Thursday, January 30, 2014


Those affected by excessive body weight and diabetes depend heavily on non-caloric sweeteners which are available to day in abundance. These include Aspartame, Sucralose and Stevia. Though from time to time safety issues regarding their continued use do crop up, by and large they are considered fairly safe based on present scientific data. Against such a background comes a new report which raises serious doubts about the safety of Sucralose, a chlorinated compound widely used across the world. According to this new study, Sucralose tends to generate a toxic chemical when used in heated, fried and baked foods that can be a causative factor in developing cancer. Scary indeed!. Here is the gist of these findings which must be carefully considered by its users though it may need further confirmation by other studies. 

"A study review recently published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health says that baking or cooking with Splenda releases cancer-causing dioxins into the food. The process of heating and cooking generates chloropropanols, a potentially toxic class of chemicals that may be linked to higher risk of cancer. The study also found that sucralose reduces the quantity of beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract; and it does get metabolized in the GI tract, despite earlier studies claiming that sucralose passes through the body without undergoing metabolism. Both humans and rats exhibited changes in glucose and insulin levels after ingesting sucralose. The researchers stated: "These findings indicate that sucralose is not a biologically inert compound." This is bad news for Splenda manufacturer McNeil Nutritionals, which had promoted the earlier, above-mentioned study claiming that ingested sucralose is not metabolized. McNeil had also funded all long-term animal-feeding studies up until 2012, when an independent Italian group of researchers came along and found that sucralose increased levels of leukemia when eaten by rats. Although the Italian study has not yet been published (it's pending review right now), it has been influential enough to cause the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) to downgrade sucralose in its 'Chemical Cuisine' ranking of food additives. Sucralose has fallen from "safe" to "cautionary" status. The CSPI warns the public that artificial sweeteners are prolific and often not disclosed on front labels, so it's important to read the list of ingredients carefully".

Health conscious consumers are advised to avoid consumption of products containing Sucralose which can be discerned by careful reading of the ingredients list, often pushed to the back side of the label. The manufacturers of Sucralose have not yet come forward with any clarification, though many critics believe that they had these data with them before which were suppressed during the clearance process. Earlier there was also some criticism regarding the desirability of using a chlorinated organic compound like Sucralose in foods as most insecticide chemicals also belong to this class of compounds. Consumers implicitly trust the regulatory authorities when clearance is given for a food additive and if Sucralose eventually proves to be a hazardous food ingredient, the confidence on these agencies is likely to be jolted!. Sooner some clarity emerges on this issue better it will be for all concerned.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014


One is reminded of the "notorious" statement by the CEO of an international beverage and snack company some years ago that food and beverage industry should not be blamed if some people are over eating and getting obese! According to her consumers have the personal responsibility to pick and choose right food and exercise discipline in controlling how much is to be eaten. To some extent this is a right assessment though the industry knows very well that it has the wherewithal to break the will power by offering mouth watering and tasty products containing just empty calories with very low nutrient content. In a recent study it has been confirmed that many people cannot resist tasty food because of the tendency of their brains to get over whelmed by the pleasure offered by certain foods rich in sugar, fat, salt and flavor. If this is so the phenomenon of binge eating is caused by the involuntary action of the brain on which the individuals have little control. Here is the explanation as provided by large scale study using women who were considered having food addiction based on their own submission about their tendency to continue eating even though their hunger need is fully met.    

"Although addiction was strongly associated with a higher body mass index (BMI), the data also show that you can be an average-weight woman or even underweight and have a negative relationship with food. Geography seems to matter, too. Women from the eastern United States seem to have fewer problems with food addiction than those from the South or Midwest, although researchers don't know why. The foods of choice for these women were so-called "hyper-palatable" treats that are high in fat, sugar, salt and processing. These foods seem to trigger the brain's pleasure and reward centers through increases in the transmission of the "feel good" chemical, dopamine. "The major narrative with every addiction is that people have no willpower," says Gearhardt, who was one of the developers of the Yale Food Addiction Scale. "We know that's not true, so we are trying to better understand if there are some foods that can hijack the system, given the right vulnerabilities in a person, and this study helps us identify those individuals." Because the researchers looked at a large population, the data may have important clinical implications. "We are finally getting at a distinct subset of individuals who are struggling in a way that looks like substance abuse more than anything else," says Marlene Schwartz, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, who was not involved in the study. "Saying eat more vegetables and exercise more won't work with people who are struggling like this."

Like addiction to cigarettes, alcohol and opiates which are confined to some people, many foods can be addictive because of the pleasure they provide while eating. Interestingly most obese people are food addicts while generally this type of addiction is some what linked to the BMI of a person. If this is true different strategies need to be worked out to de-addict them through sustained efforts. As over weight and obesity are becoming a global threat with a potential to adversely affect the quality of life among millions of people, collective and cooperative efforts among countries most affected can only find a practical solution.  


Monday, January 27, 2014


From time to time a few visionaries appear on the horizon propounding new ways of meeting the challenges facing humanity, especially in the food front. There appears to be a sharp divide between those who assert about impending food crisis due uncontrolled population expansion and others maintaining that what food is produced now or in future is adequate to feed future population provided there is economic equity. The doomsayers base their prediction on the inability of land to produce beyond what is achieved to day and the rapid degradation of soil health from intensive industrial style agricultural production. One of the alternate options being touted is to slowly switch over from cultivation of annuals like wheat, rice etc which form about 70% of world food supply to day to perennials like Kernza grains. Perennials definitely have advantages but whether they can be cultivated to the extent needed is a big question as research is still on their viability credentials. Here is a report that throws some light on the issue. 

"Jackson has a biblical way of speaking: "The plow has destroyed more options for future generations than the sword," he says. "But soil is more important than oil, and just as nonrenewable." Soil loss is one of the biggest hidden costs of industrial agriculture — and it's created at literally a glacial pace, maybe a quarter-inch per century. The increasingly popular no-till style of agriculture reduces soil loss but increases the need for herbicides. It's a short-term solution, requiring that we poison the soil to save it. Annual monoculture like that practiced in the Midwestern Corn Belt is one culprit. It produces the vast majority of our food, and much of that food — perhaps 70 percent of our calories — is from grasses, which produce edible seeds, or cereals. For 10,000 years we've plowed the soil, planted in spring and harvested in fall, one crop at a time. In an essay he published 26 years ago, called "The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race," Jared Diamond theorized that this was essentially our downfall: by losing our hunter-gatherer roots and becoming dependent on agriculture, we made it possible for the human population to expand but paid the price in the often malnourishing, environmentally damaging system we have today. That's fascinating, and irreversible; barring a catastrophe that drastically reduces the human population, we'll rely on agriculture for the foreseeable future. But if we look to the kind of systems Jackson talks about, we can markedly reduce the damage. "We don't have to slay Goliath with a pebble," he says of industrial agriculture. "We just have to quit using so much fertilizer and so many pesticides to shrink him to manageable proportions." Perennial polysystems are one way forward, because they allow us to produce grains, legumes, oils and other foods with a host of benefits. Gesturing across the road from where we sat, Jackson said to me: "That prairie — a prime example of a self-sustaining system — doesn't have soil erosion, it's not fossil-fuel dependent, you have species and chemical diversity. If you look around you'll see that essentially all of nature's ecosystems are perennial polycultures; that's nature's instruction book." In perennial polycultures, the plants may fertilize one another, physically support one another, ward off pests and diseases together, resist drought and flood, and survive even when one member suffers."

