools, hospitals, the jail, the grocery stores and the restaurants that want to have access to local foods," said Eileen Horn, who directs the work of the Food Policy Council. "The customers are asking for it, and there's public interest in it, but they can't access enough consistent supply." Horn and other members of the Food Policy Council told Douglas County Commissioners last week that efforts to develop a local food hub in Douglas County will be one of their top priorities in the coming year. "What the Food Policy Council has been talking about in terms of a food hub is really what could be that central site that could aggregate, warehouse, maybe have some cold storage and some light processing for food so it would make it simpler for our community members to access that food from a single point," Horn said in a recent interview. The Food Policy Council was established by the County Commission in 2009. "Basically the Food Policy Council works to identify the benefits, the challenges and the opportunities for a local food system in Douglas County," she said. "So we're looking at what could be the health benefits for the community; what could be the local economic development benefits for our community; and then what are some of the barriers we could look at from a policy perspective to help build a vibrant food system that would support our local farmers and our community members." Traditionally, Kansas agriculture is known for producing a limited number of commodities in vast amounts – wheat, corn and soybeans, as well as beef and pork. But Horn says smaller-scale producers in Douglas County and the surrounding area are now producing large volumes, and a surprisingly wide variety of fruits and vegetables on nearly a year-round basis. She said much of that is the result of local growers investing in "high tunnels" — semicircular hoop structures that are relatively inexpensive and function as modified greenhouses to extend the growing season. "That has really changed the game in terms of season extension, because now you can get greens – there are local greens available in grocery stores right now, in January, and that's because of the season extension and high tunnels and greenhouses that people are utilizing," she said. Local and regional food hubs have grown in popularity in recent years, in part because of support from state and federal departments of agriculture.

India is a country dominated by middle men and pre-harvest contractors who exploit the helplessness of the farmer in cornering the harvested produce at ridiculously low prices and selling the same at exorbitant prices to the easily vulnerable consumer! Elimination of such intermediaries from the system can substantially increase the farmer income while making the same available to the consumer at very reasonable cost. Milk industry under the cooperative sector has demonstrated that producers can get as much as 70-80% of the consumer price by eliminating most of the private players from the scene. The much hyped APMC yards, supposed to be helping the farmer are becoming joke of the country and any how they are going to be dismantled soon under the pretext of economic liberalization and much hyped foreign investment regime. The Agro-industries Corporations in different States which could have been powerful interlocutors with the farmers have been made to wither away through lack of government support. Local foods have great relevance because they are fresh, easily accessible, cost-wise cheaper and have minimum carbon foot print. Sooner such hubs are created better it will be for the farmers and consumers of this country!


Monday, January 28, 2013


Turmeric has a unique dietary role under the Indian cooking system and there is practically no curry preparation without the presence of this ubiquitous natural condiment. With almost all artificial colors being weeded out of human diet because of the health risks associated with them, Turmeric emerged as a rich source of natural yellow color which is available to day across the world for food industry to use in hundreds of processed food products. More than the color, Turmeric is recognized as a food component with medicinal effects. Besides its antibacterial credentials, the Curcumin that is present in it is considered as an anti inflammatory substance possessing properties to combat a number of human diseases linked to inflammation. Here is the latest findings on Curcumin which seem to be opening new avenues for its effective use in counteracting human diseases among population across the world.. 

"Turmeric has been used widely in Indian cooking for thousands of years, and, in the past two decades, hundreds of studies have determined curcumin helps fight arthritic inflammation, reduces cancer risk and slows the onset of diabetes, said Sukumar, co-director of the breast cancer programme at Johns Hopkins. Curcumin is a potent inhibitor of inflammation, which can exacerbate rheumatoid arthritis and spur cancerous growths, according to Sukumar. The compound inhibits a molecule called NF-kB that plays a key role in initiating inflammation. "What curcumin does is blunt this pathway. That's how it is able to mediate its effect," Sukumar said. Consuming curcumin also has been shown to repair skin damage caused by radiation therapy for cancer, she said. Maitra, Sukumar's colleague, began working a few years ago on a water-soluble form of curcumin that can be taken in pill form. That formulation is still in the experimental stages. The body doesn't readily absorb curcumin so a person has to consume several grams of curcumin a day to get the health benefits, Sukumar said. Pills containing unaltered curcumin are on the market. "The other way, the preferable way, is to add (turmeric) to everything you cook," Sukumar said. To get the full benefits, dissolve turmeric in warm oil and add it to foods, she said".

It is true that Curcumin is not water soluble and most of it, consumed through oral route, does not get absorbed across the intestine having only limited effect on flora associated with the gut. The attempt to increase absorption through its solubilization and creating ready to take preparations like tablets or pills is a welcome effort. Since Indian culinary preparations contain high levels of Turmeric even the limited solubility does help getting adequate quantity into the blood stream to derive the benefits attributed to this food adjunct. It is for those population which do not like the typical flavor of Turmeric in the food, camouflaged preparations are necessary to deliver sufficient dosage to confer the benefit. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Food safety management is an art of balancing the interests of various stakeholders such as the consumer, farmer, processor and the government. No Food Law can be deemed to be perfect but striving hard to bring it to near perfection is the bounden duty of the government which has immense power to do that. Americans are known to be sensitive to food borne infections of different kind and most of the focus is on preventing such pathogen driven poisoning episodes that can take a toll on the health of the citizens. It is in this context that new food safety rules being implemented there are being scrutinized for their effectiveness. Many observers feel that the new protocols being put in place can only bring additional economic burden to the processing industry with practically no impact on food safety breaching in the coming years. Here is a critique on the above issue which is causing some consternation in that country.

