Wednesday, December 31, 2014

School meals more nutritious than mom's own food? May be!

There was a time when mom's food was considered the ultimate in taste and flavor though grandma recipes still rule the roost, often recalled with nostalgia! Why is that mom's food is often ranked high in the pecking order of foods ranked in terms of acceptance? Is it sheer habit of people cultivated over long time of association with mother or some other factors are contributing to this perception? Sociologists and psychologists some how feel that mom's food served by mom herself offers some thing else besides taste and flavor and that is "love" which has no measuring scale to gauge. It is another matter that in many house holds to day cooks employed by the families do the routine of making and serving foods to the members as every one in a family is busy with their own daily chores. A recent observation by a social auditing group in to day's America reports that school lunches turned out to be more nutritious than home cooked foods brought by those children not eating the school prepared lunches. How significant is this cannot be gauged because lunch is only a part of the daily diet and what these children eat for breakfast and dinner is any body's guess. Here is a take on this interesting survey which may make little sense in countries like India.

"The study found that lunches packed in home paled in comparison to school meals. According to the study, the home-packed lunches were offering lower nutritional quality during the study. Home-packed lunches often include fat and more calories than school lunches. Adding to that, parents make meals unhealthy by packing sugary drinks and desserts. In the study, home-packed lunches were also found higher in iron and vitamin C, but it was lacking in vitamin A, fiber, protein and calcium. Public elementary and secondary schools in the US have more than 50 million children. About 60% of the children rely on school lunches while the rest of the children bring their food from home. According to the study, school lunches had about 512 calories while on the other side, home-packed lunches had approximately 608 calories. When it comes about protein, school lunches had 26 grams and home-packed lunches offered just 18 grams. School lunches included vegetables, fruits, sugar-free juice and milk, homemade food had more snacks. Home-packed food had about 880 mg of sodium while schools lunches offered 1,000 mg of sodium to the children. Connie Diekman, University nutrition director at St. Louis' Washington University, said she is not surprised with the study's result. "This study provides outcomes that are similar to other studies that show the positive benefits of school lunch", said Diekman."

School lunch becomes acceptable only when there is a variety in the offerings and nutrition is secondary to the recipients as most of them, with tradition bound eating habits, are looking for foods which meet with their sensory perception like taste, texture and flavor. Indian school lunch programs invariably are based on the ready receptivity of children to hot foods served fresh though there is no evidence to support such a theory. Such "on the site" cooking practices have inherent dangers as brought out by several food poisoning episodes reported during the last few years. One of the least appreciated facts in this confusing scenario is that one lunch in the school does not create much of an impact on the health of the child in a family if the same child goes hungry at home due to abject poverty. The consolation is that at least he gets one meal a day in which some nutrients like proteins, vitamins and minerals can be loaded. In a scenario where calorie intake itself is in jeopardy, talking about balanced nutrition may not have any bearing. With the food security act of government of India the situation may improve provided the logistics of distribution of food grains at heavily subsidized prices are worked out with least vulnerability to pilferage.  


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

"Eating" plastics through daily foods! Modern society's worst crime against future generations!

Plastics have become so omnipotent in our every day lives that we take them for granted like air and water using them for every thing we do from storing water and foods to cooking foods and packing the foods in plastic bags and containers. The present situation vis-a-vis use of plastics is indeed alarming because consumers either do not understand the lethal consequences of using them indiscriminately or do not take seriously so many scientific data implicating them in serious life threatening health disorders including cancer. Plastics started their entry into food industry in a humble way with only a few of them being used for wrapping the foods. But to day there are a wide choice of plastics many of which have become main stream containers and cooking paraphernalia and sadly no one knows for certain what will be its consequences in the long run. Limited studies involving migration limits under so called simulated conditions within the four walls of a laboratory might have given a false sense of comfort to the people who use them for various culinary tasks but no worthwhile study with human subjects through clinical trials can be cited to establish the credentials of even a single plastic substance as an absolutely safe food contact application material! Here is a timely warning from Malaysia which exemplifies the inherent dangers beckoning humanity through such whole hearted adoption of plastics in our daily lives.. 

"Storing food and water in plastic containers may be convenient but is it entirely safe? Environmental scientists warn that tiny amounts of synthetic chemicals used in the processing, packaging and storing of the food we eat can leach, interact and cause long-term damage to our health. Concerns have been raised in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, part of the British Medical Journal group. While these minute quantities in themselves do no harm, no one knows how safe we are from a lifetime's exposure to these chemicals through eating food previously wrapped, or stored or cooked in or with plastics. A study published in early 2008 in Toxicology Letters suggested that hot liquids and foods exacerbate leaching in BPA-containing plastics. When researchers poured boiling water into polycarbonate drinking bottles, it caused up to 55 times more Bisphenol A (BPA) to seep out than room temperature water had. Phthalates, the chemicals that make a Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) container flexible, can migrate out of the plastic when it's heated. Phthalates can leach into food, resulting in hormone imbalances and birth defects. Some of the chemicals in plastics that could cause concern are regulated and some plastics are said to be of food grade quality. However, we are concerned that consumers who eat packaged or processed foods are likely to be chronically exposed to low levels of these substances throughout their lives. The use-and-throw culture of plastics has created a necessity for its recycling. Though organised sectors exist, the unorganised recycling industry also flourishes. It is here that there is a possibility of contamination of different grades of plastics. If end-use products produced from such plastics are in the form of lunch boxes and water bottles, especially for children, they are further going to have an impact on health.  We also overlook the leaching of chemical contaminants from land fillings into the ground water by mismanagement of plastic wastes. Plastic is made by heating components of crude oil or natural gas, combining many chemicals in a process called polymerisation. In addition to the basic polymers, plastics also contain additional chemical components called additives, which are added in small amounts to alter the properties in the polymers in the desired way and/or simplify their processing. The plastics industry tells us that the polymerisation process binds the chemicals together. However this process is never 100% perfect and some of the chemicals may migrate out or leach from the plastic product and into whatever contacts it – our food, our water, etc. Many of the chemicals in plastic can disrupt the normal functioning of the endocrine system of most animals, including humans. The effects of these endocrine disruptors can be devastating and permanent. Embryos and the very young are the most vulnerable to this attack on the endocrine system because of their developing bodies. An assessment of the state of the science of endocrine disruptors prepared by a group of experts for the United Nations Environment Programme and World Health Organisation in 2012 states that the diverse systems affected by endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) likely include all hormonal systems and range from those controlling the development and function of reproductive organs to the tissues and organs regulating metabolism and satiety. The effects on these systems can lead to obesity, infertility or reduced fertility, learning and memory difficulties, adult-onset diabetes or cardiovascular disease, as well as a variety of other diseases. At times, people set to flame mixed rubbish.  Burning waste containing plastic and rubber can also release toxic chemicals and gases such as dioxins in the environment. The plastic industries' response to the warnings of environmentalists is that the toxic chemicals that may migrate from all plastics happen at extremely low levels that cause no harm. We recognise that there is lack of research to make definitive statements on the risks of plastic toxicity, but there is enough to invoke the precautionary principle. CAP calls for the precautionary principle to be applied.  If there is any doubt about the safety or health effects of a chemical, it should be prohibited until it can be proven benign. Erring on the side of risk inevitably exposes the public to major health hazards. Protecting human health and the environment from the hazards of plastic, requires precaution. CAP urges consumers to avoid placing hot food and drinks in plastics or cooking food with plastic ladles and storing hot food in plastic containers/sheets/liners/bags.There are many options available such as glass, ceramic, stainless steel to store or heat food, and traditional wrapping and liners for cooking such as leaves and cotton/linen cloth."

