Saturday, August 31, 2013


After the Bihar midday meal program tragedy every state government vested with the management of this education-cum nutrition oriented Central scheme woke up suddenly running helter skelter for cover fearing that their weaknesses also would be exposed. School inspections became more frequent and erring officials were hauled up for not doing their job properly. But all these knee jerk reactions slowly faded away once the news became "cold" and forgotten by every body. Here is a typical PRO exercise by the Karnataka government to claim how efficient they are!

"Maintaining that the scheme in the state was near to 100% error free, the minister said over 60 lakh school children are getting the benefits of mid-day meal every day. "Barring one incident, where a girl child died after slipping into sambar vessel last year, the scheme is running successfully since it was introduced in 2002. More than 6 crore children have benefitted by the scheme till date," Ratnakar said. Mid-day meals is being given in around 55,000 schools and the government was into building quality kitchens in these schools. Only 75% of the schools have kitchens. Ratnakar said the Centre has announced that it would provide Rs 3 lakh to built a kitchen and Rs 5,000 to buy utensils. "There is also scheme where Centre will provide Rs 3,500 per month to grow vegetables in water availability areas. Rs 7,000 grant per month on big schemes and government has planned to give milk from August at a cost of Rs 600 crore," he said. Of the Rs 18,000 crore allocation for the department, Rs 11,000 are being spent on the salary. Ratnakar informed that Rs 180 crore was being spent on providing free uniforms every year and Rs 3,500 crore needed upgrade school buildings".

Is it not a tragedy that instead of getting down to the basics and having introspection, governments tend to take high moral grounds trying to defend a system which is moribund at its best? The lay out is such that the present school feeding program cannot be an instrument of furthering the education system because the very purpose of the school is shifted from teaching to cooking food for all the children whether they want it or not. Teachers hardly aware of the logistics of mass cooking and feeding are forced to take up the chore against their free will. Sanitation and hygiene conditions can never be safe enough to ensure safety of children. Water used, qualitatively and quantitatively, is unsatisfactory. In the face of these heavy odds the government spokesperson is trying to defend the indefensible. Good luck to him till the next food related episodes which are waiting to happen, in spite of all the good intentions!

Friday, August 30, 2013


Scientific research can be funny some times if the objectives and purpose of the efforts by the scientists are carefully looked into. Scientists engaged in research to get a degree can be pardoned to some extent if they take up academic topics with very little relevance to the citizens and after all such work is intended more to train them in carrying out the studies methodically, truthfully and scientifically. There are millions of scientists engaged in food research in public institutions and universities though most of their out put is of very little relevance to the common man. In contrast private sector research produces innumerable patents and workable knowledge based innovations with very high application potential through technologization. Here is a typical piece of investigation from an American university which claims that the high value tea and wines can be used for making antibacterial materials for coating food contact surfaces. Readers may come to their own conclusions after perusing the below referred article.

"Researchers at Northwestern University have discovered new ways of utilizing the properties of naturally occurring polyphenols found in green tea, red wine and dark chocolate. Dissolving polyphenol powders in water with a small amount of salt instantly produces transparent coatings that kill bacteria on contact, have antioxidant qualities and are non-toxic. The sticky nature of polyphenols and the low cost of materials could open the door to a wide range of uses for these coatings. Apparently the coatings can stick to virtually any surface, even Teflon, and are only 20 to 100 nanometers thick, potentially making them ideal for use in a whole range products. "We discovered a way to apply coatings onto a variety of surfaces that takes advantage of the sticky properties of the polyphenol compounds," said Phillip B. Messersmith, Professor of Biomedical Engineering, who led the research. "It's a very simple dip-coating process, and the antibacterial and antioxidant properties are preserved in the coating. One could take a stainless-steel hip implant apply the process to it, and the coating that emerges spontaneously and with no other modifications will kill bacteria and quench reactive oxygen species, such as free radicals."

The results if commercially exploited may have a chance for use in high value applications like coating of biomedical parts for implantation in human body. However to expect that it will find application in food industry as an antibacterial coating may be far fetched. After all tea as well as red wines are food materials that cannot be diverted for non food applications without disturbing the market equilibrium. Probably many non food antioxidants available in plenty in nature could be a better and more appropriate source material for preparing the antibacterial solution. The suggestion that such poly phenols in salt solution can be a good antioxidant product for human consumption is untenable because salt is a substance not recommended for consumption in high quantities because of its role in disease like CVD, kidney malfunction and blood pressure. Nonetheless from the scientific curiosity angle this is a good discovery with some future potential. 


Thursday, August 29, 2013


The "courageous" Government at Delhi (or is it food hardy?) has now jumped into the so called food security program, one wonders what is in store for the country. It looks like government is ignoring the time tested saying that "a bird in hand is two worth in the bush"! That is not doing much to develop the economy while indulging in resource sapping free food distribution extravaganza. The country may end up with neither hungry alleviation nor economic growth. The brutal butchering of Indian rupee in the currency market during this midweek is a warning signal which can be ignored only at the expense of the economic security of this country. The much touted food security bill which garnered support from practically every party did not had the courage to stand up against this populism and voter bribing attempt through this bill and therefore each one of them will be responsible for the economic consequences of implementing an impractical scheme. Here is an informed critique from well reputed experts about the gullibility of this latest action of the federal government. 

