Wednesday, July 31, 2013


"Antibiotic resistance" is a subject matter of intense debate with many medical experts taking the stand, it really poses a threat to the future of humanity. Logically such resistance is evolved over a period of time by the extra ordinary versatility of some of the disease causing microbes to develop the necessary metabolizing ability to make antibiotics incapable of disrupting their biological system. To day there are a few microbes which are not amenable to most known antibiotics and development of new antibiotics is not keeping pace with the onset of resistance with increasing number of species of pathogens. One of the reasons for antibiotic resistance is their indiscriminate use whether really needed or not enabling some of the cells of the microbes able to withstand the mode of action of the antibiotics. Another more important reason is the detestable practice among poultry farms to use antibiotics to accelerate the growth of the birds with minimum feed intake in order to increase their profit margins. Naturally residual microorganisms surviving after exposure to sub-lethal doses of antibiotics used in the feed become immune to the action of these life saving drugs. It is apprehended that such massive use of antibiotics can pose serious threat in the event of epidemics involving resistant strains of some of the deadly pathogens. Here is a critic's view about the gravity of the situation, 

Concern has intensified in recent years over the use of antibiotics in agriculture, which world health authorities agree contributes to the development of drug-resistant bacteria. These so-called superbugs infect hundreds of thousands and kill tens of thousands of Americans each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Legislation before Congress would rein in the use of medically important antibiotics on healthy livestock through mandatory restrictions as well as public disclosure of how antibiotics are used on animals and in what quantities. But such efforts face resistance from the meat industry, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said the issue is better handled through voluntary guidelines it hopes to finalize this year. Critics doubt that a voluntary approach would decrease use and say the current lack of transparency would prevent anyone from knowing whether it did — an issue also noted by the Government Accountability Office. Health authorities say antibiotics should be used sparingly because any bacteria that can survive the drugs will multiply, increasing the strain's overall resistance. Dr. Jean Patel, deputy director of the Office of Antimicrobial Resistance at the CDC, calls antibiotic resistance one of the nation's most serious health threats. "Resistance often emerges in the health care setting where antimicrobial are commonly used," Patel said, "but these drugs are also used on the farm, and a number of foodborne pathogens, like salmonella, are becoming increasingly resistant to antimicrobial that are important for human health." The Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy group, analyzed government data and reported last month that 69 percent of pork chops and 81 percent of ground turkey sampled in 2011 were contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Turkey raised without antibiotics — including organic turkey — carries fewer such pathogens, according to recent research by Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. About 80 percent of all antibiotics sold by weight in the U.S. in 2011 were used on livestock, according to FDA figures. That year, 7.3 million pounds of antibiotics were used to treat humans, compared with 29.9 million pounds sold for meat and poultry production. All parties in the antibiotics debate agree that it makes sense to treat sick animals with appropriate antibiotics. And almost all say that using antibiotics just to make animals grow faster — a practice long banned in the European Union — is, as the FDA puts it, "injudicious."

There are two aspects of this issue that defies logic. First the antibiotics, intended to save lives by destroying the causative bugs, are misused for a purpose other than protecting lives. Second, the reluctance on the part of safety regulators to ban such misuse through law. While in Europe such a ban is strictly enforced, in the US, the regulatory authorities under the influence of the poultry industry lobbies, refuse to frown upon the patently undesirable and dangerous practices of the industry for reasons not very clear. Imagine how crazy is the situation where 80% of the antibiotics produced in the US goes for weight increasing purpose! If this is not travesty of justice what else it is? It poses health dangers to not only US consumers but also to others importing poultry meat from this country. The current stance of the authorities to make it voluntary to declare use of antibiotics in poultry meat y the industry is shocking, being totally insensitive to the consequences that await in not too distant a future because of misuse of antibiotics! May be only a national calamity involving one of the antibiotic resistant bugs will wake the authorities for putting in place a strict regulatory/mandatory regime that will curtail the despicable practice of using antibiotics for non-medical purpose.  


Tuesday, July 30, 2013


Genetically modified food is so common in the US, it does not make news any more with many Americans, resigned to their helplessness as the State is refusing to check the spread of these potentially harmful versions of many staple foods. Obviously the regulatory authorities are either afraid of the financial muscle of giant GMO companies which are dominating the landscape in that country or the dangerous nexus between politicians and these monopolists, paralyzing the entire food safety monitoring system of the country. It is shocking that more than 80% of foods in the American market contain varying levels of GMO foods without the citizen ever knowing about it because of the non-transparent labeling policy. It is in this context that the accidental contamination of natural wheat fields in some farms in the US with GM wheat came as a shock to many GMO sensitive consumers and traditional wheat farmers. It befitting that the affected farmers have gone for legal action against those responsible  for it demanding financial compensation. Here is a take on this new development with far reaching implications.  

Two wheat farms in Eastern Washington filed a lawsuit Thursday against agricultural giant Monsanto, claiming their business has been damaged by the discovery of genetically modified wheat in Oregon. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Spokane, seeks class-action status and damages to be determined by the court. Separately, the Center for Food Safety filed a lawsuit in the same court Thursday also seeking class-action status for Northwest wheat farmers. Its fellow plaintiffs are Clarmar Farms and wheat farmer Tom Stahl, both of Douglas County The actions come after the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said last week that a farmer in Oregon found genetically modified wheat in his field almost a decade after Monsanto stopped testing that type of wheat. The two Washington farms in the first suit — Wahl Ranch in Adams County and Dreger Enterprises in Lincoln County — grow soft white wheat, the variety prevalent in the Northwest and the type grown by the Oregon farmer who found a genetically modified strain in his field. As a result of the discovery, Japan stopped its customary order of soft white wheat last week. "We've seen a drop in future and current cash prices on wheat already, and at least one shipment of wheat turned away or refused. We think this is actual damage," said Kim Stephens, a partner at Tousley Brain Stephens in Seattle, one of two firms representing the farms. The other is the Hausfeld, a Washington, D.C., firm. Monsanto Chief Litigation Counsel Kyle McClain said in an emailed statement that there is "scant basis for a lawsuit."

