Wednesday, September 25, 2013


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  The result is that many of the food ingredients had to be withdrawn after consumers were exposed to their dangers unnecessarily.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

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

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


Friday, September 20, 2013


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

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

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



Is onion an important food for Indians? Obviously it appears so as reflected by the political significance attached to shooting prices that rule the onion markets across the country. It is not easy to forget what happened in Delhi State two decades ago when spiraling onion prices resulted in collapse of the then government. Present situation is reminiscent of what prevailed then and it appears Onion and Petrol are competing with each other to see which will breach the Rs 100 mark first! What is incongruous is the effect of this price escalation of onion on the national economy and the muddied thinking of the present day government in tackling the same. Here is a take on this "tear some" issue as is being experienced by the Indian citizen every day!

"The uptick of wholesale prices to a six month high of 6.1% in August, largely fuelled by a 244.6% increase in onion prices, is bad news for the economy. Not only does it set back hopes of a rate cut to boost investments in the monetary policy review by the RBI at the end of the week, it also highlights the government's continuing inability to manage the food economy and rein in volatility of food prices. Blaming bad weather doesn't cut much ice. The rising prices of essential food items like rice despite good monsoons are mainly due to the large stocks accumulated to meet the needs of the food security Act. The continuous increase in minimum support prices for rice and wheat by the government has also proved counterproductive as it has discouraged a shift in cropping patterns to vegetables or the diversification of production to livestock, fish and poultry. Consequently, prices of vegetables and high protein foods like milk, eggs, fish and meat have shot up, making them unaffordable to the poor. Inadequate storage facilities and the failure to modernise the food supply chain have also added to the problem. Curbing volatility in food prices and improving supply would require strong measures by both state and Union governments. States have to reform the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee Act to allow for contract farming, direct marketing and setting up markets in the private sector. Adequate credit has to be ensured for setting up cold storage chains. The bias against large organised retailers, including foreign chains, has to be dropped. Given their global supply chains, they would have cooled domestic prices by realigning their procurement orders. The government should also shift to direct cash transfers from food subsidies, thus reducing the need to build huge stocks".

If government sources are to be believed this phenomenon is unlikely to last for long and the prices would come down in a "few days" time! According to records onion prices have been ruling abnormally high during the last few months and it is far fetched to expect the prices to come down soon. Announcing imports is just a play of words meaning nothing as not even a kilogram of foreign onion has landed in the country yet! It is a pity that consequences of policies announced like the Food Security Act are not thought of and how the country will suffer because of these follies. It is believed that farmers may increasingly switch over to cereals in the coming years because of high procurement prices offered to them, further endangering the nutritional security of the population. One can only hope that a more cohesive and visionary government after the coming general election will address these issues and reverse the present disastrous policies ruining the country. 


Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Where will the consumer go if the scientific community works in connivance with the industry in supporting health claims that are not substantiated or proved? The latest controversy in the US regarding the alleged role of the American Heart Association (AHA) in giving certificate to processed food products as heart healthy when they were really unhealthy products if critically scrutinized, refuses to fade away soon. The bitter legal fight, recently reported from New York concerns the healthiness of a famous brand of soup which has been given the "Heart Check" certification by the Association in spite of it containing high levels of Sodium supposed to be a villain in diseases like blood pressure, kidney disease, heart attack and stroke. Since the Association is collecting a hefty fee for awarding such certificates, many consumer right activists feel that it is unethical and illegal. Here is a take on this issue which can be expected to be fought bitterly in the coming days. 