'In pushing for passage of the law, the FDA and its supporters billed the law as a necessary solution to a problem of great magnitude. Indeed, some 48 million Americans suffer from some form of foodborne illness each year—a figure the FDA cites at several of its FSMA web pages. The agency claims the FSMA will "better protect public health by strengthening the food safety system" and helping to eliminate the "largely preventable" problem of foodborne illnesses. But if we can largely prevent foodborne illness, we won't have the new FSMA regulations to thank. In truth, the law's real impact on food safety will be minimal. The FSMA would permit the FDA to hire about 2,000 new food-safety inspectors in order to increase the frequency of food-safety inspections. Specifically, the proposed rules would require that "[a]ll high-risk domestic facilities must be inspected within five years of enactment and no less than every three years, thereafter." Given that the FSMA rules are just now open to public comment and won't be final for another year or two, this translates into a likely total of exactly two inspections of what the FDA refers to as the most "high-risk domestic facilities" over the next decade. How's that for impact? Even if these inspections were to take place more than once in a blue moon, just how effective at preventing foodborne illness are FDA inspections? Not very. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, for example, notes that FDA food safety inspections dropped by 47 percent between 2003 and 2006. During that same period, according to CDC data, rates of infection from bacteria like listeria were flat, and below traditional averages. This reflects what the CDC has reported—that despite the misconception that cases of foodborne illnesses are mushrooming, there has been a general "downward trend in foodborne infections."
A relevant question that is being asked is whether food borne diseases are really so wide spread as is being made out as the data show that such food safety failures are declining over the years. Probably the powerful electronic media which brings to the living rooms of millions of families even small episodes, is creating an impression that Americans are in danger of being overwhelmed by food poisoning incidences! The genuine concern expressed by the industry, especially the small scale players, about the economic burden on them in adhering to new safety regime put in place must be addressed to prevent a dislocation of the processed food manufacture and distribution system due to over zealous inspecting officials.


Saturday, January 26, 2013


Some years ago an entrepreneur of Indian origin with a wadof money and some innovative ideas landed in the country and started exploring the possibility of setting up shop to manufacture packed foods, ready to "heat and eat", with high hopes. Unfortunately the venture did not last long, forcing an early closure without a single packet ever being produced. Whether he was an unscrupulous investor with dishonest intentions or a genuine business man gone bankrupt under Indian conditions is still a mystery! But the idea of ready to "heat and eat" food portfolio, largely relevant to the armed forces, remained a distant dream. Now comes the news that "self heating" food cans are being promoted in the US which are considered very convenient especially during winter season for those travelling. Here is a take on this new development.

Last February, the world welcomed its first self-chilling beverage. Of course, a self-chilling beverage was only of so much interest during a time when much of the world's population could just step outside its door and chill its own beverages in the open air – June might have been a better time for that one. What folks could use during the cold season is a beverage container that automatically warms its contents. That container is called the Hot Can. The double-chambered aluminum Hot Can contains the beverage or soup in its outer chamber, and a mix of water and calcium oxide in its inner chamber. When activated, the water and calcium oxide mix, causing an exothermic reaction that heats the beverage by a total of 50 to 55 degrees Celsius in about three minutes. This means that a drink which starts out at room temperature (20ºC/68ºF) heats up to 70ºC (158ºF) – from a cold cup of mud to a piping hot cup of coffee. A polypropylene outer shell insulates the beverage for about 45 minutes and protects the hands from burns. Using the Hot Can sounds pretty easy. You turn it upside down, remove the protective tab and press the button to begin the heat reaction. Then you shake it for 20 to 30 seconds and stand it upright until it heats up. The heat indicator label lets you know it's hot and ready with a green emblem. If it should get too hot, a red warning sign activates instead. Because the Hot Can adds a set amount of heat to any beverage, it's designed to be stored at room temperature. Storing it in the refrigerator will mean it won't heat up to a warm drinking temperature, while storing it in a hot environment like a car in the hot sun will cause burn risks. Storing it below 5ºC (41ºF) can damage the heating element. The Hot Can could be super-useful for everyday use as well as for specific purposes. You could grab a coffee on the way out the door to work without ever having to brew a pot or stop off at a shop. Hikers, backpackers and other outdoor users could enjoy a hot drink without worrying about lighting a stove or fire".

Self-chilling and self heating food packs can be a little more expensive but should be affordable to those who value convenience and time. An interesting exothermic chemical reaction that occurs in nature has been harnessed to design a container that can be used for heating foods and beverages without the intervention of fire or power in any form. If and when these containers are offered in the market, probably they can be used for warming the already prepared food though it cannot be reused. Probably they can be single use containers suitable for soups and beverage industry to pack their products.


Friday, January 25, 2013


Overweight and obesity related health disorders are increasingly becoming common, especially among population in wealthy countries who have easy access to cheap but calorie and fat rich food products. Billions of dollars are being invested by consumers affected by these disorders for getting rid of excess weight and fat in the body to escape from the consequences of overweight, scientifically documented by many studies at the international level. While a majority of medical, nutritional and health experts feel that overweight is really dangerous, there is a small segment of scientific community which maintains that over weight people are not at greater risk of dying compared to normal weight persons. Here is a take on this conflicting views which can derail the current aggressive approach on obesity alleviation.