Back to nature movements advocate shunning of all plastics and go back to nature. Use of plant leaves, sheaths, etc is an alternative option to plastics. Imagine in a country like India, plastic based banana leaves look alike materials are flooding the market, increasingly being adopted by the consumers on the basis of cost considerations. People are forgetting that eating hot foods from banana leaves, besides being safe also is healthy as natural phytochemicals leached out into the food are health promoting unlike plastic leachates. There are many other examples to illustrate this point and consumers are better advised to avoid plastics especially for carrying or cooking foods under hot conditions that can increase the dangerous leachates to unbearable levels. Government ban on plastic carry bags looks more a gimmick than any real intention of preventing the industry from manufacturing more dangerous thin plastic bags that attract the consumers for use in their daily lives.   


Happy eating- Does it translate into healthy eating?

Eating food regularly is supposed to be helping human beings to get the required energy and other nutrients in sufficient quantities to live comfortably and healthy too. Sadly the tendency to satisfy the palate and ignoring the health aspects have taken the society to a new height of ill health and lower quality of life. Food is addictive and components like fat, sugar and salt present in foods in quantities more than that is needed by the body make them all the more addictive. Such addiction is hard to overcome in spite of determined efforts by many people who realize the dangers of highly satisfying foods that come under the banner of "junk foods". Why is that human beings are not able to shake off such self destructive behavior? According to some behavioral scientists this phenomenon is almost like the one encountered with smoking and imbibing intoxicating substances including alcoholic drinks. If a recent report on junk food eating habits is any reckoner, people are unable to resist the temptation of eating junk foods because of the sense of positive feelings associated with such foods, invariably rich in fat, sugar or salt. Read further below to understand the reasoning behind such a logic, expounded by some scientists in the US.    

"Most people tend to automatically associate junk food with positive feelings, scientists say. Researchers found that overcoming the temptation to eat unhealthy snack foods is thwarted by the positive thoughts many of us associate with junk food. Despite having the motivation to do so, many individuals struggle to successfully minimise their consumption of unhealthy snack foods, said co-author Ashleigh Haynes, a PhD student in applied cognitive psychology at Flinders University. "Unfortunately, they're the (foods) we tend to find most attractive and enjoyable to eat," she said. Most people tend to automatically associate unhealthy snack foods with positive feelings and concepts, said Haynes, adding this may have roots in evolution and our life experiences, 'ABC News' reported. "The aim of this recent study was to investigate how our automatic evaluation of food (as positive or negative), and the experience of temptation, interact to influence unhealthy snack consumption," said Haynes. She and colleagues presented 192 people with four unhealthy junk foods and then got them to rate how much they felt tempted by them on a scale of 1 to 7. The researchers then got the participants to associate the foods with positive and negative words to assess their 'implicit evaluation' of the foods. Finally, they measured how much of the foods the participants ate in a 10 minute period. "The more negative implicit evaluation of food, the less tempted people felt and the less of the food they ate," said Haynes. Haynes said there is evidence that it is possible to re-train the associations the brain makes with junk food. "Instead of associating unhealthy foods with positive concepts, we can associate them with more negative concepts in an attempt to reduce the strength of temptation experienced and therefore more successfully minimise snack food consumption," she said".

Probably it is a subjective thing to say about "positive feelings" generated by the very mention of some of the highly evocative foods loaded with rich ingredients that can make the mouth water! Sure these feelings originating in the brain must be measurable and whether "tuning" the brain not to respond to such environment can show a way out to assert one's "will power" to overcome the temptations needs to be explored. But how this can be done is a question that does not have an answer right now. No wonder that some sociologists and human psychologists have been campaigning for creating an environment around the human settlements where getting access to junk foods becomes more and more a logistical hindrance. Using brutish power by the governments to ban making of junk foods may not be universally acceptable, especially in a democratic society and education and awareness creation is a long drawn process. Uncontrolled growth of obese population in some parts of the world is a matter of great concern and this problem really needs urgent solution through whatever means possible.


Monday, December 29, 2014

Inventing "Banana"-A new claim by Indian Scientists!

It was in 1989 that a classic monograph was brought out from Mysore based on 2 decades of technological work carried out since 1969 by some stalwarts like Messrs V B Dalal, N Nagaraja, M.s Krishna Prakash, Paul Thomas etc who were pioneers in developing post harvest technology of Banana varieties grown in India. The monograph was titled "Banana in India-Production, Preservation and processing" and was a highly popular publication from the renowned food research institute, popularly known as CFTRI. Scientists who spent almost their life time on preservation and preservation of Banana must be appalled by a recent claim by the present authorities in this august organization that they have developed the technology for various products from Banana as if nothing had happened earlier! Look at the press release from the present head of this once reputed research agency which speaks for itself about veracity of these claims.

CFTRI to sign a MoU with Trichy based cooperative in January. Despite India being the largest producer of bananas in the world, lack of resources to handle the produce, storage facilities and post-harvest technologies, high post-harvest losses are reported. To address these issues, the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), in the city, has been developing technologies to reduce the losses One of the technologies that has attracted the cooperative sector recently is 'Clarified Banana Juice' from over-ripe bananas.Speaking to Deccan Herald, Ram Rajsekharan, Director of CFTRI, said, the shelf-life of fruits, especially bananas, is low. "A few days after harvesting, banana skin turns dark, prompting banana growers to discard them, as they cannot be sold in the market. Using the technology developed here, three products can be produced," he said. If the technology is implemented, even the darkened banana peel will not go waste. The peel can be dried and powdered and used as animal feed. The fruit can be processed to develop clarified banana juice, while the residue could be used to make high nutrition bars or as flavouring agents, he said. The shelf-life of the juice is about a year and the CFTRI is working on developing an aerated form of the drink. Rajsekharan said, the technology had caught the interest of a cooperative of banana cultivators from Trichy district, in Tamil Nadu. "They have been producing dried bananas to reduce post-harvest losses. Learning about the CFTRI's technology, the cooperative has held preliminary discussions with us," he said. He added that CFTRI was likely to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the cooperative in the month of January. He said, the CFTRI would provide all necessary training for the cooperative functionaries, with scientists working in collaboration with them. It can be recalled that the CFTRI had recently tied up with the Palakkad Coconut Producers Cooperative Private Ltd (PCPCL), a cooperative of about 26,000 farmers, to develop 'neera', a non-alcoholic palm beverage and its extended products.

