Saturday, February 28, 2015

Salute the leader-The long journey of "Parle G"

Glucose biscuit is a unique product in the Indian market and there cannot be a cheaper "ready to eat" product more affordable than this in any market any where in the world. Whether one analyzes the cost based on energy, protein or any other parameter, glucose biscuit still comes out with flying colors compared to other food products. Who is responsible for making glucose biscuit so enormously popular in this country? Universally the answer is Parle Biscuits of Mumbai! The illustrious Chauhan family of Mumbai will always be remembered by Indians affectionately and respectfully with nostalgia as some of the major products like glucose biscuits, fruiti drink, Thumsup cola, Bisleri water, were all the creation of members of this family which served the country for more than 8 and a half decades. If Indians should be proud of our feats in food sector, which were threatened with extinction by a spate of "muscly" multinational food companies, we have to thank families like Chauhans, Aggarwalls (Haldiram), Bhujiawalas, etc . No wonder that these foreign companies are trying either to buy them out or imitate them to push them out of the market! It speaks enormously of their resilience and survival abilities that even 3rd and 4th generation successors are giving the MNCs a run for their money. Here is a commentary on the evolution of Parle G the most important icon of Indian food industry and its dominance of bakery products sector.      

"There is a spot where the warm aroma of fresh baking catches hold of anyone travelling in a Mumbai local train enroute Andheri and further north. A result of the busy ovens at the first factory of Parle Products baking a batch of the world's largest biscuit brand, Parle G. The company makes 400 million of those a day. Parle Products was established in 1929 to manufacture confectionery such as boiled sweets, after the promoter family, the Chauhans, bought a decrepit factory. Parle G was born as Parle Gluco a decade later, even as the bugle for World War II was sounded. Parle had to manufacture military-grade biscuits for British soldiers right after, but ensured that it could manufacture the nutritional Parle G for the common masses. Parle G, as we know it today, has grown to be bigger than any other biscuit brand in the world by carrying forward the same positioning from the thirties, perfected over the years with a resourceful knack for scale and self-sufficiency. Launched as an affordable source of nourishment (it underlined the calories in a pack at one time) to counter expensive, imported biscuits in the British Raj such as Jacob's (cream cracker of United Biscuits) and those of erstwhile large biscuit maker, Huntly & Palmers. Britannia, then based out of Calcutta (Kolkata now), was strong in the east, while Glaxo glucose biscuit, also imported, ruled over the south. Kamal Kapadia, who worked at Parle for 32 years and left as CEO, Bengaluru project, in 2004, says, "There were many local manufacturers in the early years, mostly cottage industries. Biscuits then would first mean glucose biscuits." Kapadia recalls that in 1960, Britannia launched its first glucose biscuit brand, Glucose D, later endorsed by Amjad Khan's Sholay avatar, Gabbar Singh in the 1970s. It was then that Parle Gluco started feeling the heat, even smaller players would imitate the pack and carry the suffix of 'glucose' in their names. People, especially who were not literate would just ask for glucose biscuits.  Munawar Syed, who worked on the Parle account from the seventies till the nineties, at Everest (now director at Triton), says, "People were confused by similar brand names. Glucose became generic. We did advertise the differences but then, took a call to change the name and ride more on Parle." In 1982, Parle Gluco was repackaged as Parle G. The company had earlier tried to battle knock-offs by imprinting the plump little girl (an illustration by Everest) on its packs, in the mid-seventies. It clicked with Parle G's target audience, kids and their mothers. Kapadia says Parle always believed in branding: "I still remember Parle G's taglines such as 'Often imitated, never equalled'". Parle was among the first advertisers to paint Mumbai's train compartments with Parle Gluco ads when the Indian Railways allowed it. It was the belief in branding that also made Parle G's makers self-reliant, build scale and maintain pricing. Kapadia says, "It wanted to sell biscuits in consumer-friendly packs, rather than leave them loose in jars." Parle resorted to importing and patenting its own packing machinery as early as the fifties. Praveen Kulkarni, general manager, marketing, and with the company since mid-90s, says, "Parle G, till the 1980s commanded over 95 per cent. The glucose market was 60-70 per cent of the overall market." Glucose is now 22 per cent of Rs 24,000 crore and Parle G is around 80 per cent of it, reaching 6 million outlets."

If there is a single product that a poor man in this country can buy it is Glucose biscuit which can be considered a complete food. To day every street corner shop through out the length and breadth of the country sells smaller packs of these biscuits at Rs 2, Rs 3, and Rs 5. Whether it is eaten as a quick bite or as a one time food during the day, glucose biscuit fills the role! Remarkably even MNC companies which are fighting for dominance in the market are just the followers and it will remain as one till the foreseeable future!  Talk about the price front and Parle has fulfilled its role as a counterbalance to the MNCs from escalating the price unreasonably as the latter is known to do when they achieve strangle hold on the market by virtue of their dominance. Glucose biscuit is one food product, which always held its price line in spite of inflationary pressure over the years. Imagine a kilo of glucose biscuit costs less than Rs 80 while the breakfast cereals being marketed by the MNCs cost beyond Rs 400 per kilo! Indian citizen must be grateful to Desi stalwarts like Parle for making this country an affordable one, especially for the poor and lower middle class people!


Friday, February 27, 2015

Solar power mission-A new thrust in the offing?

The growth of solar power generation has been phenomenal since 2010 and the output reached more than 3000 MW by 2014, expecting to attain a target of 100,000 MW by 2020. Government of India recently indicated in its Economic Survey that it intends to accelerate the pace of growth of this sector providing all the supports necessary. This is indeed welcome because India is suffering from acute shortage of power, estimated at 10-13% of the daily demand and solar power generated by giant projects like the one in the Sambhar Lake in Rajasthan capable of producing 4000 MW can provide great relief. Power and infrastructure are crucial if the government's "Make in India" dream is to fructify. Here is what the Survey tells us about the intention of the government and the country better succeed in this endeavor if further economic progress is to be achieved.

"The country's National solar Mission is being scaled up five-fold to 1,00,000 megawatts by 2022, says the Economic Survey for 2014-2015. "In the next five years proposals are likely to generate business opportunities of the order of $160 billion in the renewable energy sector," the survey says."It offers very good opportunity for businesses to set and scale up industry, leapfrog technologies and create volumes. Some of India's major immediate plans on renewable energy include scaling up cumulative installed capacity to 170 gegawatts (GW) and establishing a National University for Renewable Energy," it adds.
One of the major road blocks the country has to overcome is scarcity of land for setting up big scale plants while land acquisition poses another challenge. Currently we are witnessing the political charade being played out in the country by opposition parties and some NGOs in the name of a well meaning Ordinance that wants to accelerate pace of industrialization by making land acquisition with minimum hassles and fast. Solar power generation needs about a square kilometer of land for every 20-60 MW power out put and unless the plant size is big enough the cost of production cannot be brought down to make solar power competitive with others. A kWh power from imported coal is estimated to cost Rs 4-5 while solar power may cost Rs 7 per kWh till recently. Probably with lower cost solar panels being offered by China and increasing the capacity of the new plants to achieve scale of economy, the cost can be brought down to about Rs 5 per mWh soon. If the present government continues with its present strategy, India may become an energy self sufficient nation in not distant a future..