"It's a common medical refrain: Carrying extra pounds raises the risk of ills such as heart disease and diabetes and therefore the risk of a premature death. But does that heightened risk of early death apply across the board to those who are merely overweight? A new analysis of nearly 3 million people suggests maybe not. The finding, published on-line Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., pooled data from 97 studies encompassing adult men and women in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, China, Taiwan, Japan, Brazil, India and Mexico. A total of 270,000 people died of any cause during the studies. When the scientists crunched the numbers, they found, as expected, that people who were significantly obese — with a body mass index, or BMI, of 35 or more — had shorter life spans on average than those who were of normal weight, defined as having a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9. But the scientists also found that people classified as overweight, with a BMI of 25 to 29.9, died at slightly lower rates — not higher — than those of so-called normal weight. And they found that those who were mildly obese, with a BMI of 30 to 34.9, died in no greater numbers than did their normal-weight peers".

Is it not a disservice to humanity when scientists supposed to be searching for truth in whatever they do, indulge in such semantics putting the consumers in great distress not knowing what to believe? A closer scrutiny of the new findings reveals that the conclusions are based on crunching of health  data of thousands of persons and their past history. Though the data have been statistically analyzed, it is difficult to fully comprehend the significance of the new conclusion because a wrong reading can lead to millions of people presently on diet control, to be less vigilant and disciplined in eating that can have unknown consequences in future. A possible and rational explanation for the above unusual findings can be that those who are overweight might have been suffering from diseases like diabetes, CVD and hypertension, forcing them to resort to good and regular medication making their lives much more protective compared to normal healthy persons.  


Thursday, January 24, 2013


The importance of water in this Universe cannot be over emphasized. The whole human civilization prospered over thousands of years of history because of plenty of water sources accessible to them. With modern world built on unsustainable energy and water consumption levels in pursuit of material comforts, world seems to be running out of both these critical resources. While fossil fuel, the very foundation of modern industrialized society is fast dwindling with most sources getting exhausted due to over exploitation, water is also facing a similar situation. Though this planet boasts of abundant water all around, most of it is brackish in nature unfit for consumption or use for any productive purpose. Over exploitation of ground water and loss of rain water due to flow off into the ocean and destruction of natural lakes and water bodies, both the drinking water supply as well as irrigation water needs are dwindling fast, putting the future of humanity into a crisis mode. If the current trend continues, even production of food required to meet the bare minimum needs of man will be in jeopardy. Here is a commentary on the impending disaster if adequate measures are not taken now to meet the grim situation ahead.  

Allegations abound of manufacturers in developing countries depleting or damaging local freshwater to produce nutritiously dubious products, but, even where operations do not impact a community's supplies, can multinationals really justify creating water intensive foodstuffs for foreign markets when so many in the source nation lack clean water? Crossley suggests the issue is fundamentally an issue of rights. "We should not assume," he explains, "that we in the UK somehow have more of a right to the water that goes into producing our green beans or our tomatoes than those living in the [places] where they're grown." Aware that water scarcity presents real challenges, the cohort of companies looking to find solutions is expanding. In Britain, industry body the Food and Drink Federation launched the Every Last Drop campaign to focus on the practical steps that can be taken to conserve water, including tracking usage and reducing, recycling and reusing supplies. Food manufacturers "want to be responsible and do the right thing" insists Andrew Kuyk, the federation's director of sustainability. "What we eat in this country does affect the availability of water for domestic communities in Africa, South America, Australia or various other parts of the world – there is an inter-connectedness through global supply chains." Around a quarter of food and drink manufacturers in England and Wales have now committed to reducing water usage by 20% by 2020. But if they want to fully protect themselves against future water crises, they need to think about the whole of their supply chain, says Kuyk. "In some parts of Africa the combination of temperature rises and water scarcity will mean that some traditional crops may not be viable in ten years time. So if you are a chocolate manufacturer you need to start thinking: what are the potential alternative sources?" Many observers point to technological changes to help avert water crises. From genetic engineering and innovations in purification and desalination to novel changes to irrigation, recycling, piping and storage, there is reason to believe that water scarcity is not an "insoluble" problem, says Kuyk.But as long as water is cheap, the disincentive to invest in water efficiency may be too great. "If you can turn a tap on and get water for free, why would you spend £20,000 installing a piece of machinery?"
Drastic situation requires drastic remedies and mankind has no alternative but to reduce water consumption to a bare minimum besides taking measures to conserve water as much as possible. The recycling of used water cannot be brushed away and increasingly this is going to be a viable option. Similarly processing saline water to extract pure water is also emerging as an unavoidable necessity and countries like UAE, Israel have already proved that this route is feasible and desirable. There are highly efficient water technologies developed over the years and all it needs is a will and determination to take them up in a big way. The old concept that water is available plenty and can be had free will have to yield to new philosophy that it is a precious resource for which every one has to pay a price.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013


China is fast growing as the capital of fraudulent food products manufactured both for exports as well as domestic consumption. While one will have laud the economic miracles achieved by this ancient country with in a short span of time, what is incomprehensible is why this country is not able to prevent food frauds taking place more and more frequently affecting its image abroad and health of its citizens. Some how countries like India and China are under estimating the innovative genius shown by food criminals who seem to be invariably one step ahead of the government! Latest episode of food fraud comes from some parts of China where chicken farmers are reported to be using banned drugs, antibiotics and non-permissible hormones to fatten their chicken, obviously to make fast money, ignoring the well being of the citizens. Here is commentary on this despicable practices going on unchecked in this country.