"At the center of the federal lawsuit is the "Heart-Check" certification by the American Heart Association,  and whether it rightfully conveys that a product carries particular health benefitsThe lawsuit says the nonprofit group lets Campbell and other companies use the "Heart-Check" label on products that run counter to its stated mission, in exchange for fees. The American Heart Association says its goal is to fight cardiovascular diseases and stroke. To earn its "Heart-Check" certification, the group's website states that products must have no more than 480 milligrams of sodium per serving. But the website also notes elsewhere that "low sodium" is defined as having 140 milligrams or less per serving, the lawsuit notes. "The AHA, for a fee, abandons its general, non-commercial dietary and nutritional guidelines," the lawsuit states. A can of Campbell's "Healthy Request" condensed Chicken Noodle Soup, which bears the certification mark in question, is listed as having 410 milligrams of sodium per half-cup serving. The lawsuit notes that there are two or more servings per can, meaning there would be at least 820 milligrams of sodium in a can. A representative for the American Heart Association, Amit Chitre, said in an email that the group doesn't make recommendations on what qualifies as an appropriate level of sodium for an individual serving. The group simply states on its website that people should aim to eat 1,500 mg of sodium or less per day. The lawsuit states that the AHA's seal of approval misleads people into thinking in that products made by Campbell "possess some cardiovascular benefit not enjoyed by products that have not been certified by the AHA." It states the only difference is that Campbell pays money for the certification."

It is just not correct to call a soup healthy if its one serving provides almost 30% of the daily intake of sodium recommended by many health pundits and international nutrition agencies. Imagine the effect of a single can of this soup being consumed in a day which can soak the consumer with more than 50% of the daily allowed sodium in the diet! A low sodium food product containing no more than 10% of the RDA for sodium is considered as healthy and AHA should have looked into the sodium content as one of the parameters for certifying products as heart healthy. As rightly said in the legal suit, other products containing same amount of sodium manufactured by others without the Heart Check certification will have a disadvantage in the market because of their unwillingness to pay for AHA certification. It will be interesting to wait for the decision of the court as and when it is pronounced. One can only consider such controversies unhealthy especially when scientific bodies indulge in selling their seal of approval in such arbitrary fashion!  


Friday, September 13, 2013


Does food industry really deserve the trust and confidence it enjoys from the innocent consumers who buy their products day in and day out thinking they are safe and good? This question becomes all the more crucial in a country like the US where almost 80% of the food consumed daily by an average family comes from the processed food industry! In contrast in countries like China and India hardly 20% of the daily foods comes from the commercially processed segment. One may argue that the damage potential from the industry due to sub-quality and fraudulent foods may not be much! But this is a specious argument not worthy of any consideration because the two countries together account for about 2.5 billion plus people, almost one third of the world population. It should be borne in mind that an important sector like food processing industry cannot be allowed to injure the health of even a single individual by its fraudulent action. The shocking news that in China almost 5% of the package food industry turn over is accounted for by recycled foods made from date expired market returns should disturb the conscience of the world. Here is a take on this unfortunate situation obtaining in China vis-a-vis recycling of foods rejected by the retail market.   

"Snacks made from expired animal proteins sold in vacuum-sealed packaging are collected from underground companies by food processors in Wenzhou China and sold to people nationwide as fresh food. Such recycled junk accounts for as much as 5% of the Chinese packaged food business, reported Jiangnan Times on Friday. Wenzhou police uncovered 10 underground mills in Zhejiang's Cangnan County in June, including large quantities of chemical additives and food coloring agents to give the expired goods a fresh look. Officers said millions of tons of expired packaged food is recycled in Pingyang County each year and sold to the public. Companies dumping the expired food products include market names like Xiangbalao, a famous Wenzhou brand, according to the newspaper. The expired foods are unwrapped and then bleached with cleaning powders. Then they are sold to food processors who use chemical additives to improve the appearance, repack them and sell them to grocery and package stores nationwide".

While the report which surfaced due to the efforts of some investigative journalists may reflect on the effectiveness of food security regime presently in place, a country like India cannot gloat over it as the situation there is no better. With unreliable data and reporting system and an ineffective safety vigilance apparatus in place, there must be millions of food frauds taking place across the country, unnoticed and unreported. Poor citizens are left to suffer silently with recourse to justice either from the executive branch or the elephantine judicial system! Isolated cases like the recent Bihar school lunch tragedy claiming 23 innocent lives briefly receives attention to be forgotten promptly within a few days! With precious national resources being wasted on non-productive and non-asset building programs, the federal government has neither the money nor the commitment to protect the health of the citizen through effective implementation of its own food safety regulations promulgated 2-3 years ago!