No banned pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables sold in Indian markets, so says the government!-How truthful is this assertion?

If we believe our ministers who rule us from time to time, irrespective of their party affiliations, Indian citizens should be the happiest lot in this world! Unfortunately by now every citizen knows that reality is totally different. Latest wisdom emanating from the health minister at Delhi is that vegetables marketed in India are safe with hardly 3% containing pesticide residues above the levels considered dangerous based on assessment of 25000 samples over a period of 3 years between 2011-2014 and further these produce did not contain any banned pesticide residues. Further he stated that only about 1.1% of 7500 fruit samples examined had such residues. Now we can go to sleep soundly after such an assurance was reiterated by the health minister of the country the other day, that too through our parliament! Let us see what he really said. The sample size used for estimating residue levels was slightly above 32 thousand during a span of 3 years when India produced over 240 million tons of fruits and 450 million tons of vegetables. Calculate yourself what is the percentage of production that was selected for residue analysis! Infinitely insignificant! Can the minister fool the people of this country with such misleading statements though he may qualify his statement implicating the previous regime under whom the bureaucrats collected this information!? Even assuming what he said was not a "cooked up" version of the real figures, is not his statement scientifically and statistically untenable? Read his "revelations" in the excerpts quoted below:   

"There has not been a single incidence in which residues of banned pesticides were found in vegetables and fruits in India, according to Dr Sanjeev Kumar Balyan, Minister of State for Agriculture. Ministry of Agriculture is implementing a program for 'Monitoring of Pesticide Residues at National Level' under which samples of vegetable and fruits are collected and analysed for the presence of pesticide residues. "No residues of banned pesticides have been detected in any of the samples collected under this program," said Dr Balyan in Lok Sabha on February 24, 2015. There have been reports in media about use of toxic substances like calcium carbide and oxytocin for early ripening of fruits and vegetables, he added. Clause 2.3.5 of Chapter 2 of Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition and Restrictions on sale) Regulations prohibits sale of fruits which have been artificially ripened by use of acetylene gas commonly known as carbide gas produced from calcium carbide. However, use of ethylene gas in low concentration exogenously to trigger ripening of fruits is considered safe. During 2011-2014, out of 25,664 vegetable samples, 764 (2.9%) samples were found to contain pesticide residues above the maximum permissible residues level (MRL). Out of 7,501 fruits samples, the residues above MRL were detected in 88 (1.1%) samples. However, none of the banned pesticides were detected, said Dr Balyan. The Registration Committee constituted under the provisions of the Insecticides Act, 1968 registers pesticides only after establishing their safety to human, animal and environmental health. Technical reviews are carried out from time to time and continued use of pesticides is permitted only if found safe. A 'Grow safe food' campaign has been initiated to carry the message of safe and judicious use of pesticides to farmers and other stakeholders. "A simple message on the five essential principles of judicious pesticide use - application of pesticides on the right crop, against pests for which the pesticide has been approved, at the right time, in approved doses, and as per approved method of application - is sought to be conveyed through hoardings, banners etc in regional languages in Gram Panchayats and rural areas," said Dr Sanjeev Kumar Balyan".

It may be worthwhile to recall two studies in the past on the same subject of pesticide residues in horticulture produce materials-one from Pune in 2014 and the other from Hyderabad in 2012. The Pune study found that during  April 2013 and January 2014, 96 samples of vegetables out of 345 analyzed had pesticide residues including banned ones like Chlordane, Carbofuron  and DDT while the Hyderabad study reported essentially the same with 18 pesticides being detected in fruits and vegetables sold in markets there. Interestingly the items analyzed included grapes, apples, brinjal, okra, bitter gourd, tomato, chilli, capsicum, cabbage and cucumber, all commonly consumed every day in this country. There have been hundreds of other studies also across the country most of them bringing out the bitter truth that pesticide residues are part of Indian life whether we like it or not! One expected from the present political dispensation ruling the country which claims it is party with a difference, not to sacrifice truth and cheat the poor citizen with such false assurances!


Traffic lights system for choosing right foods-Will it really work as expected?

Food package labeling system is intended to make transparent the nature of food inside a pack to the consumers and this is working reasonably well in many countries. Different countries follow different formats to compel manufacturers to disclose a few critical information about the contents inside a sealed food pack. There might not be 100% satisfaction among some consumers because many facts printed on such labels are "Greek and Latin" to them except may the expiry date! But it has to be conceded that the extent of information provided on labels reveal a lot about the nutritive value and type of additives added which give a fairly good idea about the contents and their nature provided these are given in a language that can be discerned by them. Still it is now believed that more than words and figures many consumers understand better if the same facts are presented through symbols or graphics. It is here the so called "traffic light" symbol system of presenting food as very good, good or not so good with each category represented by green, amber and red color. A recent news report from Australia that some schools are adopting this traffic light symbol format to guide the students to buy most nutritious food is indeed heartening. Here is a take on this encouraging development. 

"A "traffic-light" system ranking foods and drinks according to their nutritional value has been introduced to ACT school canteens, events and activities. Education and Training Minister Joy Burch will launch the new ACT Public School Food and Drink Policy on Friday. Under the policy, food will be placed into green, amber or red categories depending on nutritional value, with the traffic-light system to be applied to the sale of all food and drinks in school canteens and to all public school activities and events in Canberra.  There will be some exceptions for events such as school fetes or birthdays. The policy also prevents sugary drinks from being sold in public school canteens and bans vending machines on public school sites.  School staff will also be encouraged not to eat "red" or low nutritional value food or drinks in view of students while principals will be responsible for ensuring "red" food or drinks are not used as rewards or incentives for student learning.  Ms Burch said the government was committed to improving access to healthy food and drinks  in ACT schools.  She will announce a series of fact sheets  developed to support the food and drink policy and ensure it is consistently implemented across schools.  The fact sheets - which were developed following community consultation last year - include resources for canteens and parents about healthy lunchboxes and how to eat fresh. Ms Burch said the policy was part of a range of initiatives to improve healthy eating at ACT schools. "Our attitudes towards food are formed during childhood so it makes sense that once a child begins school, the school environment plays a role in influencing their food preferences," she said. "This new policy promotes a consistent, whole school approach to healthy food and drinks and will help develop healthy eating and drinking habits from an early age." ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Associations vice-president Hugh Boutler said the new policy provided support to parents looking to reinforce the importance of healthy eating to their children." 