Of course the GMO lobby will protest with all its power that they are not responsible for the accidental contamination and condemn the class action suit with contempt! The consequences of the discovery of GM wheat among natural wheat plants will definitely affect American wheat exports in a very significant way. While almost the whole world is shunning GMO products, America is stubbornly clinging to GMO products which are being showed through the throat of millions of consumers who have no choice but to continue with their lives like a conditioned flock of sheep! It is still not clear as to how the American government certifies GM products as safe and natural when tons of scientific data say otherwise! It is time that the rest of the world massively boycott American agricultural products to send the message that GM foods are not acceptable unless independent confirmation about their safety is established. 


Monday, July 29, 2013


Amateur innovators can some time throw the traditionally accepted technological truths upside down as reflected by a recent report that some one in the UK has created "chocolate" products with a caloric content of only 20 kC per bar! Can this be really true? When popular media flashes such explosive news, consumers get highly excited! A careful scrutiny of the claim by this chocolate entrepreneur reveals that, unlike the standard chocolates familiar to the consumers, the new product contains high moisture which may not pass the test of identity for chocolates accepted universally. It is fashionable these days for the industry to propagate food products containing less and less of sugar, fat and salt though most such products fail to live up to the billing. The new low calories chocolate also may fall under this category and once commercial production and promotion start, the real problems will emerge. Here is a take on this new development. 

"London-based Aneesh Popat's recipe ditches high-calorie ingredients such as butter, cream and eggs. Instead, 25-year-old Popat, a maths graduate, combines flavour-infused water with cocoa to create The Chocolatier, which contain as little as 20 calories a bar, 'The Daily Express' reported. Popat claims his chocolate is as tasty as sugar-packed rivals and comes in flavours from fizzy cola and strawberry mint to chai tea and apple pie. "If everything in the world was made of chocolate I'd have eaten it by now. My love of chocolate led me to devote and apply my mathematical and scientific backgrounds to create the most unique flavour combinations with utmost precision and creativity," he said. "Chocolate is good for you if made in the right way," he said. Popat's low-fat chocolates are already taking the culinary world by storm. After support from thousands of visitors to his stall at the BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham, he is hoping his chocolate will hit the open market. It is already supplied to Michelin star restaurant Apicius in Cranbrook, Kent, and five star hotel Le Meridien in London".

Reducing sugar and fat are laudable objectives provided the product features are not grossly distorted and the new chocolate products probably will never be universally accepted no matter what health claims are trumpeted. One has to only look at the ice cream industry which has been in business since ages and the basic identity of this yummy product has never been seriously compromised in spite of the fact it is rich in sugar and fat! Of course there are imitative ice cream products like frozen yogurts, gelato etc which probably gives same culinary pleasure, as that given by true ice cream products, for those who want to control the ingestion of sugar and fat. Therefore the new 'chocolate" product, as claimed by the above entrepreneur, can be easily positioned as another chocolate like product and may as well click, provided it has a reasonablu good shelf life.   

Sunday, July 28, 2013


World trade on fresh produce has been facing some problems as standards and specifications adopted by different countries were in conflict many times creating trade logjams upsetting the business system as a whole. It is always the case that buyer is supreme and the supplier has the responsibility to meet the contractual obligations entered into before striking a deal. Disputes, differences and misinterpretations invariably mar such trade deals and fresh produce being highly perishable cannot afford to be delayed during shipment. The Harmonized standards acceptable to all countries will go a long way to avoid such unnecessary disputes causing trade disruptions. Also of significance is the cost of auditing and the burden it poses to small producers and exporters and it is here that the inspection needs to be simplified, streamlined and made cost effective. Here is a take on this important issue which is the focus of attention in some countries in the forefront of fresh produce marketing. 

"Experience has shown that more and more produce customers are requiring audits of their suppliers, including small and local suppliers, and that customers are realizing the costs of redundant audits are adding to their own costs, regardless of who pays for the actual audit. The broad acceptance of the Harmonized Standards by major produce buyers seems to show a road forward to meeting the industry's objective of reducing the audit burden without sacrificing safe produce growing and handling practices. Even while some buyers have restrictions on who can do the audits, having one checklist for all audits has to reduce the audit burden of differing standards. Further, the expectation is that buyers, seeing the same audit results from different audit organizations, will eventually accept an operation's existing audit results without requiring another, thereby further reducing the audit burden. When they see different audit results for the same operation, using the same standards, from different audit organizations, questions will come back to where they rightfully belong—the audit process—and the marketplace will begin to weed out the poor performers".

The dilemma of the buyers of fresh produce is understandable in the light of a series of food poisoning episodes involving such simple commodities like spinach, water melon, tomato etc and with the traceability burden becoming too heavy and uncertain buyers must be on alert regarding import of tainted commodities. Harmonized Standards, therefore will go a long way to address this intractable problem and world bodies like FAO and WTO must intervene to make them universally acceptable and practiced. There is a need to set up a trade dispute resolving mechanism that can settle differences quickly with least delay. Auditors need to be accredited after careful evaluation of their credentials and the cost of auditing must be brought down to affordable levels. Will this happen in the foreseeable future? Probably the world seems to be moving in this direction and a cooperative regime involving industry, governments and international bodies can make the world much more safer vis-a-vis the consumers.


Friday, July 26, 2013


Toilets are receiving much more attention than what they really deserve. It was not long ago that some one reported that toilet seat showed less bacteria than that present in a kitchen cutting board! Here comes another report with some shock value that declares that the bacterial quality of crushed ice that is thrown out from the ice making machines in many restaurants is significantly inferior to that of toilet water! How far this is universally true cannot be gauged by the limited studies conducted by the media as a part of their investigative journalism. But it does raise some inconvenient questions regarding the possibility of shirked responsibility of the restaurant management to keep their ice making machine clean and hygienically satisfactory. Also not clear is how serious is the problem vis-a-vis the safety of consumers who visit such ill maintained restaurants. Here is a take on this latest revelation.   