If funding is the constraint in developing perennial food raising systems fast, global agencies like the FAO must throw their weight behind the pioneering work of some scientists in elucidating the technical and commercial feasibility of the alternate system. There are lot of uncertainties like seed availability and their sustaining ability, yield issues, nutritional uncertainties, disease logistics etc which are to be sorted out and probably it may take about a few decades of sustained collective work to get all the answers needed to take appropriate future decisions regarding changes in present agricultural practices. To say that organic food production is a sustainable alternative is just over simplifying the issue. If whole world is to go for organic food system, is it feasible or logistical? It is alright that a small percentage of food production comes from organic food sector but it may be next to impossible to transplant this system to millions of farms used to traditional agriculture. Besides large grain producers with vast tract of land deploy highly technological mass production system which may not be amenable to organic style of cultivation. Probably perennials offer a better promise for to morrow!   


Saturday, January 25, 2014


Out of hundreds of plant foods consumed by man, one cannot imagine that some among them can be poisonous. But from time to time there are reports indicating that a few plants can harbor toxic metabolites produced by the plant to fight for its own survival. But it is doubtful whether a healthy individual can ever die because of eating plant foods considered edible. Still for those with compromised health conditions these foods can be fatal, if consumed in large quantities. One of the redeeming features is that most foods containing traces of toxic chemicals are processed or cooked which removes or reduces them to safe levels. Here is a report which highlights the occurrence of such foods in nature which are consumed regularly in one or other parts of the world with practically no fatality. 

"Fruits and vegetables are unquestionably essential to a healthful diet.
But there's another side to some of these plants that, thankfully, most people never see: the tiny amounts of toxins within them. The minute amounts of poison found in many seeds, leaves and roots are the result of the protracted arms race between plants and the animals that try to eat them. It's the reason why you've never shelled a cashew (the shells might make you break out in a poison ivy-style rash) or eaten green potato fries (read on for details). Most of the time, the human body manages to dispose of the toxins with minimal effort. But every now and then, an edible plant can be a problem. The recently revisited case of Christopher McCandless, the subject of Jon Krakauer's best-sellerInto the Wild, reminded us of this plant duality. In 1992, McCandless was found dead in the Alaskan wilderness. Because he had so little fat left on his body, the coroner concluded that he'd died of starvation. But the 24-year-old may have died from eating the seeds of the wild potato (Hedysarum alpinum), an edible plant. As Krakauer explained on All Things Considered last month, the plant's seeds contain a neurotoxin that is harmless to healthy people but can cause paralysis in a nutrient-starved body like that of McCandless, who was already lean and weak from months of trying to live off the land. Turns out, people eat plants like that all the time. Over the centuries, humans have come to recognize the dangerous side of these dinner options, and have often found safe preparation methods to get around them. Odds are, you've eaten them before without a second thought. Here's a look at just a few commonly eaten plants that can sometimes turn their defenses on us":

Whether this report is trying to scare people out of their wits or just a cautionary guide for taking precautions is not clear. But the facts mentioned deserve attention and those who regularly eat the foods listed, will be better advised to be alert to this danger. With many varieties of same crop such as potato available in the market, how can the consumer know which one has higher toxic content and avoid them? Economic compulsions some time compel people to eat certain foods like Kesari dal (Lathyrus pulse) which can cause paralysis if not properly prepared before cooking. Similarly Tapioca or Cassava or Manioc is a staple food in Kerala in India and in some African countries as people there are habituated to this food. Probably governments in these places must ban cultivation of those crops/varieties which are high in some of the toxic substances and rigorously enforce the ban. 



It is known that food industry will use any means that can boost their bottom line. This may not be true with all players but generally applies to most of them. National laws which govern labeling practices can often be "twisted" or one can find loopholes to by pass the description of the rules. One such example is about using the word "natural" by many industry players without really meaning it because such products contain added ingredients which are not natural. Probably no food product may deserve this label if this prerequisite is strictly enforced. At the same time if it is allowed to be used indiscriminately there can be gross abuse of this word by one and all. Ultimately no strict laws can be put in place to anticipate every antics of the industry and therefore the consumer vigilance and pressure can only work in the long term. Here is an example as to how a major beverage multinational had to abandon the word "natural" from its label configuration because of consumer perception 

"The Food and Drug Administration doesn't have a definition for what constitutes "natural," but says it doesn't object to the word's use as long as the product doesn't contain "added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances." Still, a number of lawsuits recently have challenged whether the ingredients in products labeled as "natural" fit that billing. In some cases, companies are realizing the use of "natural" isn't worth the headache, said Steve Gardner, director of litigation for the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group that has filed lawsuits against companies on the topic. Last year, PepsiCo agreed to remove the words "all natural" from its Naked juices after a lawsuit noted the drinks contained artificial ingredients, such as a fiber made by Archer Midland Daniels. Another ongoing lawsuit filed in 2012 has challenged its description of some of its chips as "natural." And in November, PepsiCo killed off its Gatorade Natural line, saying the drinks didn't "resonate" with its core consumers".

There is another view which questions as to why "natural" cannot be used as long as no synthetic additives are used and probably this may be a logical contention. But there is a difference between "natural ingredients" and "natural product". As long as the label says that the product contains only natural ingredients consumer can understand that it is not 100% natural product. For example many juice manufacturers confuse the consumers by giving an impression that their juice based beverages are natural while in reality these are diluted juices mixed with sugar and flavor! To claim this as natural is not justifiable. 


Friday, January 24, 2014


Consumers are these days a harassed lot as they are bombarded with hundreds of commercials through the electronic media causing considerable confusion in their mind regarding the various claims made on packaged food products. From time to time manufacturers have been trying to boost the sale of their products by printing nutrition ratings on the front of the packet and attract consumers to their portfolio of products. Unfortunately there are a number of players offering rating systems based on different yardsticks. The Gold Star system adopted by an American Supermarket chain is reported to be doing well in educating the consumers and persuading them to go for more healthy products based on the number of stars printed on the label. Here is a take on this consumer friendly development. 

