Thursday, March 28, 2013


If any Indian citizen wants to go through a depression phase, please read the stinging criticism of GOI's program, spending billions of rupees to tackle the problem of malnourished children in the country! What a pathetic situation that exists in thousands of nutrition management centers where thousands of workers are employed on the pay role of the government! In spite of such resource allocation the country is not able to make any substantial impact on the sorry conditions under which millions of children live with no hope. Why such insensitivity? Conceded that in a democracy there can be small gap between targets and actual accomplishments but not this type of gaping hole in the program with criminals and shameless touts, siphoning of the earmarked funds through devious means. Capital punishment in this country must be reserved for such culprits who make money at the expense of poor children! Here is a report of the Controller and Auditor General about this massive financial misappropriation.

"A decade after a CAG audit revealed how a scheme to help infants and young children was failing, a fresh report tabled in Parliament on Tuesday says the number of malnourished children exceeds the 40% mark in 10 states as on March, 2011. The audit of the flagship Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) says 49% children in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar (82%), Haryana (43%), Jharkhand (40%), Odisha (50%), Rajasthan (43%), UP (41%) and Delhi (50%) are moderately to severely malnourished".

in stead of proclaiming from the house top catchy slogans like aam aadmi, gharibi hatao, food security and cash transfer, governments at the center as well as in the states must concentrate on plugging the holes in the program. It is time that a separate dedicated cadre of committed service oriented rural development personnel is created with short time training for managing children's program. The service conditions for them should be such that their performance should be measured in terms of percentage of children uplifted through their service as certified by health specialists.   


Thursday, March 14, 2013


Looking at the frenetic pace at which many of the established chemical pesticide manufacturers are investing in bio-control creatures with a capacity to kill common pests like grasshoppers give one the impression that they have genuinely concerned about the dangers posed by their diverse portfolio of chemicals used by millions of farmers all over the world. This is a wrong guess because their consideration is totally different. Having read the writing on the world regarding the rising resistance to chemical pesticides by farmers and consumers alike, they really want to see whether alternate options are available that will be acceptable to all the stake holders. Also in their mind is the vision that their existing chemical pesticides can work more effectively and at lesser levels to counteract many vectors that affect crops like Corn, Soy and others. Though the present share of such bio-pesticides, if one call them by that term, is a meager 3% of the 44 billion pesticide market, this is bound to increase exponentially once the range of new bio-pesticides is expanded through more developmental efforts. Here is a commentary on this interesting development which can have some beneficial impact in the long run.     

"The global crop-protection industry is dominated by agrochemical companies such as Syngenta (SYT),Monsanto (MON), and Bayer CropScience. It's also dominated by awesome, crime-fighting bugs (note: that is not the technical term). With U.S. and European Union regulators, not to mention supermarket chains, toughening their stance against traditional pesticides, Basel-based Syngenta is now breeding and selling fly-munching mites, caterpillar-killing wasps, and "premium quality" bees in bulk to help farmers find chemical-free solutions to crop damage. Monsanto, the biggest developer of genetically modified crops, is engineering naturally occurring molecules to help kill weeds, insects, and plant viruses. At Marrone Bio Innovations, founded in 2006 and based in Davis, Calif., a new product called Zequanox, made from a common microbe, is proving an effective killer of the zebra and quagga mussels that clog factory and power generator pipes. "You can save a lot of money when you don't need to stop a factory" to turn back the freshwater invaders, says Pamela Marrone, the start-up's founder and chief executive officer, who has a Ph.D. in entomology".

One of the earliest bio-pesticides known is Bacillus thuringensis which became a pawn in the hands of the GMO companies to evolve many crops including Cotton through transgenic technology which are supposed to be resistant to attack by some of the established pests encountered by the farmers. It was only recently that India denied permission for introducing Bt Brinjal from one of the transnational companies into the country because of real apprehensions regarding the consequences on environment and the natural gene pool available in domestic Brinjal. Concept-wise Bio-control agents can be an excellent tool if properly harnessed and carefully used after going through a SWOT analysis to understand the benefits and risks thoroughly.  A larger question that bugs many honest people is whether such developments should be left in the hands of profit-centered private multinational companies which use the intellectual property provisions to bottle them up without sharing their results and products with farmers of third world? There are excellent public funded farm research organizations with national as well as international reputation which must be strengthened to take up such work and results from these agencies can be made available to farm communities globally.  



Over 7 billion people in this planet depend on a dozen or so food safety agencies, national as well as international to guide them to buy safe foods in the market. These include WHO, FAO, the FDA, EFSA, FSA of UK etc and these organizations are supposed to be staffed with unbiased experts in food toxicology, food chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology and other complimentary scientific disciplines. While under normal circumstances no one doubts the integrity of these experts, to day questions regarding their bias is raised too frequently to be ignored easily. Probably this has happened because of the enormous financial and political clout some of the multinational food giants wield over the governments in many countries. This results in distorted decisions, delayed decisions and no decision at all in many cases. Here is an account of the ground reality that exists to day in Europe and the serious question raised regarding the integrity of the agency that is supposed to sit in judgment over the safety data submitted by the industry which often goes in favor of the latter in majority of cases.