The technologies referred to above were all transferred earlier and to state that these are new technologies reflects the ethical standards of scientists these days in general in this country. It is unfortunate that this comes immediately after another similar claim on turmeric processing which was touted as the achievement of the new regime at CFTRI. This tendency is also reflected by a press release recently from the same agency that they have invented a new grains called Quinoa though this was known in South America for centuries before! Probably this resembles the mindset of our present day politicians that citizens have too short a memory and they can get away with any thing and every thing which do not stand the test of truth. Of course transfer of the technologies developed earlier is the bounden duty and continuing function of the organization despite any regime change but what leaves a bitter taste in the mouth is to camouflage them as new technologies developed under the aegis of the new regime!


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Food hubs-Another "farm to fork" linking system

It is a well known fact that farmers world over generally get a fraction of the price consumers pay to the retailers in the market place. The intermediaries who are involved in this food delivery chain can be any number depending on the country and the policies that govern agriculture and produce marketing. In a country like India there may be any where from 3-6 intermediaries through whose hands the produce travels before reaching the consumer's table. Obviously more the number of middle men involved, lower will be the realization for the farmer. Also worrisome is the quality degradation and safety compromise inherent in multiple handling and long distance transportation of agricultural produce.The ever increasing desire of the consumers to access to foods which are fresh, produced with minimum chemical inputs like pesticides are pushing them to the organic food sector which is growing at a frenetic pace during the last few years. Farmers markets which are springing up every where in the United States are also a "product" of this insatiatiable desire for fresh foods with minimum carbon foot print. An alternate option to farmers market is now emerging in the US called Food Hubs which are again becoming a part of local initiatives by non-profit organizations, cooperatives and entrepreneurial community which see an opportunity to serve the society by providing a delivery conduit from the farm to the families directly. Here is further information on this emerging development which can be replicated in many countries with ease. 

"Move over farmers' markets. More than 300 food hubs around the country are also providing small farms another outlet to sell locally raised food to consumers. There's no one model for a food hub — it depends on the market, the location and what it is grown in that area. Some collect food from farms and dole it out to customers in weekly deliveries. Other hubs help consumers, restaurants, colleges and institutions to source food online. But producers, consumers and experts all say food hubs have an important thing in common: it's an efficient way to get locally raised food to those clamoring for it. "We've seen in the last few years in particular as local and region food systems have grown and become not only larger but kind of more sophisticated that there has been a need for sort of the logistics of moving food from the field to the consumers. And food hubs kind of fill that space," said Doug O'Brien, deputy undersecretary for rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agency spent about $25 million from 2009-2013 supporting food hubs. The number of food hubs has doubled over the last six years, and many are in urban areas, with the Northeast leading the way. Some operate as nonprofits, others are for-profit or producer-consumer cooperatives. Some are modeled after CSAs, or community supported agriculture, where consumers pay up front for food throughout the season."

Imagine the convenience for the families when safe and fresh produce is delivered to their door front with assurance that can be trusted. The role of the US government in supporting such food hubs in financially supporting them is praise worthy. Though such a concept was known before, putting in practice requires lot of organizational ability and dedication. In a country like India this may not be possible at all because of the short sighted policy of the government in insulating the growers from the consumers through the APMC Act which forces the poor farmer to sell their produce in only the government market yards controlled by licensed auctioneers! Incessant land fragmentation and suffocating government restraints are ruining the farmers who are being driven to commit suicide in large numbers due to unbearable debt burden. What is tragic is that no government whether right, left or center has the determination to bring about reforms that will help the farmers of the country!


Vegan dishes in Japanese restaurants? A difficult proposition till recently but not any more!

Those from India visiting Japan for a short duration would have realized how difficult this country is for people unable to eat meat and fish based preparations to even survive because practically no restaurant serves pure vegetarian dishes. Probably the concept of vegetarian way of life is some thing modern Japanese generation does not understand as meat and fish are most ubiquitous in their daily diets. If recent reports emanating from Japan are any indication this county is poised to bring about a paradigm shift in its appreciation of vegan diets and one of the reasons could be the tourism boom it is expecting from India in the coming years running up to the Olympic games scheduled to take place in 2020. Naturally a significant population from India are non-meat eaters, most of whom are rich enough to afford a trip to Japan because of their wealthy background. Read further below about this new happenings in a place like Tokyo where many restaurants are serving vegetarian foods alone or as a part of their menu.range.. 

"Tokyo may be the gastronomic capital of the world – with more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city – but it has lagged behind in catering for those who don't eat meat. But with Japan hosting the Olympics in 2020, and the associated influx of vegetarian tourists, the group Tokyo Smile Veggies aim to get 50,000 restaurants – the number of convenience stores in Tokyo – to offer vegetarian dishes by the time they arrive. They plan to do this by hosting workshops explaining what vegetarianism means, by offering recipes and training to chefs, and by getting restaurants that are vegetarian-friendly to display signs. "We don't want to increase the number of vegetarian restaurants," said one of the group's four founders Aya Karasuyama. "We want vegetarian food to be served in normal restaurants. This hardly exists at present. People think vegetarians are strange and only eat salad." Over the past decade there has been a rise in popularity in vegetarian and vegan food in Japan alongside a boom in macrobiotic food, which has led to the opening of about 500 vegetarian and macrobiotic (which serve meat but have many vegetarian options) cafés and restaurants, according to Tokyo Smile Veggies. The macrobiotic trend started not long after Madonna appeared on the Japanese show Smap Smap in 2006 hailing her macrobiotic diet, according to the owner of one restaurant. But traditional Japanese restaurants tend not to include vegetarian food, and instead have lots of meat and seafood dishes – noodles have fish stock or pork as their soup base – or specialise in one type of food. Vegetarians are often met with a look of panic when they say that they don't eat meat or fish. Hanae Matsuya, a food PR, said: "Vegetarian restaurants open all the time but end up closing. Japanese are very good at cooking with vegetables at home so when they go out they like to eat meat." 