Thursday, September 12, 2013


Butter derived from animal milk is a standard feature of food in many cultures and especially in the US consumers cannot imagine a diet without butter used practically in every preparation. The process of butter making involves extraction of milk and removing the cream by centrifugation to be converted into butter sticks and slabs. Concern about the cholesterol content in butter, consumers welcomed alternative options like margarine prepared from vegetable oils and the latter has been slowly gnawing at the butter market during the last 3-4 decades. The technology for making margarine is now so sophisticated that it is very difficult for a lay consumer to distinguish between natural butter and high quality margarine in terms of appearance, flavor, texture, taste and functionality. But cheap vegetable oils like Palm oil which are used by the margarine industry as a raw material, are increasingly coming under attack from the consumers because of its cascading effect on denudation of rain forests in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia and consequent global warming. Against this background path breaking biotechnological processes are providing a viable alternative to vegetable oils via Algae. Algal oil can be processed to get a variety of products with different sensory characteristics and functional features and butter is no exception. The rapid rise of biotech companies capable of producing Algal oil on commercial scale from sugars using the fermentation route is an amazing feat with dramatic impact in the coming years. Here is a take on this "Cow to plant to Algae" story! 

"Consider for a moment that the average California cow produces just enough cream per year to produce 838 pounds of butter, or 3,352 sticks of butter per year. This is based on the assumption that it takes 11 quarts of milk to make 1 pound of butter and that the average cow produces 2,305 gallons of milk per year. On the other hand, there is 1/2 cup of vegetable oil in 1 stick of margarine and each cup of vegetable oil conservatively equates to 8 ounces. According to Solazyme's Form S-1, there are approximately 290 gallons in a metric ton [MT] of Solazyme's oil. This suggests that 1 MT of oil is capable of generating roughly 9,280 sticks of margarine. Therefore, we see that the 100,000 MT facility now under construction for the joint venture between Solazyme and Bunge (BG) could roughly support the production of 928,000,000 sticks of margarine in a given year. Assuming sticks of butter are equal replacements to sticks of margarine, we see that this one facility could theoretically displace over 275,000 cows and their related costs. That's quite impressive when one considers that there are roughly 60,000 dairy farms in the United States with the typical dairy herd averaging 135 cows per farm according to Purdue University. While this example may be a bit of a peculiar comparison, the point illustrates the efficiencies of utilizing Solazyme's technology in relation to the current food system". 

Mankind will be ever obliged to the biotechnology companies for investing billions of dollars on basic research to evolve strains of Algae with high fat accumulating traits and developing the large scale fermentors or bioreactors which can be set up vertically needing very little land unlike the conventional agriculture or pasture land based live stocks. Though sugar is the basic substrate from which fat is produced by the Algal cells, the versatility of the technology is such that any low grade sugars derived from non-edible cellulosic materials also can be gainfully utilized. What is not clear is whether the new potent Algal strains have been developed using genetic engineering and if so one can expect severe and adverse reaction from many consumers who are apprehensive about the safety of GMO foods in general. If Algal oil technology really takes off the whole agricultural landscape all over the world may change with potential for reduction of green house gases from the live stock animals and restoration of rain forests that protect the environment.   

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Man's fight again pathogenic bugs seems to be never ending as the latter invariably outsmarthumans in outliving the traps laid for them! The increasing class of microbes that cock a snook at all antibiotics known to day provides a scary scenario than can spoil the peace of mankind in the coming years unless a more effective strategy is drawn up now to deal with this emerging danger. Who would have imagined 2-3 decades ago that an innocuous bacteria like Escherichia coli, so common in the human guts, would become deadly, capable killing people one day. This happened when the dangerous version of this microbe E.coli O157:H7 was implicated in many food poisoning cases a few years ago. Now comes the news about the emergence of another deadly strain of this species christened E.coli O104:H4 which created havoc in Europe in the year 2011 and about which more information is available now after its isolation, from fenugreek sprouts reported to have been imported from Egypt and its genetic mapping. Here is a take on this monster bacteria which is being suggested as the most dangerous future pathogen with potential for causing devastating consequences.     