The incisive article below on the food sweetener aspartame precisely nails the problem of scientific decision making at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). EFSA accepts weak industry data claiming safety for a risky product, but relentlessly finds fault with and dismisses independent scientific studies that find risk. The 2012 study of Prof G-E Seralini and team on GM maize and Roundup is one example among many of a carefully designed and conducted study that found risk but which was dismissed by EFSA. Other examples include shedloads of independent studies showing risks from the plastics chemical bisphenol A, which EFSA dismissed in favour of a few industry-funded studies claiming safety. This asymmetric scrutiny is applied by EFSA on a regular basis, as confirmed in an interview with former EFSA GMO panel member Prof. Joachim Schiemann, who said of EFSA's scrutiny of the scientific literature on GMOs: "Of course, studies that describe potential negative environmental effects of GMOs are discussed particularly intensively."( panel.html). According to a study by food policy expert Erik Millstone and colleagues, this practice is interpreted by the European public as an illegitimate support for the biotechnology industry on the part of the supposedly impartial risk assessor.  Millstone and colleagues state, "greater institutional care was taken to try to avoid false positives [when a study finds risk from a product that's really safe] than to avoid false negatives [when a study claims safety for a product that is actually not safe]. That implies that critical scrutiny has been applied in an asymmetrical fashion that prima facie seems difficult to reconcile with a precautionary approach". (Millstone E, van Zwanenberg P, Marris C, Levidow L, Torgersen H: Science in Trade Disputes Related to Potential Risks: Comparative Case Studies. Seville: European Commission; 2004.).  EFSA is not alone in this practice of asymmetric scrutiny of scientific studies: it's fairly universal among regulatory agencies worldwide. A major problem with EFSA, as Millstone says in the article below, is that many of the experts that write EFSA opinions have direct or indirect conflicts of interest with industry.

Interestingly some of these agencies are so indebted to the industry that they are totally blind to the welfare and safety of their constituency, viz the consumers. Witness the struggle going on in the US where a substantial segment of the population want clear declaration of presence of GM ingredients in foods marketed, under their "right to know" what they are eating, on the front of the pack. The President as well as the law making bodies in that country continue to dither without taking any decision lest they will adversely hurt the interests of industry! Even assuming that GM foods are absolutely safe, what harm is there if the same is declared on the label like what is in vogue in other countries which have cleared some of the GM foods. It is easy for the US to do this because if such a law is enforced to day more than 85% of the products in the market will carry such a declaration! An unintended consequence of such a policy of procrastination on the part of the governments, will be to discourage honest scientists from pursuing independent studies in food safety area, lest they will be targets for unfair criticism by the industry and fellow scientists who may be on the pay roll of the industry! Consumers world over must rise against such a situation and take non-violent action to impress on the industry that it cannot ignore their interests any more.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013


In the US a new fad by the name "Glutenphobia" seems to be emerging for reasons not easily understood. Whether people are being mis-educated by the gluten free food products industry which had invested billions of dollars in developing hundreds of new products devoid of gluten or due to genuine experience of feeling better by avoiding gluten is a mystery which has to be probed further. What is intriguing is why scientists are not coming forward to categorically say that Gluten is harmless to people without any history Celiac disease or bring out any fact that implies this protein in any other human ailment. WHO has a role in demystifying the confusion surrounding Gluten through transparent studies involving human beings. Here is a commentary on this crazy trend in the US which speaks volume about the unimaginable clout food industry enjoys to day!  

"Around the beginning of 2012 this thing starts to rise, and it has yet to peak," Balzer says. "Right now 29 percent of the adult population says, 'I'd like to cut back or avoid gluten completely.' "Indeed, he says, people in his biweekly survey of 1,000 people were more likely to say they're trying to go gluten-free than to say they're dieting. That's interesting, since less than 1 percent of people have celiac disease, according to the National Institutes of Health. Those people can't tolerate gluten, a protein in wheat, rye and barley. For them, avoiding gluten is the only way to avoid painful gastrointestinal problems and other symptoms caused by this autoimmune disorder. But if the other 28 percent of people don't have celiac, why are they trying to shun gluten? It could be that they're sensitive to gluten. As we've previously reported, a small number of studies have found that people who don't have celiac can still have difficulties digesting gluten. Or they could just think it sounds healthful.

Occasionally there are reports by individuals that their undefined or non-diagnosed  health problems are relieved by avoiding Gluten in their daily diet though such claims have no scientific basis. If gluten free food products are tastier or more appealing to the consumers, such facts should be brought to surface through scientifically controlled sensory studies. Of course it is very difficult to predict consumer behavior. The example of the so called energy drinks, loaded with caffeine which is doing roaring business in spite of reported deaths among those consuming this beverage, is an example of wrong consumer perception regarding connection between health and food. Or for that matter the defeat of the proposal in California for fair labeling of GM foods is still an enigma with no rhyme or reason! If the rising demand for gluten free products in the US is driven by the industry with vested interests claiming non-existing advantages, it is time this bluff is rebutted by those responsible for consumer well being.   


Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Food processing equipment used in the industry contribute to many food poisoning episodes unwittingly because of inappropriate design parameters based on which they are fabricated that enable microorganisms thrive in certain parts in spite of thorough cleaning. Though stainless steel (non-magnetic varieties) has replaced other fabrication materials during the last five decades, inadequate appreciation of parameters that go into sound machine design results in equipment which could be vulnerable to residual contamination or left over residues with potential to spoil large volumes of food under processing. Due to cost consideration, plastics are replacing metal as preferred fabrication material posing problems of contamination from these parts. Food industry should be careful while selecting processing equipment to ensure that they are soundly designed to address the various concerns safety experts point out from time to time. Here is a critical commentary on this important issue which is a must reading for all food technologists.