No wonder that sustained campaign by many groups who propound vegetarianism as an answer to many ills that befront the world to day has created better awareness about the virtues of avoiding animal based foods as far as possible. industrialized foods churned out by the food processing industry, especially the meat and poultry industry have a poor track record regarding good manufacturing practices which seek to avoid environment pollution, optimum safety of products and cruel animal rearing practices. Though consumers do raise their concern regarding these issues. they are all swept under the carpet by the industry due to its tremendous clout on the political-bureaucratic law and policy makers who refuse to implement or delay consumer friendly practices under one pretext or the other.  When one talks about vegetarian diets, it should not be forgotten that eating is a personal choice and compulsions are not acceptable to change these habits. What the vegan activists are seeking is gradual changes in dietary habits, respect for the environment and fellow co-inhabitants in this planet and ultimately a healthy society of future generations.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Community supermarkets-Can they make a difference to the poor in India?

Poverty by far is the most ignominious paradox that divides people and nations on economic criteria. Hunger, in turn is related to poverty and food security and nutrition security for every one in this planet cannot be possible unless the people are economically "empowered". While socialism talks about the welfare of the entire society through wealth distribution and equity, capitalism lays more stress on individual entrepreneurship and enterprise to create wealth at individual level. The latter system therefore invariably concentrates wealth in a few people considered brilliant and influential in the society, leaving far behind a majority of population with income levels varying from high to middle to poor, the last category never able to meet both ends their dreary life. There are various safety net works tried in different countries to ensure inclusive economic growth but most of these schemes end up as "doling out" practices which cannot help these unfortunate people in the long run. Whether soup kitchens or similar feeding programs they provide only temporary succor to the poor without looking at the root of the problem. One such experiment being tried out in the UK seems to be very interesting, though it depends on the charitable bend of mind on the part of the big retailing industry. Read further below.  

"Britain's first "community supermarket" opens for business today, allowing hundreds of struggling families to buy surplus food donated by shops including Marks & Spencer and Ocado at 70 per cent discount – with 20 more planned across the country. The Community Shop, in Lambeth, south London, will sell low-cost, high-quality surplus food to residents on income support while helping them back into work. The store will work on a membership basis, with 750 members who must live locally and be on income support. They must also enrol on a tailored professional development programme – called The Success Plan – which aims to improve their confidence and help them find jobs. The scheme, the first of its kind in the UK, is backed by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. The food donated by supermarkets – which  may have been over-ordered, mislabelled, or come in damaged packaging – may otherwise have gone to landfill or been fed to animals.  The London branch marks the start of the national roll-out programme after the success of a pilot store, which opened in Goldthorpe, South Yorkshire, in December last year. One in five of this store's 500 members who completed their training have already found work. It is the first of a planned 20 stores across the country, which aim to help about 20,000 people nationwide. This model of using unwanted supermarket stock to tackle food poverty was highlighted by the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the United Kingdom in its Feeding Britain report as one that should be developed to "make a real and positive difference to people's living standards". John Marren, chairman of Company Shop, which runs the scheme, said: "Community Shop is tackling the problem of surplus food, whilst giving it real social purpose. "Not only do we offer high-quality, low-cost food to people experiencing tough times, but we provide them with the chance to take up support services because they are motivated to do better." Retailers and manufacturers taking part in the scheme include Marks & Spencer, Asda, Tesco, Morrisons, The Co-operative, Ocado, Innocent, Brake Brothers, Nestlé and Muller. Participants will be given a mentor who will help identify which areas of their lives they need to work on and then agree on a plan to improve their lives. Courses include confidence-building, home-budgeting and writing a CV. These services will be funded by the sale of the food. It is estimated that around 3.5m tonnes of food is wasted every year in the UK, before it even reaches people's shopping basket. About 10 per cent is good enough to be eaten." 

By creating a community supermarket the organizers are trying to help poor families in buying their daily requirements for sustenance at low prices and as such it is a welcome initiative. As long as the quality of food offered in these markets are on par with those in regular supermarkets, there should not be any worry regarding any psychological impact it might have on the minds of these consumers. Still by branding them as community supermarket, an impression is given that they are meant only for poor people. Therefore it is for consideration whether such "distinction" can be avoided to make shopping in these places more honorable from the perspectives of those who are compelled by circumstances to shop there. Already there are distinct shopping centers like Waldi in the US where many products are available almost at half the cost compared to the prices prevalent in other supermarket chains like Walmart and Target. In India the Public Distribution System peddling essential commodities at low prices is the nearest relative to UK's community supermarket but the dreary environment and filthy shops which dispense the commodities are some thing no self respecting citizen would like to go but for his penury!. All said and done the new supermarkets under the brand name Community Supermarkets will herald a new chapter in the social justice practices in rich countries like the UK. Whether such initiatives are feasible and practical in other countries remains to be seen.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The "bitter" sugar-For consumers it is sweeter!

It is said rightly that only crying babies get attention from mothers and this applies to real life situations also when those seeking the attention always cry hoarse to get the same! Latest example is the sugar industry in India which is raising a huge hue and cry regarding the dire straits it is in because its inability to stand up to the challenges of price global melt down that is happening now. Though India is one of the largest sugar producing countries in the world, it is always Brazil that calls the shots in the sugar market because of its large cultivation area under sugarcane. This is understandable because this country has an agenda different from that of India as its mandated policy of alcohol blending with fossil fuels to the extent of 15% calls for huge production of ethanol from sugarcane which is being done directly from sugarcane juice itself rather than through the molasses route. This gives it a flexibility to switch the product mix depending on the market conditions. Due to its sustained efforts to expand sugarcane cultivation it extended the acreage by deforesting thousands of acres of forest land which in the end analysis might not turn out to be prudent because of its impact on climate changes. Any how at present it is enjoying an advantage in sugar production and it is true that a glut like situation has developed resulting significant price depression in the global sugar market. Here is a commentary on this development on which Indian sugar industry feels threatened.

"The apex body of Indian sugar industry red flagged "challenging situation" for the sector due to falling prices of the sweeteners, excess production and tightening of lending by banks that is forcing millers to sell at cheaper rates for generating cash-flow. The industry also expressed its fear of Brazil producing more sugar than ethanol because of falling crude price, which may make the situation worse for them. Raising the fear from Brazil, which could have serious implications on the international price of the sweetener, Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA) president A Vellayan said, "On the international front, due to the steep fall in oil prices, there is clear possibility that what might happen in Brazil is the shift from ethanol to sugar production. With the Brazilian currency falling, the price of Brazilian sugar will be so cheap that it will threaten to come into India and despite the import duty, it will be cheaper than Indian sugar."  He said government must take all possible steps to ensure that no quantity of sugar gets imported. "That's why we are demanding 40% increase in import duty and extending the subsidy for export of raw sugar so that we can export our raw sugar before the prices fall further," Vellyan said. Brazil is the biggest producer of sugar and ethanol as well."  