"A nutritional rating system using gold stars affixed to price labels on grocery store shelves appears to have shifted buying habits, potentially providing another tool to educate consumers on how to eat healthier, according to a new study. The independent study examining a proprietary gold star system used in Maine-based Hannaford Supermarkets suggested it steered shoppers away from items with no stars toward healthier foods that merited gold stars. "Our results suggest that point-of-sale nutrition information programs may be effective in providing easy-to-find nutrition information that is otherwise nonexistent, difficult to obtain or difficult to understand," the researchers wrote in the study, published last week in the journal Food Policy. It's the most rigorous scientific study focusing on Guiding Stars, which was instituted in 2006 in Hannaford stores and is now licensed for use in more than 1,800 stores in the U.S. and Canada. Researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and the University of Florida focused on the cereal aisle, where it can be challenging to make healthy choices amid conflicting health claims and a multitude of sugary offerings targeting children. They compared data from 134 Hannaford grocery stores in the Northeast against an equal number of similar stores across the country. During the first 20 months of the program, sales of no-star cereals fell in both groups: 13 percent at Hannaford stores and 10 percent at the other stores. Likewise, the shift to healthier cereals was slightly greater at Hannaford stores, compared with the others. The study's authors said they believe the additional shift in sales was due to the influence of Guiding Stars."

It is imperative that a universal health credential assessment system is evolved which can be adopted by many countries grappling with the problem of food safety and quality and consumer education for eating healthy foods. It is conceded that it is a very difficult task considering the multitude of foods marketed world over and evolving a common standard applicable to all of them is fraught with logistical difficulties. Still a beginning has to be made some where and even a rudimentary system that can improve the awareness of consumers about good foods can go a long way in bettering their health. Innovations in rating will come from time to time to improve the efficacy of the rating system. 


Thursday, January 23, 2014


Supply chain logistics will have to ensure that perishable foods, especially those which are sensitive to high ambient temperatures, are not subjected to wide temperature fluctuations while in the store or during transit. As the life of these foods depends directly on the storage or package conditions, temperature monitoring can help to a great extent to determine how long they will stay in prime condition. A recently developed tool in the form of a thin film smart sensor when attached to a carton or a food packet is claimed to be capable of providing the details of temperature fluctuations to which the produce is exposed. Here is a take on this latest device which is expected to reach commercialization stage soon.

"Are you sure that the chicken you just bought has been kept cool from the time it left the plant to the moment you stuck it in your shopping cart? Well, you could be if it had one of Thinfilm Electronics' Smart Sensor Labels on the packaging. Currently still in prototype form, the temperature-tracking label features printed electronics, integrated batteries, an on/off switch and a simple display that indicates how many times (if any) it's been exposed to temperatures below 15ºC or above 45ºC (59ºF or 113ºF) – presumably other temperature thresholds could be programmed in as needed. If that label was attached to boxes or packaging containing perishable items, such as food or pharmaceuticals, users would be able to tell if the contents had been allowed to get too warm or too cool. The successful testing of the first fully-functioning Smart Sensor Label, which can be seen in the video below, was announced last week. Thinfilm hopes to have the first production labels ready for commercial use by the end of next year."

One wonders whether knowing the range of temperatures to which the food is exposed can really predict the extent of life remaining for it. Of course the retailer may be able to "guess" the number of days the produce will last without losing its characteristic quality. But what is needed further is a computer simulation program which can precisely predict how much damage has happened till it reaches the retailer and how long it can be kept in the shelf before being discarded.  



China has lately emerged as the capital of food frauds and the citizens there seem to be losing confidence on their government in reining in rampant food adulteration and similar practices. Though the authoritarian regime there can punish any one for even expressing dissident views, food criminals seem to be operating without any fear or retribution. This may be due to collusion of powerful bureaucrats with these unsocial elements. It may be difficult to remove this impression unless the food safety monitoring system gains the confidence of the consumers. Recent initiatives in a city like Shangai to set up a "secret" force to catch fraudulent food sellers
may help in creating the right conditions for creating consumer confidence. Here is the report. 

"Under the control of the police bureau, the team will bring together law enforcement officers from government bodies and train new personnel, said Bai Shaokang, vice mayor and director of Shanghai Public Security Bureau. "We need a zero-tolerance attitude to food safety criminals," Bai told legislators. He said this will drive improvements in food safety management and help build a unified food safety network. A total of 416 suspects in food safety cases were detained in 137 cases in Shanghai last year — up 49 percent on 2012, said Yan Zuqiang, director of the Shanghai Food Safety Office. "The city's police authority has begun collaborating with the office to jointly crack down on cases" Yan told the congress.  Yan said the overall food safety rate in the city was 94 percent last year, up 1.5 percent on 2012's figure. But some lawmakers were sceptical of this figure, while concerns were also raised that punishments for food safety breaches were too light. Currently, the fine for committing food safety offences is 2,000 yuan (US$330) if the value of products involved is less than 10,000 yuan, said lawmaker Xu Liping"The value of a steamed bun is small but the consequences of eating a bad steamed bun can be enormous," Xu said. 

It is good that the authorities in Shangai is waking up to the reality and are grasping the dangers posed by a plethora of fraudsters putting in danger the health of the citizens. Presence of adulterated food products in the market can be easily detected if the perpetrators are located through secret investigators without the knowledge of the traders. Ultimately the consumer will repose confidence on the system only if the extent of sub-standard and unsafe foods in the market comes down dramatically through government vigilance. It will be interesting to watch the result of this Chinese experiment and if effective other cities in many developing countries can have special squads of intelligence staff to detect food related crimes.  


Friday, January 17, 2014


From time to time milk substitutes are developed and marketed in direct competition to natural milk from Cow or Buffalo. Unlike natural milk there is no ready source for plant milk which will have to be made from plant substances by deploying suitable process technologies that may be simple or complex depending on the degree of blandness desired in the final product. Way back in nineteen fifties CFTRI in India tried its luck with a milk extracted from peanuts but it never clicked among the consumers leading to its premature exit from the market. It was soybean milk which had better success and even to day population in most East Asian countries consume this milk giving soybean its nickname as "Cow of the Orient". Recently CFTRI claimed development of a milk based on a concoction of queer raw materials like drumstick leaves, mushroom etc. As this product is still confined within the four walls of this research agency, it is not yet time to assess its marketability in India. Now comes a report from Spain about the development of a plant milk based on nuts and grains which is claimed to be good for consumption by vulnerable population affected by lactose intolerance, allergies to casein, pregnant women and strict  vegetarians shunning animal milk. Here is s gist of the development.      