"Improved hygienic design enhances cleanability, decreasing the risk of biological (pathogens), physical and chemical (e.g., allergens) contamination. Furthermore, equipment that is designed and constructed to meet hygienic principles is easier to maintain and reduces the risks of physical hazards (e.g., metal fragments from food equipment) in food processing. Surfaces of food equipment and related ancillary equipment are divided into food contact and nonfood product contact surfaces. While most of the discussion in this article relates to food contact surfaces, it should be recognized that nonfood product contact surfaces are very important and cannot be overlooked, as these surfaces have been implicated in environmental contamination. Under 3A Sanitary Standards, the accepted definition of a food contact surface is any surface that has direct contact with food residue, or where food residue can drip, drain, diffuse or be drawn. All food contact surfaces must meet specific hygienic design and fabrication requirements to ensure cleanability. Corrosion resistance and durability of the materials used are also important to maintain cleanability. Where appropriate, equipment should also be constructed to allow accessibility for inspection to observe whether it is adequately cleaned. Hygienic equipment design encompasses the following:"

With the advent of Clean-in-place (CIP) system of equipment offered by most of the manufacturers, food poisoning may be considered as a thing of the past but still inadequate attention to manage such cleaning operations can pose some problem and continuous vigilance only can avoid unanticipated food infection on the factory floor. It is the small scale sector which suffers because of the inability of these processors to shell out huge investment for buying high end equipment with CIP regime which costs heavily. These players end up buying equipment from small scale engineering firms with indifferent quality fabrication which can derail any well laid plan for safety management. In India the difference in the cost of machinery between large players and small fabricators can be as high as 100-200% and with a low volume production base, many food processors invariably gravitate towards small fabricators resulting in frequent production problems. While dry foods do not pose much of a problem except for infestation it is the high moisture food on the processing line that is vulnerable to safety risks. Many of the points raised in the above critique are valid and food industry must listen and practice what is recommended for their own sake as well as that of the consumers whom they are supposed to serve.



Strained baby food products serve the admirable purpose in seeing through the transition of a child from a diet based purely on mother's milk to that consuming solid foods. Such a transition is necessary to train the child in using its tongue, tender teeth and the oral cavity for preparing the food for swallowing and further digestion in the GI tract. Canned versions of strained vegetables, fruits, meat, cereals and different combinations were the first ones to be launched and being adequately processed they provided safe food to the child without danger from contamination. Then came the bottled version which had the advantage of no migration of any soluble contaminants into the contents unlike metal containers. With the advent of plastics and laminates squeezable pouches appeared on the scene which were readily accepted by mothers finding them more convenient than the earlier versions of containers. Questions are now being raised regarding the possible draw backs these pouches might have on the development of the oral ingestion system and impact on teeth heath. Here is a commentary on the same by knowledgeable pundits based on their experience.   

"Those squeeze pouches full of organic pureed food in clever combos like plum, berry and barley have become a lifesaver for busy parents. The colorful foil packets with the built-in feeding tips have only been on the market about five years. They cost about twice as much as the average prepared baby food in jars — nearly $2 a pop — but many people say they beat the old-fashioned stuff by a spoon, because they don't require refrigeration or heating or even a utensil. And they appeal to kids who would rather run around than stop and eat. (We've even witnessed older kids snag their younger siblings' fun-to-squeeze snacks.) These assets make them popular at playgrounds, parks and with car seat jockeys everywhere, but is there a downside to all that slurping? Actually, there might be a couple of downsides for developing teeth and mouths, but they may not be any worse in some ways than what lots of toddlers already do: suck on sippy cups full of milk or juice all day. "The constant exposure of sugar on their teeth is detrimental," says Paul Casamassimo, the oral health research and policy center director at the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. "My concern would be if the child walks around with this little pouch, then they might be doing the same thing," he says. In fact, the academy recommends ditching the sippy cup and going straight from bottle to cup between 12 and 15 months because of the potential risk of tooth decay. Casamassimo calls them "baby bottle methadone."Carbohydrates in all foods are used by bacteria to produce acid, and the acid eats away at the enamel of the teeth, creating the potential for cavities — a growing problem among all children, he says. And the pouch food, because of its consistency, may be particularly tough on teeth if it's allowed to sit there for long periods. "We know that tends to stick on teeth and prolong the opportunity for the bacteria to build," he says. Brushing kids' teeth twice a day and making them rinse with water after eating the pouch foods or drinking juice can help, Cassamassimo says. But what about potential injuries to children if the plastic feeding tip should jam into their teeth or gums while they're running around?"

Surprisingly the well established concept of training the child on sippy cups is also being challenged because of the likely impact it may have on tooth development. Of course strained foods with lot of sweetness can be a possible hazard by way of fostering growth of microbes that contribute to dental decay. The suggestion to brush the teeth twice a day may provide some relief but making the child consume water after each feeding also will go a long way to wash out the adhering food residue from the mouth avoiding dental decay. Weaning of a child from breast milk to semi-solid foods is a dedicated task and there is no scope for compromise on the desirable practices. A well looked after child is a sound citizen of tomorrow with healthy mind and body.


Monday, March 11, 2013


Is it not very uncommon for many people to pick up a dropped piece of food from the floor and blow it to remove any adhering matter before eating the same? Can this be condoned in to day's world where every one is aware of the potential pathogens can cause if infected foods are ingested? For convenience it was assumed by many that if such a dropped food piece is picked up within 5 seconds of dropping it, it is safe for consumption! Can this be correct? No way if one cares for likely contamination the dropped food is exposed to and the consequences of a stomach upset. Whether the foods can pick up bacteria within a short time of 5 seconds from the floor is not a relevant question because there is bound to be some bacteria on the floor and even if a minuscule portion sticks to the food, that will be sufficient to cause some damage if there are pathogens among them. There are many factors like moisture content of the food, stickiness of the food, shape of the piece dropped, relative cleanliness of the floor, surface roughness of the floor, composition of the food, pressure used to pick up the food etc and no one can predict that the food so picked up within 5 seconds after dropping will be free from bacteria. Here is a commentary on this issue which provides fascinating reading.   