"As the procurement of food grains increase, the storage capacity should be appropriate, explained Sabnavis, "If we look at the bill closely, 60 million tones would be distributed annually, on an average five million a month. This means 55 million tonnes would be lying in the warehouses and if we add buffer stock to it, we would move closer to 100 million tonnes of capacity. Hence, we would require appropriate mechanisms for storage." Ashok Gulati, chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, told Business Standard it was a debatable issue as to how much food grains were damaged. "Twelve million tonnes in Punjab and five-six million tonnes food grains in Haryana are lying in the open. The International Mechanical Engineers estimates say that every year 21 million tones of wheat is damaged in India. Hence, that goes without saying that we need better infrastructure to take care of our produce", said Gulati. The total storage capacity available for central pool stocks was 74.6 million tons as on July 30 this year. However, Gulati believed that unless it is announced what the buffer stocks norms in the Bill are, one cannot know how much produce needs to be stocked. He felt that not more than 51-52 million tones storage capacity will be required for implementing the proposed scheme.  "This is because we need to match our procurement with distribution and at present, we are keeping much larger stocks than we need", added Gulati".

Is it not a pity that no one in the country, least of all those governing the country, has a clue regarding the way to go about in implementing this massive scheme though every one is talking about crossing "the bridge when we reach there"! As rightly said the storage and distribution system as it exists in most states are woefully inadequate to deliver the promises contained in the bill and it is not going to be easy to rectify the same over night even if action is taken to day. With very little evidence about any improvement in the management efficacy of those entrusted with grain storage and distribution, the country will continue to waste grains and allow pilferage through many leaky points through out the system. It is gut wrenching for every honest and conscientious India to be told by experts that more than more than 18 million tons of precious food grains that can feed the population for three months are lying in the open without protection from the spoilage vectors and elements! Another 21 million tons are reported to be damaged every year in the country as assessed by some international agencies. With only a few months remaining for general election there is a lurking suspicion that this food security program will be abandoned once the election over!   


Tuesday, August 27, 2013


The sturdiness of man against all odds in sustaining himself is a remarkable natural trait ever since his advent on earth, say 40,000 years ago. In ancient world it was fight against fierce carnivorous animals and fight for food in competition with them which provided the challenge. To day the odds are same, the only difference being that hundreds of chemicals finding their way into the foods in the name of processing and preservation may be slowly killing him in stead of the quick kill happening to the Paleo man during fighting with wild and ferocious animals. While enemy in old days was clearly visible, the unsuspecting chemicals in the food added deliberately are silent and invisible slow killers. Here is a shocking revelation about the way chemicals are added to foods by the processing industry while the so called safety authorities either close their eyes or are unaware of this practice.

"If you are shocked to learn that industrial chemicals are routinely in the food you are feeding to your family, you will be even more shocked to read about a study published this week in the professional journal Reproductive Toxicology by researchers from the Pew Charitable Trusts — which funded the work — and the Environmental Management Institute. Problems in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food programs look even worse than the problems I know so well from EPA! After extensive research into what manufacturers add to our food, the researchers report that about 1,000 additives are in the food supply without the FDA's knowledge. And, for those additives the FDA does actually know about, fewer than 38 percent of more than 8,000 FDA-regulated additives — including those manufacturers intentionally add directly to food and materials that may come into contact with and contaminate foods — have a published feeding study. (Feeding studies comprise the basic toxicology test — the first test a scientist would do to evaluate the safety of a chemical additive.) For direct additives, added intentionally to food, only 21.6 percent of the almost 4,000 additives have undergone the feeding studies necessary for scientists to estimate a safe level of exposure, and the FDA databases contain reproductive or developmental toxicity data for only 6.7 percent. It appears the FDA and the food industry were often making safety decisions by comparing one chemical to another rather than doing an actual toxicology study. In making such decisions, they were building a house of cards based on assumptions and unsupported extrapolations instead of direct scientific evidence. How has the oversight of our food regulations gone so terribly wrong? The researchers have a few insights. First, many chemicals were grandfathered into the system in the 1950's, and so they are in our food supply without information on their safety. Once a chemical is cleared for use in foods, the clearance is forever, so there are no requirements or incentives for a manufacturer to support additional testing. And, under the outdated U.S. Food Additives Amendment of 1958, the FDA doesn't even have the authority to require testing if it has questions about a chemical. Also, industry can self-determine if its chemical food-additives are Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS), and therefore free from the usual regulatory requirements for food additives. If the industry makes a GRAS determination, it is not even required to notify FDA that it has put the new GRAS additive on the market. Allowing industry to determine the safety of the chemicals it creates is a textbook example of the fox guarding the chicken coop. Last week, many of the same Pew researchers published a report in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine showing that "financial conflicts of interest are ubiquitous" in the industry-driven process leading to determining that a chemical is GRAS. In that article, Pew reports that all — that's 100 percent — of the members of expert panels that review food additives to make GRAS determinations have financial relationships with companies that manufacture the food additives being reviewed".

If whatever has been said in the above critique is true, is humanity hurtling towards calamity in a few decades from now with all people suffering from one or the other health disorders lowering the quality of life dramatically compared to what they were about 100 years ago? One can only pity for the future generations to come as they are being consigned to a life of ignominy by the reckless actions of those who live to day! Of course there are a few people who are still aware of these contradictions and thanks are due to them for spawning the organic food industry which does not use chemicals in raising any crop or processing it into edible preparations. Unfortunately such people are far and few at present to make any impact but there is the promise that organic food consumption is growing albeit slowly which will leave at least a few people with normal health to carry forward the torch of human civilization! 


Monday, August 26, 2013


No subject seems to be irrelevant for surveys and studies by investigative scientists and journalists as reflected by the recent report that some one in the US has "discovered" that certain brands of alcoholic beverages cause more injury to the drinkers compared to others! It is least realized that drinking is not a nice habit though exercising restraint in consuming these inebriating beverage may bring some limited benefits for some people. The trouble is most people do not know how much can be consumed safely or how frequent they can be consumed without any damage to the health. According to the studies reported below malt liquor universally is responsible for more hospitalization than mild beverages like beer. Here is the gist of this report.