"The vegetable milk market could be about to get more varied with the findings of a new study carried out in Spain. Using probiotic bacteria obtained from grains and nuts, researchers at the Universitat Politècnica de València have come up with a range of fermented products. They hope their findings will increase the choice and the quality of plant milks for people with allergies, lactose intolerance, pregnant women and, of course, vegans. The raw materials the researchers worked with include almonds, oats and hazelnuts, and they also intend to experiment with walnuts and chestnuts. The tests carried out in vitro revealed that these milks can help fight intestinal inflammation. The researchers also found ways to improve the stability of plant milks already available in the market. "Overall, the project results contribute to increase knowledge about the nutritional and health properties of vegetable milks, in view of future industrial applications to develop innovative quality products suitable both for the general public and for specific groups," researcher Chelo González said in a press statement. The health claims associated with plant milks are quite impressive. Besides offering an alternative to those people who cannot consume animal milk for health or ethical reasons, they help increase the absorption of iron, which the caseins and other allergens found in cow's milk inhibit. They are also a good source of vitamins B and E, antioxidants and fiber. Diabetic people can also benefit from them due to the low sugar content of their fatty acids and carbohydrates. Nut-based milks can supply pregnant women with a high amount of folic acid, and help keep a balanced ratio of calcium and phosphorous".

Probably this plant milk may have a small advantage in that nuts are rich sources of folic acid making it suitable for pregnant women. Like other plant milks this is also low in carbohydrates and naturally diabetics can have an alternate option to animal milk. The claim that this product can facilitate absorption of iron across the intestine better than animal milk needs to be confirmed. Whether this will be universally acceptable is a big question as many children are allergic to tree nuts and how far the process of preparing the milk removes these allergens is not known. There is a general perception that no "artificial" milk can imitate natural milk 100%, whether in appearance, flavor, functionality or nutrition. All these players peddling plant milk products will have to deal with this in-built hesitation among the consumers in accepting imitation products, no matter how good they may be!



Recent findings that fat is not as dangerous as carbohydrates in causing life style diseases like diabetes, CVD, blood pressure, obesity etc seem to be turning the present understandings about this subject on its head! Continuing this line of argument, a few fats like coconut oil, palm kernel oil and clarified butter (ghee) are now being touted as good for health. While coconut oil has a long history of being popular in some places, it is ghee which is now getting increased attention from health pundits. In India itself both coconut oil and ghee are extensively consumed and there does not seem to be any correlation between diseases and consumption of these two fats. Ghee is now being promoted as a substitute for butter in the western world since natural butter is increasingly being shunned due to its supposed association with obesity and other disorders. Here is a critique on ghee which provides interesting reading.  

"Unless it was for very special occasions, ghee was a no-no-a victim, as it were, of the generalized, worldwide war on fats. But as science has evolved and shown that fat is less likely to cause heart disease and diabetes than previously believed, ghee is once again coming into the spotlight, Dr. Patel says, among Indians and a wider number of Americans. In fact, it's even used in some cleanses, such as The Whole30 Program.
"Science has shown us that it isn't really the amount of fat in a diet that's a culprit of heart disease and diabetes, it is the high amount of carbs," he says. "Basically, more research has shown that the link between saturated fats and heart disease is much more tenuous than it was believed it to be. There's a growing body of research that has shown that a high carb diet is more linked to heart disease than the high fat connection, except for trans fat." Ghee is butter made from organic cow's milk that is melted over a low heat and allowed to simmer until all of the milk solids are gone and the milk proteins that are the culprit of dairy allergies in many people are also removed. The removal of these milk proteins is what makes ghee the choice over butter in cleanses. The spread is best when it's handmade in small batches, notes Amy Keller, a nutritionist and national educator for Organic India, whose made-in-India ghee is becoming more popular here in the U.S., and it has to be made at the right temperature: "It should not be rapid boiled, because this is what makes the oils rancid, and it's not good to be eating rancid oils," she says. Ghee is full of vitamins A, D, E and K, which are fat-soluble, meaning they have to be digested with other fat molecules in order for these vitamins to make it into our bloodstream, according to Patel. It is the dietary fats in the ghee, in particular the saturated fats, that make our bodies absorb and make use of these vitamins, he says. Unlike other oils and fats that break down under high heat and release free radicals, ghee has a high smoke point, Patel says, so it doesn't release free radicals that can damage cells, making it an ideal cooking oil or replacement for butter. Ghee is also high in conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs), which are fatty acids that fight against free radicals. Studies have shown that CLAs are not only vital to weight loss, but they are also increasingly being studied for their anti-cancer properties, notes Patel. "Another area that we're starting to see more information on is that ghee contains butyrate, which is extremely important for the health of your colon," Keller says. "Butyrate is a fatty acid that can reduce intestinal inflammation, so ghee would be one of the best foods for intestinal health and strength."

Probably there is a logic as well as science in the argument in the above article. Except for absence casein in the ghee, composition of butter should be almost same as that of butter and therefore saying ghee is far superior to butter may be some what misplaced.However it is true that ghee properly made has a flavor which can be savored for a long time. Also ghee is unlikely to be spoiled due to microbial contamination, unlike butter, and hence can be stored for long time under ambient conditions without the need for refrigeration. Long back USA was generously supplying butter oil and skim milk powder to India because of enormous surplus available then. In fact the operation flood of late Dr Kurien would not have become a reality but for this initial input from foreign countries. The dairy infrastructure created during early periods of operation flood was financed out of the butter oil and skim milk powder received as donations. Butter oil is not same as ghee as it has no flavor at all which is suited for reconstitution into fluid milk.  



The ever expanding population globally has raised specters of famine, hunger and high mortality in the coming years. This is because of the perception that the pace at which food production is increasing is not in tune with population growth. There are conflicting views regarding the ability of mankind to repeat the story of Green Revolution with one section of pundits optimistic about the future prospects while others are not so sure. Added to this, inequality in availability of food among people in different economic strata, makes the situation more confusing. If one goes by average figures probably what is produced to day should be sufficient to meet the per capita need of every denizen in the world. But taking umbrage under this can be just self-defeating. Here is a macro view of the future food possibilities as being projected by  some scientists in the US

"The UNL study indicates that about 30% of major global cereal crops -- including rice, wheat and corn -- may have already reached their maximum yields. In fact, yields of these crops seem to have already hit a plateau and some are already decreasing, especially in eastern Asia, Europe and the United States. "We found widespread deceleration in the relative rate of increase of average yields of the major cereal crops during the 1990-2010 period in countries with greatest production of these crops," says an article based on the study in Nature Communications. The article notes that there was a noticeable plateau or drop in crop yields in 44% of examined cases, which together accounted for 31% of total global rice, wheat and corn production.
In the past, previous projections of future food production trends were based largely on positive assumptions about yields: that food production would grow in tandem with the human population, as it has historically. Past trends were often dictated by the development of technologies or breakthroughs that enabled increases in crop yields, such as specialized varieties of wheat and rice, irrigation infrastructure and commercial fertilizers and pesticides. Even with continued use of these technologies, the UNL researchers found crop yields were still stabilizing or decreasing, even in areas that have been prolifically productive in the past. At the same time, the human population is expected to add another 2 billion over the next few decades -- reaching 9 billion by midcentury. Considering that the global population gets 75% of its dietary nourishment from four crops that include corn, wheat and rice, the study could have serious implications for food security. This is not even considering climate change, which might further compromise yields. "On a global scale, we can see pretty clearly significant changes in the weather for most places where we grow crops," agricultural scientist David Lobell of Stanford University's Woods Institute for the Environment told Scientific American in June 2011. "Those changes are big enough to sum up to pretty big losses for wheat and corn." UNL researchers calculated that the stagnation and decline of cereal crops could affect 33% of major rice-producing countries and 27% of major wheat-producing countries. China experienced a 64% decline in the rate of corn yield increases between 2010 and 2011, and its wheat yields have remained relatively static. The United States has also maintained a linear yield of corn in recent years despite a 58% increase in research and development funding for the crop".