As it turned out, E. coli O104:H4 evolved from a type of E. coli known to be harmless enteroaggregative E. coli and had acquired the genes to produce Shiga toxin from more virulent strains known as enterohemorrhagic E. coli. When the outbreak struck in May 2011, medical professionals only knew to screen for enterohemorrhagic strains of E. coli, adding another layer of confusion to the initial response. Like other enteroaggregative E. coli strains, O104:H4 groups together in defensive brick patterns within a host's intestines, inducing mucus production that both shields and feeds it. Combine that with the ability to produce Shiga toxin, and O104: H4 possesses the right cocktail of genes to become especially harmful in an outbreak.
That combination of traits could also explain why the German outbreak saw such a high proportion of HUS cases. Nearly 1,000 of the 4,000 ill – or one in four – developed HUS as part of their infection. Outbreaks of other E. coli strains typically result in about one in 10 patients developing HUS, predominantly children. What's more, the O104:H4 outbreak caused HUS in adults at the same rate it did in children. Rasko and other researchers suspect that the HUS cases were exacerbated by the early prescription of antibiotics to patients when doctors did not realize they were dealing with an E. coli outbreak. The use of antibiotics against Shiga toxin-producing E. coli has a well-established link with higher rates of HUS due to bacteria releasing additional toxin when killed. In July 2012, research from the University of New Mexico Children's Hospital found that treating children's E. coli infections with antibiotics tripled their risk of developing HUS.

Interestingly this microbe, in stead of responding to antibiotics, becomes more deadly after antibiotic treatment because the dying cells produce more shiga toxin in the GI tract leading to the so called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome or HUS as it is better known damaging the kidney. The mechanism by which it resists efforts to destroy them has been recently uncovered and there is hope than pathologists will come out with ways and means of fighting this menace soon. The danger is all the more conspicuous for consumers who eat cold foods without heating such as salads. It is not known whether O104:H4 is capable of surviving irradiation treatment and if so what could be the optimum dosage needed. If pathogens like this keep emerging, mankind has to be ready with fast response before they can cause significant damage and mortality.


Saturday, September 7, 2013


Any visitor to that beckoning continent called America cannot escape getting a feeling about the quality of life the population their enjoy though there are pockets of poverty here and there. Most remarkable is the undisputed quality and safety of water consumed by the people in almost all cities and settlements available through the protected water supply system. Imagine one able consume water even from a toilet tap without fearing about any infectious disease visiting them consequently! Compare this with what goes as protected water supply in a country like India where neither water is supplied regularly nor the safety guaranteed. Most urban areas do not treat raw water and supplies irregularly making people look for ways and means of making it potable and this unenviable situation has spawned an unethical industry that offers bottled water and water treatment gadgets with high price tag. In this context the recent report that the American water supply is not that safe as being touted is shocking indeed. Here is water a "Gorilla" type operation carried out by a group of scientists has brought out. 

"The 53,000 water utilities in the United States deliver some of the safest drinking water in the world — a public health victory of unrivaled success that began in 1908 with chlorination campaigns in Jersey City and Chicago. Still, millions of individual cases of waterborne diseases occur annually and related hospitalization costs approach $1 billion each year. In 2007 and 2008, the most recent years for which figures are available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 164 waterborne disease outbreaks, almost entirely from protozoan cysts of the parasite Cryptosporidium. New rules from the Environmental Protection Agency, instituted after earlier outbreaks, have led New York City and other municipalities with unfiltered surface reservoirs to begin zapping tap water with ultraviolet light to inactivate organisms like Cryptosporidium that resist chlorine-based treatments. The water supply system remains a deteriorating, mostly subterranean infrastructure so complex that in many municipalities officials can't even say where all the pipes are laid. The need for upgrades has never been greater, a report issued this year by the American Academy of Microbiology said, but they first want to understand what's living down there. "We have done the right thing with water treatment," said Joseph O. Falkinham III, a microbiologist at Virginia Tech. "What we have now is an unexpected consequence of doing the right thing."