"According to the study, Steel Reserve Malt Liquor came in second to Budweiser, but proportionally, it blew the brand out of the water. Steel Reserve Malt Liquor makes up .8% of the beer market, but a whopping 14.7% of the ER market, only .3% less than Budweiser. Even more revealing, malt liquors as a whole make up a paltry 2.4% of the US beer trade, but a full 46% of the alcohol consumed by emergency room goers. After Steel Reserve, the third and fourth most popular ER alcohols are also malt beverages: Colt 45 and Bud Ice. Bud Light and Barton's, a discount brand of vodka, take the next two spots. So why are malt beverages so prolific in hospitals? The most obvious answer is the comparatively large amount of alcohol per drink. While a bottle Budweiser contains 5% alcohol, the highest percentage among Amerca's top five best-selling beers, it's nothing compared to Steel Reserve's 8.1% alcohol content. While the study should shed light on which brands are most correlated with injury, more research is still needed. David Jernigan, the study's director, cautioned that the study only included interviews with 105 hospital patients, and all from one hospital in Baltimore".

Whether the above study will be allowed to go unchallenged by those brands indicted here remains to be seen. Coming to such a conclusion as being done by the authors, based on a limited survey of 105 subjects is also a matter of concern. Why such studies are undertaken at the first instance is not clear. After all drinking in a country where there is no mandatory prohibition is a matter of personal preference but those who drink excessively have no right to be a public burden whether causing nuisance in the public or straining the public health system which cannot be condoned.   



Man's saga in search of right foods that gives him immortality never ends but with each passing day this passion is kept going by reports here and there about new as well as not so new miracle foods that will ensure healthy life. Whether it is the antioxidant rich natural plant products or grains like Quinoa, Chea etc health food industry is always willing to oblige the consumer with products that meet with their aspirations. No wonder health food stores have become a common feature of the retail market stream in many wealthy countries where diseases like diabetes, blood pressure, kidney disorders, obesity etc are rampant. It is an irony that wealthier a society becomes, more frequent is the incidence of diseases associated with wrong foods and wrong eating! Those who are hungry cannot access good foods but those who are wealthy ignore healthy foods going for palate tingling rich but nutritionally unbalanced processed foods ending with poor quality of life eventually. Latest to emerge (or reemerge?) in the health food landscape is an obscure leaf called Moringa about which the whole world seems to be getting excited! Here is a take on this development.

"The leaves of the moringa trees may be the world's most nutritious green—and they're coming to a health-food store near you. Remember the moment when every runway regular suddenly became a supermodel? Now every healthy edible wants to be called a super food. Which is why even that term likely doesn't do justice to moringa, a tree leaf that contains more nutrients and natural remedies than your body knows what to do with. Ancient warriors fueled for battle with the leaf extract, hot for the stamina and strength it gave them; and legend has it that Egyptian Pharaohs were buried with it to sustain them in the afterlife. Health-savvy Americans are the latest followers, thanks to the energy, immunity, and metabolism boosts moringa delivers. "Moringa has incredibly nutritious qualities—it has 3.5 times the calcium of milk and 4 times the vitamin C of oranges," says David Wolfe, author of Super foods. All you have to do is open the bag and let the good nutrients roll".

Of course the scientific data available do confirm that Moringa is a nutritionally excellent food source and it is also a fact that it is being consumed in some parts of the world since long. In fact a substantial population in countries like India who are economically depressed, living in rural areas depend on a variety of leaves as sources of nutrients like vitamins and minerals besides good quality proteins as these leaves cost a fraction of traditional vegetables consumed by well to do population. Besides these leafy plants grow wildly all around and village folks have a fairly good knowledge about the type of leaves which are edible for picking up the right ones. Interestingly Morimga tree yields lush green leaves in abundant quantities and grow in the wilderness with no organized farming reported any where. As a part of the nutritional strategy countries like India must encourage planting of Moringa on waste and unused lands belonging to the government allowing people to harvest the leaves for their daily food use.


Sunday, August 25, 2013


Drinking beverages like soda and fruit juices is considered more convenient if a straw is used to such out the contents from the bottle directly or from a glass full of it. But rarely any one gives any thought to the safety of these straws offered in different places, especially in small juice or soda joints most of which use straws of indifferent quality. There are no standards for straws in many countries and under such an environment it is easy for many to indulge in production of straws of low quality and make a fast buck in the process. World over it is estimated that about a billion straws are manufactured for drinking liquid products and imagine the trash value of these disposable material which are littered all around in towns and cities with no strict environmental discipline. Straws which used to be made of paper a few years ago are ow made mostly from polypropylene plastics or polystyrene material with no biodegradable credentials. Besides these "tubes" can pose serious health dangers if the quality of raw material and ingredients used are not of food grade as it is reported from China recently. Here is a take on this little known area of food industry.  