On December 18, China Central Television (CCTV), the country's national television station, reported
that several Shandong-located chicken farms fed antibiotics and hormones to chickens every day 
to reduce their death rate and quicken their growth. Hormones, antibiotics and antiviral drugs,
were all fed to the chickens to compensate for the unsanitary conditions in their cages,
according to the CCTV report. The owner of one of the farms says he gave the chickens
at least 18 kinds of antibiotics. Within a mere 40 days, the chickens' weight would surge
upward of 3 kg. To make matters worse, the chickens were found to be  given drugs banned
by the State Food and Drug Administration of China (SFDA). According to the report, some
chickens were fed anti-biotics two days before slaughter.China's poultry raising regulations state that chickens cannot be given drugs at leastone week before being slaughtered to ensure the drugs are no longer in their systems. Two such farms in Gaomi  and Pingdu, both in east China's Shandong Province, sold their chickens to a slaughterhouse  in Pingdu, which belongs to Liuhe Group, the company that provides chicken to the China
division of Yum Brands of Shanghai, which owns the KFC fast food chain. Yum's logistics center then
delivered the chicken to its fast food stores, said the report.Companies belonging  ;to Liuhe Group
also fabricated feeding logs for their chicken farms and produced quarantine qualifications without
 conducting any tests, said the report. On December 21, the Shanghai Food and Drug Administration
conducted a food safety check at KFC outlets. It found that one of 32 samples taken from eight
batches of Yum Brands' raw chicken was suspected to be contaminated with the anti-viral medicine amantadine, which is banned for use in food. The Shanghai food and drug authority
has asked Yum to recall related products fr omits KFC restaurants&nb sp;and has launched a citywide
inspection of KFC outlets. Yum Brands Inc., the world's largest restaurant group, is believed to have known
about the antibiotics in its chicken as far back as 2010. Beijing Review was unable to reach
Yum Brands for comment. McDonald's and the Japanese fast food chain Yoshinoya have also been embroiled in the chicken scandal. On December 23, the Beijing Animal Inspection authority uncovered that
23 restaurants or food companies bought chicken from Liuhe Group, including Yoshinoya.
Some dishes incorporating chicken have been withdrawn from sale at Yoshinoya restaurantsin Beijing,
reported the Xinhua News Agency. On December 26, McDonald's admitted that the Liuhe
Group was its secondtier supplier.It claims to have stopped using raw chicken from Liuhe since December 18. During a press conference held on December 25, Bi Meijia, spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), said that relevant poultry raisers and processors have been shutdown
and are currently under investigation. The MOA has dispatched a group ofexperts to Shandong
Province to inspect the matter, he said.

Globally food adulterators and fraudulent players are having a swell time in making money by cheating the consumers and the regulatory agencies through very innovative techniques and higher the prices of food products larger seems to be margins for this industry! Olive oil, Saffron, Honey, etc are prime candidates for fraudulent practices and due to many reaons they are able to get away without being detected and pinished. Milk is another food item attracting adulterators in droves and this is an example of how such activities are sustained for decades in every part of the world. Imagine the genius of these criminals in India where milk is made without the help of a cow or a buffalo but using chemicals like urea and detergents! Probably people, especially in poor and developing countries may have to live with this evil till adequate resources are available to them to create required infrastructural facilities to check, uncover and bring to book those indulging in food related criminal activities.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Modern America is considered the consumption capital of soda (say cola drink), the much hated sugary drink with caffeine, phosphoric acid and caramel color. Compared to any other nation in this planet Americans can boast that their per capita consumption of soda is the highest in the world and some time one wonders whether soda consumption and power go hand in hand! It took quiet some time for these super rich nation to realize that soda consumption can be dangerous to the health of their citizens and what New York did recently to ban large sized soft drinks through retailers is a right step in the right direction to curb consumption of sugary drinks. Now comes the news that there is a distinct trend emerging where brewed coffee is being increasingly being favored in preference to soft drinks. Here is a commentary on this new development that may have some implications on the health of the population in that country.

"And that makes sense. New survey data from the NPD group, which tracks trends in what Americans eat and drink, finds that 18- to 24-year-olds are turning to coffee, rather than caffeinated sodas, as their pick-me-up of choice. In 2002, about 25 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds reported drinking coffee sometime within a two-week period. But by 2012, the percentage of young adults drinking coffee in that same time frame hit 39 percent. For evidence of this trend, I hit a coffee shop near the campus of George Washington University, which is just a Metro-ride away from NPR headquarters here in D.C. In mid afternoon, I found a packed house. "This is nothing for two o'clock in the afternoon," senior Arturo Lichaucho tells me. Often times, the line is out the door and around the block, he explained, and lots of students hit the coffee shop before hitting the books in the late afternoon. The students I chatted with gave lots of reasons for a steady coffee habit, including increasing demands on their time that lead to less sleep, and the 24/7 culture of overstimulation. And why not drink more coffee? Recent studies link coffee consumption to a range of good health effects, including decreased risk of dementia and decreased risk of depression among women.
But experts say there is one downside that's often overlooked: Coffee consumption can get in the way of a good night's sleep. "Our data has shown that a brewed coffee contains much more caffeine than a cold cola beverage" says Bruce Goldberger, a toxicologist at the University of Florida. The Center for Science in the Public Interest took a look at several popular items and analyzed their caffeine content. It found that a 12-ounce cup of coffee from Starbucks contains about 260 milligrams of caffeine, which is about five times more than a 12-ounce can of Diet Coke".