It is amazing that the gastro system of Americans is so fragile even very minor microbial contamination can make them sick. Detection of protozoan parasites in deeply embedded supply lines explains why Americans get water borne infectious diseases and water safety regulations are now being revisited for making water safer. Another disturbing revelation is that most municipalities have no clue regarding the location of the subterranean supply lines which tend to deteriorate over a period of time. Besides these pipelines laid decades ago with the then prevailing materials and technology will have to be replaced if future water related health problems are to be avoided in a big way. Satellite imaging of subterranean pipes needs to be done to locate them for replacement. As usual civic bodies are starved of funds for renovation and rejuvenation of infrastructure like water supply and it is time federal government intervenes to pump massive funds for this purpose. Citizens also must pitch in with their share of the cost to make the urban living safer for future generations to come. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013


Who is overseeing the activities of the food processing industry in each country? There are designated agencies vested with legal powers and responsibilities to regulate the manufacturers so that citizen's health is not compromised. Such agencies have to evolve scientific standards, methodologies for testing and exercise vigilance over the market. No doubt it is a gigantic task requiring adequate personnel with right background and high quality infrastructure. Most of all it requires a will, determination and commitment on the part of the safety agencies to perform this onerous task. In reality what is happening is a systematic shirking of this responsibility in connivance with the food processing industry which stands to benefit financially through exorbitant profits by diluting standards and safety parameters systematically. Here is an expose about the lackadaisical approach of the Government in the US and consequently the potential dangers faced by the helpless citizens in that country.  

"As the new JAMA analysis shows, even when they choose to inform the agency, those notifications are made by people with a "vested interest" in the industry whose products they are evaluating. About 22 percent of the 451 additive safety notices that were submitted to the FDA between 1997 and 2012 were drafted by an employee of the food additive manufacturer itself. An additional 13 percent were written by consultants that work with firms hired by the food industry. The remainder of the notifications were written by panels of food safety experts — but every single one of those panels' members were hand-picked either by the food industry or consultants working for the food industry. Additives that can't preemptively be considered GRAS, such as food coloring and preservatives, are subject to higher standards of scrutiny. Food companies must submit relevant data about possible harmful effects, chemical composition, and any investigations surrounding the additive's safety to the FDA. But the FDA-issued guidelines regarding the proper level and method of testing for these products aren't legally binding for food corporations. So if a substance — GRAS or otherwise — is eventually found to be harmful, the FDA has to wait until there is clear evidence of its harmfulness before it can pull its approval, work to revoke its GRAS notification, initiate a recall, or institute reforms such as limiting how much of the substance may be put into food. Even these steps may be met with fierce resistance from the corporate food lobby, which stymied labeling requirements for deadly trans fats for a decade and continues to fight proposed limitations on salt content. These lapses in oversight — and the evidence indicating that the food industry is in essence self-regulated — led the JAMA researchers to call for major reforms. The authors write that the FDA should bar people with ties to the food industry from submitting GRAS or additive safety notifications, move from a voluntary system of GRAS notifications to one that requires companies to inform the FDA whenever they determine a substance to be GRAS, have corporations report conflicts of interest when it comes to assessing an item's food safety, and release all relevant information to the public". 

Conceded that in order to sustain the food industry there has to be minimum interference and intervention by government authorities but former has to keep in mind the well being of the consumers upper most. Profit at any cost is just not acceptable when it comes to operating in a society which provides bread and butter to the industry. It is galling to see how much freedom is given to food industry in this country, even leaving the responsibility of developing standards and safety protocols to them to decide. Probably the powerful lobbying interests are checkmating every government move to better the standards and safety of foods, fearing adverse impact on their bottom line. Self regulation is a wonderful thing but it rarely works effectively because safety issues are always debated ad naseum  with no consensus leaving the issues unresolved endlessly benefiting the industry by allowing to practice what they consider desirable from their view. The labeling campaign for GMO foods is the most classical example of prevarication by the government and the extraordinary clout the industry enjoys with the government. This situation must end, if American citizens who consume as much as 80% of their diet made up of packed foods, are to be liberated from the tyranny of the food industry, controlled mostly by a few giant monopolistic monoliths!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


One is reminded of the famous saying attributed to queen Marie Antoinette that "if people have no bread, let them eat cake"! This comes to mind when the recent claim by two Anthropology Professors in the US that instant noodle can solve global food problem in the year 2050 when the population is likely to reach 9 billion! It is sad to read such news reports because they are outlandish and foolish when weighed against facts. Almost half the population that live in more than 60 countries across the world enjoy a quality of life which cannot be considered satisfactory measured by any yardstick because of economic deprivation, low purchasing power and inaccessibility to food. This is why India wanted to have a free food distribution system covering almost two thirds of its population at a colossal annual outgo of more than Rs 130 billion! Consider asking the Government of India to supply instant noodles in stead of raw grains like Rice, wheat or coarse cereals! It is mind boggling to even imagine manufacturing such a huge quantity of noodles and its staggering cost! Here is a take on this news item which can make people laugh or cry after reading!  