"According to food experts, some straws could contain hazardous materials that can dissolve into drinks. Long term use can cause harm to the digestive system, premature sexual development, infertility or even cancer. An investigation team led by Lou Zhongping, who helped draft the standards on drinking straws, began inspections of wholesale stores in Shanghai's Yu Garden in early July and concluded only 10 percent of straws were qualified. Inspections 
also revealed forged quality safety logos. "In wholesale stores, we found the logo was hard to read and could be erased easily," said Lou,who is also president of the largest manufacturer of drinking straws worldwide, Soton DailyNecessities. Despite a request on July 3 by the market watchdog requiring that stores remove the straws from their shelves, a vendor said that the
straws are still being sold. Most of the quality safety logos are counterfeit, headded, showing a bag full of colorful drinking straws."Many beverage and milk tea stores as well as schools buy straws regularly, and we sell hundreds of packs every month," said the vendor, who only wanted
to be identified as Chen. In a beverage shop named Guoxiang in the Jing'an district, a manager surnamed Yang said he purchases straws from markets in YuGarden, and has never been aware of the safety concerns. Insiders said thick straws, such as those used for bubble tea, 
tend to be more at risk because they use more materials and are more expensive to make. "The price of a qualified straw is around 0.1 yuan ($0.016), which is double or even triple the price of a substandard one," said Han Ying, business department manager of Shanghai Guanxuan, a company that makes household products. "There is no threshold for producing inferior drinking straws asit's easy to attain recycled plastics, and anyone could start 
a business with several machines at home," she added. There are five straw producers in Zhejiang province's Yiwu, an international trade hub that produces at least 90 percent of the straws in the Chinese market, but the number of unlicensed producers in the country is more than 200, insiders said. The health supervision department in Changsha, Central China's Hunan province, issued a warning in May that some drinking straws might contain toxic substances after the findings of Lou's investigation".

The basic question raised by some health pundits is whether there is any need for using a straw at all in the instance? A very relevant issue. The Straw apologists contend that use of this contraption avoids contact of the sugary beverage with the teeth to a significant extent lessening the possibility of dental decay but there is very little evidence to support this argument. After all to get the full pleasure of drinking a beverage it is necessary that the liquid is moved around the mouth for the palate to sense the taste and flavor and even if a straw is used most will keep it in the oral cavity at least for a few seconds before gulping. Use of straw is also claimed to be helpful in avoiding contact of the mouth with the glass or cup which may be dirty or unhygienic. But it is silly to imagine that the contents in a dirty glass would be clean! All said and done it is time that strict safety standards are put in place for drinking straws immediately to protect the unwary consumers.  

Thursday, August 22, 2013


The Chocolate industry does not miss any opportunity in singing paeans about the benefits of consuming their products in keeping some of the inflammation related such as Diabetes away. But it seems to be overlooking or deliberately glossing over the fact that Chocolate is also a rich source of sugar and highly saturated fat, both considered "villains of peace" in modern society where many people are heavily over weight and obese. No doubt that Chocolate products do contain cocoa solids derived from Cacoa beans but its concentration in the finished products is rather small. Predominance of sugar and fat can override the potential benefits the antioxidants in cocoa can confer. That is the reason why the industry is promoting bitter chocolates that contain high levels of cocoa solids. Even these chocolates are high in fat which cannot be glossed over. In a recent study scientists have reported that cocoa powder which is a by product of cocoa processing industry has the ability to reduce inflammation very significantly through studies carried out on mice. The findings are interesting, though there are a few questions that still beg for an answer. Here is a take on this issue. 

The researchers reported that several indicators of inflammation and diabetes in the mice that were fed the cocoa supplement were much lower than the mice that were fed the high-fat diet without the cocoa powder and almost identical to the ones found that were fed a low-fat diet in the control group. For example, they had about 27 percent lower plasma insulin levels than the mice that were not fed cocoa. High levels of insulin can signal that a patient has diabetes. The cocoa powder supplement also reduced the levels of liver triglycerides in mice by a little more than 32 percent, according to Lambert, who worked with Yeyi Gu, graduate student in food science, and Shan Yu, a graduate student in physiology. Elevated triglyceride levels are a sign of fatty liver disease and are related to inflammation and diabetes. The mice also saw a slight but significant drop in the rate of body weight gain, according to the researchers, who reported their findings in the online version of the European Journal of Nutrition. While researchers have linked obesity-related chronic inflammation to several diseases, including type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease, the reason for the inflammation response is not completely known. Lambert said two theories on inflammation and obesity that have emerged may help explain cocoa's role in mitigating inflammation. In one theory, Lambert said excess fat may activate a distress signal that causes immune cells to become activated and cause inflammation. The cocoa may reduce the precursors that act as a distress signal to initiate this inflammatory response. Lambert said that another theory is that excess fat in the diet interferes with the body's ability to keep a bacterial component called endotoxin from entering the bloodstream through gaps between cells in the digestive system -- gut barrier function -- and alerting an immune response. The cocoa in this case may help improve gut barrier function. Cocoa, although commonly consumed in chocolate, actually has low-calorie content, low-fat content and high-fiber content. "Most obesity researchers tend to steer clear of chocolate because it is high in fat, high in sugar and is usually considered an indulgence," Lambert said. "However, cocoa powder is low in fat and low in sugar. We looked at cocoa because it contains a lot of polyphenolic compounds, so it is analogous to things like green tea and wine, which researchers have been studying for some of their health benefits."

From time to time antioxidants are touted as panacea for all diseases linked to cellular inflammation. But there is very little clarity regarding the mechanism involved in the action of various antioxidants and supplements in the market though there are thousands of publications dealing with this subject. Even one is not sure about the dynamics of absorption of different antioxidants from various sources across the GI tract. In the present study the scientists have not indicated regarding the dosage of cocoa powder required to elicit favorable response and invariably extrapolation of results from mice studies has its own flaws. Definitely there is a need to extend the scope of such studies with clinical trials on human beings under actual conditions. The authors may have shown an indication regarding the potential benefits of cocoa powder for mitigating some of the modern life style disorders like Diabetes but it may be premature to jump to any conclusions as of now. 


Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Food science is getting more and murkier day by day if thousands of conflicting reports/findings/inferences being published in hundreds of journals as well as media publications are meticulously read! Practically every report on one or the other aspect of food, nutrition and health is contradicted by a different group though both claim their findings are truthful and correct! For example who does not know that too much sugar or salt or fat can be injurious to health for people in a sedentary society though "how much" is "too much" is still mired in controversy. According to a recent study published in a decent scientific periodical, it is claimed that those who consume added sugar are more vulnerable to death with lesser life span than those taking limited sugar who live longer. This finding is based on some laboratory studies using mice as subjects and extrapolating the results to humans. Here is a take on these new "findings".