"The Daily Mail collected ice from ten fast-food franchises — McDonald's, Burger King, and Starbucks among them — and determined that in six out of ten locations, those innocuous-seeming cubes contained higher levels of bacteria than the water samples taken from toilet bowls at the same establishments. The Mail doesn't identify the bacteria by type or warn of a specific food-safety risk, instead noting only that four of the samples contained a sufficient bacterial load to present a "hygiene risk." So, does this mean we should all be drinking out of the toilet? The short answer is no, don't drink toilet water, but also, maybe be a little bit wary of ice. In most instances of germy ice, the likely culprit is dirty ice machines, and while the presence of pathogens like E. coli in anything meant for ingestion is cause for alarm, the Mail sort of flubs its own "investigation." The article doesn't make clear how much of the ice taken from each of the ten establishments was tested. Moreover, it doesn't emphasize how much one study parameter — fast-food workers were asked to put the ice into sterilized bags — was flawed, which renders the entire thing somewhat useless. "For the tests," itnotes, "staff were asked to provide a sample of ice in a sterile bag." The reader has to make it to the very end of the article to learn that the worker at Starbucks, for example, "inadvertently" contaminated the sample at the point of collection. While the ice at these places is no doubt bacteria-filled, it might help to have workers trained in taking sterilized samples actually, you know, collecting the sample. Moreover, this kind of study isn't particularly novel. Some highlights from the last ten years:
• In an effort to dissuade her friends from chewing on ice — a habit she found annoying — a 12-year-old kid from Tampa devoted her 2006 middle-school science project to comparing bacterial loads in fast-food ice samples and toilet water. Jasmine Roberts won a few awards and garnered national attention with her conclusion that ice-machine ice was dirtier than toilet water 70 percent of the time.
• A local news affiliate found coliform bacteria in 13 out of 25 ice samples taken from Indianapolis-area bars in 2008.
• The U.K. Health Protection Agency found enterococci and E. coli in 30 percentof ice samples taken from 88 establishments in 2011.
• And it's not just the innards of ice machines that harbor bad germs. All that sugar-filled plastic tubing inside soda machines can feed several gazillion colonies of bad bacteria. In 2010, for example, researchers from Hollins University in Virginia took samples of 90 drinks from 30 soda fountains located within a twenty-mile radius of Roanoke. They found coliform bacteria in 48 percent of the drinks and antibiotic-resistant E. coli in 11 percent.
It's pretty safe to assume that, on a widespread basis, nasty bacteria run the innards of ice machines just like Master Blaster runs Bartertown. Does that mean that ice from fast-food places will make you sick? As with most foods, the risk increases if you are either very old, are very young, or have a compromised immune system. Other than that, these studies are effective at upending one misconception about pathogens in particular: that freezing temperatures destroy bad germs. Instead of comparing ice and toilet water, it'd be good to get samples from a few more surfaces that aren't toilet water, which is usually treated with disinfectants in food service settings, anyhow".

The conclusion by the reporter that the ice is not a safety risk to normally healthy person because bacteria does not survive freezing temperatures cannot be accepted. Scientifically most bacteria might be killed at sub-zero temperatures due to cell disruption but few stubborn cells do survive capable of springing back to active life once favorable conditions are obtained. It is forgotten that many food infection episodes in the West are more or less confined to frozen foods and if such foods which are contaminated during the processing operations or storage are not cooked by the consumer there is a definite risk to the health. Another way of looking at this issue is that if these contaminated ice is used for chilling an alcoholic beverage or a carbonated beverage the safety risk is minimal or nil at at all. Still it is the primary responsibility of the food eateries to clean up their ice machines periodically to ensure that bacteria is not harbored by them. Same is true with thousands of water coolers found so commonly in public places.  


Thursday, July 25, 2013


The chicken has come to roost at last vis-a-vis the food contamination episode in Bihar as more than 300000 teachers across the state have revolted against the State government for the insinuation made by one of the ministers that the incidence was a conspiracy to defame the government! Will any self respecting teacher continue to work any more for the government under such circumstances? After all teachers are forced to undertake management of the feeding program being carried on under most primitive conditions over and above the teaching responsibility for which they are appointed and paid for! The babus and politicians take the credit when any government program is lauded while the blame for any mishap is passed on to the low paid workers like teachers in the present case. With the teachers on the war path what option the so called progressive government now ruling will have to continue the program? Will the school meal program be abandoned as the minister concerned has thrown up his hands in despair? What is most disgusting is the implied insinuation that kids were deliberately poisoned for political gains by the opposition political parties! That means the school teachers have no integrity and humaneness in carrying out the diabolical plan with the support of some politicians to murder 23 kids in broad day light! Here is a take on this latest turn of events in Bihar where the ruling party has no time for development work, spending most of its time in its political maneuver to become a shiny model of secularism in the country, whatever that means!

"A week after the death of 23 children from eating a contaminated mid-day meal in Saran district, teachers are in no mood to assist the government in running the scheme. "It was unanimously decided at a meeting of the Bihar State Primary Teachers' Association to boycott the scheme," its president, Barajnandan Sharma, told IANS. "We had repeatedly requested the government in writing to involve teachers in academic work only and employ some agency for the scheme, which was ignored. Teachers should not be burdened with all kinds of non-academic work," he said. Teachers are blamed for anything that goes wrong with the scheme, Sharma said, adding: "It is giving a bad name to teachers due to rampant corruption." He said that it is a well-known fact that teachers and headmasters have to invariably manage the mid-day meal scheme with third-grade food stuff and corruption at every level. "Top to bottom, officials have information about it. But when something happens, a teacher or headmaster is solely blamed for it despite the fact that there are several officials involved in it," he said. Refering to the Saran tragedy, Sharma said: "There may be some mismanagement. Even human error cannot be ruled out. But putting the blame on teachers even before an inquiry has completed surprised us." In the wake of teachers' decision to boycott the scheme, Bihar Education Minister P.K. Shahi said it was difficult to arrange for an agency to run the scheme in 72,000 schools across the state. "The government does not have the resources to hire an agency for the huge task of serving mid-day meals to 1.60 crore students," Shahi said".