What worries some health pundits is the possibility of increased levels of caffeine consumption as coffee contains significantly higher levels of this intoxicant. Caffeine is a natural component of beverage crops like coffee, tea and cocoa and beverages based on these crops have been consumed for ages without any adverse consequences. However an issue that needs consideration is whether at the moderate levels of coffee consumed during yesteryear it has any ill effects at all whereas to day there is a tendency to over consume that can result in undesirable impact on health. Advent of decaffeinated coffee was thought to lessen the impact of caffeine on human health through high consumption of this stimulant beverage but it appears there are not many takers for this version except for medically impaired conditions. Is it not time ripe for the WHO to come up with a universal safe upper limit for caffeine for the sake of millions of people who are addicted to coffee? If appropriate guidelines are forthcoming from competent sources, coffee consumers may yet moderate their coffee drinking habit to stay below the danger mark vis-a-vis caffeine.  


Monday, January 21, 2013


Imagine the awesome responsibility one has when undertaking catering to thousands of people with different health conditions and diverse vulnerabilities to some food constituents. Take for example gluten allergy which affects millions of people when they consume wheat based food preparations or for that matter those consuming peanuts containing products with allergy for the same. There are many consumers with some GI tract disorders who will have to depend on restrictive diets for their very survival. Naturally to serve to their requirements, without really knowing their problems is next to impossible. How many caterers are aware of such dietary restrictions with which people live with? Can they be held accountable if some mishaps occur when such consumers get sick after consuming food preparations served by them?. These are questions with far reaching implications. A recent report about a canteen in a University refusing to serve special foods to students with such disabilities became an issue of serious concern all around. Here is the gist of this episode from which public catering organizations have to learn a lesson.
"The settlement with Lesley University, reached last month but drawing little attention, will require the Cambridge institution to serve gluten-free foods and make other accommodations for students who have celiac disease. At least one student had complained to the federal government after the school would not exempt that student from a meal plan even though the student couldn't eat the food. "All colleges should heed this settlement and take steps to make accommodations," says Alice Bast, president and founder of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. "To our community this is definitely a precedent." Under the agreement, Lesley University says it will not only provide gluten-free options in its dining hall but also allow students to pre-order, provide a dedicated space for storage and preparation to avoid contamination, train staff about food allergies and pay a $50,000 cash settlement to affected students. "We are not saying what the general meal plan has to serve or not," Hill says. "We are saying that when a college has a mandatory meal plan they have to be prepared to make reasonable modifications to that meal plan to accommodate students with disabilities."
Food industry in general has adopted label declaration as a means of forewarning of consumers regarding the likelihood of presence of even traces of one or the other allergens which are about eight in number recognized at present. Probably this would pre-empt any likelihood of legal action by those becoming sick by consuming these foods. But catering is a different proposition and at present there does not exist any system of forewarning. Probably it is time that at least they display prominently those preparations containing any allergic components. The case reported above did result in punitive damages against the caterer but the reason for that was compulsory boarding rules preventing the students from accessing foods outside. Hostels and such other dedicated facilities should have a flexible policy that will allow inmates to take foods outside if their medical conditions demand. Alternately arrangements ought to be made for preparing special foods meeting their requirements.    

Sunday, January 20, 2013


Is bottled water a basic necessity of day to day life? An interesting question that may elicit different answer from different people. If this question is asked of any citizens in India, the answer definitely will be in the affirmative. Why? Because there is hardly any source of water in India that can be considered safe for drinking without causing water-borne diseases like Hepatitis B or jaundice! In countries like the US or in Europe piped water supply can be depended upon for safety and bottled water at best may be only for convenience for carrying around where ever one goes. No wonder that not providing potable water in almost all so called protected water supply regimen in urban areas, GOI has opened up a great invest opportunity to thousands entrepreneurs to set up shop, peddling so called potable water! While some are genuine processors there are many fly-by-night operators fleecing the citizens by selling bottled water of dubious quality and safety. A global movement seems to be in early stage of growth which calls for banning of bottled water in many cities and other public places and encouraging drinking from public outlets from where potable water of assured quality is ensured. There is a report about a civic body in Italy which has banned bottled water and instead has branded its piped water with guaranteed quality and safety! Here is a take on this new movement with far reaching implications.