"When mice were fed a diet that was 25% added sugars – an amount consumed by many humans – the females died at twice the normal rate and the males were less likely to reproduce and hold territory, scientists said in a study published Tuesday. The study shows "that added sugar consumed at concentrations currently considered safe exerts dramatic impacts on mammalian health," the researchers said in the study, published in the journal Nature Communications. "Many researchers have already made calls for reevaluation of these safe levels of consumption." The study's senior author, University of Utah biology professor Wayne Potts, said earlier studies fed mice sugars at levels higher than people eat in sodas, cookies, candy and other items. The current study stuck to levels eaten by people". 

Granted that the results might be true for mice which were living in a restricted environment, how can one conclude that the same could apply to humans who are living in unrestricted environments with freedom to exercise as much as they want or can. After all calorie burning is influenced by the extent of physical activity indulged by the humans. If the logic of study is taken seriously, practically every food item coming from the soda, pastry, confectionery, ice cream or dessert industry sectors must be banned forthwith!. Take the population in India where thousands of ethnic foods are made and consumed for centuries containing high sugar levels and the mortality should have been astronomical according to the above studies. But only recently Indians are developing diabetes probably by the lack of calorie burning exercises while those generations preceding the present one never had so much problem consuming sugar. The key to this mystery is adequate physical activity which was part and parcel of life in the last century and years preceding that. No wonder diabetes is practically non-existent in the rural areas where hard working farmers consume lot of jaggery and sweetmeats practically every day, much more than what these mice ate in the above studies. Of course to day's society must heed to the warning alarm raised by the findings and must cut down sugar drastically or do rigorous exercise regularly to burn the high calorie foods they take in their diets.  


Tuesday, August 20, 2013


In food technology parlor concentration of any aqueous  liquid generally means removal of water using different techniques without affecting the original flavor of the product. In terms of quality freeze drying is considered the most satisfactory process for concentration or drying but it is more expensive than other alternatives like air drying, vacuum evaporation etc. Considering this fact the claim by an innovator in the US that he has developed a technique to make portable beer drinks without using any concentration technology is some what intriguing. Here is an expose' on his claims which seem to be feasible prima facie.  

"For decades, centuries probably, folks have dreamed of a more convenient way of transporting beer on distant adventures supported by back, boat and bike. The problem is, no one was able to shrink a full serving of legit beer into a package much smaller than a 12-oz can, and 12-oz cans are bulky and heavy. Pat's Backcountry Beverages has broken through and done it, creating a beer concentrate that can fit into a pocket and mix a 16 oz ale with the help of plain water and an easy-to-use carbonation system. Beer is now a whole lot easier to carry ... but how does an ultra-portable brew taste?"

Though the technical details are not provided due to economic reasons, the fact that a 49 % alcohol containing beer concentrate is used to get the final 5% alcohol containing readily drinkable beer gives a clue to the principle involved in the process. While traditional beer contains the gas CO2 generated by the yeast from the cocktail of substrates used, in the portable beer CO2 is generated in the final product chemically which probably will make a big difference in the taste and flavor of this version of beer. What is intriguing is how he gets a 49% alcohol concentrate by brewing with yeast as most yeast strains known to man cannot survive beyond 15% alcohol concentration. Possibly what is being done may be adding of pure alcohol to the conventional recipes at some stage of the fermentation or removing CO2 from the conventional beer before adding the alcohol. This is the reason why the portable beer has less body compared to standard beer. Though it may not pass muster as a beer, it can still be an alternative or substitute to genuine beer under certain circumstances. Nonetheless the innovative mind of the entrepreneur deserves applause. 


Monday, August 19, 2013


How can a country gloat over the fact that half of its population of children are malnourished or one in three malnourished children in the world "live" in this country? Similarly how can an Indian relish the fact that more than 16% of the child population in the country is wasted with no hope of redemption? Who is responsible for this sorry state of affairs? Of course the successive governments that held power at Delhi during the last 6 decades. The citizens of this country are badly let down by their politicians because national wealth has been wasted for unproductive, slogan based, unrealistic, non-asset creating programs with zero impact. Latest gimmick, splurging the national wealth in the name of food security, is both shocking and appalling for every honest Indian though there is little sensitivity among the ruling class which has been gorging public money under different financial scams. Recent lamentations by world agencies like UNICEF, WHO and others about the wrong direction in which the Indian agriculture is moving with least sensitivity to the nutritional needs of the population is galling. Here is a take on this important issue. 