"There is nothing funny about food-borne illnesses. They can cause vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever and chills. Symptoms typically appear suddenly and last a short time. But it's enough time to make you miserable. Most healthy people don't need medical treatment for food poisoning. But dehydration can result due to fluids lost during your sickness. And certain people need to be especially cautious. Pregnant women, young children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems are at higher risk for severe infections. There are two silly but common reactions when we drop food. First, you may look around to see if anyone noticed. "Maybe people think if no one saw it then it didn't really happen -- like if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?" Dobbins says. Another reaction is to blow on the dropped food, as if that will clean it off. "Not only is it silly, it actually adds 'fuel to the fire,'" Dobbins says."Your mouth contains lots of germs and bacteria, and blowing on something usually means we're kind of spitting on it, too." "That means we're adding more germs into the mix," she says. "Pediatricians tell us not to 'clean' off our babies' pacifiers with our own mouths for this very reason." "Yes, that technically means when someone blows out the birthday candles we're getting some germs there, too. Sorry to spoil the party!" Dr. Jorge Parada, director of the infection prevention and control program at the Loyola University Health System, suggests we adopt a new rule of thumb. "Instead of applying the five-second rule to a dropped food item," he says, "people should employ 'when in doubt, throw it out' as the golden rule."

Generally if the product dropped is firm and can be washed under running water, it can be used after such a washing process, If the food is a floury one, it is difficult to pick it up even within a minute, let alone in 5 seconds. Liquid foods can never be fit for consumption if it is recovered from the floor while pasty foods present still tougher logistical problem. In these days when every one is talking about food waste, it is true that no efforts must be spared to reduce such wastage as much as possible. May be those with high immunity to almost all bugs that thrive in tropical environments may be least affected by picking up dropped foods and eating them but many consumers with "weak" belly might be better off by avoiding such risks!. As the critics above aver, just throw the dropped food if there is a doubt about its safety, no matter how costly the dropped food is.


Sunday, March 10, 2013


There are only a few investigative science journalist in India and some of their writings are truly informative and useful. In one of a recent writings by such a journalist it was dramatically revealed that India is mindlessly pursuing a program of replacing some of its native species of cows with hybrid varieties using massive insemination program under government tutelage. The operation flood started in Gujarat by late Dr Verghese Kurien also depended too heavily on hybridization and improving Buffalo population. No doubt buffaloes are high milk yielders and it makes sense from the farmer's view to buy a high yielding buffalo than a cow with lesser yield. But ignoring the other advantages of rearing local varieties of cows can have some serious consequences to Indian agriculture as being contended by this well respected writer. Here is the reference to her article which can be accessed from the web to understand her well thought out treatise.  

The reason, explains Hari Bhai who heads the foundation's desi cow project, is that sugarcane yields have seen a dramatic increase using cow dung from the indigenous variety of cows in Wardha. And indigenous cows are necessary for natural farming, which depends on cow dung and cow urine. Farmers have been earning up to Rs 7 lakh per acre and a yield of 80 tonnes in Wardha with natural farming. In contrast, the yield in farms in Uttar Pradesh is only 30 tonnes per acre. So, we are taking this concept to places where we are opening factories, so that sugarcane farmers get a good yield with minimum inputs, he says. Wardha farmers are being used as resource persons to teach natural farming to the Uttar Pradesh farmers. The farmers have been receptive, and in most districts, the concept is catching on, he says. The concept was first popularised by Subhash Palekar as "zero-budget farming". He has been going from place to place, teaching farmers the art of natural farming using cow dung from indigenous cows. Hari Bhai acknowledges Palekar's influence in the project, adding the latter is often consulted for the project. The Gir cows, which were once gifted to Brazil, have today become a huge chunk of the cow population in that country - as many as five million. Meanwhile, the total cow population in India, including indigenous and hybrid, is 190 million, of which 160 million are indigenous. India is seeing a steady decline in the number of indigenous cows. Between 1997 and 2002, there was a 10 per cent decline - leaving 185 million cattle. In 2007, they were further reduced to 160 million. The decreasing numbers are at the cost of genetic diversity and should concern as much as the fact that cows as a species are being fast overtaken by buffaloes, which were half the population of cattle on the last count.

The points raised in the above article deserve serious consideration by the scientific world and the policy makers because rapid declining of the gene pool of native cows can have disastrous consequences in a couple of decades' time, if adequate steps are not taken now. One may end up with a situation when native breeds can be found only in "Goshalas" maintained by Hindu religious organizations! It is unfortunate that in India every problem is tackled in isolation and lack of integrating them into a single policy never receives attention at the government level. If there were a holistic national policy on agriculture, livestock and food problems like the above would not have been neglected so long. With India becoming a top nation in milk production the earlier priority of increasing the yield can be moderated to accommodate the importance of native breeds who are a valuable ally of the farmer. 



By now world over it has become a common belief that the fight between the consumer and the Biotech Industry turning out monstrous GM foods is an unequal one and the latter can never win this "war" for justice. It was only recently that Californian voters were "bribed" through a 45 million dollar brain washing blitzkrieg to defeat narrowly an innocuous proposition calling for mandatory declaration of use of GM ingredients in food products like all other countries in this planet do! Massive march of common men and women from New York to Washington D C last year to appeal/beg/beseech their President to ask the food industry to come clean on use of controversial GM food ingredients in American foods seems to have no effect on the politicians in that country who are under the mesmerizing influence of the Biotech industry! Against such a background the bold decision taken by a large food retailer in that country to break ranks with the apologists of GM foods is music to the ears of millions of American citizens who are overly concerned about the health of the future generations fed on a wide spectrum of GM foods. Here is a take on this important development.