"When students at the University of Vermont resume classes on the snow-covered Burlington campus Monday, something will be missing: bottled water. UVM is the latest university to ban on-campus sales of bottled water. At one of UVM's recently retrofitted refill stations, students fill up their reusable bottles with tap water. For many of the 14,000 students and staff on this campus, topping off their refillable bottles is an old habit."It's much more convenient to fill up your water bottle at a water fountain than to buy bottled water," says Mikayla McDonald, a recent graduate, who a few years ago helped to launch the campaign that led to UVM's ban. McDonald hopes it will reduce waste. But for her, it's not just about changing behavior on campus. "Bottled water is a symbol of our culture's obsession with commodifying things that should be public trust resources," she says. In that spirit, a few other American colleges have restricted or banned the sale of bottled water to promote sustainability. But the University of Vermont is the largest public institution to do so, and that development disappoints beverage companies.
"I think they're concerned because it's such a radical step," says lobbyist Andrew MacLean, who represents local water and soft drink distributors in Vermont. He agrees with the students' environmental goals, but he thinks an outright ban restricts free choice and will ultimately fail. "The factors that will result in more materials getting out of landfills is going to be a cooperative effort promoting strong recycling," he argues. But at least one New England town says recycling isn't enough to keep plastic bottles out of its waste stream. Concord, Mass. — perhaps best known for its role in the American Revolution — joined the student movement this month, outlawing the sale of single-serve plastic water bottles in its stores".

Branded bottled water is considered a big blessing for millions of Indians who have no accessibility to safe potable water due to suspect quality of water supplies all over the country. Whether resource crunch or apathy is responsible for thousands of urban entities to shirk their responsibility to establish viable water supply schemes in their township is a matter of debate. It was only recently that Karnataka High Court pulled up the government for the apathy it has shown in not regulating the bottled water industry by aggressive overseeing to ensure the products conform to ISI standards  but knowing the apathy of the government no honest citizen expects any thing dramatic to come out as a result of such strictures from the judiciary! The manufacturers of domestic water treatment equipment are laughing all the way to their banks because of high demand for their gadgets from millions of households who do not want to jeopardize their health by drinking unsafe "government water"!


Friday, January 18, 2013


From time to time claims are made regarding the virtues of one or the other foods on improving the human health. While some of them are put on the Internet or published in periodicals, good as well as not so good in reputation, with no bad intention, many of them are half baked claims with no scientific basis, probably for publicity. There are also many findings in Ayurveda medicinal system highlighting the usefulness of many traditional foods in alleviating some of the common afflictions visiting humanity at large. What is problematic is translating the results into reality in many human beings with different metabolic and physiological features. It is very true that one man's food may be another man's poison! Recent claim that a soup preparation popular in some parts of the world, can combat blood pressure is some what amusing considering that even if true, practically it is not possible to make and consume this product day in and day out. Here is a gist of the above claim. 

'A regular bowl of gazpacho soup, made up of a range of super foods including tomato, cucumber, garlic and olive oil, could be the key to beating high blood pressure, a research has found. Experts found that even though the cold Spanish dish contains salt, which people with high blood pressure are told to avoid, those having it regularly saw their BP levels drop, Daily Express reported. The soup, the experts believe, could be used to help prevent the condition, reducing the risk of developing hypertension by as much as 27 percent. The latest findings- by scientists at the University of Barcelona and published in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases- have major implications for millions of Britons blighted by ill health due to high blood pressure. The research, into the effects of a Mediterranean diet on people at high risk of cardiovascular diseases, looked at 3,995 people taking gazpacho".

There are hundreds of diet components that may have different effect on different metabolic functions in human body and in the modern world where one in five people consume one drug or the other for protection from diseases like CVD, blood pressure and diabetes, what effect such food preparations will have on their net well being, is a million dollar question begging for an answer! Same is true with vegetables, herbs, fruits and other natural food materials recommended by different "experts" for combating a number of ailments. For a normal healthy person these products may not bring any harm but for those health compromised population such prescriptions can be a one way route to disaster and they must seek a specialist's advice before changing the regular diet believing thousands of claim made in the literature.


Thursday, January 17, 2013


Use of antibiotics in raising food yielding animals is a subject courting intense controversy and no one knows the real situation at the ground level. Two important arguments one hears against wide scale use of a number of antibiotics by the animal food industry are that it makes many pathogens that cause disease in humans become more resistant to use of antibiotics when used against diseases and more than 80% of the US production of antibiotics goes for incorporation in animal feed stock. Both the above claims are sought to be debunked by a report which recently appeared in the media which makes some sense. Here is a take on this critique on antibiotics and animal food industry.  