As government officials and food experts ponder the ever more urgent question of how to feed a ballooning global population, an Amherst College anthropologist and her two colleagues explore an answer: instant noodles. The staple of American college students' diets for decades, instant noodles also serve "an important role in satiating hunger and in sustaining lives for many worldwide, including those hanging on under difficult circumstances," according to Deborah Gewertz, the G. Henry Whitcomb 1874 Professor of Anthropology at Amherst, and her co-authors of The Noodle Narratives: The Global Rise of an Industrial Food into the Twenty-First Century. In their new book, Gewertz and her colleagues examine the history, manufacturing, marketing and consumption of the ubiquitous foodstuff and make the case that instant noodles will have an increasingly significant global role in the coming years.   "As a protean food designed for quotidian consumption, instant noodles have already shown a remarkable capacity to ease themselves into diverse lives," she said. "We expect that the calories provided by the tasty, convenient, cheap, shelf-stable, industrially prepared instant noodles will remain important" as food becomes scarcer in the future. In The Noodle Narratives, Gewertz and co-authors Frederick Errington, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus, at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., and Tatsuro Fujikura, professor at the Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies at Kyoto University and a member of Amherst's Class of 1991, describe the biophysiology of human taste, provide insight into how marketers penetrate new markets with industrial foods and analyze what it takes to feed billions of people. They also examine why what they call "one of the most remarkable industrial foods ever" appeals to young and old, rich and impoverished alike. "Instant noodles thus far have been virtually unstoppable—and, as such, their accomplishments are worthy of serious attention," they observe. "They are telling in what they facilitate and reveal about global capitalist provisioning: They make a lot happen and show a lot happening."

The suggestion that instant noodle can be made more healthy by baking rather than frying and fortification with iron to make it more nutritious is a sound one. Automated noodle making technology is a high tech venture requiring heavy investments on machinery. And to make them instant is still more costlier! Generally noodles are made from refined wheat flour and nutritional pundits frown on such products because of their relatively low nutrient density compared to whole wheat flour. Instant noodles, no doubt is a remarkable product with very high degree of convenience but no where in the world it is considered a substitute to staple diets consumed by most people. Chinese, Japanese and many Asian countries do consume noodles regularly as it is a staple food for them but the product gained universal acceptance from younger generation population in the West also during the last 5 decades. Still by any stretch of imagination it cannot replace the traditional bread in the West or the wheat Roti in India and neighboring countries.  


Monday, September 2, 2013


When a respectable news paper publishes some body's statement on the healthiness of a food, it is incumbent on it to check the facts before accepting the same for printing. Unfortunately such things do not happen often leading to misconceptions and spreading of factually wrong information. Latest to hit the headline is the reported claim by some fast food apologists that one of the Cheese Burgers offered by one of the world's leading fast food business giant is the cheapest health food in the US! The fact however does not support such a claim. It may be the cheapest food available to the Americans but it cannot be health friendly if its nutritional content is critically looked at. Loaded with empty calories, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, this much touted sandwich is a right recipe for disaster to make healthy people sick, if taken regularly. Here is a take on this new debate that sounds silly to many informed nutritional and health pundits as well informed consumers! 