The minister has no business to lament about the helplessness of the government in continuing with the program of feeding 16 million kids every day after making the allegation of sabotage in the poisoning episode. Did he not think about the consequences of his irresponsible uttering about sabotage? If the state government does not have the ability to continue with the program why not stop it right now and think of other alternatives to reward the kids for showing their face in the school. Both the governments at Delhi and in the states will have to bear the responsibility for the latest tragedy because they were cornering all the credits being showered on the country by international agencies for "running" the largest "feeding" program in the world! When will the government of India wake up to the reality that schools are not meant to cook foods and teachers cannot manage such hot food programs without affecting the quality of education? There is no other alternative, whether one likes it or not, to supplying processed packaged foods, ready to eat, prepared by established manufacturers with guaranteed quality and safety. Government of India must wake up to this reality before more such tragedies as that happened in Bihar are repeated over and over again across millions of schools in the country.



Hear this professor from Benares Hindu University who has a valid point regarding the usefulness or otherwise of the food security ordinance recently promulgated by the President at the instance of a lame duck government! He has a perfectly valid point when he has the courage to ask the "mighty" government at Delhi as to why it is prevaricating on the food safety act which is being implemented halfheartedly across the country? What is the hurry in enacting an ordinance for an ill planned doling scheme that entails drain of more than Rs 1, 25, 000 crore of honest taxpayers' money for a doubtful cause? If FSSAI, the so called Authority on food safety in India, is to be believed more than 60% of milk in the country is adulterated while millions of citizens are being cheated and injured by consuming adulterated and poisoned foods in the country, the government being a silent/ disinterested observer on the sideline! Here is the gist of the argument of this heart broken academician. 

"High drama is on in political circle regarding food security bill that ensures cheap grain for one-third population of the country. Congress is adamant for the bill as game changer and other political parties are considering it as vote bank politics. "As an academician and university teacher, may I ask these policy makers about some facts. Who will take care of implementation of FSSA, which was made to ensure service to the masses (poor as well as prosperous), regarding food available in market, either ready made, ready to eat or raw form," he said. Why policy makers are not ensuring the best services to commoner by strict implementation of provisions of FSSA 2006 amended in 2008, 2010 and 2012 for better services to every section of society. Why they are eying only vote bank that may be an easy target?"

Has he not a point in asking why the various provisions of the food safety act are not being strictly enforced in spite of passing the act almost 7 years ago? Without bothering to evaluate the impact of previous policies, enacting new acts is meaningless and inappropriate. This country is not short of good laws but it is at the implementation level that government falters very badly with inefficient management, a shirking work force and utter insensitivity! It is unlikely that such inconvenient questions will ever be answered by a government who is bent on bribing the electorate through promises which can never be fulfilled with the available resources without adversely affecting the national development agenda. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


How serious is the oft repeated assertion by medical pundits that mankind is running out of option as far as antibiotics' effectiveness is concerned? If the increasing antibiotic resistance exhibited by some of the deadliest of pathogens reported all over the world is any indication there could be many diseases that will not respond to traditional antibiotic therapy and a disaster of Himalayan magnitude is waiting to happen!. Though there could be many reasons for such a situation developing during the last three decades, the single most critical cause is the indiscriminate use of broad spectrum antibiotics whether they are needed or not. Many physicians consider antibiotics as a magic bullet that is a "cure for all" without diagnosing the real culprit agent that has caused the fever or other symptoms of their patients. Added to this is the wide scale reported use of antibiotics by the livestock and poultry industries for accelerated growth of animals, a use not originally attributed to these savior of humans and naturally the products of this industry will have antibiotics that gain access to human body day in and day out! Pathogens thus exposed to tiny doses of antibiotics evolve into super bugs that can over come the effect of the antibiotics over a period of time. Those which survive, as per the theory of evolution will be the fittest capable of withstanding the action of antibiotics. Since development of new antibiotics lag behind, the pace of resistance development by many pathogens to existing array of antibiotics is growing pretty fast. Recent reports that silver ion can boost the effectiveness of existing antibiotics are truly significant with far reaching implications for the future of mankind. Here is a take on this new development.  

"Silver has been used as an antimicrobial for centuries, but little has been known about how it works. The new research suggests adding it to existing antibiotics could counteract the rise of drug-resistant microbes. Experiments in mice showed the metal disrupts the biological processes of bacteria, making them more permeable to antibiotics, a US team reports. Bacteria are adapting and finding ways to survive the effects of antibiotics. According to England's chief medical officer, Prof Dame Sally Davies, antibiotics are losing their effectiveness at a rate that is both alarming and irreversible. Silver acts against Gram-negative bacteria - one of the two main types of bacteria - which are particularly difficult pathogens to treat".

Silver has been known since long as a protective agent in sterilizing water as it exerts a deleterious effect on most bacteria. No wonder silverware is increasingly being used for storing and consuming foods as small traces leached into the food are supposed to keep many dangerous bacteria out. Though it is empirically known that silver does have antibacterial properties, the exact mechanism of action is not yet clearly understood. But the above study gives a glimpse into the same and it is suggested that silver ion somehow makes the cell membranes more permeable to antibiotics to enter into the cell and disrupt the biological processes going on inside. What is amazing is that a small addition of silver amplifies the action of antibiotics several fold and this can result in the use of lesser concentrations of antibiotics in future formulations. Some of the most serious bacteria come from the gram negative group which include Helicobacter, E.coli, Shigella, Salmonella, Enterobacteriaceae, Psuedomonas, Moraxella, bacteria causing Gonorrhea, meningitis and Pneumonia. The discovery of the complimentary effect of silver is all the more significant because  as per the claim of the authors the bacteria can never develop resistance to silver though only time will tell whether it is so. Nonetheless the above development is as significant as the discovery of Penicillin in 1928 by Alexander Fleming.  