The traffic light system for food labels is a relatively new initiative not liked by the food industry because of their apprehension that the market will be adversely affected. Unqualified support from British Medical Association and Food Standards Agency in UK lends it much credibility and reliability. Consumer is delighted about this development and wants this to be made mandatory. According to this system, a food product is classified into 3 categories based on the contents of total fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt in 100 g portion, Green light indicates that the product has total fat less than 3 g, saturated fat less than 1.5 g, sugar less than 5 g and salt less than 0.3 g per 100 g. On the other end, a red light will indicate that fat is more than 17.5 g, saturated fat more than 5 g, sugar more than 22.5 g and salt more than 1.5 g per 100 g. Amber color will indicate values in between the two extremes. Imagine what pleasure it could be for the families to shop looking for products with mostly green light as far as possible and avoid red light altogether. Over a period of time industry will learn to avoid red light on their label by making more nutritious and better products. In India the "green dot" printed on a label of a product denotes it is 100% vegetarian, containing no animal derived ingredients and population, especially those shunning animal products find this a great help in avoiding foods without this symbolic green dot. Government of India must now consider to introduce the traffic lights system to help its citizens, many practically illiterate, or at least unable to read English to wade through the isles of the super markets to pick and choose what they want without wasting too much time in deciphering what a product contains or does not contain through the verbose label! 


Thursday, February 26, 2015

The scourge called "Swine Flu"-Did we fail as a nation to prevent this epidemic?

Is the number of Swine Flu deaths reported in India so far really alarming? Rajasthan has already declared it as an epidemic while in other states the severity is much less. Still an average citizen in India has a few concerns about the safety for himself in spite of bland assurances from an insipid government that it does have a handle on the issue and advising him not to panic!  With the death toll mounting each day, how can the citizen be insulated from the ever blaring media reports about the dangers of Swine Flu? How can he be unconcerned about the ineffectiveness and unreliability of government promises and action when no less than the Health Minister of the country could not provide  a satisfactory answer in the Lok Sabha regarding the fate of 35 million dosses of vaccine lying with the government unutilized even when the people need them, at least in vulnerable states ;like Telengana and Rajasthan? What a tragedy! With thousands of brilliant scientists, especially in the area of pathogens-related area willing to help the government, no sincere attempt is being made to channel their skill, expertise and experience in tackling this emerging calamity. Here is a commentary on the on-going situation in the country vis-a-vis Swine Flu epidemic as obtaining now.

Surprisingly, most affected states, barring Rajasthan that has formally declared it an epidemic, are tending to underplay the threat. But the virus is displaying some distinctly odd characteristics this year, foxing experts - hinting at the need for out-of-the-box approaches. The approach of summer normally reduces the intensity of the seasonal flu infection, but has not done so this year. The other peculiarity, noticed and documented in Telangana, is that a sizable proportion of patients who have died due to swine flu belonged to the 17-40 age group. Normally, the H1N1 virus affects children and the aged more. Experts believe that the causative H1N1 virus may have either reasserted itself or mutated to develop added potency. Or, it may be turning less sensitive to anti-viral drugs. Both indications are scary and merit urgent investigation and well-crafted remedial strategies. Apart from these, the limited number of diagnostic laboratories and supply inadequacy of anti-flu drug Tamiflu or its generic version Oseltamivir are coming in the way of checking this virus. Many of the laboratories equipped to test H1N1 virus are charging as much as Rs 10,000 a test. Delhi has now capped charges to Rs 4,500, but few laboratories are observing this ceiling. The number of hospitals and chemists authorised to sell the anti-viral drug is too few to meet the growing demand. The procedure for accessing free medicines from the government outlets is cumbersome and time-consuming. With such being the ground reality, the government's response defies logic. Experts wonder why vaccination, as a preventive measure, is not even being considered although anti-flu vaccination is almost routine in many seasonal flu-endemic countries. An indigenous anti-H1N1 virus vaccine was developed by the Serum Institute of India way back in 2010, but it has remained, by and large, unused. The stocks of the vaccine produced by the institute every year during the flu season have to be destroyed for want of takers, while people are continuing to suffer due to this infection. The government has a duty to act on prevention, before this reaches epidemic status."

Recently one of the experts is reported to have said that Swine Flu would fade away with people developing what he called euphorically as "herd immunity"! This probably means that even if no corrective action is taken, people would develop immunity eventually after a few deaths! What callousness in uttering these words! Though hundreds of our law makers go on frequent foreign jaunts wasting crores of rupees through out the year, no one seems to be interested in observing and absorbing good things around them when they visit a country and behave more like carefree tourists enjoying the company of their families and friends at the expense of the public exchequer.  How they could have missed the way governments elsewhere in the world work to the benefit of their citizens whose life they value above every thing! For example in the US, every year the pathologists track the nature of virus that causes influenza, type them and prepare preventive vaccines well ahead of winter in adequate doses. At each and every public place free shots of this vaccine are given especially to vulnerable groups like children and old people. If accountability is the yardstick to measure efficiency of governance, then the present health minister may have any justification to continue in his post after bungling in this case for which country has already paid with the precious lives of almost 900 people so far!


Safety of caramel colored beverages-New concerns may be out of place

Hitherto Cola drinks were shunned by safety conscious consumers on account of their potential adverse impact on health as they are rich in sugars like High Fructose Corn Syrup or white refined sugar causing obesity and other life style disorders. Of course there is a caveat that such adverse effects can manifest only when there is continuous over consumption. It is least realized that a bottle of cola containing 300 ml of the drink has a minimum of 30 g of sugar which gets into the blood in one go and imagine the quantity of sugar ingested if multiple drinks are consumed during a day! Though policy makers want to curb consumption of such sweetened beverages through mandatory regulations such efforts have been frustrated by the judiciary terming them as infringement of human rights! Now comes another concern that cola drinks which are colored using Caramel color derived from burnt sugar has a dangerous chemical artifact called 4-methylimidazole with a hazardous reputation. As usual those who raise red flag against presence of any unnatural chemical in a food or a beverage are up in arms against the cola industry and probably may launch campaigns to ban them altogether! How much truth is there in this assertion and should the innocent consumer worry about this so called danger? Read further below:

"In March 2012, a U.S. policy advocacy organisation found that 4-methylimidazole (4-MI), a chemical contaminant arisen from the formation of some caramel colourings, was present in cola drinks available in the U.S. market. Caramels are dark brown to black liquids or solids having an odour of burnt sugar. They can be used as food colour in a wide variety of foods, such as giving the distinctive brown colour to cola drinks. Caramel colourings are divided into four classes, namely Caramel I, II, III and IV with respective International Numbering System (INS) * number 150a, 150b, 150c and 150d. 4-MI is a contaminant in Caramel III and IV the manufacturing process of which involves the presence of ammonium compounds. The safety of 4-MI in food has raised concern because of its cancer-causing potential. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has evaluated the carcinogenicity of 4-MI and considered 4-MI as "possibly carcinogenic to humans" (i.e. Group 2B) solely basing on the studies in animals. Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) has not evaluated the safety of 4-MI. Nevertheless, during its evaluation on caramel colourings, JECFA opined that the acute neurological effects produced by high doses of 4-MI would not appear to be of major concern when caramel colourings containing small amounts of this contaminant are used in food. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has also evaluated the safety of caramel colourings and concluded that they are neither genotoxic (i.e. capable to cause damage to DNA), nor carcinogenic and that there is no evidence to show that they have any adverse effects on human reproduction or for the developing child. EFSA also considered that the highest exposure level to 4-MI that could result from the consumption of foods containing Caramel III and IV did not give rise to concern. Based on the highest detected level of 4-MI in cola drinks (i.e. 153 micrograms per 12 fl. oz. or about 360 mL) as reported by a U.S. policy advocacy organisation, a 60-kg individual would have to consume over 300 cans of that cola drink a day to reach the doses causing cancer in rodents after applying an uncertainty factor of 100. 
The Codex Alimentarius Commission has set provisions for the use of caramel colourings in a wide variety of food commodities. In Hong Kong, caramel is a permitted colouring matter under the Colouring Matters in Food Regulations. JECFA has set the maximum levels of 4-MI in Caramel III and IV in their chemical specifications to indicate good manufacturing practice. Some countries including the European Union, Mainland China and Korea have also set maximum level of 4-MI in Caramel III and IV. In the U.S., as stipulated in the Code of Federal Regulation, caramel colourings may be safely used for colouring foods generally, in amounts consistent with good manufacturing practice. Yet maximum level of 4-MI is not specified. However, in the U.S. State of California, 4-MI is a listed chemical known to cause cancer, effective since January 2011. Businesses are required to provide a "clear and reasonable" warning before knowingly and intentionally exposing anyone to a listed chemical".

The food safety authorities in the US has such a low credibility that their stand declaring caramel in food and beverages as safe may be viewed with some suspicion that it is influenced by the powerful food lobby which is known to financially contribute, rather liberally to the law makers during election times. But independent safety experts believe that the concentration of 4-MI in cola drinks is so low that it can hardly make any safety impact.  In a product like cola, if any harmful effect is to manifest one may have to consume at least 300 cans of the beverage a day! The safety clearance by European authorities clearly and specifically rule out any genotoxicity or carcinogenic effect on human beings by consuming such low levels of 4-MI. The World Health Organization also has set limits on using caramel in food products which are accepted universally setting to rest any apprehension on the part of the consumer community regarding this issue. As a general rule this Blogger does not agree with the industry that food products must be colored to make them acceptable or appealing to the consumers. Such addition of chemicals must be rarest of the rare for compelling or unavoidable technical reasons only.       


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Insatiable European "thirst" for biofuels-The impact on food front and hunger

Global warming is an issue which is critical to the survival of this planet. It is a common knowledge that unless we control and cut down on emission of green house gases due to massive burning of fossil fuels and operations of mechanized agriculture activities in many countries, the weather is bound to be unpredictable with nonseasonal and inadequate rains and heavy flooding that can disrupt food production very significantly in future. Concerned about depleting fossil fuels many countries have started extensive programs to tap other sources of energy with renewable credentials like solar rays, wind power, geothermal energy, wave energy etc which are showing highly encouraging results. But one jarring note in this endeavor is the program that entails use of food sources for conversion to biofuels. The gasohol program in countries like Brazil uses ethyl alcohol derived from corn or sugarcane juice for blending with fossil fuels at varying proportions to save on the former. Similarly Europe had chosen Palm oil as an automobile fuel to cut down on fossil fuel consumption. However these programs come with a heavy price that should bother the conscience of these countries. The catch is that valuable food materials, especially the ones going into the dining plates of millions of hungry people in 3 poor continents, are diverted for a non-food cause depriving them of their sustenance! Here is a take on this unimaginable catastrophe Europe is causing through its reckless policy of diversion of human food to meet its insatiable thirst for auto fuels for its wealthy citizens!  

"The core of this debate is the use of biofuels. Amid the claims that biofuels provide a green fuel for the future, they have quickly become synonymous with high, volatile food prices that jeopardise the right to food, affecting land and water resources, while threatening biological diversity. For the members of the European Parliament's Environment Committee casting their ballot tomorrow (24 February), they can choose what role biofuels should play in Europe's energy consumption. What this means is that they are choosing either to continue backing a policy directly responsible for pushing more people across the globe into hunger or to adopt a firm stance against food price volatility and the removal of resources that impact impoverished communities' ability to cultivate crops. The European Union has supported biofuels for 12 years, ignoring the damaging impact this has had to food prices. Take the cost of vegetable oil: if the EU were to scrap its backing for biofuels made from food crops, the price of this daily commodity in Europe could be 50% lower by 2020, and 15% lower worldwide. But it's not just jumped up food prices. Europe's biofuels policy has a similarly detrimental effect on the ability of poor people to grow their own food. The amount of global land used for crops is estimated by scientists to expand by 5.2 million hectares by 2020 due to the European thirst for biofuels - with three-quarters of this land being outside Europe. As more land and water is syphoned towards growing biofuel crops, less is available for small-scale farmers to grow the food they rely on, or bring to market. Biofuels also encourage speculation on land values and give rise to huge land acquisitions across the planet – with almost one in four transnational, large-scale land purchases linked to biofuel production. The current most at-risk areas are Sub-Saharan Africa, which is heavily targeted for land deals, and South East Asia, providing the most common European imported source of fuel for biodiesel – palm oil. These side effects of European biofuels policy are compounded by the failure of biofuels to live up to expectations of providing a climate friendly source of fuel. And under certain conditions, we know that biofuels have more negative effects on carbon emissions and the environment than using normal fossil fuels, if indirect changes to land use are taken into account, as they should be. A stable climate and healthy environment are fundamental to produce nutritious food for all, which biofuels damage while misleadingly claiming environmental benefits. When judged against this mounting evidence, it is clear that European biofuels policy as it stands is undermining global attempts to ensure that the world's poorest families can feed themselves, as well as to fight climate change."

Whether Brazil's sugarcane cultivation or Indonesia's growing Palm oil plantations, the first casualty is natural forests in existence for thousands of years which are denuded to plant these food materials yielding crops. Denudation of forests is known to cause major diruptions in weather patterns causing further agony to the people across the Globe. In some countries small and marginal farmers are being steam rolled to sell their lands to giant MNC cartels to raise these crops. Though Europe has been following a biofuel facilitation program for the last 12 years, it appears there are hard questions being raised about the ethics and morality of diverting valuable food crops for energy production. Whether the European law makers will have the courage to defy world outrage at their unjustifiable biofuel policy remains to be seen..