"A. C. Gallo, president of Whole Foods, said the new labeling requirement, to be in place within five years, came in response to consumer demand. "We've seen how our customers have responded to the products we do have labeled," Mr. Gallo said. "Some of our manufacturers say they've seen a 15 percent increase in sales of products they have labeled." Genetically modified ingredients are deeply embedded in the global food supply, having proliferated since the 1990s. Most of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States, for example, have been genetically modified. The alterations make soybeans resistant to a herbicide used in weed control, and causes the corn to produce its own insecticide. Efforts are under way to produce a genetically altered apple that will spoil less quickly, as well as genetically altered salmon that will grow faster. The announcement ricocheted around the food industry and excited proponents of labeling. "Fantastic," said Mark Kastel, co-director of the Cornucopia Institute, an organic advocacy group that favors labeling. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the trade group that represents major food companies and retailers, issued a statement opposing the move. "These labels could mislead consumers into believing that these food products are somehow different or present a special risk or a potential risk," Louis Finkel, the organization's executive director of government affairs, said in the statement. Mr. Finkel noted that the Food and Drug Administration, as well as regulatory and scientific bodies including the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association, had deemed genetically modified products safe. The labeling requirements announced by Whole Foods will include its 339 stores in the United States and Canada. Since labeling is already required in the European Union, products in its seven stores in Britain are already marked if they contain genetically modified ingredients. The labels currently used show that a product has been verified as free of genetically engineered ingredients by the Non GMO Project, a nonprofit certification organization. The labels Whole Foods will use in 2018, which have yet to be created, will identify foods that contain such ingredients".

It takes courage and conviction to swim against the tide and the action of this retail chain is all the more praise worthy considering the stakes involved. Of course they are truthful in stating that their action is guided by the desire of most of their customers who wanted such labeling and their business is expected to expand by 15% within a short span of time. One point that may disappoint some is the time frame given viz 5 years to bring about this changed policy. It has to be admitted that unilateral action in putting GM label on products made by hundreds of suppliers is not an easy task and the 5 year time frame appears to be reasonable if this aspect is considered. The unfortunate American consumer must be happy that such a trend is visible during their life time, after giving up any hope that the GM food industry would ever oblige them by making the labeling truly transparent as the law has intended.


Saturday, March 9, 2013


China and India are two of the major rice producing countries and naturally both can be expected to intensify their research efforts to increase paddy productivity to meet the increasing needs of their ever growing populations. The Green Revolution in India during the last millennium achieved quantum jump in productivity which helped to tide over food scarcity for a few years. However further increase in productivity could not be achieved to any significant extent though the agriculture research institutions brought out many new varieties with traits like lesser water requirement, better nutritive value, improved cooking characteristics etc. Against such a background came the news from a Bihar farmer in India that he was able to harvest more than 22 tons from one hectare of land during the year 2011. This claim is now being challenged by China which does not concede that such a yield is possible at all. Here is the expose on this issue as is being debated by the international community. 

China's leading rice scientist has questioned India's claims of a world record harvest, following a report in last week's Observer of astonishing yields achieved by farmers growing the crop in the state of Bihar.
Professor Yuan Longping, known as the "father of rice", said he doubted whether the Indian government had properly verified young Indian farmer Sumant Kumar's claim that he had produced 22.4 tonnes of rice from one hectare of land in Bihar in 2011. Yuan, director-general of China's national rice research centre  
and holder of the previous record of 19.4 tonnes a hectare, asked: "How could the Indian government have confirmed the number after the harvesting was already done?" The dispute centres on a controversial method of growing rice that is spreading quickly in Asia. System of Rice Intensification (SRI) uses fewer seeds and less water, but seeks to stimulate the roots of young plants, mainly with organic manures. It can work with all kinds of seeds, including GM, and has the effect of getting plants to grow larger, healthier root systems. Many scientists initially doubted whether yields of this magnitude were possible, but peer-reviewed papers have shown consistent improvements over conventional rice farming methods. Yuan told the Chinese press after seeing the Observer Food Monthlyarticle: "I introduced the intensification method to China myself. It could increase yields by 10-15% in low-yield fields, but it's not possible for fields that are already producing relatively high yields." However, Norman Uphoff, professor of agriculture at Cornell University in the US, defended Kumar and the Indian authorities. "The yield measurements for Kumar and other farmers in the Nalanda district of Bihar, which matched or exceeded the previous record, were at first rejected by Indian scientists, who did not believe such results were possible. "The measurements were made by staking out 10 by 5 metre plots in the centre of one-acre fields, not sampled crop-cuts from small areas. The 50 square metre plots were harvested with hundreds of people watching the cutting, threshing and weighing because everyone anticipated unprecedented yields," he said. "These results were achieved with hybrid varieties which derive from Yuan's own innovation of hybridising rice, considered for decades by most rice scientists to be impossible." The measurements were later acknowledged as valid by both the Indian Council for Agricultural Research and the Ministry of Agriculture.

One can understand the frustration of the Chinese scientist who was instrumental in developing the much acclaimed SIR cultivation technique which is based on stimulating the root of the young paddy plants to grow larger root system enabling them to bear more flowering and fruiting resulting in higher yield per plant. Since the yield figures have been verified more than once through scientific measuring methodology in presence of international experts there is no reason to doubt the claims of the Bihar farmer. While India need not bother about any certificate from Chinese scientist, efforts must be made to spread the technique in all paddy growing regions to achieve huge production jump in the country. The country is not in competition with any other country for getting into the record books but trying hard to provide adequate food to its population. While yield increase is laudable, lesser water requirement for this technology is an added bonus to go by if such efforts succeed on a wider scale.