Added to the production glut, Brazilian currency is also depreciating making its sugar cheaper than that of India. Whether the government of India will listen to the Association and put restrictive controls on sugar imports or increase the import duty remains to be seen. Sugar scenario in India is very complex and no single step by the government can restore stability to the sugar trade.Farmers are encouraged to go in for sugarcane cultivation by providing irrigation facilities and imposing minimum support prices at which sugar mills must buy the cane from the farmers. Also there are still some controls on release of sugar by the mills in the open market , the so called "free sugar" because of government's need to buy sugar at low prices to feed the public distribution system in the country. Thus sugar may be bitter for the mills at present because of declining prices but consumers should have no complains at getting sugar at cheaper prices! However how this distorted conditions will work out for the farmers as well as the industry in the long run must concern the government which has tied itself into knots through short sighted policies during the last 5 decades.


Monday, December 22, 2014

Looking for virgin olive oil? Here is a tool for easy testing

Olive oil is a much valued "healthy" vegetable oil in great demand through out the world. Whether it is for its health benefits or for its characteristic flavor olive oil is widely prefered as compared to other liquid oils. All edible oils are made of a mixture of fatty acids and glycerol and the ultimate fluidity will depend on the extent of unsaturated fatty acids present in a given oil. As a thumb rule more fluid an oil is, higher can be contents of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). Both MUFA and PUFA are highly regarded for their influence on heart health and other benefits for human beings. Good things some time come with a rider and olive oil is no exception. Because of unsaturated fatty acids, its shelf life is some what restricted as it gets rancid due to oxidation at ambient conditions. Also it attracts hordes of fraudsters to tamper with it by mixing with cheap oils. Incidentally olive oil is the costliest edible oil, the prices being 100-500% more than other vegetable oils. Extra virgin olive oil is a much coveted product made under mild processing conditions so that the rancidity level is practically undetectable and it fetches higher price compared to other grades of olive oils. Recent announcement that a simple device has been designed to confirm whether samples of olive oil are really virgin is being welcomed by the organized industry which has a stake in protecting the USP of virgin olive oil. Here is a take on this new development.

"What does rancid olive oil look like, chemically speaking, and how do you build a device that can quickly, easily and inexpensively test for those signature chemical compounds? That was the daunting task facing the six iGEM team members, the best and brightest of the hundreds who applied to be part of the 2014 UC Davis team. "It's extremely complicated," said Selina Wang, research director for the UC Davis Olive Center and one of four advisers to the 2014 iGEM team. "The chemical methods we have available now are either too crude and don't correlate with sensory traits, or are too time-consuming and require expensive instruments. The students' goal was to generate an affordable device to detect a comprehensive profile of signature rancidity compounds that match what we smell." They're really close. Their electrochemical biosensor — shaped liked an oversized thermometer — comes complete with the computer hardware and software necessary to read rancidity levels in a single drop of oil. "It's not perfect, but we're getting there," said Aaron Cohen, a junior majoring in biomedical engineering. Their biosensor will be best suited for producers, buyers and retailers because it's probably too complicated in its current form to easily test olive oil quality at home. But Wang sees a day when a future generation of this technology could be built into every bottle of extra-virgin olive oil to guarantee freshness. "That way, consumers can see at a glance whether their olive oil is starting to turn rancid," Wang said. In the meantime, people throughout the olive oil industry, here and abroad, could benefit from the new biosensor, which the team predicts will retail for about $125. "I think their project has great potential," said David Garci-Aguirre, production manager at Corto Olive Co. in Lodi. "A biosensor that provides an easy, affordable way to help ensure the quality of our olive oil could prove an incredibly useful tool for us, for retailers and especially for consumers. I see this kind of innovation really helping to get good oils into the hands of those who are trying to buy good oils."

The claim by the scholars who worked on this device needs to be independently verified because many a time scholarly research runs into problems when commercially applied.  As a biosensor is used for measuring rancidity in the oil and subsequent computation requiring electronic computing system, the claim that it could be useful to consumers may be some what far fetched and rightly the innovators admit about this limitation. It is good that they are looking further to develop a thermometer sized device amenable for use by consumers is encouraging. Rancidity is usually measured by parameters like peroxide values and other chemical paradigms which can give an approximate indication of the quality of the product but requires laboratory facilities to carry them out. Sensory tests also can differentiate between virgin olive oil and other grades but these tests are some what subjective requiring highly trained taste panelists. The above efforts in evolving a new simple and inexpensive tool for confirming the grade of olive oil are timely and relevant.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Is glycemic index of foods becoming irrelevant? Some think so!

Ever since the Glycemic Index (GI) and Glycemic Load (GL) concepts became acceptable for differentiating carbohydrates in terms of their ability to release glucose into the blood and the pace at which blood glucose spikes after food consumption, no serious challenge was made against it. Now comes a report originating from the reputed National Institute of Health at Bethesda, USA (NIH) indicating that for a normal person GI and GL do not make much difference in spawning heart disease, blood pressure and diabetes. According to this new findings, high GI foods do not cause these diseases and on the contrary low GI foods can increase insulin insensitivity which is not desirable. Original GI innovators who pioneered the study in 1988 ultimately coming out with the GI yardstick, do not seem to be agreeing to the conclusion of the latest NIH study and here is this issue discussed threadbare.