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"Ancient" food grains becoming "modern" ones! Food industry latching on this new consumer fad

Some time one keeps wondering as to how the food industry discerns what its consumers are really looking for and develop products that meet with their expectations? After all industry invests money for reaping profits commensurate with its spend and there fore would weigh carefully various options before them. To some extent it is not far from truth to say that many times consumer fears spawn a trend or a fad which is exploited by the industry to "feed" this fad! There are umpteen number of examples in the past to substantiate this view. Food products with low fat, low carbohydrate, low salt, low sugar, high fiber, high in antioxidants, free from gluten, rich in vitamins and minerals etc are all products that satisfy the consumers regarding their potential to stave of diseases. A normal person with a normal health does not need such specially "doctored" foods to lead a normal life and it is now well recognized that a mixed diet containing whole cereals, whole pulses, fruits, vegetables, milk with without animal foods can sustain the health of a healthy person with good quality life for a long span. To day's pace of life is such that the home cooking has become an almost extinct art or skill with most people depending on processed and packed foods containing highly refined carbohydrates, added sugars, added salt, added fat with practically no fiber and the result is there for all to see, manifested by the spawning of a host of life style disorders like diabetes, CVD, blood pressure, cancer, kidney ailments, liver disorders etc. In  a startling report recently some American scientists have come out with a finding of far reaching implications that a person consuming 33 g of whole grains a day can potentially reduce his chance of premature death by 9%! Since many people are imagining that  they are gluten sensitive or entertain a perception that gluten is bad, there is a distinct shift away from wheat and the industry is seizing this opportunity to develop newer products or modified erstwhile wheat based products using so called "ancient" grains to satisfy this craze for gluten free diet! Here is a take on this new fad which, till it lasts, may bring fortunes to the food industry ever ready to feed on such apprehensions, be it real or illusory! 

"One group of Harvard researchers recently released a study in the grain industry's favor. The findings showed that people could potentially decrease their risk of premature death by 9% if they ate at least 33 grams of whole grains a day, as compared to those who rarely ate whole grains. However, grains have also started to get edged out of healthy food diets due to concerns about gluten and heated debates over GMOs, which have sparkedproposed GMO bans, lawsuits, and labeling initiatives across the country. These concerns already partially contributed to the declining cereal sales of the past few years, and food companies fear that more grain-containing product markets could be next. Food companies are not at a total loss just yet. One way they've adapted to gluten-free consumer demands is to, rather than abandon grains altogether, instead use alternatives to corn, oats, and traditional wheat. Grains are making a comeback as trendy ingredients and finding their way back into health food circles thanks to sprouted grains and ancient grains. Companies are also using technology to reinvigorate the industry and reintroduce grains to the modern, savvy, health-conscious consumer. Still a small but fast-growing niche, sprouted grains are attracting more consumers and manufacturers around the world. In the U.S., where this niche is developing most rapidly, food and nutrition expert Julian Mellentin predicts the sprouted grain market will grow to more than $250 million in sales by 2018—more than eight times the current $30 million. The Whole Grains Council found that sprouted grains have health benefits over regular grains, such as higher levels of soluble fiber and certain vitamins and minerals as well as their nutrients' ability to better withstand heat processing. According to the USDA, sprouted grains, as compared to whole grains, contain around 75% of the carbs, around 40% of the fat, less gluten, and even a bit more protein. The body can also digest sprouted grains more easily, as the sprouting process pre-digests the starches into simple sugars. Consumer-wise, the major appeal of sprouted grains is for the average consumer who is either looking to cut carbs from his or her diet, particularly wheat and corn, or looking for better sources of "good carbs." For manufacturers, the benefits of sprouted grains are already recognized by many U.S. consumers—17%, according to one survey—which cuts down on the marketing needed to explain those benefits. Plus, manufacturers can sell these products at a higher price than those using traditional grain ingredients. While according to Mintel, companies released only 19 sprouted grains products in 2014, food companies big and small are jumping on the sprouted grains bandwagon. At the end of 2014, Kellogg announced seven new cereals, one of which was Kashi Sprouted Grains Multi-Grain organic cereal, made with oats, barley, spelt, and amaranth. Mainstream food retailer Sam's Clubnow offers sprouted seven-grain bread and dinner rolls from Angelic Bakehouse at all its 634 locations in the U.S. Even Panera Bread hopped onboard with its own sprouted-grain bagel containing rye, spelt, and oat groats. On the other end, in only three years, snack brand Way Better quickly grew its sales to $25 million after introducing its sprouted grains chips, made with flax, quinoa, kale, chia, and black beans, and crackers, made from barley, spelt, and emmer. Thanks to Better4U, consumers can even find Gluten Free Sprouted Ancient Grains Pizzas, which contain quinoa, flax, millet, and chia. Going hand-in-hand with sprouted grains are ancient grains, which more often than not overlap and can be found marketed either separately or together in the same product. While ancient grains are a fresh trend on western grocery store aisles, they're anything but new. The funny thing is, "ancient" grains aren't any older than oats or regular wheat. But they're more difficult to find and aren't crops that have been nearly as popular as the handful of grains that permeate the standard American diet. According to NPR, one of the first known references to the term "ancient grains" came in a 1996 New York Daily News article, though the concept didn't become mainstream until the past few years. Now, they're gaining speed, and "old" is becoming "new" again."

No doubt food grains of our ancestors were truly natural grown without chemical fertilizers or pesticides, besides not mutated to change their nutritional characteristics. For example to day's wheat originated from Einkorn which is more nutritious and less toxic to people with Celiac disease who cannot consume gluten containing foods. Same is true with many other grains like Quinoa, Chea, Amaranth, Farro, Spelt, Freekeh, Teff, Kamut, Kaniwa etc which are now being brought to lime light by health stores in the US claiming that they are much more healthy than wheat, rice or corn. There are many products already in the market containing one or more of these so called ancient grains because of expending demand from the consumers looking for better and safer diet. If this trend continues big guns of the industry can be expected to get into this bandwagon because of declining sales of conventional wheat and corn based products. Another section of industry is trying out a different strategy by using sprouted grains which are considered more nutritious than their fresh counterparts. One of the offshoots of this new trend is that industry is being forced to make healthier products using these grains due to the new consumer pull which is good for the people of that country!      


Monday, February 23, 2015

Nano Gold-A new approach to fight bad bacteria!

Gold is supposed to be in great demand globally because of its high value per se and the use it has for making jewelry items. A country like India boasts of a rich stock of gold in the form of jewelry hoarded by millions of families for wearing on festive occasions and as a tool of financial security and insurance against inflation. Industrially also gold is a valued material used in many electric contact applications and other special purpose applications by the industry. Of the 4000 tons of gold produced last year more than 50% is consumed by two countries-China and India. Interestingly Chinese use it for industrial applications while in India gold is largely consumed for jewelry. According to one estimate each cell phone produced has about 50 mg gold used for corrosion proof electric contacts. A new application just reported for gold relates to making nano particles from it for deploying against virulent bacteria and control infectious diseases. It was known that heavy metals like Silver, Copper and its alloys exert what is known as oligodynamic action on bacteria to kill them fast. Food and pharmaceutical industries make use of this property to disinfect water and other products and make them safer. However action of gold nano particles for antibacterial application is a new finding which may excite the industry as gold has a better credential as far as consumer safety is concerned. Read further below to understand the real implications of these findings.