From what I have been reading lately, it appears to me that the next big fight over agriculture's ability to provide consumers with plentiful, safe and affordable meat and poultry products will focus on the use of antibiotics in animals raised for food. And it also appears to me that the information being provided through media outlets is not designed to inform, but to misinform and play on the public's lack of detailed knowledge about the use of antibiotics in animals raised for food. And it also appears to me that the main thrust of the attack will be eliminating the use of antibiotics needed to maintain healthy animals in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs. Eliminating antibiotics to control or prevent infections in our herds and flocks will eliminate many CAFOs and drive up the cost of protein to the point where many will have to look elsewhere for this portion of their diets. And many opponents of the use of antibiotics in animals say: "And that would be a good thing." So is the agenda to protect me from multi drug resistant bacteria or is it to reduce the amount of animal products we consume? To try and answer that question I want to supply the readers with some facts, facts that I will provide links for and can be repeated time after time as the truth, if anyone cares to listen to you. First of all, a statistic often repeated by the crowd calling for change is that 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used in animals. The 80 percent number is meant to be a distraction from the real truth. In truth, the numbers posted on the FDA's website, titled 2010  SUMMARY REPORT on Antimicrobials Sold or Distributed for Use in Food-Producing Animals, are in total kilograms of drugs sold. The listing is not indicative of what the antibiotics were used for, nor is it an accurate reflection of illnesses treated vs. prevented, etc.
For instance, a 2,500 pound prize bull with pneumonia is going to be treated with a much larger dosage of an antibiotic than an 8 pound newborn with the same bacterial infection. But the numbers are the best we have for animal antibiotic use, so I will be using them today. For human use of antibiotics, the same caveat about weight applies. The antibiotic numbers sold for human use that I will use for this discussion come from a letter to Congresswoman Slaughter from the FDA dated April 19, 2011, citing the IMS Health, IMS National Sales Perspectives data Year 2009.
According to the FDA report, 28 percent of all antibiotics sold for animal use in 2010 were Ionophores.  Ionophores have never been approved for use in human medicine. Several other drugs sold for use in animals are also not approved for use in human medicine. When they are combined with the Ionophore total, the percentage of antibiotics sold for use in animals but having no place in human disease treatment reaches 45 percent.
The largest class overall of antibiotics sold or distributed for use in animals in 2010 was the tetracycline class.  This class accounted for nearly 42 percent of total sales. Tetracycline use in human medicine comprises about 1 percent of the total amount sold based on weight. Tetracycline used to be widely prescribed, but is now limited in use to treating the sexually transmitted disease caused by Chlamydia, Mycoplasma infections and Rickettsial diseases like Lyme and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. For these illnesses, there are antibiotics far superior to tetracycline. These other antibiotics, generally in the class called Macrolides, are the first line of therapy.

The above report raises serious questions regarding the role and credibility of scientists, the USFDA, the USDA and others involved in educating consumers regarding the truth vis-a-vis antibiotics use by animal food industry. If logic is the guiding factor the contention by the author of above critique sounds more convincing than the off-the-cuff opinions and views of critics who deride the practice of antibiotics use by the animal food industry. Another issue is that antibiotics in feed increases the yield of meat which is a desirable practice and no one should have quarrel on that unless it is proved unhealthy to the humans. Now that this controversy has been raked up there is a need for scientific clarity and make a revisit of the issue by those in power controlling the destiny of the food industry through their executive authority. 


Wednesday, January 16, 2013


When does one change one's view after years of taking a definitive stand on an issue? Either after becoming a turn coat due to considerations other than merit or getting convinced genuinely that the stand taken was wrong based on new information generated. GM foods, by any stretch of imagination, cannot be considered a closed issue because there are turn coats galore in this materialistic world who are ready to "confess" about their guilt in "opposing" these versions of food products made by genetic manipulation. It does not matter how many such turn coats appear on the scene confessing their mistake in opposing these foods, the truth can never be suppressed. The argument that not even a single person has died so far eating a GM food is irrational and illogical just like saying that no single death has been reported of death any where in the world due to obesity! Logically world need not bother about obesity if such arguments are accepted! It is dangerous to allow such specious arguments to cloud the issue and gloss over it. Here is a typical "view" now being aired by pro-GM lobby players to "convince" the world that GM food is absolutely safe!

In the speech, a founder of the anti-GM food movement issued his personal apology to the planet for the harm done to world food production. Oh, and he also said GM food is without risk to food safety. The money quote: "I don't know about you, but I've had enough. So my conclusion here today is very clear: the GM debate is over. It is finished. We no longer need to discuss whether or not it is safe – over a decade and a half with three trillion GM meals eaten there has never been a single substantiated case of harm." And: "You are more likely to get hit by an asteroid than to get hurt by GM food. More to the point, people have died from choosing organic, but no-one has died from eating GM." Lynas used "unflinching language and tone" in the remarks, according to Bloomberg News, which is where I first learned of this speech. It was downloaded 125,000 times in the three days after it became available. My take is Lynas demonstrated impressive knowledge of science and current GM events around the world. "We are coming to a crunch point, and for the sake of both people and the planet, now is the time for you (the anti-GM lobby) to get out of the way and let the rest of us get on with feeding the world sustainably." And don't think he's gone corporate. Lynas documents how opponents have raised the cost of bringing any GM crop to market that only big corporations can do it. "It now costs tens of millions to get a crop through the regulatory systems in different countries. In fact the latest figures I've just seen from CropLife suggest it costs $139 million to move from discovering a new crop trait to full commercialization, so open-source or public sector biotech really does not stand a chance, " he said. "There is a depressing irony here that the anti-biotech campaigners complain about GM crops only being marketed by big corporations when this is a situation they have done more than anyone to help bring about. As for food safety risks, he says the public has been fooled into misconstruing reality. Germany's deadly 2011 E. coli outbreak was equal to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster with 53 deaths and 3,500 victims of kidney failure and the source was organic beansprouts. Lynas says the people who chose organic to avoid "trivial risk" from pesticides or fertilizers are the one who ended up making fatal decisions. The author has a few good things to say about organic, but wants people to understand it freezes agricultural practices at about 1950, just as the Amish practices stop at about 100 years earlier. His message is we cannot afford to stop there or not use technology to feed a world population of more than 9 billion by 2050. Totally disconnecting food safety from the GM food issue is not going to be easy. Many GM stories you see in the news these days are about obscure patent issues or the intricacies of federal processes. I've chased these myself only to find there was never going to be any "Perry Mason" moment about food safety. However, food safety studies are going to go on forever. One of my colleagues pointed out that a recent Nova Scotia study has found Monsanto's GM cucumbers cause the added problem (or maybe benefit) of causing "total groin hair loss and chafing in sensitive areas."  (Okay, that was Canadian satire.) What it does mean, I think, is that we are going to raise the bar for what makes a GM food story a food safety story. It is the only way we can make sure we are expending time and resources on the right food safety targets. And as I think about it, maybe we need to go back and look at all those illnesses and deaths caused by organic practices and look at whether the public is properly weighing risks".