There is some logic in the analysis of the above scientists and they have cited the declining trend of productivity from land as the major reason for the skepticism. The powerful GMO lobby is exploiting this situation by pushing their technology as an answer for future without substantiating their claim of the ability of GM technology to increase productivity significantly.There are some who even propose tapping unusual foods such as that from insects to augment global food supply! Sadly no thought is being given to optimum use of existing production capacity and large scale diversion of wheat and corn for animal feeds and alcohol production can be termed as criminal in the face of global hunger realities. If the productivity of land is diminishing due to limitation of technologies or destruction of soil health due to mono culture cultivation in many countries, what could be the alternative options to mankind? Probably cutting down on meat production and consumption which has a bearing on the worsening of global weather conditions and net availability of food grains for human consumption, may be one option. On a long term basis reclaiming soil health and use of multi culture agricultural practices may be another option. Unless international community put their heads together, pool their resources, make some sacrifices, there may not be any hope for future.    



There is general perception that business organizations have profit upper most in their mind ignoring all other interests of importance to the society at large. Food industry in general and consumer groups are always on a collision course during the last 100 years of history because of this wide spread perception. The most recent conflict regarding the demand by consumers in the US for declaring presence of GMO ingredient in packed food is an apt example of this universal syndrome. In India the jute industry, which is one of the largest in the world, is being accused of seeking killing profits by diverting their products to open market violating the law of the country which stipulates that 80% of the jute bags produced by them must be given for food grain packing. Under the present conditions in the country where silos are far and few and plastic bags are not suitable for grain packing, jute is the only option and India is a top grain producing country in the world needing substantial quantity of jute bags.Here is critique on this new conflict between the jute industry and government of India vis-a-vis jute bag supply.   

"The Jute Commissioner has leveled serious charges and pulled up the jute industry for faltering on commitments by diverting jute bags to the open markets to secure higher prices. The bags were meant for supplying to government procurement agencies to pack food grains in 2012-13. The industry has been accused of making misleading statements on the decision taken by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA). On November 28, CCEA decided to de-reserve the Jute Packaging Materials Act (JPMA), 1987 and allowed use of plastic bags, replacing jute bags for packing 80% sugar and 10% food grains produced in the country in 2013-14. As per the Act, it is mandatory for the government procuring agencies to pack the entire food grains and sugar in jute bags.In a letter to the Union textiles ministry, the Jute commissioner Subrata Gupta held that in 2012-13, the jute mills preferred to sell in the open market and were thus unable to supply to the government indented quantities meant for packing of food grains. To cope up with the situation, the government was compelled to dilute the reservation order. In 2012-13, the CCEA decided to use 60 %  plastic bags for packing sugar and 10% for packing food grains. Gupta said there are number of precedents to prove that the jute industry is incapable of supplies. Therefore, the government has decided to use plastic bags".

One may ask as to why there should be government control of an industry, especially under the liberalized economic regime adopted by the country since nineteen nineties. If one goes back in history, it becomes clear that jute industry actually wanted government prop for survival and accordingly government made it compulsory to use jute bags for packing food grains. This gave a big fillip to the jute industry which got a captive market for decades. Now that new awareness about plastics and their unsustainability has dawn on many countries, natural fibers like jute and coir started getting more attention and consequently are in greater demand.Either government must make the industry free from its legal obligations or enforce the legal steps to ensure 80% of production is supplied by the industry to the food grain industry. There are alternatives like plastic woven sacks which cal also be used for food grains packing though they are not amenable for sampling or using hooks to handle them. h



From time to time claims are made by scientists regarding the impact of their research on human health but often these claims are made based on limited studies of improper research design or part of academic studies of research students engaged in Ph.D thesis writing. No doubt some studies are sound in concept and bring out some new aspects that may have some use in understanding the food system better. The recent claim made by a group of scientists in Mexico regarding processing of carrots to get useful chemicals that can fight Cancer, Flu CVD, nerve degeneration etc is such a study which has some novelty and potential  in it. If proved by independent studies, the research efforts of this group have to be applauded. Here is a take on this new revelations and its utility to human race. 

"Scientists have developed a new technology that uses grated carrot to obtain natural compounds, which they claim have the potential to prevent cancer, flu, cardiovascular diseases and neurodegenerative conditions. Researchers from the FEMSA Center of Biotechnology at Technologic of Monterrey (ITESM) designed the technique, which also allows them to obtain shikimic acid - a substance which is a raw material used to produce antiviral drugs for influenza. Currently the production of bioactive compounds in plants is accomplished by genetic engineering; however, this new process employs an alternate technique in which the tissue is stressed by cutting and applying herbicides. The project, lead by Daniel Alberto Jacobo Velazques, won the National Award in Food Science and Technology (PNCTA) 2012 in the Technology Professional in Food category. The award has been given and organised for 37 years by the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT) and the Mexican Industry of Coca-Cola. Velazques explained that they activate the carrot's metabolism using cut stress (grating), and then the carbon flow of its metabolism is modulated by applying an herbicide called glyphosate that inhibits enzymes. This technique makes it possible to accumulate great amounts of shikimic acid and phenolic compounds in the plant tissue".

As the group won an award for innovation in food technology from the Mexican Council of Science and Technology, it can be presumed that the scientific claim had undergone peer review making it credible. The development is indeed path breaking and international bodies must take this up for further studies and make this useful to the whole human race. It is for an agency like WHO or FAO to take note of this development. 