"We've been hearing a lot about the antibacterial qualities of silver, with silver nanoparticles finding use in everything from water filters to food packaging. Unfortunately, there are also concerns about the toxicity of those particles, particularly when they enter our bodies. Now, however, Polish scientists have developed what they claim is a safer alternative -an antibacterial coating that kills microbes using gold. Developed at the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, the coating can reportedly be applied to a wide variety of surfaces. It's said to be very chemically stable, and is able to withstand repeated washings with antibacterial coating that kills microbes using gold. Developed at the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, the coating can reportedly be applied to a wide variety of surfaces. It's said to be very chemically stable, and is able to withstand repeated washings with detergent.The coating initially takes the form of liquid boron compounds which contain colloidal gold nanoparticles. The object to be coated is immersed in the solution, and a polymerizing agent is then added. This causes the liquid to form into a nanocomposite polymer, coating the surface of the object within about 12 minutes. In lab tests, populations of E. coli and Staph. aureus bacteria decreased by up to 90 percent within 12 hours of exposure to the nanocomposite. Unlike some other antibacterial coatings, however, this one doesn't kill bacteria by releasing anything into their environment. Instead, the gold nanoparticles stay put, and only affect microbes that come into direct contact with them. Not only is this quality claimed to make the coating safer for people and the environment, but it should also allow it to remain effective for longer.Additionally, the nanocomposite so far appears to be harmless to human cells. After being exposed to it for several months, four lines of human cells reportedly remained unharmed. In fact, cells even started growing on cotton wool fibers treated with it.It is hoped that once developed further, the coating could be used on things like wound dressings and other medical applications, along with consumer goods such as sportswear, socks and underwear". 

While such findings are nice to hear, what about the cost factor? Gold is more than 10 times the cost of silver and can industry afford to use it instead of gold? There appears to be an edge for gold over silver in that silver nano particles are not yet cleared for safety in human products because of its likely toxicity in the cells. Silver and copper are known to react with the enzymes like Lactate Dehydrogenase and Glutathione peroxidase, two vital enzymes in the cells necessary for metabolism. But gold is said to be free from such undesirable reactions though it is not yet established conclusively. A little known fact about silver is that it is ineffective against virus infection though it is not clear whether gold also suffers from this handicap. Historically the world had produced so far about 1.74 lakh tons of gold, most of which have been locked up in the vaults of various countries for ensuring their economic security and in millions of households in India as jewelry items, not put to effective use for the well being of human beings. If the present research bears fruition, at least gold may find a use for a noble cause.     .   


Olive oil and cancer-What can be the relation?

Why are some people so much obsessed with consuming olive oil? Is it for its flavor or nutrition? It depends on the perception of those who are prepared to pay a much higher price to buy it in spite of the fact that this is the most adulterated food items in the world. Since it is high cost oil, fraudsters find in this an excellent opportunity to make a fortune in double quick time. On an average a liter of organic olive oil can fetch almost Rs 3000 while the so called extra virgin olive oil with less than 0.8% free fatty acids costs Rs 300-1000 per liter depending on the brand. Though olive oil has been claimed to be helpful in preventing CVD and other arterial diseases, no conclusive scientific evidence has yet been generated to justify the same. No health authority any where in the world allow use of such unqualified claims on the label of the bottle. In Mediterranean countries olive oil is a common cooking medium and across the world it is cherished as an excellent salad oil for dressing. Of the 3 million tons world production Spain accounts for more than 40% followed by Greece and Italy. Greeks consume the highest quantities of olive oil, the annual per capita consumption being a whopping 26 liters! Olive oil contains many phenolic compounds some of which are of significance in human health and therefore unprocessed oil commends high prices as non-exposure to heat protects these phytochemicals. A recent report about the cancer curing property of a particular polyphenolic constituent viz, Oleocanthal if confirmed, may boost the intrinsic value of this plant oil in the coming years. Please read further below.  

An ingredient found in extra-virgin olive oil called oleocanthal has been known as a compound capable of killing a variety of human cancer cells, but how this process actually played out was not understood. Now, a team of researchers has uncovered not only how oleocanthal destroys cancer cells, but that it is able to do so while leaving healthy cells unharmed. Paul Breslin, a professor of nutritional sciences at Rutgers University, had thought that oleocanthal killed the cancer cells by targeting a key protein in cancer cells that triggers apoptosis, a process that sees dangerous or damaged cells self-destruct by upsetting the balance of ions in the cell membranes. In investigating this theory, he teamed up with David Foster and Onica LeGendre, two cancer biologists from New York City's Hunter College to more closely examine the process. "We needed to determine if oleocanthal was targeting that protein and causing the cells to die," says Breslin. What first surprised the scientists was how quickly the oleocanthal destroyed the cancer cells. While apoptosis requires between 16 and 24 hours to take effect, the oleocanthal was killing off the cancer cells within 30 minutes to one hour. This led the team to believe that there were some other factors at play. What they discovered was that the oleocanthal was piercing the cancer cell's vesicles, the containers that store the cell's waste. By puncturing these "dumpsters," as Breslin describes them, it creates an outpouring of enzymes that then cause the cell to die. "Once you open one of those things, all hell breaks loose," says Breslin. And when it came to the healthy cells, the researchers found that they remain completely unharmed. While the application of oleocanthal caused a temporary halt in their life cycles, after 24 hours they returned to normal. With the testing thus far carried out in the lab, the researchers say that they will now look to establish the effects of oleocanthal on cancer cells in living animals".

Originally the healthy aspect of oil was more related to the presence of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) like oleic acid with some beneficial effect on arterial health but there are less expensive oils like Sunflower oil which has more MUFA than that present in Olive oil (84% vs 72%. If so why go for Olive oil which is 10 times costlier than Sunflower oil? Probably demand for olive oil is driven more because of its delicate flavor imparted to it by the bitter poly phenolic chemicals, numbering of 30 in it expressed during cold mechanical pressing. Also there is a perception that olive oil is a good cosmetic ingredient with beneficial effect on skin besides its use in some pharmaceutical products. Ultimately the price in the market will be determined by the demand-supply dynamics and the prices are bound to rule high as long as its production is restricted to a few countries in the Mediterranean region.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Does solar energy collectors harm food security? No way

A British politician recently shocked the world with her reckless claim that large scale installation of solar panels would hurt the food security of that country, besides disfiguring the country side! Unfortunately this lady is the Environmental Secretary in the British cabinet and therefore one is left wondering whether the present government is backing her claim. While the whole world is putting their heads together to cut down on non-renewable energy sources like fossil fuels, this statement makes a jarring note. Probably in her simplistic mind, these solar panels hinder growth of animal farms which supply meat to the people in the country where imports of every thing is a rule rather than an exception. The million dollar question that begs for an answer is whether British government is giving priority to cut down their meat imports over import of planet destroying fossil fuels? Why is that Britain is thinking of increasing meat consumption when the health status of its population at best can be termed "fragile" with CVD, obesity and other food related disorders ravaging the country? Here is the logic expressed by this government fnctionary justifying her claim though it is not backed by any hard core evidence.   