It is a foregone conclusion that human survival depends very much on increased food production through safe and efficient technology and agricultural scientists will have to evolve such technologies sooner than later to keep up production in tune with growing population. But to argue that GMO route is the only one to achieve production increase cannot be accepted as of now unless there is unanimity about its safety on long term consumption. The specious argument that no death has been reported due to consumption of GM foods cannot be a credible proof for universal acceptance of these artificially fabricated food materials. To continue this logic why is that tobacco was banned when not even a single death was reported due to only cigarette smoking? Why is alcohol consumption discouraged when no single death was directly attributed to drinking of alcoholic products? Why is there restriction on caffeine consumption when millions drink coffee and cola beverages and no one has proved that caffeine has killed any one in the history of mankind? If there are millions of clues and indicators regarding the possible risk of consuming GM foods on the long term which may not be directly due to GM foods but due to collateral damages, can these foods be really acceptable? All countries cannot emulate the US and if this country wants its population to be under the ever dangling sword in the form of threat of impending calamity from GM food consumption one day or the other it is their business. Future history will prove how responsible those countries not allowing unrestricted use of GMO foods are in protecting the health of their valuable citizens!


Tuesday, January 15, 2013


A perennial question that has been begging for an answer in independent India is whether the country will ever be self-sufficient vis-a-vis the basic foods like cereals, pulses and edible oils? When the much hyped Green Revolution was at its pinnacle, many citizens in this country entertained hope that self-sufficiency was achievable one day or the other. But with each passing day the pessimistic population is increasing and for a valid reason. The agricultural policy of the country, if there is one, is a sham with neither the NPC nor the GOI having any clue regarding the direction the country is moving. Year after year the gap between demand and supply is widening at an alarming rate when it comes to pulses and edible oils. As for the cereals, though adequate production is being achieved to meet the statistical average per capita need, due to economic compulsions many poor families have limited or no access to them at affordable price. The global demand for food grains may provide an outlet to the surplus production of many farmers through export but the restrictive and unpredictable export policy of GOI is a dampener to such efforts. Naturally the suppressed entrepreneurial energy of aspirational Indian farmers can find expression only in a foreign land with free environment and minimum hassles by way of government interference. Here is the story of the farmers from Punjab region who are making it big in countries like Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Georgia and other erstwhile states of former Soviet Union, cocking a snook at the GOI leaving it red faced! 

Singh, 38, is one of a new wave of farmers pioneering one of the world's more unlikely migrations. During a recent spell as a cook in Dusseldorf, Germany, he heard about thousands of acres of fertile land on former collective farms lying fallow in Georgia for want of manpower. The contrast with his native Punjab, with its surging population and high land prices, was striking. So two months ago, he and three friends flew from Amritsar to Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, to seal a deal for the lease of 50 hectares. Back for a short break and some tandoori chicken, Singh said he was very happy with the move, even if he remains slightly vague about the geography of his new home. "We are paying $950 [£580] for each hectare for a 99-year lease. You'd not get much for that in the Punjab. I'm not sure if the farm is in the north or south but it is sort of over by Turkey and Armenia," he said.Singh and his associates are far from alone. A growing number of Punjabi farmers are heading for Georgia. Agents in major towns such as Jalandhar are advertising Georgian land deals and business is brisk. "It started a while back, just a dozen or so. Maybe now it is hundreds. Once words spreads there will be many. They come to me for passports. They are looking for pastures new," said JS Sodhi, the bureaucrat who issues travel documents in Amritsar, the nearest major city to Manochahal.The farmers of the Punjab, known as the grain basket of India, have long searched overseas for new land. An earlier wave of migrants went to Canada, where urbanization meant thousands of farms were empty. More recently, Punjabi farmers have been buying or renting thousands of hectares in Ukraine, Uzbekistan and across eastern and central Africa."Punjabi people are always going to different countries. They are very adventurous and enterprising," said Sodhi.

The success of these entrepreneurs will depend to a large extent on their ability to respect the local population and its ethos and culture. Identifying themselves with the local citizenry and working for their uplifting through better employment opportunities and working conditions can be expected to endear them to their country of adoption. The idea that foreigners are allowed to own land by these countries must have strong reason and that could be to increase food production to meet the local demand. Therefore any marketing efforts must keep in view the food situation in that country and at least a part of the local need must be met from the production achieved by the Indian entrepreneurs. Probably Indians can be expected to learn valuable lessons from their foreign enterprises in course of time and must keep in mind the catastrophic experience of early Indian settlers in Africa who had to flee from these countries under tragic circumstances. Let it be a win-win situation for both the Indians and the countries of their adoption.