"Let's start with the plainest of facts: nutritional content. One McDouble contains 19 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat and 1 gram of trans fat, representing a whopping 29 percent, 42 percent, and 65 percent of your USDA daily allowance intakes, respectively, in just a single meal. The cholesterol content is at 22 percent of daily allowance—so if you've already had more than one egg for breakfast, you're sunk, way before dinnertime. Fiber is at a woeful 2 grams, or 7 percent of the daily recommended intake (DRI). And the sandwich contains 850 mg of sodium, which is a pretty high 35 percent of the daily limit. "It's a pretty extreme claim," Jim White, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Yahoo! Shine about Smith's column. "My main problem is it's got 40 percent of the saturated fat for the day," he explained, which can only add to the problem of lower-income populations having higher rates of disease. "I'm worried about heart disease. And I hate to hear a claim like this," he added, "because affordable foods can still be healthy." So, taking cost in to account, what's the alternative? As a guest on the Freakonomics broadcast, Mother Jones food columnist Tom Philpott wisely suggested that you "get a pound of brown rice, organic, and a pound of red lentils for about two bucks each. And a serving size, say a cup of each of those things, would be about 75 cents." And check out the nutritional benefits: That serving size of red lentils contains 57 percent of DRI for fiber, 18 grams of protein (compared with 23 for the double burger), less than one gram of total fat, zero percent sodium and no cholesterol. The brown rice, meanwhile, adds 14 percent of daily fiber and 5 grams of protein, with a scant 1.8 total grams of fat and no sodium or cholesterol". 

No doubt economically depressed population, finding their disposable income rapidly dwindling in the face of inflation and under employment, see products dished out by the fast food giants God-send as they are the only affordable food for them to keep their hunger away. Naturally they gorge on them if they can afford because of the "T-factor", the taste and consequences are there to see in the form of rapid rise in obesity in that country. High calories, high fats and high salt are the villains in the every day life of people as they cause many diseases like CVD, Hypertension, Kidney ailments, cancer etc calling for huge medical expenses to treat them. On top of this the above claim is nothing but atrocious and mean to add insult to injury! Responsible news media should not give respectability to such canards through their publications. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013


Whoever does not know that Potato is loaded with starch that is readily converted to glucose in no time once it enters the human digestive system? Diabetics avoid Potato as much as possible precisely for this reason. According to available evidence Potato has a Glycemic Index  (GI) of more than 90 reflecting its ability to release glucose rapidly and just imagine even the dreaded cane sugar has a GI of less than 60 compared Glucose which has a GI of 100. Potato has a tendency to increase glucose level after storing in cold storage which is not desirable to make products like wafers as undesirable browning takes place during frying due to Maillard reaction. The news that one of the R & D institutes under ICAR has developed a variety of Potato that does not increase sugar content on cold storing is indeed welcome as far as food processing industry is concerned. However the joke is the claim that this Potato is good for diabetics! Here is this startling claim by none other than the Head of that institute in a press release recently!  

"The CPRI said sugar or glucose levels in potatoes will not rise with the use of this technology. The institute is also getting a patent for this technology, CPRI director Bir Pal Singh told Deccan Herald on Monday. The breakthrough, Singh said, has been evolved purely for commercial. Low-sugar potatoes with a longer shelf life was otherwise not possible, with sugar level rising in cold storages. The technology raises the hope for potatoes sans sugar being available in markets, something which may bring smile on the faces of the potato-loving diabetic patients. Once the technology is implemented commercially, diabetics with a sweet tooth will possibly find sugar-free potatoes in the nearby vegetable store.  CPRI sources say potatoes contain starch which turns into glucose. In freshly harvested potatoes, the starch content is low at about 1 per cent, but the level of glucose rises beyond 6 per cent in low temperatures. Singh said: "This is the first such technology in the country. This will be a boon for the processing industry. Starch in potatoes turns into sugar and this process is accelerated by an enzyme called invertase. We have silenced this process, in fact stopped it, so that the sugar levels don't increase in potatoes." The technology has "great cold chipping attributes," which controls the rise of sugar level in potatoes. "Transgenic potatoes have reduced expression of the vacuolar and invertase gene resulting in cold induce sweetening resistant potato which is desirable for the processing industry. The breakthrough is an outcome of teamwork and five years of research," Singh added.

It is rather unfortunate that "scientists" in such important positions as Director, exhibits ignorance through such press interactions. Whether sugar is developed or not Potato will always be a taboo as far as diabetics are concerned because of the propensity of its starch to generate and absorb glucose very fast in human body, almost at a rate equal to that of pure glucose itself! As starch is a polymer of glucose its degradation product is glucose and that is the reason for avoiding this tuber crop in diets recommended for diabetic people. 