Thursday, January 16, 2014


Who ever has not heard about the failure of ballot initiative last year in California, USA to mandate food industry to declare on label of every product whether it contains ingredients derived from a genetically modified raw material? Massive funds infused by a few industry giants monopolizing on GMO food and seed production were found to be responsible for the defeat of the initiative at that time through misleading campaign to convince the gullible consumers that GM foods are safe. Fortunately a plethora of consumer activist organizations did not give up their efforts and in more than 100 cities demos were held against GM foods. Many countries banned GMO foods from the market and at least two states in the US also set up laws mandating compulsory labeling. Now that the anti-GMO movement has become a whirlwind threatening to annihilate the food industry in the country, an attempt is being made to bring about a national law applicable in all states to put on the label some sort of declaration about GM ingredients. Whether this is due to real feeling by the industry about the welfare of consumers or just a strategy to preempt more states from compulsory labeling regulations is a matter of speculation right now. Here is a take on this new developments in the GM food front in the US. 

"The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents more than 300 food companies, is preparing a petition to the chief U.S. food safety regulator and a push in Congress to require changes in oversight and labeling of new genetically modified foods, an association leader said Monday. The double-pronged strategy, which the group expects roll out early this year, is aimed at squelching state-by-state efforts to mandate labeling of foods containing biotech crops, and at the same time setting a standard that among other things would authorize GMO foods to be touted as "natural." GMO and natural labeling issues have prompted scores of lawsuits around the country and a mix of practices by different food companies. More than two dozen states are examining GMO labeling laws, and state ballot measures in California and Washington have cost the food industry more than $70 million in campaign spending to defeat. "We should not be making food safety labeling decisions through a patchwork of state laws," Louis Finkel, executive vice president of government affairs for the GMA, said in an interview. Finkel said his group has been working with a broad coalition, including biotech crop developers, to put together its legislative and labeling proposals. He would not say which lawmakers the group was working with on the legislation but that it should be introduced soon. The legislation would mandate consistent labeling of non-GMO and GMO foods, while nullifying state laws not identical to the federal law. Another provision would make it mandatory for biotech crop developers to notify the Food and Drug Administration before they introduce a new genetically modified crop to the marketplace - currently that notification is voluntary".

Most probably the industry is terribly worried about facing 50 different regulations in various states which can create lot of chaos for the manufacturers and interstate movement of packed foods may be seriously affected. Imagine the nightmare of a company to design 50 different labels for selling their products in all the states! This must have forced them to climb down from their rigid stand of opposing compulsory labeling till recently. Consumers must be alert to prevent any "wishy washy" arrangement in collusion with the FDA to dilute the declaration and get away with it.  



The proportion of old age population is increasing in all countries and there is a big dilemma regarding the role of government in protecting these fragile people most of them requiring help, sympathy, love and physical assistance. The relationship between the parents and their off springs get stressed gradually as the latter branch into their own lives after marriage. In a country like the US there are good facilities with specialized care norms to take care of old people provided the expenses are met by themselves or their relatives. Still many old age people like to lead an independent life without depending on any one. World over there are millions of people past the age of their active life, living singly if a widow or a widower or as couples. But their daily life is a drudgery finding it difficult to "pass" time when they are not sleeping. A peculiar problem that has come to surface vis-a-vis old people in New York involves restaurants where old people occupy the seats in side the restaurant for hours together which affect the business of the latter. Here is a take on this interesting scenario which probably might not have any solution immediately. 

"For the past several months, a number of elderly Korean patrons and this McDonald's they frequent have been battling over the benches inside. The restaurant says the people who colonize the seats on a daily basis are quashing business, taking up tables for hours while splitting a small packet of French fries ($1.39); the group say they are customers and entitled to take their time. A lot of time. "Do you think you can drink a large coffee within 20 minutes?" David Choi, 77, said. "No, it's impossible." And though they have treated the corner restaurant as their own personal meeting place for more than five years, they say, the situation has escalated in recent months. The police said there had been four 911 calls since November requesting the removal of the entrenched older patrons. Officers have stopped in as frequently as three times a day while on patrol, according to the patrons, who sidle away only to boomerang right back. Medium cups of coffee ($1.09 each) have been spilled; harsh words have been exchanged. And still — proud, defiant and stuck in their ways — they file in each morning, staging a de facto sit-in amid the McNuggets. "Large group — males, females — refusing to get up and leave," read the police summary of one 911 call placed on Jan. 3 at 2:30 p.m. "The group passed a lot of sit-down time. Refusing to let other customers sit." Neither a Burger King nor another McDonald's, both within a few blocks on Northern Boulevard, has the same allure. Workers at the restaurant say they are exasperated".

One of the solutions could be for the restaurants to levy a charge on such customers based on the number of hours they spend with them. It is similar to the waiting charges paid for taxis or rentals paid to transit waiting lounges. Also possible is to earmark a separate area within the restaurant for elderly people and if the seating capacity is limited there will be an automatic ceiling on the number of people who can enter the restaurant. The eateries will be justified in restricting the entry to the main eating area for genuine customers who can spend a reasonable time eating their food. It will be interesting to see how this social problem is going to be dealt with in the above case.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014


India is a country which cannot be fathomed by its own people! A bundle of contradictions which can never be resolved even by God himself! This country can send probes to Venus but cannot ensure that its people are protected from the fraudsters who are omnipotent in every walk of life. There is a neck and neck competition between India and China for the numero uno position with respect to food adulteration and both countries do not seem to be so much concerned about the consequences of such unbridled  fraud practices by the food sector that can affect the health of their hapless citizens. For a number of decades there was the famous (or is it infamous?) PFA in India which was so toothless that there were not even 500 convictions an year for food frauds in a country of more than a billion population. Then came a new "Avatar" romantically named FSSAI which replaced the PFA of 1956. There were hopes that things would improve and citizens can access to safe foods under the watchful eyes of this Authority comfortably located in the air conditioned offices in Delhi. The most visible accomplishment of this agency is to force every one handling food (mercifully except the consumer) to take a license from it or go to jail! Even a home food maker selling food preparations must obfuscate before it, if to continue to do "business"! What they will do after licensing is known only to the babus who run FSSAI! Here is a take on this latest "time bomb" ticking on the "head" of food sector in India. 

"The official said food sellers who continued to stay in business without registration or a licence after the February 4 could face imprisonment up to six months and fine of Rs. two lakh. College, school and industrial canteens too will have to either register with or obtain licence from the Food Safety and Standards Authority to remain in business legally. "The new rules are applicable to anyone involved in food business, including those who operate storage space for import or export purposes," said the official. Toddy shops and meat sellers too come under the FSSA rules and need either licence or registration. Though the validity of the old food safety regime under Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Act ended in March 2011, food businesses have been given time till February 4 to change over. Under PFA rules, local bodies issued licences and registrations to food businesses. According to the FSSA official, businesses with a turnover of up to Rs. 12 lakh a year need only register with the authority. Others with a turnover of more than Rs. 12 lakh a year need to obtain a licence."