Monday, July 22, 2013


Is the world becoming fatalistic when it comes to food safety and frauds? It looks like people are getting reconciled to a food market where adulterated and fraudulent products, some with high risk to life, finding place on the shelves or being traded through Internet sales. Recent adulteration incidence involving beef which was mixed with horse meat in communited preparations has revived this issue disturbing the minds of millions of honest consumers. This episode which was reported from some European countries has caused despair among safety agencies as they are unable to keep step with the destructive but innovative fraudsters defying all the odds in enticing the unsuspecting consumers through price manipulation. If some of the experts in this area are to be believed, such frauds will be difficult to be controlled by the vigilance agencies and will continue to haunt mankind in increasing numbers in the coming years. Here is a take on this unfortunate trend which is spreading like wild fire across the world. 

"Recently, European gourmands shuddered when many of their "beef" products were discovered to contain as much as 100 percent horse meat. Followed by that: Arrests of Chinese traders selling rat meat labeled as lamb (baaaa). Can it be managed? "Unfortunately, controlling the amount of fraud that occurs daily in the food industry is next to impossible," said Michael Roberts, a professor of food law and policy at UCLA and director of the Center for Food Law and Policy. And he believes that no food is immune to this situation. "Almost anything can be adulterated in some way," he added, "either to persuade consumers to buy something for their health, or by diluting it to save money on the supplier end."

No doubt the food fraud industry is much more profitable than the main stream industry, the profit margin being 50% to 100%, compared to just 5-15% on clean food products. The only way to stop such rampant frauds will be to educate the consumers regarding the futility in going for cheap products from manufacturers of doubtful reputation. To some extent fast paced prosecution of fraudsters and severe punishment can deter many potential food criminals from entering this lucrative business. Organic food manufacturers are generally under tight vigilance forced to adopt strict safety standards and reputed and established brands cannot be expected to stoop to the level of adulterating their products that can destroy their brand reputation in the long run. Ultimately the safest way would be to buy raw fresh foods from the local markets or rural markets or reputed fresh produce dealers and spend a little more time in the kitchen to cook and eat them. This way the content of processed foods in the daily diet can be significantly reduced with its attendant benefits. Spare a thought for this alternative for the sake of safety of the families as a whole. 


Saturday, July 20, 2013


Making available nutritious food at affordable cost is a formidable challenge in many countries these days with calorie rich foods flooding the market at ridiculously low prices compared to that of fresh produce. Even in a rich country like the US many reasonably well to do families find it difficult to access fresh produce because of the high ruling prices. Others like India are hopelessly trapped in this quagmire with fresh produce cost, especially that of most fruits being almost 5-10 times higher than cereals! Under these circumstances what will happen to millions of low income families who will have to manage their lives depending more and more on nutritionally unbalanced diets devoid of fresh produce. This is a tragedy of Himalayan proportion considering that nutritional pundits want 50% of the dining plate to contain fruits and vegetables! Against such a background many urban initiatives like kitchen gardens, sky gardens, urban gardens, gorilla gardens, local markets etc provide some solace to the nutrition deprived city dwellers. Latest to arrive is the Just Food movement which is taking deep roots in a city like New York with thousands of high rise apartments each providing shelter to about 500 families. This movement is linking small farmers nearby to the most needy dwellers in each high rise building for supply of fresh produce at affordable cost. Here is a take on this latest initiative for protecting the health of low income city dwellers through Community Supported Agriculture.   
"Just Food in New York City is doing what its name suggests: working to make the food system more just. It does this, first, by making community supported agriculture (CSAs), farmers' markets, and gardens, more accessible and affordable in the city. Second, it helps small farmers survive, and even thrive, in the process. Former Executive Director Ruth Katz said the group grew out of a contradiction. "In New York City, we had these growing soup kitchen lines of people who couldn't get food and, at the same time, nearby farmers going out of business because they couldn't sell their food anywhere. It seemed strange that you couldn't match farmers selling food with people needing food." Just Food connects urban communities interested in bringing CSAs to their neighborhoods with nearby farmers who can truck their goods into the city. They have developed different payment systems to make this food affordable. For example, higher-income members can contribute extra to subsidize other members within their own CSA, or two CSAs from different neighborhoods can be paired so that the members in the higher-income neighborhood pay higher costs and members in the lower-income neighborhood pay lower costs. So far, the organization has helped launch 214 CSA programs throughout New York City's five boroughs, bringing fresh food to an estimated 37,400 people. To stock the CSAs, Just Food partners with farms outside the city, which bring in vegetables, eggs, fruit, grain, meat, and other products. Ruth Katz said, "It can be frustrating because the scale of what we're doing is so small. People say, 'You have to scale up to make a bigger impact.' Well, in this particular case, scaling up would defeat the purpose: farmer-to-consumer relationships that are creative and nimble enough to meet the unique needs of each neighborhood. Their smallness is part of their strength. That being said, we can scale up through replication, rather than super-sizing. "Imagine that every tall building in NYC had a CSA! If one tall building or building complex has 500 families, then only 10% would need to become CSA members to support a small farm. And that 10% would be a lucky, well-fed group."

The prime movers of this movement are really angels on the earth providing socour to thousands of economically hard pressed citizens who are trapped in the suffocating environment cities like New York unable to manage their day to day food requirement in a way conforming to healthy food standards. Though in terms of numbers their achievements may be some what low benefiting hardly a few thousand people, it will have a multiplier effect besides spreading horizontally across the country. Added to this it stands to resurrect the small and marginal farmers who are hounded by big farms with mechanized cultivation system. This is what is needed in a country like India where hundreds of towns and cities depend heavily on arrival of fresh produce from rural areas which are cornered by the middlemen who manipulate the consumer prices by hoarding and restricting supply. India has a strong self help group movement and these NGOs must be harnessed for this noble cause. 