R & D is such a broad area that many scientists and technologists engaged in this endeavor often fail to understand the real purpose of their effort viz to come out with workable and viable technologies with mass production potential. While research on basic science generates ideas developing the finding further through integrated efforts of scientists and engineers lead to development of feasible technologies. Majority of technological developments do not go beyond the four walls of the laboratory, getting no opportunity for productionization. Technology can stall if its transfer to the field is not properly managed after establishing its viability at the lab level. Here is where most universities and R & D institutions fail. Against this background the recent strategy being put in place in the UK to integrate the efforts of various stake holders in agriculture and food processing deserves applause. Here is a take on the intent and objectives of the action plan enunciated by the UK government in a recent document. 

"The UK will become a world leader in agricultural science and technology following the launch of a new strategy to deliver sustainable, healthy and affordable food for future generations. Breakthroughs in nutrition, informatics, satellite imaging, remote sensing, meteorology and precision farming mean the agriculture sector is one of the world's fastest growing sectors. Developed in partnership with industry, the Agricultural Technologies Strategy will ensure everyone from farmers and retailers, to cooks and shoppers share the benefits these exciting opportunities bring. It includes a £160 million government investment in developing cutting edge technologies, and taking innovative products such as cancer-fighting broccoli from the field to the shopping aisle. Industry is also expected to invest heavily in the strategy which will transform farming in the UK, using the latest technologies to ensure the process is as productive as possible whilst reducing environmental impact and resource use. With the demand for food rising rapidly worldwide, the strategy also aims to make the UK a world leader in addressing global food security issues. Agri-tech is a well-established and important UK sector. The entire agri-food supply chain, from agriculture to final retailing and catering, is estimated to contribute £96 billion to the economy and employ 3.8 million people. Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said: Some of the biggest brands in farming and food are based in the UK. We have a world class science and research community and our institutes and universities are at the forefront of agricultural research. To get ahead in the global race, this strategy sets out how we can ensure that we turn our world-beating agricultural science and research into world-beating products and services. This Agricultural Technologies Strategy follows the recent plans for automotive, construction, aerospace and other key sectors to secure sustainable future growth in the economy. Defra Minister for Science Lord De Mauley said: We face a global challenge to feed the rapidly increasing population in a way which is affordable and sustainable. We are investing in technologies that will enable British farmers to meet these challenges and take advantage of the growing demand in export markets for British food. To take advantage of agriculture's opportunities and drive growth the Agricultural Technologies Strategy sets out a range of key actions, including: a £90 million government investment in world class Centres for Agricultural Innovation with additional investment from industry. The centres will support the wide-scale adoption of innovation and technology across key sectors, technologies and skills in the food and farming supply chain. This includes up to £10 million for a Centre for Agricultural Informatics and Metrics of Sustainability which will use data from farms, laboratories and retailers to drive innovation creating a £70 million Agri-Tech Catalyst to help new agricultural technologies bridge the so called 'valley of death' between the lab and the marketplace. Co-funded with industry, the catalyst will specifically support small and medium sized enterprises. The investment includes £10 million to support the transfer of technology and new products to developing countries, the creation of an industry Leadership Council to unify the agriculture technology sector and make the UK more internationally competitive the recruitment of a new UKTI agri-tech team to boost exports and overseas investment in the UK's agricultural technologies".

Of course declaration of intent is one thing and implementing the same is another thing. How far the government will be able to weave together the different but related players for a cohesive and integrated team is a million dollar question begging for answer. The most important part of the strategy is to set up the Agri-Tech Catalyst for facilitating the growth of the small and medium enterprises which are generally starved of technical support because of their limited resources unlike the Big Fish with deep pockets and high risk taking capacity. The intention to facilitate transfer of technologies to developing countries is to be applauded though export of products from the UK to these countries may not be feasible to any great extent. All said the strategy looks excellent on paper but there is a nagging suspicion whether the budget is a little too short to achieve all that is aimed at. If this will raise the stature of the UK as a technology giant it is good for the country.