"These estimates have come at a time when India is planning to put in place an expensive food security law aimed chiefly at banishing hunger by doling out highly subsidised cereals, largely rice and wheat - and not so much at removing malnutrition, more likely caused by diets deficient in proteins, vitamins and other vital nutrients. The menace of hunger, which used to cause starvation deaths, has in fact been surmounted to a large extent. But the country's track record in combating undernourishment seems unsatisfactory. An earlier report by another UN agency, United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef), had said that malnutrition appeared more common in India than in sub-Saharan Africa. Sadly, according to Unicef, one in every three malnourished children in the world lives in India. Though questions have been raised about these figures, the statistics are worthy of attention: around 46 per cent of all children below the age of three in India are too small for their age, 47 per cent are underweight, and at least 16 per cent are wasted. Worse still, the report attributes 50 per cent of all child deaths in the country to insufficient nourishment. However, it is very important to note these are still open questions. It has been argued that some perceived stunting is due to genetic factors. Other symptoms of malnourishment could be caused by poor sanitation instead, a point that Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh made recently. So the direct causal link between improving the availability of food and ending malnutrition is not straightforward. Even without that wrinkle, the strategy for combating malnutrition outlined by the UN agency takes the opposite tack to the government's food security approach. The FAO urges the reorientation of agricultural research and development priorities to make them more nutrition-sensitive - with a stronger focus on nutrient-dense foods, such as fruit, vegetables, legumes and livestock products. It also envisages interventions in the food production system with greater emphasis on micronutrient-doped fertilisers, bio-fortified crops and a judicious blend of crops and livestock farming. It also suggests that consumer subsidies should be targeted at high-risk groups, such as the elderly and children. It stresses the reduction of losses and wastage - which currently amount to one-third of food output - to make more food available for human consumption and reduce pressure on land and other natural resources. Few of these central recommendations factor in the government's food security approach. Nor is sanitation given the focus it deserves. The government needs to revisit its food security proposals and rework them".

Government of India does not seem to be too much concerned about its misplaced food security perceptions based on which the Ordinance on food security was gazetted recently. In all likelihood this Ordinance will be passed by the politicians of all hues and colors supposed to be debating about its relevance or adequacy without realizing its consequences because they all consider it as a populist scheme with high vote garnering potential! The corner stone of the food security scheme is that poor should not die because of hunger! By providing about 800 kC of energy through the cereals which are offered at Rs 1-3 per kg out of the daily need of 2000 kc, poor can be kept at low starvation levels without allowing them to die! Important nutrients like proteins, essential fats, vitamins and minerals are totally ignored and with their prices ruling very high in the market, poor can never hope to access them to supplement the grains offered at throw away prices. High priority given to crops like Sugarcane, Cotton and Cereals ignoring nutrient loaded Pulses, Oil seeds and Fruits and Vegetables in the national agricultural policy favors commercial interests more than that of the citizen and must be corrected immediately. If the present situation continues this country is going to be weighed down by a population, with a substantial segment, characterized by low productivity and stunted growth!


Sunday, August 18, 2013


After the recent findings that Silver can multiply the effect and efficacy of medical antibiotics several fold, here comes another news which says Copper is an efficient "antibiotic" that can destroy a number of disease causing bugs affecting humanity. Of course historically copper vessels were used for coking foods and storing water and it may not be coincidence that the older generation people were much more immune to modern day diseases which are causing umpteen number of food safety episodes affecting millions of people. The fatality from these diseases is not insignificant in spite of enormous advances made by the medical science during the last few decades. According to a group of scientists in Germany if copper nano particles are deployed in food packing materials the industry will have a sure way of protecting the contents from the rampage of pathogenic bacteria and other infections due to virus, mold etc. Here is the gist of the findings of the above group which is very interesting.

"His innovation relies on copper, an element valued for centuries for its antibiotic properties. Drelich, a professor of materials science and engineering, has discovered how to embed nano particles of the red metal into vermiculite, an inexpensive, inert compound sometimes used in potting soil. In preliminary tests on local lake water, it killed 100 percent of E. coli bacteria in the sample. Drelich also found that it was effective in killing Staphylococcus aureus, the common staph bacteria.Other studies have shown that copper is toxic to Listeria, Salmonella and even the antibiotic-resistant bacteria MRSA.Bacteria aren't the only microorganisms that copper can kill. It is also toxic to viruses and fungi. If it were incorporated into food packaging materials, it could help prevent a variety of food borne diseases, Drelich says.The copper-vermiculite material mixes well with many other materials, like cardboard and plastic, so it could be used in packing beads, boxes, even cellulose-based egg cartons.And because the cost is so low—25 cents per pound at most—it would be an inexpensive, effective way to improve the safety of the food supply, especially fruits and vegetables. Drelich is working with the Michigan Tech SmartZone to commercialize the product through his business, Micro Techno Solutions, the recipient of the 2012 Great Lakes Entrepreneur's Quest Food Safety Innovation Award. He expects to further test the material and eventually license it to companies that pack fresh food"
One of the mysteries in India regarding the eternal safety of Ganges water which is often venerated as holy was attributed to the content of copper present in that water though there could be other factors also playing some part in its preservation. What the scientists in Germany have done was to prepare copper nano particles in a usable form by incorporating it in a vermiculite base that can be used in making packaging materials which carry the protective properties on a permanent basis. Before going ga ga with this innovative work, one has to keep in mind regarding further work that is needed to standardize the product for use in preserving a number of foods of different nature including fresh foods. Concept wise this is a welcome development with far reaching impact.


Friday, August 16, 2013


If every country in this planet wants to attain self sufficiency in food, is it technically and logistically achievable? Such lofty ideals are good to be proclaimed while the ground reality will tell a different story. Food pundits and policy experts tend to debate endlessly whether this planet will have the capacity to produce sufficient foods to meet the minimum food needs of every denizen if the population grows at the current pace but there is no unanimity on this issue with many predicting food famine and deprivation in in a few decades' time from now because Mother Earth cannot support huge jump in production even if there are some dramatic technological breakthroughs in the coming years. GMO lobbyists have their own answer and they aver that gene manipulating technology can increase food production very significantly though there is very little hard evidence to support their over optimism! Set against this bleak scenario, the lamenting of British policy makers about the dependence of this country on imported foods is rather amusing. Here is a take on this new fear being expressed in the UK regarding its food future. 