It is unthinkable that a monolithic organization like FSSAI can do efficiently what it has declared it would do. Where are the personnel or for that matter the infrastructure to monitor millions of food handlers spread across the country and prosecute defaulters promptly? Does the country have sufficient legal facilities to bring to book culprits identified by FSSAI? What about the prison facilities? If properly followed up more than 50% of country's food business owners would be in jail! It may be too harsh to speak in such terms but it is the bitter reality facing the country. Unless a more practical approach and strategy is thought of India's food safety credentials will always be compromised. 



Remember the famous Dolly of cloning fame? The cloning technology which was tried out to create replicates of healthy animals came with lot of uncertainties including low success rate, high mortality of the clones and deformed progeny. Though technically it is a clean technology not much attention was given in the West for making it a commercially viable one during the last two decades. Now comes the news that Chinese are using this technology to create healthy clones with 70-80% success rate. Here is what has been gleaned by a visitor from one of the cloning facilities in that country. 

"Run by a fast-growing company called BGI, this facility has become the world's largest centre for the cloning of pigs. The technology involved is not particularly novel - but what is new is the application of mass production. The first shed contains 90 animals in two long rows. They look perfectly normal, as one would expect, but each of them is carrying cloned embryos. Many are clones themselves. This place produces an astonishing 500 cloned pigs a year: China is exploiting science on an industrial scale." Start QuoteIf it tastes good you should sequence it... you should know what's in the genes of that species" To my surprise, we're taken to see how the work is done. A room next to the pens serves as a surgery and a sow is under anaesthetic, lying on her back on an operating table. An oxygen mask is fitted over her snout and she's breathing steadily. Blue plastic bags cover her trotters. Two technicians have inserted a fibre-optic probe to locate the sow's uterus. A third retrieves a small test-tube from a fridge: these are the blastocysts, early stage embryos prepared in a lab. In a moment, they will be implanted. The room is not air-conditioned; nor is it particularly clean. Flies buzz around the pig's head. My first thought is that the operation is being conducted with an air of total routine. Even the presence of a foreign television crew seems to make little difference. The animal is comfortable but there's no sensitivity about how we might react, let alone what animal rights campaigners might make of it all. I check the figures: the team can do two implantations a day. The success rate is about 70-80%".

Though there is nothing so surprising regarding this news report, what is not clear is the intention of the venture in producing just 500 clones an year which cannot be considered a viable production scale by international standards. Is it possible that these clones are used to raise new generation pigs with high quality in other commercial centers? The cost of production of clones is also not clear. As Chinese are obsessively secretive, one will never know what logistical problems are being faced by these ventures. One of the observations made by the visitor pertains to the relatively unhygienic conditions prevailing in this facility. Elsewhere in the world it is unthinkable that such high tech work is carried out in such a callous way with no air conditioned facility and flies swarming the place! 



Microwave oven is a standard fixture in most of modern kitchens through out the world. Many house wives do not have complete awareness about the practical problems inherent in the day to use of this gadget. Here is a reproduction from a note recently appearing in the Web which can be of some educational value.(

"Have you thought about that box in your kitchen? You know, the one that you use to re-heat leftovers or thaw out that chunk of rock-solid meat from the freezer?
Did you know there are specific food safety rules for the microwave?
When cooking in a microwave, arrange food evenly in a covered dish to allow for even cooking.
Stir or rotate food midway through the microwaving time to eliminate cold spots where harmful bacteria can survive.
Internal temperatures
Use a food thermometer or the oven's temperature probe to verify the food has reached a safe minimum internal temperature.
Cooking times might vary. Remember to allow standing time, which completes the cooking, before checking the internal temperature with a food thermometer.
Here are the safe minimum internal temperatures;
• For steaks, chops, roasts (beef, pork, lamb, veal), cook to a minimum temperature of 145°F
• For ground beef, pork, lamb and veal ,cook to a minimum temperature of 160°F.
• Cook all poultry to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F
• Cook egg dishes and casseroles to 160°F
• Reheat all leftovers to 165°F.
Cooking whole, stuffed poultry in a microwave oven is not recommended. The stuffing might not reach the temperature needed to destroy harmful bacteria.
Defrosting food
So what is the best way to defrost food in your microwave? Did you know that the foam trays that meat is packaged on are not heat stable in the microwave?
If you haven't done it, I am sure one of your kids has microwaved a Styrofoam cup or tray into an unrecognizable white glob. This warping or melting of the foam might cause harmful chemicals to migrate into your food, so we recommend that you take the food to be defrosted out of its packaging, place it on a microwave safe plate or bowl and cover it with a lid or microwave-safe plastic wrap to hold in the moisture and provide safe, even heating.
If you are defrosting meat, poultry, egg casseroles or fish in the microwave, it is important to cook them immediately after defrosting.
Some areas of a frozen food might begin to cook during the defrosting process, so it is important not to hold the food for cooking later.
The very best method for defrosting is to use the refrigerator, but as you know, that takes time.
Microwave basics
Ready-to-eat foods such as hot dogs, luncheon meats, fully cooked ham and leftovers should be heated in the microwave until they are steaming hot.
Only use cookware specifically manufactured for use in the microwave.
Glass, ceramic and all plastics should be labeled for use in the microwave.
Microwave plastic wraps, wax paper, cooking bags, parchment paper and white microwave-safe paper towels should be safe to use.
Do not let plastic wrap touch foods during microwaving. Never use thin plastic storage bags, brown paper or plastic grocery bags, newspapers, or aluminum foil in the microwave oven.
Also remember that plastic storage containers, such as margarine tubs, take-out containers, whipped topping bowls and other one-time use containers should not be used in the microwave.
These containers can warp or melt, possibly causing harmful chemicals to migrate into the food.
It is important also to remember to keep your microwave clean.
Food that is left sticking to the inside of the microwave can cause a food safety hazard. It should be cleaned regularly.
A bit of fun
Now that you have the rules of the road for microwaving safely, do you want to have some fun?
Get some marshmallows -- one or two is all you need. Place them in your microwave on a paper plate, set you microwave to cook for about 1 minute , turn out the lights and watch the magic.
What started out as a pingpong ball-sized marshmallow will expand into a baseball sized creation.
One word of caution: Watch the marshmallows very carefully, they can burn rather quickly.
Always remember to be safe whether it be cooking, defrosting, reheating or simply watching marshmallows transform in the microwave.
For more food safety information you can go to



It is well known that Americans have the weakest bellies in the world with food borne diseases affecting almost 50 million people annually. This must come as a surprise considering that this country is a leader as far as food safety management expertise and infrastructure are considered. Probably over obsession with hygiene and sanitation must have led to this situation where the immunity development process, especially during early childhood through exposure to multitude of microorganisms, is not allowed to proceed by over cautious parents and the society in general. No wonder American hygiene and sanitation industry thrives on this facet of lives of the citizens. Use of hundreds of chemicals as sanitary aids and over use/unnecessary use of antibiotics compound this problem further. The state of California which is the largest in the US has recently introduced a law that stipulates mandatory use of disposable gloves by any one handling prepared foods. This is indeed a revolutionary intervention by a state in the interests of its citizens and must be applauded. However the practitioners of food preparation and food vending community are reported to be unhappy with this intervention by the state as they feel that their culinary skills are adversely affected by this law. Here is a commentary on this latest development which can be a test case for other states and countries elsewhere in the world before considering enforcing any such regime in their own backyard.  