Friday, March 8, 2013


It looks like that raising undue alarm about many common foods taken by consumers is a fashionable thing to do, at least for those who want to be in the lime light! Otherwise how can one justify a recent report highlighting the dangers of giving butter to children in their diet by mothers wishing to see their children grow fast and healthy! According to a "study" published recently food provided to children should avoid butter as it may lead to obesity in later life. It is true that butter does contain cholesterol and the role of this metabolite in developing arterial plaques is well known. But to argue that for young kids who are highly active butter would pose dangers is nothing but scare mongering. Poor children are not to be given sugar, salt and fatty products but still pundits want them to grow normally! It is time that the so called health pundits realize that any food ingredient can be dangerous if consumed in uncontrolled amounts and butter cannot be singled out for such malicious propaganda. Here is the report which blames parents for including butter in the diet of their children.  

A new study on food preference of schoolchildren and influences exerted by their mothers on food choice suggests that over 50 per cent of the mothers do not have an inkling of the connection between diet and heart disease and cholesterol. Around 80 per cent of the mothers are clueless on the role of diet in developing cancer later in the life."Despite high prevalence of obesity among both mothers and children, mothers do not tend to associate overweight with an unhealthy diet or ill-health in the short or long term," said the study carried out on 1,800 children from 24 schools and the same number of mothers. Six schools each were selected from Delhi, Agra, Pune and Bangalore for the study. The research, which will appear in the journal "Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism" in a month's time, coincides with the "Global Burden of Disease" data that flag poor diet as the number one risk factor for the death and disease burden in India. "We are increasingly adopting unhealthy eating habits. The consumption of processed food, high-salt snacks and chips, pizza, burger and cola are on the rise while intake of fresh fruit and vegetables are going down," Lalit Dandona, research professor at the Public Health Foundation India, who is not connected to the study, told Deccan Herald. Many mothers were not concerned about childhood weight gain. 

Universally the first principle of keeping oneself healthy is to consume a mixed diet containing whole cereals and pulses, varieties of fruits and vegetables in liberal quantities and milk, Of course lean meat and fish in limited quantities are welcome. If obesity has become a global problem, with most such people residing in the US, it is due to consumption of too much calories, salt, sugar and fat and highly refined cereals. What type of message is being sent to mothers through such convoluted theories and surveys which are deceptive and misleading? There are well laid down dietary guidelines, nationally and internationally put in place by experts and one need not get scared by this type of reports from time to time by authors based on half baked studies! 


Americans are about to add one more GM food to their diet if the FDA finally clears GM salmon as safe for human consumption. Developed by a small scale enterprise through biotechnology route, GM salmon is going to be a money spinner as it has the ability to grow fast and big resulting in very significantly higher productivity. According to the developers who promptly patented their product, there is absolutely no difference in taste, flavor and texture between normal and GM version of the fish. As for safety some short term studies seem to have been made based on which safety clearance was sought. As the US is one of the most ardent "admirers" of GM foods, with more than 80% of foods in the market containing GM ingredients, FDA just could not hold up the clearance process for too long. Here is a commentary on the present position vis-a-vis GM salmon in the US as being reported in the media.

"Michael Hansen, a researcher at the Consumers Union, explained that GE fish could cause allergic reactions that the FDA is unable to anticipate. GE fish will also likely not be labeled accordingly, leaving consumers in the dark about where the fish is coming from. If the FDA does not heed the public outcry, Congress could still prevent the commercialization of GE fish. Wenonah Hauter, director at the Food & Water Watch, urges consumers to contact their congressmen to overturn what has been called "a dangerous experiment" at the expense of consumer health. Other concerns about GE fish pertain to its ability to outcompete natural Atlantic salmon. If it is released into the wild, the AquAdvantage salmon could adapt to new pray, survive in tough habitats, and reproduce much faster than its natural counterpart.Andrew Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety concluded that "the GE salmon has no socially redeeming value. It's bad for the consumer, bad for the salmon industry and bad for the environment."

The most unfortunate aspect of GM salmon clearance is that the safety authorities, in collusion with the industry is trying to push the product on to the dining table of even those who are not willing to consume them. As of now the industry is not being mandated to declare the GM nature of the fish on the label for giving an option to those not wanting to eat them because FDA holds the view that GM salmon is not significantly different from natural salmon in any way. If stray reports concerning the undesirable consequences of consuming GM products are taken seriously, there can be a considerable percentage of population which can develop allergy and serious health consequence. Fears are also being expressed regarding the possibility of extinction of natural salmon in the ocean if GM versions gain access unintentionally or for commercial reasons. if mankind is driven by logic, fish eating should have stopped long ago considering one has food grains like Chea which has more than three times Omega-3 fats than that in Fish!


Thursday, March 7, 2013


Blaming politicians for all the woes in a democratic system of governance is too common in many countries. Here is a difference when it comes to understanding the food safety problems in a country like America where a congress woman has comprehended the underlying issue that is responsible for countless episodes of food poisoning in that country. Here is her statement which deserves serious consideration by the Obama administration.