Thursday, July 18, 2013


Can the ruthless politicians and arrogant bureaucrats hear the wailing of parents in Chhapra, Bihar after the latter lost their most precious possessions-their tender children? In stead of apologizing for their callousness and unconscionable guilt for not preventing an avoidable tragedy, they are bickering among themselves regarding the culprits for this ghastly man created tragedy and it is a shame on the education minister in that state to imply openly that these children were deliberately poisoned by his opponents! Where is the moral high grounds usually taken by honest administrators when inefficiency and neglect on their part cause such fatal episodes under their care?  This Blogger recently raised the most crucial question in one of his Blogs regarding the suitability of schools to cook safe and nutritious foods and highlighted the dangers posed by ill-equipped teaching shops in undertaking food cooking. (Please refer to To receive such a news within a matter of few days of publishing the above piece is shocking indeed! If the recent public debate on this issue in one of the English Channels is closely followed one can realize that such episodes occur fairly frequently with the governments least concerned about its impact on innocent children of this country being subjected to such grave risks by sending to killer schools like the one in Chhapra. Here is a take on the Chhapra episode.  

"21 children have died as a result of the free lunch they were served in that school yesterday.  Officials say it appears that the meal of lentils, vegetables and rice was contaminated with insecticides; a forensic report is due later this evening. Another 30 children remain ill in hospital in Chhapra, some of them lying listless on stretchers, intravenous drips attached to their tiny arms. "My children had gone to school to study. They came back home crying, and said it hurts," one distraught father told NDTV.  "I took them into my arms, but they kept crying, saying their stomach hurt very badly." As weeping parents mourned, political parties delivered stunning responses.The ruling Janata Dal United said it is being targeted  by "a deep-rooted conspiracy." Spokesperson KC Tyagi said, " The way the opposition of Bihar is responding, I feel that it is a big conspiracy. They want to destabilise the Bihar Government."  he BJP, which was booted out last month from a 17-year partnership with the Janata Dal United, backed some locals who said that  officials took too long to organise ambulances for children after they fell violently ill at school. It took 15 hours to evacuate the children. This is criminal negligence and the state government is responsible for this," said Rajiv Pratap Rudy of the BJP".

The sum and substance of the stand taken by this Blogger was that most schools are ill-equipped in terms of facilities, spare time and skilled personnel required to cook decent foods and therefore there must be a rethinking on the present policy of the government to serve "hot foods" which carries with it grave risks to the lives of tender children being sent by their parents to receive basic education. Packed foods manufactured by established food processing industrial units, standardized to contain the optimum levels of essential nutrients, are far more preferable though there could be an element of monotony in terms of taste factors. But this is not a problem which cannot be solved provided reputed food research agencies and nutrition experts join hands to evolve a basket of products with impeccable credentials which can be prepared in the schools with minimum risks before feeding the children. One of the Parliamentary Committees  of the very same government recommended packed foods three months ago which was irresponsibly ignored! Is there some substance in the argument that politicians of all hues and colors are least interested in the well being of children going to government schools because their own children go to fancy schools paying enormous fees for their education? It is for people to brood over such an allegation and act appropriately during the election time!    


Wednesday, July 17, 2013


During the last 4 years citizens in India were being led on a diet of promises most of them remaining on paper with very little impact on their day to day lives. One of the most hotly debated policies of the present government is the recently promulgated ordinance under its food security proposal to make available rice and wheat to more than two thirds of the population at Rs 1-2 per kg. Whether all the beneficiaries scheduled to be covered under the scheme really deserve this dole out is some thing the planners of this gross misuse of public funds did not bother to think! While poorest of the poor must be provided social support through such poverty alleviation programs why even well to do citizens who can afford to buy foods at the market price are being included as beneficiaries is beyond comprehension! Of course this is a controversial issue with no consensus among the experts. But common sense tells that public funds must be carefully deployed for maximum impact and in a country like India subsidies must be provided only to those below poverty line. One of the major flaws of the rice-wheat scheme is the government assumption that quantity is more important than quality when it comes to providing food security to its citizens. This distorted assumption is brought out recently by some experts who feel that the scheme needs a revisit in the light of latest statistics regarding the change in food consumption habits of the population. Here is a take on this vexatious issue.

"Even as the government is gearing up to bring in the cereal-centric National Food Security Bill (NFSB), Indian households are fast changing their consumption preferences from cereals to higher value food items. The share of monthly expenditure on cereals by families in total consumption spending has fallen drastically, prompting economists to suggest food security should have a larger basket than just cereals and should be reviewed periodically. Rural households spent 12 per cent of their total consumption outlay on food in 2011-12 against 18 per cent in 2004-05, while the share fell to 7.3 per cent from 10.1 per cent in urban parts over the period. The expenditure on pulses as a percentage share in total expenditure has remained constant in both urban and rural areas at 3.1 per cent and 2.1 per cent, respectively. Talking of milk products, it has risen to 9.1 per cent in 2011-12 from 8.5 per cent in 2004-05 in rural areas and has remained more or less the same in urban centres where it has declined marginally by 0.1 percentage points to 7.8 per cent in 2011-12. When it comes to egg, fish and meat, the percentage share has increased in both rural and urban sectors. In the rural population, it rose to 3.6 per cent in 2011-12 from 3.3 per cent in 2004-05 and in urban, the share grew marginally to 2.8 per cent from 2.7 per cent in the same period. While most economists said this is a sign of prosperity in the economy, some of them maintained that this could come as a blow to the highly-debated NFSB. "Complexion of system is changing. There is a gradual change towards higher value agriculture food items. We must recognise that and our food policy should be in tune with this emerging demand pattern,"  Ashok Gulati, chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) told Business Standard".