"British food security is not being harmed by the spread of solar panels in the countryside as claimed by the UK's environment secretary, documents from her own department reveal. Liz Truss told farmers last October that they would no longer receive agricultural subsidies for land that had solar power on, saying the "ugly" panels were "a blight on the countryside and villages" and were pushing production of meat and produce overseas. "I am committed to food production in this country and it makes my heart sink to see row upon row of solar panels where once there was a field of wheat or grassland for livestock to graze," she was quoted as saying at the time. But environment department officials have admitted in private correspondence and documents released under freedom of information rules that they hold no data on the land covered in England by solar panels; they have no idea how much they will save in agricultural subsidies through the change; and the claim that solar power is harming food production does not stack up. "Given the small areas of land covered currently, it is not possible to argue that, at the national level, there is yet a serious impact on agricultural output," they write in a document outlining the evidence for the policy. PinterestLiz Truss, Britain's secretary of state for environment food and rural affairs. Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters The documents reveal officials trying to guess how much farmland is affected by extrapolating from the total amount of solar installed across the country and the total amount of farmland nationally because detailed data for the crossover of solar and agricultural land does not exist.They also show the National Farmers Union opposed the change, with the farming body saying it believed solar panels could coexist with agricultural activity such as livestock grazing and even some arable crops. The officials speculate on how much farmers with solar panels are receiving by way of payments under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), but admit "we have no hard evidence to back these figures up". Just two weeks before Truss made her announcement, one Defra official emailed colleagues saying they had no idea where to start looking for information on which large solar farms are also receiving agricultural payments. "Can either of you help with identifying some large scale solar farms in receipt of SPS subsidy? I don't know where to begin with this!" the official wrote on 9 October 2014. Submissions from solar power developers argued that solar farms complement rather than compete with agriculture. "35GW of solar farms generating 10% of the UK's electricity demand [nearly nine times the amount the UK has installed now] could be built on less than 1% of permanent pasture land without displacing any grazing sheep," says a slide by British solar company AEE Renewables, now known as Green Hedge. Truss's rhetoric in October was in line with her focus on championing British food since taking office last summer in which she has praised English and Welsh wine exports and penned comment articles lauding British apples. The sudden policy shift by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) added to the solar industry's woes, coming just months after the Department of Energy and Climate Change had made drastic changes to the subsidy scheme for large solar farms. Sources in the solar industry said the Defra policy change appeared designed to woo Ukip voters..Leonie Greene, a spokeswoman for the Solar Trade Association, said: "What we want is an evidence-based approach to policy. The impact of solar farms is negligible in terms of land take, many times smaller than golf courses. We've taken great care as an industry to avoid conflict with food production, and the co-existence of farming for grazing or poultry on low grade land is clear." Tess Sundelin, managing director at Green Hedge, told the Guardian: "These changes to CAP income are actually quite marginal for farmers. Our over-riding concern, given the significant income security and diversification that solar projects provide for the farming community, is the misconception amongst some policy makers about the land that solar farms cover." A Defra spokeswoman did not address the contradiction between Truss's public statements and her officials in private, but said: "The government believes that the country's highest quality land should be used for food and crop production. That is why we have taken the decision to remove Common Agricultural Policy payment from land used to generate energy through solar panels. This further protects our land, farmers and food security through redistributing payments to those farming the land and who are committed to agriculture."

Imagine the polluting potential of farm animals which are known to belch huge quantities of gases that are known to be the cause of global warming phenomenon! Added to this if Britain does not want to cut down on its fossil fuel consumption while pressurizing developing countries to do so, it is nothing but an injustice to billions of poor people who are aspiring to better their per capita income through faster industrialization and wealth generation. Sacrifice is not a one way traffic but needs mutual understanding and equitable sharing. ff the British government goes ahead and withdraws the subsidy for setting up solar power plants in that country, it is a slap on the face of global community for which that country will have to pay a heavy price in future! If Britain is so much concerned about their meat supply and want to stop building new solar energy plants in open country side where only land is available, why not install them at heights which will not hamper the movement of farm animals? They can also consider building solar panels above water bodies and on coastal areas to augment the power generation. 


Agricultural research-Public funding vs private investment

Looking back at the developments in agriculture brought about by the path breaking research at Indian Council of Agricultural Research 5-6 decades ago under the famed Green Revolution, one is tempted to ask the question whether India would have become self sufficient in cereals if this effort was left to the profit driven private sector. This is not to indict the private sector as evolving new varieties with built in economic advantages is both time consuming as well investment intensive. If to day world is debating about the desirability of GMO foods which were developed by the private sector mostly dominated by a few international companies with almost monopolistic hold over the seeds and other inputs necessary to cultivate these crops with some claimed advantages, it is because the fruits of these scientific efforts are not percolating down to small and marginal farmers. It is similar to the situation in development of new antibiotics which has hit a road block because of exorbitant cost of establishing their efficacy and safety, making it imperative for government to get involved closely in such efforts by pumping in public funds for the benefits of the public. Future developmental efforts in agricultural sector in evolving new technologies, especially involving molecular techniques, also will have to be a public interest driven one that can benefit millions of farmers without the burden of intellectual property related legal hassles. This is demonstrated by the experience in Canada where government is intimately involved in developments in agricultural front.

"Advancements in new crop varieties are important for the agriculture and agri-food industry, as yield increases, resistance traits, biochemical components and nutrient improvements have benefits for farmers, processors, and consumers.In the public sector, developing varieties with important novelty traits provide base foundations in seed quality Additional agronomic traits are later selected and added, and the varieties are sold commercially. Public and private breeding programs focus on different trait types due to the public pressure to release varieties.  Essential private breeding programs are typically funded by government or industry groups. The release of an individual variety typically costs $100,000. But despite its importance and demand, plant breeding is generating little interest with the younger generation. Plant breeding is not in the public eye very often, so many are unaware of the job options in the field. Peter Pauls, Chair of the Plant Agriculture Department at the University of Guelph sees this problem on a regular basis. "Everyone eats, but plant-related careers are under appreciated," he says. With a dynamic sector that has been changing drastically over the past 15 years as the use of molecular techniques are implemented, Pauls says young people are needed for their creative minds and technical skillsets, to utilize these molecular techniques to their full potential. For example, conventional breeding programs produce a commercially viable variety in 10 years. But using efficient molecular techniques can shorten this time because specific genetic markers can be implemented or selected to obtain desirable traits". 