The idea that all carbohydrates are not created equal has become the foundation of many popular diets. Some argue that foods like white bread and potatoes, which have a high so-called glycemic index because they spike blood sugar and insulin, should be avoided in favour of  healthful carbs like whole grains and non-starchy vegetables. But rigorous new research from the National Institutes of Health suggests that for people who already follow a healthful diet, the glycemic index (GI) may not be very important. The study found that diets containing low glycemic foods did not lower cholesterol compared to diets containing mostly high glycemic foods. Nutrition experts argue that low glycemic diets improve blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity. But the new study found that low glycemic diets actually made insulin sensitivity worse. "The dogma out there is that a high glycemic index is bad," said Dr Robert Eckel, a past president of the American Heart Association, who was not involved in the research. "I hope that ultimately the glycemic index will be left on the shelf." Developed in 1981, the glycemic index reflects the extent to which carbohydrate-containing foods raise a person's blood sugar and subsequent need for insulin. The idea is that low glycemic foods are better for health, warding off diabetes and weight gain, because the carbs they contain are digested at a slower rate. The glycemic index indicates how quickly a particular carbohydrate raises blood sugar, but not how much of it is in a typical serving of a given food. So proponents of the index have also come up with another system, known as glycemic load, which takes portion sizes into account. Last year, a committee of scientists led by the chair of the Harvard School of Public Health called for glycemic values to be included on food labels and emphasised in dietary guidelines. The committee said it was crucial that the public understand the glycemic response to foods "given the rapid rise in diabetes and obesity." In the new study, researchers wanted to find out whether diets that were similar in calories and carbohydrates but composed of either high or low glycemic foods had different effects on cardiovascular health. So they recruited 163 people who were mostly overweight and had high blood pressure, putting them at greater risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. The subjects were rotated through four diets for five weeks at a time, with all of their food provided to them. The researchers said they devised each diet to be heart healthy, with plenty of fruit, vegetables, beans, fish, poultry, lean meat and grains. Two of the diets were slightly higher in carbs than what an average American eats, and two were slightly lower. Researchers then altered the types of carbs they contained. The low glycemic diets included things like whole grain bread and cereal, apples, steel-cut oats, and non-starchy vegetables. The high glycemic diets allowed things like white bread, carrot and bran muffins, instant rice and instant oatmeal, and sweet snacks like honey, bananas, and apricots in heavy syrup. When the overall amount of carb intake was lowered, cardiovascular risk factors like cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure moved in the right direction. But when two diets had similar amounts of carbs and calories, the low glycemic approach did not improve insulin sensitivity, cholesterol or blood pressure levels. Unnecessary fuss over GI Dr Frank M Sacks, the lead author of the study and a professor at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital, said that other trials carried out even longer had reached similar results. He said that people should eat whole grains, fresh produce and high fibre foods because of the nutrients they contain. But unless someone has diabetes and must monitor their blood sugar levels, people who are already following a health-ful diet do not need to worry about the blood-sugar impact of one type of fruit or grain versus another. "The takeaway is a good message for people," he said. "They can pick foods that are part of a healthy dietary pattern without wondering if they're high or low glycemic. They don't have to learn that system." The developer of the glycemic index, Dr David Jenkins, a professor of nutrition at the University of Toronto, added that the study was limited because it did not include people with Type 2 diabetes, a rapidly growing population that has the most problems with blood sugar control. "If they had done that," he said, "they would have made it easier to see some of the cardiovascular benefits."
It may be recalled that there have been demands from some section of the nutritionists about the urgent need to declare GI of each food on the label as they feel that provides an option to the consumer to select low GI foods. But if the latest study is confirmed and there is unanimity among the peers regarding the limited role GI plays in life style diseases for a normally healthy person, including GI values may have opposite effect viz such foods' potential to worsen insulin insensitivity. The rider contained in the study in NIH that their findings apply only to those consuming a "healthy" diet regularly makes it again controversial because most Americans do not have the habit of eating such foods containing predominantly whole food grains, fruits and vegetables. If this is so are they not better of sticking to low GI foods? Of course ideal thing would be to change the diet to include more and more high fiber foods derived from unrefined grains and fruits and vegetables. GI and GL definitely will play a role in the lives of people affected by Type II diabetes as it is essential for them to prevent glucose spikes for which low GI foods are a better bet.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Universities getting into "hunger amelioration" programs? What can they do?

Universities are always considered as centers of higher learning where students can achieve academic excellence through hard work in a congenial environment. Some of them are specialized in application oriented research, results of which are used by the industry and the society for the betterment of humanity. Such research efforts are bought by the user industries by investing in the required infrastructure for mass production. But it is difficult to imagine these universities ever bothering about food scarcity and hunger prevalent mostly among poor people in many countries and this attitude often invites criticisms from some quarters regarding their elitist nature. Such a notion is sought to be removed by the latest move by a few universities in the US banding together under an initiative from the US government to work for food security around the globe. This new initiative is expected to help coordinate existing endeavors in some universities which are working on energy, health and other pressing problems to day's world is facing. Here is a take on this new development which if it is seriously pursued can make this world a better place to live.

"Penn State is one of  one of nearly 50 universities worldwide that have banded together to address the global issue of hunger  Leaders from these universities will sign The Presidents' Commitment to Food and Nutrition Security – a declaration acknowledging their commitment to make food insecurity a priority. There is a ceremonial signing set for Dec. 9 at the United Nations in New York. PUSH – Presidents United to Solve Hunger – was created by Auburn University in Alabama in February as the result of a first-time gathering among leaders of more than 30 universities in the U.S. (including Penn State), Canada and Central America. PUSH and the Presidents' Commitment to Food and Nutrition Security are both direct results of the February meeting. "As a land-grant institution with a major economic impact and research enterprise, Penn State is already playing a tremendous role in addressing extraordinary global challenges related to energy, disease, health care and clean water to name just a few," said Penn State President Eric J. Barron, acknowledging Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences as the lead on this effort for the University. "I'm proud to say that the issue of world hunger also is being addressed in various ways at our University through research and student activism. Our hope is to elevate these activities in concert with other institutions. Together, we have a wealth of expertise and leadership that can lead to meaningful change." The public signing ceremony and other related events mark the first time universities around the world will share a collective focus on ending food insecurity. Tom Gill, assistant director of international programs in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, noted, "Our faculty and students are committed to working across colleges at Penn State and with a range of diverse partners around the world to develop scalable solutions that can combat global hunger." PUSH member institutions include land-grants, liberal arts, faith-based, historically black and Hispanic-serving colleges and universities from five continents.'

One may ask what any university can do to enhance food security situation which is invariably related to the low purchasing power among people due to which they are not able to access food already available in the market. Universities do know this harsh reality but they can always contribute to knowledge regarding the nutrition and health aspects of food and also train people in income generating activities. Besides they can also train health workers and extension activists to provide succor to people. A note of caution is called for in this noble idea as these universities must understand their limitations in establishing outreach to their intended target beneficiaries.  Probably they can best fit into a global program of training the trainers who can disseminate their knowledge and skill by working among the intended beneficiaries. India should also consider joining such a movement which will expose the young university scholars to the reality of food insecurity that exists widely in many parts of the world including India. 


Crazy scientific research! Pray for the "pill", the silver bullet that can trim body weight!