"Falling self-sufficiency means Britain produces less than two-thirds (62%) of the food the country consumes, down from 75% in 1991, the National Farmers' Union said. If all the food produced in the UK in a year were stored and eaten from January 1, the "cupboard" would be bare by August 14, the NFU has calculated. Farmers are calling for support from politicians, the public and food industry to back British farming and help them produce more. NFU president Peter Kendall said the UK could not simply go around the world chasing the cheapest deal on food. "To think that today's date would signal the time when our domestic food supply runs out is frankly alarming. It says to me that we must act," he said. "Right across the board farmers have a fantastic natural capacity to produce more British food, given the right market signals and the confidence to invest. We have the right technologies to produce more from less, with precision farming helping to target fertiliser and crop protection products within centimetres. "Laser technology can even pinpoint an individual weed, improving accuracy and efficiency. Crops grown under cover help to lengthen the season for our British fruits. "But there is more to do to empower our farmers to enable them to make the most of our natural resources and feed our growing nation." He urged the Government to help create an environment where farming businesses could invest, to address market failures and iron out price volatility to ensure the food chain can increase supplies".

It was assumed that the World has become a village with no borders under liberalized economic regimes and free trade protocols worked under the aegis of WTO. If this is really so, why should the UK government worry about import of foods from other countries with surplus production? Is it because of fear of inferior and relatively unsafe foods which may find their way into the country? With hardly any surplus land for agriculture how can a geographically small country like the UK can expand cultivation? Talking about technological innovations there is a limit for achieving incremental production and putting in place farmer supporting policy initiatives is unlikely to achieve much. Probably the UK must think in terms of encouraging their farmers to go out to countries where land utilization is relatively low due to many reasons and lease out land, deploy most productive modern production technologies and bring the same for the consumption of its citizens. If India can do this why not the UK. The inter dependence of countries on each other cannot be wished away under noble patriotic fervor. As for safety adequate mechanisms are available to ensure the same with sound management systems and intense vigilance. 


Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Till recently corn was being blamed for the obesity epidemic in the US because of its connection to High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) which is suspected to be metabolized differently from white sugar. Also adding to the misery of corn is the predominance of genetically modified version in the American landscape which is being viewed with suspicion by a vast majority of people all over the world. When the American government enunciated its biofuel policy, corn got a big boost and conversion of corn into ethanol through microbiological route became a big business. It is a fact that more than 40% of the grain grown in that country finds its way to ethanol distilleries for blending with petroleum fuels. The food and beverage industry which depends  predominantly on corn for formulating their products seems to be in a blind because of the escalating cost of buying their corn needs due to strong pull from the biofuel industry. The result is significant price increase for all the products made from corn including a vast array of fast foods. The fast food industry therefore has a right to blame the supply shortage for its compulsions to raise prices for these products. Here is a take on the dicey situation. 

"From the grocery store to your favorite takeout joint to the drive-thru window, you're paying more for what you eat and leaders in the fast food industry say the reason for these increased costs is the federal government's continued support of corn-based ethanol. The bushel price of corn has nearly tripled in the past decade. Forty percent of what's grown today goes into fuel tanks and that percentage could rise if the current federal mandate--known as the Renewable Fuel Standard--remains in place. "It's harder every day to offer great value because our costs are skyrocketing," Lisa Ingram, president of White Castle, recently said in Washington. "In fact, since the RFS became law our cost for beef has increased by forty-seven percent." The fast food industry contends that with more corn going to ethanol gas, there's less for traditional corn-based food products and feed for farm animals, thus driving up the costs for restaurant owners."

One wonders whether the situation is really so bad as to create a crisis for the fast food industry. After all these fast food joints are severely indicted for their junk foods which are suspected to be causing many life style disorders like CVD, blood pressure and obesity. Why not take a positive view of this development and consider this as a blessing in disguise, as less and less people would patronize junk foods when the prices go up! In a country where business is accorded a higher priority than the health of the citizen, one should not be surprised if the government eventually comes forward to provide relief to the fast food industry through some form of policy intervention! One can understand the dilemma of the government as it wants to reduce consumption of fossil fuels through admixing it with ethanol while corn production is not sufficient to meet the demands from both food and ethanol sectors. It may be time to fast tract development of commercial technologies that can convert non-food biomass into alcohol or accelerate microbiological technologies such as algae so that food sector is insulated from shortages of its feed stock.


Sunday, August 11, 2013


Shrimp is a delicacy enjoyed by people all over the world though its price has been escalating continuously during the last few years. Besides countries like India earn substantial foreign exchange through large scale exports of frozen shrimp. World wide shrimp consumption is estimated at over 7 million tons out of which about 40% is produced through aquaculture. Top shrimp producing countries include China, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and India. As the supply from natural sources like sea has been dwindling due to over exploitation, shrimp farming became an instant success with thousands of such farms supplementing the catch from the sea. Even for maintain the man created shrimp growing facilities, feed materials are required to be made from smaller fish from the sea which are converted into formulated feeds making it unsustainable in the long run. It is in this context that the new development in Australia which enables microorganisms to be used in formulating efficient feed substitutes without using fish as the base material. Here is a take on this path breaking research break through with far reaching implications for this planet.  

"CSIRO researchers have been trying to grow marine microbes as alternative food for farmed prawns for at least a decade. Farmed prawns are usually fed pellets, which are highly unsustainable to make because their key ingredient is fish caught in the wild. Dr Nigel Preston says his team found a way to grow marine microbes in controlled environments, which mimic conditions of mangroves and estuaries. The microbes are then harvested and turned into a food additive called Novacq. "We have developed a game-changing technology that will allow the industry to grow in a far more sustainable way," he told AAP. "It's better for consumers, the environment and prawn farmers."

Biotechnology has provided solutions to many problems in the past to help mankind to live in a more sustainable manner and this is another instance of its out reach for increasing food supply. It is unfortunate that Biotechnology is getting negative publicity because of its over stress on genetically modified foods while there are hundreds of more impact making developments in many other areas. Mirobes are touted as the future friend of man because of their versatility and variety. There are many substances of food as well as non-food importance made through fermentation and the future of mankind is firmly linked to microbes without which life can never be livable!  