It is a paradox that calorie rich foods are becoming cheaper day by day while protective foods like fruits, vegetables, pulses, oil seeds, milk, egg, fish and meat are tending to be dearer! Even if government makes available cereals like rice and wheat at low cost, where will the poor go to get the much needed protective foods like milk and pulses, prices of which are in the stratosphere with government not able to do any thing about it?. What will be the consequences of such a policy of supplying the cereals only at controlled prices? Will this nation become a place for people with stunted growth ravaged by diseases caused by essential nutrients deficiency? Of course government's thinking that it has primary responsibility to prevent starvation deaths through such basic food supply schemes has some validity and employment generating opportunities through schemes like MGNREGA are there to empower the people to earn the needed money for spending on quality improvement of life. Unfortunately people fed on such doles became more and more dependent on the government with very little initiative for developing self sufficiency!  


Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Water is a unique substance which is vital for life and on an average a person needs 2 liters of water every day for maintaining normal health. Yet water is never considered a food as it does not provide any of the nutrients like calories, proteins, fats or essential micro nutrients. For a number of years in a country like India quality and safety of water used by food processing industry were never covered by the erstwhile PFA rules. Only now that it is receiving attention from the regulators and water for food processing must meet the minimum standards laid down under the ISI quality band. Ice is another substance used extensively by the food industry including fish processors and surprisingly no law covers this ubiquitous substance leaving the ice trade totally uncontrolled. This issue is now receiving attention at the hands of regulators and new rules are being promulgated to meet the exigency of the situation. Here is a take on this emerging development vis-a-vis ice.  

'That means, packaged ice must be produced in accordance with the agency's Current Good Manufacturing Practices in Manufacturing, Packing, or Holding Human Food.  Translation? Ice manufacturers "must produce, hold, and transport ice in clean and sanitary conditions, monitor the cleanliness and hygiene of employees, use properly cleaned and maintained equipment, and use water that is safe and sanitary." During inspections, FDA investigators make sure: the plumbing design prevents contamination, the water supply is safe and sanitary, and and the facility and grounds are sanitary. Small-scale producers are exempt. Labels must also meet FDA requirements. An ingredient list and nutrition fact box are not necessary, but the labels must contain other information such as the name and place of business of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor of the ice and the net quantity of the contents. Ice labeled as made from spring water or artesian well water must actually be derived from those sources".

With refrigeration technology developing at a fast pace, use of solid ice is becoming some what declining but those who transport fresh fish still depend on solid ice made by the so called ice factories, most of them located near the fish landing regions on the coastal areas for temporary preservation till they reach the market or processing facilities. Though vectors like bacteria do not survive at temperatures less than 4 C, there is the possibility of dirt, non-biological contaminants and even live but hibernating bacteria getting into the ice in the factories where it is made under unhygienic conditions. Therefore laying down standards for adherence by the ice manufacturers is timely and crucial.  Strict compliance to these standards must be insisted on and enforced.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


Olive oil is one of the most sought after edible oils in the world and this is reflected by the high prevailing prices in the international market. Its value is probably attributed to presence of healthy components in the fruit like Oleic acid, Polyphenols, Chlorophyll and Squalene, all with high antioxidant properties that can help neutralize the oxy radicals generated at the cellular level which are implicated in human diseases like cancer. While in the liquid form Olive oil is consumed as a salad oil, it is also considered a good cooking oil though its high price bar many consumers from using it regularly. Besides the aversion to fat, now being exhibited by the consumer community world over, will always come in the way of expanding its use in liquid form. Arrival of a host of products in powder form based on this oil is providing the consumers with an alternative to consuming in liquid form and reduce the guilty feeling! Powder form of olive oil based products find more varied uses in hundreds of products to provide the nutrition and improve the functionality. Now comes the news that in stead of whole oil powder, it is possible to make a much more healthy powder by using the pomace left over, after olive fruit pressing to recover bulk of the oil for commercial marketing, which is supposed to be much more nutritious in terms of antioxidants, phytochemicals and dietary fiber. Here is a take on this new development. 

An olive processing coproduct, olive powder was one of about two dozen plant extracts, spices, and herbs that the team evaluated for their potential to combat Escherichia coli O157:H7 and to retard formation of heterocyclic amines during cooking of hamburger patties. E. coli O157:H7 is a leading cause of food sickness in the United States and is blamed for more than 73,000 cases of illness annually. In recent years, many E. coli outbreaks have been traced back to ground beef and have led to the introduction of stringent new food safety rules designed to reduce the occurrence of this microbe, and six of its relatives, in meats, poultry, and other foods. Heterocyclic amines are of concern because they can inadvertently be formed when beef patties are cooked to the doneness recommended for helping kill unwanted microbes, such as E. coli. The two amines monitored in the burger experiment, MeIQx and PhIP, are on the National Toxicology Program's roster of possible carcinogens. For the study, high levels of E. coli O157:H7, along with the plant extract, spice, or herb of interest, were added to the ground beef patties. The patties were then cooked on a griddle until the meat's internal temperature reached 114°F, then flipped and cooked another 5 minutes until the internal temperature reached the recommended 160°F. The amine data showed that olive powder reduced MeIQx by about 80 percent and PhIP by 84 percent. Overall, olive powder was the most effective of the plant extracts (olive, apple, and onion powders) that were tested. Friedman notes that followup studies are needed to pinpoint the compounds in olive powder that are responsible for these effects and to determine whether the amount added in the experiments alters the burgers' taste.

Though the above study is more focused on preservation of hamburger patties where olive powder is reported to be very effective in neutralizing dangerous amines generated during cooking besides acting as an effective antibiotic against the much dreaded virulent E.coli in these products. It must be noted that virulent E.coli, several in number, are proving to be a major hazard in western countries, found in many products claiming precious lives. Therefore this finding, if confirmed, may be truly remarkable in fighting against such food borne infections. What remains unanswered is the identity of the chemical entities that were responsible for the beneficial effects of olive powder. Also uncertain is whether this powder will be equally effective in other food products also. More over addition of olive powder can modify the taste of the products in which it is incorporated depending on the levels required to be used for optimum performance. The trillion dollar palm oil industry in Asia is expected to be benefited if such value added products emerge from the shop floors of their palm fruit milling facilities.   