"Given the sheer number of foodborne illnesses and outbreaks, it is no surprise that federal oversight of food safety continues to be included on the GAO's list of high risk areas. You need to look no further than the current Salmonella outbreak that has sickened 18 people in five states to know that food safety deserves to be on this list and it is time for Congress to act. Since the GAO first added food safety to the list of high risk areas in 2007, they have highlighted the fragmented oversight of food safety and recommended the establishment of a government-wide plan to address this critical problem. That plan remains elusive. "The fragmented nature of our federal food safety system is well established and underscores the need for a single food safety agency. Right now there is not one single person in charge and that puts us all at risk of getting sick from preventable illnesses. I will again introduce legislation to establish a single food safety agency, which would ensure that there is one person the public can hold accountable when outbreaks occur. "Given the clear need to reorganize our food safety system to protect the public health, this bill is absolutely necessary. It will ensure a coordinated strategy for preventing and responding to foodborne illnesses. And it will go a long way to addressing the shortcomings identified yet again by the GAO that place Americans' health at risk."

Of course one of the main reasons for the pitiable state of affairs vis-a-vis food safety in the US is the vice-like grip the industry majors have on the elected representatives who are obliged to the former because of liberal donations to their election campaign. One may recall the recent failure of an innocuous proposal in the California ballot initiative to label GM foods which was defeated by the sheer money power of the GM food industry! Unless consumers get themselves free from countless allurements offered by the industry in sabotaging honest proposals like the above, nothing substantial is going to happen in that country in the food safety landscape and food poisoning episodes will continue to occur with sickening regularity. Citizens must unite to pressurize their elected representatives to safeguard their interests through sound legislation in stead of succumbing to the money power of the industry!


Wednesday, March 6, 2013


United States import honey from many countries and every imported consignment is supposed to be tested for safety and quality. In trade terms under WTO regime, anti-dumping duties can be imposed if the imports are valued low affecting adversely the domestic industry. As Chinese are known to indulge in dumping many of their products in many countries at unbelievably low prices, recourse is taken to impose import duty to make them almost on par with prices of domestic products. Honey is one such item which attracts anti-dumping duty if it originates from China. Naturally to circumvent such fiscal impositions, China often routes its honey through other countries as technically it is difficult to trace the origin of the product through existing testing protocols. While economic aspect is one thing, what is bothering the US is that Chinese honey farmers are known to be unscrupulous in using banned antibiotics to deal with infections affecting the bees in its production centers. Here is a take on this on going "honey war" between the two super powers and its consequences.  

The government is alleging that Chinese honey — which can be laced with illegal and unsafe antibiotics — was misdeclared when it was imported to the United States and routed through other countries to evade more than $180 million in anti-dumping duties. HSI and Customs and Border Protection said late last week they have stepped up efforts to combat commercial fraud that directly impacts the economy and public health. The charges come more than a year after an investigation by Food Safety News found that laboratory tests could not detect the origin of more than three quarters of honey purchased at retail locations because ultra-filtration methods remove naturally occurring pollen and make honey impossible to trace. Many in the industry say this practice contributes to honey laundering. As one honey producer put it: "It's no secret to anyone in the business that the only reason all the pollen is filtered out is to hide where it initially came from and the fact is that in almost all cases, that is China."

While one has heard about "money laundering" that refers to converting ill gotten money by individuals who do not pay appropriate taxes in their countries resorting to routing the same to tax havens where no question is asked or no explanation is given. Honey laundering refers more or less to the same technique where Chinese honey is shipped to a third country with which the US has good relations and from there it finds easy entry into the US with relatively less cumbersome inspection and surveillance.  Raw honey if not processed through ultra filtration equipment, will contain pollen and probably critical tests can pin point the source of honey through pollen testing. Chinese send almost all their honey after ultra filtration making it difficult for easy detection. Now that the US as well as the EU have been able to crack this racket, Chinese should not be allowed to go scot-free for this heinous and devious action.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013


With the advent of WTO, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) became a hot issue with well to do countries insisting on their inalienable right to protect their innovations from being hijacked by others and the argument has always been that only such IPR regime can lead to innovation coming out of huge investments on research. To some extent this is a valid claim and world has to live with such an environment. While IPR and related restrictions in areas not involving life and death is understandable, what cannot be digested is the intensity with which private investors are creating new products out of natural materials like plants and trying to monopolize the business through unethical practices. Genetically Modified Food is a classical example where naturally occurring plant materials are subjected to biological transformation through well established Bio-technology methods to get newer versions with slightly different characteristics. The seeds using GM technologies so developed are priced high and to put further economic strain on the farmer the seeds from the first crop are not allowed to be reused for planting the second crop forcing the users to depend on the seed suppliers perennially. Scores of law suits foisted on the farmers in the US and other countries for IPR infringement are making the life miserable for the agriculturists for which international community must find some solace. Here is a comprehensive report that illustrates the woes of farmers vis-a-vis giant seed monopolists who command huge economic, political and muscle clout to enslave the former.  

"The new report investigates how the current seed patent regime has led to a radical shift to consolidation and control of global seed supply and how these patents have abetted corporations, such as Monsanto, to sue U.S. farmers for alleged seed patent infringement. Seed Giants vs. U.S. Farmers also examines broader socio-economic consequences of the present patent system including links to loss of seed innovation, rising seed prices, reduction of independent scientific inquiry, and environmental issues. Debbie Barker, Program Director for Save Our Seeds and Senior Writer for the Report, said today:  "Corporations did not create seeds and many are challenging the existing patent system that allows private companies to assert ownership over a resource that is vital to survival, and that, historically, has been in the public domain." Among the report's discoveries are several alarming statistics:
 * As of January 2013, Monsanto, alleging seed patent infringement, had filed 144 lawsuits involving 410 farmers and
56 small farm businesses in at least 27 different
    * Today, three corporations control 53 percent of the global commercial seed market.
    * Seed consolidation has led to market control resulting in dramatic increases in the price of seeds. From 1995-2011, the average cost to plant one acre of soybeans has risen 325 percent; for cotton prices spiked 516 percent and corn seed prices are up by 259 percent.
The report also disputes seed industry claims that present seed patent rules are necessary for seed innovation.  As Bill Freese, senior scientist at Center for Food Safety and one of the report's contributors notes:  "Most major new crop varieties developed throughout the 20th century owe their origin to publicly funded agricultural research and breeding."