Have you given up on your determination to shed excess body wight because nothing seems to work, whether dieting, exercising, or regularly visiting well being centers? Well there is some crazy researchers in a US university trying to help people like you, trying to develop a "pill" which probably can be included in the medicine chest for regular use along with umpteen number of other pills required these days to ward of bad effects of life style diseases like diabetes, blood pressure, heart disease etc. Though such a scenario is far fetched just now, the ever optimistic scientists are upbeat about the chances of such a pill emerging in not too distant a future. Keep your fingers crossed. The basis of such an optimism is that they were able to identify, after screening thousands of chemicals two specific ones capable of shifting the fat making process in the body through white fat cells to brown fat cells, the latter considered a friendly source of harmless fats that burn easily without getting deposited around the abdomen. Though it may be some what premature to hail these findings, the pioneering scientists deserve a pat on their back. Read further below:  

"Researchers at Harvard University say they have identified two chemical compounds that could replace "bad" fat cells in the human body with healthy fat-burning cells, in what may be the first step toward the development of an effective medical treatment – which could even take the form of a pill – to help control weight gain. Not all fat is created equal. While white fat cells store energy as lipids and contribute to obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, the less common brown fat cells pack energy in iron-rich mitochondria, have been shown to lower triglyceride levels and insulin resistance in mice, and appear to be correlated with lower body weight in humans. Brown fat makes up about five percent of the body mass of healthy newborns, helping them keep warm, and is still present in lower quantities in our neck and shoulders as adults, where it helps burn the white fat cells. Associate professor Chad Cowan and colleagues at Harvard say they have developed a way to identify the chemical compounds that induce fat stem cells to produce "good" brown-like fat cells instead of the "bad" white ones. The scientists say they have already used their system to pinpoint two such compounds that can accomplish this in humans. Other drugs (viagra included) have been known to be able to turn white fat cells into brown, but their effect is only temporary. This new method, however, is reportedly showing a stable conversion of fat cells over time, which has an exciting potential for long-term health improvement. But turning these two chemicals into a practical treatment is not going to be a straightforward process. Aside from the lengthy medical trials still to come, the two compounds identified so far both target the same molecule  –  a molecule that contributes to the inflammatory response. The concern here is that tinkering with it by using the compounds over the long term and without modifications could end up compromising the immune system. Cowan's team achieved this result by screening a catalog of only about one thousand compounds. But now, as the first two are being tested on mice to investigate the long-term effects on metabolism and immune system, the researchers are approaching pharmaceutical companies to gain access to a much larger database of over a million compounds, with the hope of finding a candidate that doesn't have the potential adverse effects of the first two."

One interesting question many binge eaters may have is whether such a pill as and when developed and promoted commercially will allow eating to full "heart's" content without facing the adverse consequences that is the rule of the day!. It is very common to day for people to pop in a Unienzyme dragee or antacids like Digene or Gelusil after a heavy meal and will this new pill help the people to eat much more than what they really need or eat foods which are known to cause over weight? No way, because any pill one takes based on synthetic chemicals is likely to have side effects and consumption of such pills must be limited to the bare minimum, that too for therapeutic purpose only.


Friday, December 19, 2014

Who will "supervise" the supervisors- A dangerous regulatory system!

Is accepting "hospitality" from the industry one is supposed to supervise an acceptable practice from an ethical angle? It depends on what is meant by the word hospitality. According the English dictionary it denotes the relationship between the host and a guest and may involve "friendly reception and generous entertainment" . Here again there is ambiguity regarding reception and what type of entertainment is provided. One thing is clear that a government employee or a person contracted to inspect food processing facility cannot be considered a guest since it is a part of a regulatory system where "quid pro" considerations are irrelevant. How sincere a person can be in accepting hospitality from a company where he has been deputed to find whether safety norms are scrupulously followed  or not? It is like giving a judiciary functionary hospitality probably to get a favorable judgment from him which is blasphemy! This is what is happening with US Department of Agriculture whose personnel deputed to over see safety of processing facilities at different places are reported to be allowed to accept hospitality from the company supposed to be hauled up for violations! How trustworthy could that system be and how can consumers repose confidence in such a system, especially at a time when there is a backlash against many questionable practices by the industry being reported in that country? Read the report below and feel how sad such a situation can be when it comes to the common man who trusts the government to protect his health through powers conferred on it. 

Critics refer to the phenomenon as "regulatory capture" — when government inspectors become overly influenced by the industry they regulate. While the accusation is lobbed at many federal agencies, some say USDA is especially vulnerable because it's charged with enforcing the law at facilities that also pay for its services."It's a risk USDA would be more prone to that sort of capture," said Sebastien Pouliet, an Iowa State University economics professor who specializes in food safety. Unlike the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the USDA provides grading, certification and verification services intended to improve agricultural companies' marketing of a variety of farm products, he said. In effect, these processors are the USDA's customers, Pouliet said. "There's sort of a conflict of interest." USDA's Office of Communications did not respond to several requests for comment. More than 2,000 employees of the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service grade, audit, certify and inspect $150 billion worth of food a year. USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service employs more than 8,000 people who inspect about 150 million livestock carcasses and 9 billion poultry carcasses a year. In the case of Snokist Growers, the company hired the Agricultural Marketing Service to grade its canned applesauce so the product could be used in school lunches and USDA food programs. Alguard said she and other inspectors were told to prevent the old applesauce from being sold to USDA, but to disregard the problem in Snokist's products intended for the public. "My boss wanted to keep them happy," she said. "He's there to keep the income flowing into his office so he can stay employed." The applesauce policy contravened an agreement the agency had with FDA to report food safety issues, she said. In 2011, some school children were sickened by Snokist Growers' applesauce, which prompted an investigation by FDA. The illness turned out to be caused by defective cans that allowed pathogens to survive, but Alguard said she told FDA inspectors that moldy bins of applesauce were regularly being reprocessed when they showed up at the plant. "I just knew it was my chance because my boss wasn't going to do anything about it," she said. "They were stunned, to say the least."The FDA's investigation concluded that the mold released toxins into the applesauce that could cause health problems even if the product was heated during canning.

One of the reasons for such undesirable practices creeping into the regulatory system is the onus put on the industry to pay for the expenses of inspectors deputed as the government claims it has no money to meet such expenditure! Is it not a pity that World's most powerful country has no money to spend on citizen's safety vis-a--vis food processed and marketed in the country but spends trillions of dollars on arms race, space exploration and dominating other countries. This is a country where life style diseases like Obesity, Diabetes, Heart Disease are widely prevalent and the country has no money for dealing with these scourges! Some of undesirable practices being followed by the industry resulting in millions of food poisoning incidences can be attributed to this sham of a process called "inspection". Unfortunately most of the law makers in that country are captives of the powerful industry which sabotages any thing coming from the government intended to safe guard the interests of the citizen! Can any one solve this mega puzzle?


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Another escalation in the fight against diabetes and obesity- A "Silver Bullet" in the making?

There are three hormones in human system that control the metabolism and absorption of glucose and they are now the focus of attention in developing appropriate therapy to attack the diabetes and obesity syndromes widely considered to be reaching epidemic proportions in many countries. These are glucagon, glucagon like peptide (GLP) and gastric inhibitory polypeptide (GIP) working in different ways in different locations in the body. In a remarkable breakthrough scientists have now achieved integration of these three hormones in a single molecule to derive all the benefits from them. While glucagon balances any hypoglycemia condition by releasing glucose from glycogen in the liver, GLP inhibits gastric secretion delaying carbohydrate absorption creating a satiety effect. GIP has a major role in neutralizing stomach acid besides slowing down transfer of food across the intestine. GIP also plays a role in insulin secretion enabling the body to metabolize glucose faster and its influence on lipid metabolism is recognized for its potential use against obesity. By combining these three hormones the researchers seem to have succeeded in creating a "silver bullet"  that can deal with both diabetes and obesity. Here is a gist of these findings which appears to be really path breaking in its impact.