On this planet both rich and the poor co-exist though the quality of life may vary widely because of the so called purchasing power of the people. Africa is considered the poor cousin of rich continents like Americas, Europe and Australia, probably because of centuries of colonial rule exploiting their resources mercilessly. Whether it is England or France, Italy or other colonial countries of the West, no thoughts seem to have crossed their mind to help their erstwhile colonies to improve the lots of those who were enslaved by them. Credit goes to the US for considering Africa as a continent that deserves sizable assistance to develop them through kind and cash and to day this country stands in the forefront in providing bulk of assistance to some of the poorest countries in the world. Recently this country is reported to have launched new development programs for improving the cereal production situation as well as evolving national policies for food security for millions of citizens in the continent. Having said this the million dollar question that begs for an answer is whether there can be an equal partnership between an aid giver and an aid recipient? For all the glib talk that goes in the name of equal partnership, there is still an element of  over lording when it comes to deciding how to go about to achieve an objective. Here is the gist of the report emanating from the US that claims setting up two "innovation labs" whatever that means.             

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah launched two new innovation labs to improve climate resilience in some of Africa's main cereal crops and increase private sector investment that can help smallholder farmers. Shah announced the new partnerships at the U.S. release of the Feed the Future 2013 Progress Report, USAID said in a news release the same day. "Today, as we celebrate Feed the Future's success over the last year, I am pleased to launch two new Feed the Future innovation labs with U.S. universities and their partners," Shah said. The new labs are the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sorghum & Millet and the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy. Drawing on the expertise of top universities around the United States, they represent a new model of development that uses science and technology to address challenges in agriculture and food security, USAID said. "The Feed the Future on Sorghum & Millet Innovation Lab reflects President Obama's and Feed the Future's strong focus on using science and technology to help smallholders meet the challenge of increasing cereal production even as climate change alters environmental conditions and reduces agricultural productivity," Shah said. "The Food Security Policy Innovation Lab builds directly on President Obama's leadership in launching the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition last year," he added. "It will help many more countries worldwide achieve major policy reforms, attract significant private sector investments and increase economic opportunities for smallholder farmers, other rural people and urban consumers."

Considering that most countries consume cereal like Sorghum and Maize any improvements in productivity, especially at the level of small farmers with tiny land holdings can be expected to improve the health standards of the local population to some extent. But how this can be achieved is an issue fraught with some serious implications. Americans are known to be the most vociferous champions of GMO foods with 80% of the daily diet in that country derived from GMO foods. As GM technology is still clouded under a controversy regarding the safety of foods produced through application of this unnatural process, the US must resist the temptation to unleash its GMO monopolistic seed companies on the unsuspecting African countries. Already there are reports about some US politicians propounding GMO technology as the ultimate solution to over come the hunger pangs of millions of people suffering from poverty, under nourishment, infectious diseases, infant mortality and short life span. Those countries receiving aid from the US must be aware of this possibility.    


Wednesday, August 7, 2013


What a country where right hand does not know what its left hand is doing! That is India which is known universally as a country delighted with its indecisive bureaucracy and never ending redtapism! What else one can make out of the recent pepper export fiasco which locked up almost Rs 300 crore worth of black pepper for almost 6 months without doing any thing to either clear the consignment or reject it. The merry go around, passing the buck for this shameful episode continues while the country is burdened by heavy indebtedness vis-a-vis foreign exchange reserves! Here is a gist of the story as narrated by the helpless exporters whom even the government of India is unwilling to help! 

"NCDEX and a bunch of pepper traders from Madhya Pradesh are involved in probably the biggest-ever dispute in the the former's decade-long history over the poor quality of pepper delivered. In its letter to Prabhakar, KVA highlighted the five-month delay in testing black pepper sealed at NCDEX-authorised warehouses for traces of mineral oil. The net worth of the 6,800 tonne of pepper locked up at the warehouse at Rs 300 crore. When KVA filed a petition before the Indore bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court seeking a direction to the exchange to revoke an order directing the traders to take the delivery of pepper and deliver fresh pepper at current market prices. The association wants either wholesale pepper contracts amounting to Rs 300 crore scrapped or a new consignment of the commodity fit for human consumption delivered. After complaints from KVA, Kerala's food safety authority sealed the consignments of pepper mixed with mineral oil and delivered to the warehouse. The authority appointed the Spices Board of India to conduct the test on the entire stock rather than taking samples. P S S Thampi, chairman, Spices Board of India, said, "We have tested 1,000 tonne of pepper and already submitted our report to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India and now it is up to them to take further action." When quizzed, K V Thomas, minister of state (independent charge) for consumer affairs, food and public distribution, said, "Yes, I received a letter from KVA, but there is nothing I can do about it, and therefore the stocks of pepper have been sent to the Spices Board India, and they will do the needful."

The export trade is not entirely innocent if its past history is to be checked, with substandard and dubious quality commodities being exported bringing bad name to the country. But all traders cannot be blamed or punished for such fraudulent practices. In the present case detection of mineral oil, some traders use to improve the appearance of pepper corns, takes hardly a few minutes and why huge stocks are being sealed for months together is a serious matter. Government must book the guilty for dereliction of duty and compensate the exporters for the losses, if any incurred by them. With the Spices Board well equipped to carry out almost all tests required to clear export consignments, why such delays occur is a matter of serious concern and if necessary steps are not taken to prevent recurrence of such incidences, India may have to yield its preeminent position in spices exports to neighboring countries like Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Indonesia!