Friday, July 12, 2013


Pectin is one of the natural plant components considered vital for the tissue integrity in most fruits and vegetables. It is a polymer of galacturonic acid with long chain length and cannot be digested in human body. However, it is grouped under soluble dietary fiber with some positive health attributes because it is a substrate for some intestinal microorganisms which generate smaller molecular nutrients beneficial to the humans. As far as food technologists are concerned Pectin is an essential ingredient in the preparation of preserves like jam, jelly and other similar products with characteristic texture and long shelf life. Food technologists also find pectin an inconvenient substance when fruit juices are to be made from highly viscous fruit pulps and use the degrading enzyme pectinase to break down the long chain polymer and release the entrapped juice in the fruit tissue matrix. Such a process increases the juice yield very significantly and boost the economics of the process. Recent finding that this pectin, if chemically modified under certain pH and temperature conditions, can have nutraceutical and medicinal properties opens up a new area of intense interest for development of cancer fighting agents with considerable promise. Here is a take on this interesting development.  

"Multiple published studies on Modified Citrus Pectin conducted at top research institutes have uncovered  numerous cancer-fighting, cardiovascular and health promoting benefits, including powerful immune activation and superior Galectin-3 inhibition. As MCP's substantial body of scientific evidence continues to grow, there is ample proof that this unique nutraceutical is highly effective and safe for long-term use. MCP is the only proven naturally derived Galectin-3 blocker. In addition to fighting cancer, the inhibition of harmful excess galectin-3 in the body is proving to be a critical component in the fight against cardiovascular disease, inflammation, fibrosis and other illnesses. In the fight against cancer, no one product can be considered a "magic bullet." However, the remarkable efficacy and safety of MCP make it an essential component within the world of integrative therapies. As ongoing research further validates the many outstanding health benefits offered by this natural product, MCP is becoming one of the most important nutrients to take on a daily basis for health maintenance and disease prevention. One specific form of MCP continues to be the most effective and widely researched MCP available on the market, and the only one used in clinical trials".

"I have used MCP successfully for over 20 years as an essential component of my integrative cancer protocols for patients with cancer of the breast, prostate, lung, colon, liver, pancreas and other cancers. I have seen tumors shrink and metastasis reversed, together with significant improvements in patients' overall health and vitality. While each of my patients receive highly individualized protocols specific to their unique needs, MCP always plays a leading role in all my cancer-fighting and health-promoting programs. The powerful ability of MCP to reduce cancerous cell growth and prevent the spread of cancer throughout the body continues to be proven in ongoing peer-reviewed research and the findings are significant: MCP is a safe and highly effective therapy with the ability to support cellular health, immune function and longevity".

For ages pectin was being made from citrus pomace and apple pomace which are by products of the fruit juice manufacturing industry posing problem of disposal as it constitutes almost 50-85% of the fruit. Through a process of extraction and precipitation using ethyl alcohol, pectin concentrates are prepared which are further purified to get fruit pectins with high gelling power in sugar admixtures. If protagonists of Citrus Modified Pectin are to be believed it is a miracle substance with multifaceted healing properties against disease like cancers of various types, improve immunity functions, chelate toxic metals in the body etc. In all these claims what is not clear is whether pectin from citrus fruit is only effective or that from others like apple, guava, papaya etc will also be equally effective. Also vague is the process involved in modification and precise chemical identity of the modified end product. Unless these become clear, the so called CMP will remain an enigma and may be just another commercial gimmick with tall claims not completely proved.   


Thursday, July 11, 2013


Every consumer identifies red color with tomato and brighter the color, more appealing is the produce to most consumers. Can any consumer reconcile to a color other than red when it comes to tomatoes? Wine ripened tomatoes, though cost a little more, are much sought after because of the natural ripening process while still attached to the plant whereas ethylene ripened fruits are a pale shadow of naturally ripened tomato. There are also hybrid varieties that is firmer in texture and easily amenable to stand the rigors of transport over long distances but it appears they are incapable of ripening fully to the glorious red color. Industry is pulled between its desire to please the consumer on one hand and ground realities vis-a-vis handling, packing, storage, distribution and marketing on the other hand  that may entail significant losses through rotting. If the latest development in tomato breeding is any indication scientists are about to launch a new variety of tomato with a purple color and extraordinarily tough texture that can withstand long journeys with almost 100% more shelf life! The GM route adopted by the researchers to create this variety may be some what controversial but if their safety is proved beyond a shadow of doubt, it may be a win-win situation for both the consumer and the produce industry. Here is a take on this new development which will have significant impact on health of the population.

In research to be published in Current Biology, Martin and colleagues studied tomatoes enriched in anthocyanin, a natural pigment that confers high antioxidant capacity. The purple GM tomatoes have already been found to prolong the lives of cancer-prone mice and in the latest findings they also more double the normal shelf life of tomatoes from an average of 21 days to 48 days. "Post-harvest losses due to rotting are such a serious problem for growers and supermarkets that even an increased shelf life of one day would make an enormous difference to them," said Yang Zhang, lead author from the John Innes Centre. One way to improve shelf life is to pick tomatoes early when they are still green and induce them to ripen artificially with ethylene. However, this results in loss of flavour. Another method is to grow varieties that never fully ripen, but these also never develop a full flavour. In the current study, anthocyanins were found to slow down the over-ripening process that leads to rotting and softening, achieving a tomato with a long shelf life and full flavour. The purple tomatoes were also less susceptible to one of the most important post harvest diseases, grey mould caused by Botrytis cinerea.

Anthocyanins are well known antioxidants with far reaching health benefits and the new variety of purple tomato will go a long way to protect humans from diseases like cancer if the rat studies are duplicated in humans through clinical trials. Though the exact procedure in evolving this new variety has not been revealed, it is safe to assume that the same will be patented. One crucial question that will throw a spanner on the commercial success of purple tomato is whether the consumers will accept a GM product if there is transparency in labeling. Probably it may take some years before purple tomato starts adoring the dining table, at least in that GMO loving country, America!