Imagine how these powerful vested interests are able to get away by constantly uttering untruths and half truths to overwhelm vulnerable governments to toe their line and enrich their pockets! If one listens to them and their apologists, Genetically Modified Food is the ultimate answer to food security in the world! Even to day no one has demonstrated in the world that GM seeds can increase the yield of a single plant variety, though there might be overall increase from the land due to marginal reduction in spoilage! Look at the financial health of half a dozen monstrous GM seed peddlers to realize what killing they are making out of the miseries of millions of farmers. These ruthless players are so intolerant of scientific criticism that they do not want the products from their seeds to be even labeled on the packet in a country like the US for which the ruling elite there is conniving with them.  It is time that developing countries like India do not entertain them which can result only in marginalizing the poor farmer further in these impoverished countries where farmer suicides are a daily event!


Saturday, March 2, 2013


Egg is mostly consumed in the boiled format and cooking it to meet the taste and texture of the consumer is some what cumber some. Most people use lot of water for cooking egg, the time required to fully cook and cool before being ready for consumption taking about 15-30 minutes. Microwave heating is also resorted to egg cooking, special cookwares being offered for the purpose. It is surprising as to why no food engineer has thought of an easy gadget to prepare boiled egg in a jiffy with least speculation. This lacuna has been overcome with the recent design of an egg cooker with many easy to use features. Here is a take on this new development.

Cooking an egg involves using up a pot of water, along with the energy required to boil all of it. What if there were a way to just heat the egg directly, with no need for water? Well, now there is, and it's known as Eggxactly. Designed by British inventor James Seddon, who wanted to make the process of cooking an egg as easy as toasting bread, the device has been in the works for at least seven years. It features two stretchable silicone heating elements – one on either side of the egg – that are said to transfer heat to the egg very efficiently. Because the elements are so soft, they reportedly conform to a variety of sizes and shapes of eggs. To use Eggxactly, you just stick in an egg, close the lid, turn the top-mounted dial to indicate how hard you want the egg cooked, then tap the device on top to start it. The cooker measures the starting temperature of the egg, and heats it accordingly. When the egg is done, you'll be alerted with a beeping sound.

One of the oldest kitchen gadgets that has endured to families over ages is the ubiquitous pop-up bread toaster which has seen many innovations to make it more and more consumer friendly. The automatic sandwich toaster with indicators for heating or keep it warming is yet another kitchen gadget with lot of convenience and ease of use. The automatic egg cooker will add to the array of kitchen gadgets that makes the life of house wives much more comfortable and livable.


Friday, March 1, 2013


Influenza is an annual visitor for many people in the US, especially senior citizens with reduced immunity to a host viruses that cause the disease. Every year due to the diligent work of immuno chemists, anti viral vaccines are readied after determining the type of virus that can be expected to emerge. It is to the credit of that country that millions of doses of vaccines are made ready for vaccinating those most vulnerable to the Flu and mortality is really contained within reasonable limits. How about the so called stomach virus which also makes its visits during winter as these tiny bugs can survive freezing conditions as well as temperatures as high as 60C! The usual symptoms of vomiting and/or diarrhea can occur within 10-48 hours after getting the infection through food or water. One has to admire the power of this virus when it is recognized that it is not "culturable" under laboratory conditions and hence no vaccine can ever be prepared as a preventive step.Here are interesting facts about this "almighty" vector.

"I've never understood the appeal of cruises. They sound boring, too much time sitting on your butt at sea, not enough running around on land. But passengers on a recent 10-day cruise through the Balkan Sea had a lamer than average journey thanks to an outbreak of norovirus. Exactly how many of the ship's passengers fell victim to the miserable gastrointestinal malady is up for grabs (as many as 400 according to fellow passengers, just a handful if you ask the PR department). The "plague ship", as it was re-christened by unhappy customers (pretty classy given the circumstances, I'd have gone with "ship of loose stools" or the "S.S. Blaaaauuurrrggh"), was back at the dock last week, but we're sure to see plenty more cases of norovirus in the coming months. It isn't called the "winter vomiting bug" for nothing.* Four hundred cases on one cruise may sound improbable, but norovirus is a mighty pathogen. Like many a food-borne illness, it's transmitted via the fecal-oral route. Feces of an individual infected with the virus is somehow ingested by an uninfected person – often in contaminated food or water – where it replicates in the digestive tract and continues the cycle. Vomit works too. It's gross, I know. But don't worry, because we're likely talking about a minuscule amount of puke or poo in your food. Part of the charm of the winter vomiting bug is its drastically low infectious dose. As few as 18 viral particles can be enough to make you thoroughly sick.**"

Interestingly this virus called Norovirus is found to be very resilient surviving for 15-20 days on surfaces when contaminated from those carrying them and can easily be transmitted to scores of people coming in contact with such surfaces. Many a time people, imagining that their drinking water is chlorinated, come to grief following Norovirus attack through water samples chlorinated at sub-optimal level. Those consuming food through bare hands without use of spoons or forks can also be affected if hands are not washed thoroughly before touching the food. Tropical countries like India more or less escape from Norovirus epidemic because this virus does not breed well at higher atmospheric temperatures. According to people who had experienced Norovirus attack are mostly while touring in groups with close contacts most frequent providing greater opportunity to the virus to transfer itself to others. Probably it is advisable to be doubly vigilant when travels for long duration necessitating frequent and close contacts and sharing of food and water.