"In 2012, we covered work led by Professor Richard DiMarchi that showed linking two hormones into a single molecule held promise as a treatment for obesity. DiMarchi followed this up last year by combining the properties of two endocrine hormones to provide an effective treatment for both obesity and adult-onset diabetes. Continuing in this vein, DiMarchi has now co-led a study whereby obesity and diabetes were effectively cured in lab animals by adding a third hormone to the molecular mix. Clinical work carried out last year, which included human clinical trials, showed a peptide combining the properties of two endocrine hormones, GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide 1) and GIP (gastric inhibitory polypeptide), provided an effective treatment for adult-onset diabetes. Now the team, co-led by DiMarchi, the Indiana University (IU) Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, and Matthias Tschöp, director of the Institute for Diabetes and Obesity at the German Research Center for Environmental Health, has developed a new molecule that includes a third hormone, glucagon. GLP-1 and GIP are involved in enhancing insulin action and reducing blood glucose in the body, with GLP-1 also acting to reduce appetite. Meanwhile, glucagon is involved in improving liver function and increasing the long-term rate at which calories are burned. Molecularly combining these three hormones forms what is known as a triple agonist, which can bind to and activate receptors in the body and produce certain biological responses. "This peptide represents the first rationally designed, fully potent and balanced triple agonist ever achieved in the treatment of any disease," says DiMarch. "The benefits of the previously reported individual co-agonists have been integrated to a single molecule of triple action that provides unprecedented efficacy to lower body weight and control metabolism." The researchers say that in preclinical trials, this new peptide lowered blood sugar levels and reduced body fat better than all existing drugs. By triggering improved glucose sensitivity, reducing appetite and enhancing calorie burning, it was able to reduce body weight in rodents by around 30 percent, (nearly twice as much as the preceding GLP-1/GIP double hormone), and essentially cured the animals of obesity, diabetes and associated lipid abnormalities. "This triple hormone effect in a single molecule shows results never achieved before,"said co-first author Brian Finan, a scientist at the Helmholtz Diabetes Center. "A number of metabolic control centers are influenced simultaneously, namely in the pancreas, liver, fat depots and brain."

According to the innovators of this novel 3-in-1 hormone peptide molecule, extensive animal studies and limited clinical trials have more or less confirmed about its efficacy in increasing glucose sensitivity, reducing appetite significantly and enhancing burning of calories dramatically. Reduction of body weight to the extent of 30% is a remarkable achievement which will gladden the hearts of millions of people with BMI beyond 30. Hopefully this hormone combination will become the standard bearer in the coming years for world wide use in bringing down obesity, curing diabetes and correcting many lipid abnormalities for which there are no satisfactory treatment protocols at present. Though lot has been said about the efficiency and effectiveness of the new peptide molecule, nothing is mentioned as to how it is produced or how stable it is when administered in human beings. Since only GIP works at the intestinal level, how effectively the peptide is absorbed in the blood is also not clear. As human clinical trials have been carried out one can assume that the claims made by the innovators are valid. Whether there will be any other side reactions in some people is also not known. Let us hope we will have one of the most effective medicines to overcome the twin curses in the form of diabetes and obesity soon and association of one of the giants of pharma industry with this study further reinforces our hope.  


Food safety bill being "dressed up"- Will the Indian citizen ever be freed from consuming unsafe and substandard foods?

How serious is the federal government in India in safeguarding the health of its citizens? If past history is any indication all programs and activities emanating from Delhi have been focusing on rehabilitating the bureaucrats rather than putting in place a deterrent regime to punish adultrators and fraudsters who are violating even the diluted food standards with impunity without getting punished for their heinous crimes. With great fanfare the food safety act was promulgated by the previous government, a toothless body called food authority was set up and a technically "innocent" bureaucrat was promptly appointed as its chairman! Rest is history. Though maintaining the food quality and insuring food against adultration and fraud is a state subject, federal government comes into the picture for bringing in a uniform quality and safety frame work for the states to work in harmony. With strictures being passed by judicial courts one after the other during the last 2-3 years on the deficiencies of the act, it is a welcome development that the new government is mulling over its modifications seriously. Whether this exercise will end up producing a "mouse" at the end remains to be seen. Read further below regarding this development at Delhi. 

"The Government will revisit the food safety Act to make it more stringent to check growing instances of adulteration and contamination. "Two days ago, we set up a task force, which will submit its suggestions in 45 days, which will be then be put up in public domain for inviting comments. Imported food items will also be covered by this," Health Minister JP Nadda informed the Lok Sabha on Monday. Replying to a calling by PV Midhun Reddy of YSR Cong and Satyapal Singh of BJP, Nadda admitted that food adulteration and contamination were one reason for the rising burden of non-communicable diseases across the country. "It is also proposed to revisit the punishment stipulated for milk adulteration and make it more stringent," Nadda said, adding that the Government would focus creating infrastructure and manpower to face the challenge, such as setting up testing labs under public-private partnership. Nadda further added that 13,571 out of 72,200 food samples analysed in 2013-14 were adulterated, resulting in launch of 10,325 civil and criminal cases. He also informed the House that the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India was at present engaged in an exercise for harmonisation of the maximum residue limit of pesticides in food commodities. Earlier, Reddy said the threat from adulteration and contamination of water, milk, oil, etc, was "greater than the threat from terrorism", as it would take more lives in the long run. Terming the unregulated use of pesticides and antibiotics as "slow poison" and the use of hormone injections on cows to increase milk yield, as a more "serious crime than cow slaughter", Reddy particularly urged the Government to ensure "Shudh Bharat" (Pure India)" along with the initiative, "Swachch Bharat." 

The statistics put out by the minister tells a pathetic story about the safety programs of the government. In a country like India with a population of 1.2 billion the number of samples picked up for testing was relatively small working out to 200 samples a day across 30 states, again a paltry 7 samples per state! One wonders what type of inspection thousands of so called "Food Inspectors" in the pay roll of the states are doing if not checking foods in the market for quality and safety violations? Has the surveillance system in the country failed miserably? This is all the more appalling considering that more than 70% of food industry is in the hands of the so called "unorganized sector" which produces hundreds of diverse products with indifferent quality and safety credentials. When an enlightened law maker from Andhra Pradesh stated that adultrated foods pose much greater threat to the country than that posed by terrorists, we have to applaud him for stating the obvious. .