"Chefs aren't the only ones affected by a new food safety law that bans culinary workers from touching certain foods with their bare hands. Like chefs, bartenders have to wear gloves or use other utensils to make their drinks. No touching ice, fruit garnishes or anything else that goes directly into your glass. Changes to the California Retail Food Code that went into effect at the beginning of 2014 require disposable gloves or utensils such as tongs, paper or scoops to be used when handling "ready-to-eat" foods, which include sushi, bread, deli meats and fresh fruit and vegetables. Basically, nothing that won't be cooked or reheated before it goes out to diners can be touched with bare hands. "Technically speaking, these rules do apply to bars," says Angelica Pappas, a spokeswoman for the California Restaurant Assn. "It's been a common question we've heard ... so there may be more information to come on this in guidance documents from the health inspectors." Bartender Matthew Biancaniello says he has experimented with gloves in the past. "I felt really suffocated by it," he says. Biancaniello uses so many ingredients, garnishes and cooking methods for his drinks that he has been referred to as a "cocktail chef." "I'm always touching any kind of herbs from my garden, touching persimmons to feel for their plumpness or softness. "But the gloves thing, even when I go to buffets and see it, I flinch a little and think 'hospital.'" Chefs have reacted negatively to the new law, which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown and went into effect at the beginning of the year. Many have called it ineffective and wasteful, and some -- in particular sushi chefs -- have said that it will be detrimental to their dishes. In an effort to educate restaurant operators and health inspectors, the law will undergo a "soft roll-out" during the next six months to a year, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. No points will be deducted when food handlers are not wearing gloves, but restaurant operators will receive a warning instead".

One has to concede that the new law is well intended  and has the welfare and safety of the citizens in mind. Probably America has no choice but to take such actions to protect the citizens who already have the lowest immunity against food borne infections. Before considering introducing such laws in other countries, most important consideration should be their practicality under the conditions existing in each country. For example such a law may be almost useless in a country like India where most eateries are in the unorganized sector and enforcement will be a nightmare. Putting such laws in the statute books has no sanctity if they cannot be enforced through professional personnel and a huge infrastructure. The impending compulsory licensing regime supposed to kick in India from February 4 this year under the FSSAI rules may be intended to keep a watch on the food handling industry as a whole but at best it can be a sterile exercise with dilapidated infrastructure, inefficient enforcement personnel and grossly understaffed work force in place at present. Hopefully things may improve one day when a more dynamic food safety chief and truly international standard infrastructure with adequate funding are forthcoming.   


Tuesday, January 14, 2014


There was a time when Indian farmers were mercilessly being exploited by the so called middlemen and the rural money lenders and with the yield of crops being one of the lowest in the world farmers seem to have destined to be poor perennially! Lot changed with the arrival of Green Revolution which saw tremendous increase in land productivity and the policy of the government in arranging for the purchase of the crops at minimum support prices provided significant relief to the growers. While this is true with respect to food grains, the growers of fruits and vegetables could not share this development as no government was bold enough to provide support, especially for marketing the highly perishable crops, leading to perpetual wastage and shortage of these protective foods in the country. Naturally such a condition is ripe for middlemen to exploit them making killing profits through market manipulation and high interest money lending. Agricultural Producing Marketing Centers under the surveillance of the government was intended to ensure fair price to the growers through transparent deals. Unfortunately these Centers are not fulfilling the purpose for which they were set up and instead they have become the cause for run away food inflation in the country presently being witnessed. Here is a commentary on this saga of Indian horticultural produce growers vis-a-vis APMC.   

"The APMC law is nearly 50 years old. Almost  each state has one; it seeks to regulate the trade in agricultural commodities. The idea was to protect the interest of farmers and ensure trading becomes orderly. The Act resulted in creation of regulated markets, also called mandis; there are 7,246 of these. The average area served by a regulated market is 450 sq km. These mandis control almost the entire wholesale trade in agri goods. How these operate have a huge bearing on the retail prices of fruit, vegetables and other produce. A close look at the functioning of mandis suggests these neither protect the interests of farmers or orderly trade. "The auction is rigged, shortages are created and there is no transparency in the way traders extract commission. How else will you explain that onion prices, Rs 100 a kilo prior to the recent Assembly elections, started falling just after the elections," says a trader at Delhi's Azadpur mandi. A farmer in Uttar Pradesh's Hapur learnt the functioning of a mandi the hard way. He approached one mandi with nearly 50 kg of cucumber. Upon arrival, he was greeted by a group of traders who did an instant auction and decided a price far below the market one.  Having travelled quite a distance, there was no way he could take his produce back. "The actual farmer got a pittance for his produce but the trader sold the entire stuff at a huge premium to the retailer," says the farmer. "The process of auction at mandis is a sham. The same system has been followed since Independence. What is most bizarre is that the actual producer does not get to know the price at which he is selling till the auction is over and the auction winner reveals the final price," says Brahm Yadav, former chairman of the Delhi Agricultural Marketing Board that controls Azadpur mandi, one of the largest in the country. He adds hoarding and creating artificial shortages by not allowing an auction platform for commodities in demand for a few days, thereby creating price shocks, is a norm. He asks why there is no electronic auction and no effective system of communicating wholesale rates to consumers on a daily basis".

The above revelation is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in the country vis-a-vis growers of fruits and vegetables. With the arrival of foreign retailing giants in the country for which government bent backwards to accommodate them, the APMC Act in many states is scheduled to be axed, giving a free hand to the retailers to approach directly the growers for buying their needs of fresh produce. Some where on the way government seems to have forgotten that these players with deep pockets can arm twist the producers to surrender their produce at cheap prices. They just seem to be technology and money driven version of the traditional pre-harvest contractors of yesteryear who exploited the growers to the hilt! Governments, both at the State and Central levels have failed horticultural producers in a big way and a new breed of super producers have emerged who are taking a cue from imported fruits such as Apple to hike their prices to match those of imported ones! The result is that these protective foods have become some thing beyond the reach of most people in the country. Though NDDB was mandated to organize the fruit and vegetable growers into viable cooperatives and set up a mechanism to ensure remunerative prices, nothing much happened during the last two decades. If sugar cane growers can be organized as it has been done successfully in the past, there is no reason same cannot be repeated with horticultural produce growers. Obviously the necessary will is lacking to do this and a few super growers are taking advantage of the situation to inflate the prices as they deem fit!