After all farmers ploughing the field for a living have to be sure that the seeds being used are viable and come up to their expectations in terms of productivity and profitability. The requirements of small farmers are some what different from those of large farms which have access to best inputs and infrastructure to get assured yields and ensure good returns for their efforts. India is fortunate in having several agricultural universities across the country engaged in developing new and improved varieties of different crops with better performance credentials under Indian conditions. They also have the wherewithal to deliver the service to the farmers through their extension service network in the geographic areas covered by them. Indian farmers are that way fortunate in having easy access to the scientific innovations in these universities. Of course there is always scope for improving the interaction between agriculture scientists and the farming community. As there is no fund scarcity in the country for public sector agricultural research, the strangle hold of private players is rather limited.    


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Road blocks to innovation in food technology-Is government a culprit?

Any innovation undertaken by scientific community must have the interests of the citizens upper most in their mind. But in to day's industrialized world, innovations are more often taken up by the industry for furthering the profits of the manufacturers. In the case of foods many innovations in earlier years were undertaken by public funded agencies making available the knowledge to one and all without caring for returns on R & D investments made. If consumers are facing to day a situation where he hardly knows what industry is doing to siphon off money from his purse in the name of good foods because transparency and trust are totally lacking vis-a-vis organized food industry. Look at the multi million dollar battle going on in the US, funded by lobbyists and apologists, to preempt any mandatory provision for declaring GMO food ingredients on the label as being demanded by hundreds of consumer activists organizations. Government policies are intended to protect the consumer from unsafe foods first and then safeguard them against frauds and cheating. Unfortunately government itself seems to be putting hurdles and road blocks in the way of innovations through rigid and archaic standards which should have been dynamic keeping in view the ever expanding knowledge base in food science. Here is a critique on such a situation as reported recently. 

"Years ago, the FDA established Standards of Identity for many products so that consumers were protected from mislabeled food product. But consumers today are more educated about food ingredients, and are demanding ingredients in food products like Just Mayo that are Non-GMO verified, all natural, organic, gluten-free, from cage-free eggs, and less saturated fats to name a few. To me, the FDA's Standards-of-Identity are nothing more than a barrier to new food innovation that is no longer needed. It reminds me of President Reagan walking to the Berlin wall, and asking Russian President Gorbachev to "Tear this wall down." I believe the FDA needs to tear down the barriers to entry in the food business – and become an enabler of new products and not a prevention to new product development. But, is this a hypocritical position since Unilever sells a product called " Can't Believe It's Not Butter?" 

How about Indian situation? There is hardly any meaningful genuine innovation in food products development in India as public funded R & D agencies are more obsessed with "ivory tower" research with no concern for the common man. The FSSAI in the present avatar or PFA in the earlier avatar could not be considered to be  equipped adequately to deal with innovations because of inflexible rules and food identity standards. It is a catch 22 situation where new products cannot be marketed unless there are standards of identity available in the statute books. Of course there is this proprietary food route one can use to get "approval" from the technically "innocent" "babudom" for products deviating from existing standards but such foods will have to be differently named. For example an ice cream must contain minimum limits of sugar and milk fat, both of which are implicated in some life style disorders. If an entrepreneur wants to make an ice cream more healthy by reducing sugar and fat, that product cannot be called ice cream! There are many such examples that can be cited to illustrate this point. Probably it is time for liberating the industry from such shackles with minimum restraints but strict oversight.


Cholesterol is no more a villain, so say the experts now!-Can we believe it?

After fat in the food was exonerated from its villainous role in CVD, Obesity and other life style disorders, it is now the turn of the Cholesterol to be liberated from the plethora of indictments in the past implicating it in heart disease. It was a gospel truth till recently that Cholesterol containing foods like meat and egg must be consumed very moderately and if possible must be avoided all together if one has to maintain good health. Same is true with dairy products like butter and cheese also avoided altogether or consumed less frequently for fear of Cholesterol build up and the consequent presumed arterial plaque development. It was only recently that health experts came out with a clear cut stand that butter and cheese need not be considered as unhealthy food and therefore can be consumed regularly by normal healthy consumers. The Cholesterol story also follows essentially the same logic and scientists seem to have realized rather late that after all Cholesterol is a biological nutrient present in the cells required for making Vitamin D by the sun light. Here is a commentary on this new twist in the nutrition science making people more comfortable with foods like egg without any guilty feeling.    . 

"(TRFW News) For over decades the nation's top nutrition advisory panel has debated the health benefits of cholesterol. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), a group that provides dietary guidelines based on scientific findings, has portrayed cholesterol as the worst food one can consume, but several other studies have conflicted their notion. The guidelines for cholesterol have been recommended to keep it as low as possible in order to avoid potential consequences. However, recently the DGAC reconvened for their meetings to examine the recommendations on cholesterol and they reported that cholesterol should no longer be considered as a "nutrient of concern for overconsumption," which is a stark contrast from five years ago. (1) Eggs may no longer have to be feared Ever since 1961, cholesterol has been established in the dietary warnings developed by the American Heart Association. Years later, the federal government adopted the guidelines a,h these guidelines, a single yolk of an egg contains 200 milligrams leaving only a small amount to spare. (1,2) As a result, eating habits among Americans have shifted. Per capita egg consumption dropped about 30% and the egg farmers' business suffered. In addition, through various studies, the scientific community still remains divided due to differential research conclusions. (1) It is still unclear what the final decision for the new guidelines that will be due by the end of this year. According to Reuters, Dr. Robert Eckel, a past president of the American Heart Association and a professor of medicine at the University of Colorado in Denver, stated that there is not enough evidence to make a good recommendation yet, however, "no evidence doesn't mean the evidence is no." (2) For a long while, fats were feared and the guidelines established with cholesterol levels came as a result. It is unfortunate that the myths of cholesterol is actually harming people's health since biologically cholesterol is one of the most important molecules in the human body. It's vital for building of cells, and producing vitamin D, stress, and sex hormones. (3,4) Over the years, the recommendation for low-fat, low-cholesterol, and cholesterol lowering medications including statins, has been doing more harm than good. (3) When viewing cholesterol, one must consider the following:
    1. Vital for health. Cholesterol is found the body cells, which helps produce cell membranes, hormones, and bile acids, as well as in the bloodstreams. It helps the skin convert sun into vitamin D. It also insulates the nerve cells and protects brain health.
    2. No such thing as "good" or "bad" cholesterol. Cholesterol is divided into two parts HDL and LDL, containing lipoproteins, which are fats combined with proteins. Rather, there are "good" or "bad" lipoproteins and large LDL particles can be harmful causing damage and inflammation. It's good to focus on raising HDL levels.
    3. Focus on food quality. Replace processed foods with whole, plant-based foods. Stop obsessing on low-fat or no-fat foods and increase healthy consumption of fats. Optimize your vitamin D levels with sun exposure or good quality supplements. Consume plenty of fermented foods to keep your gut healthy. Get plenty of exercise (a good way to get more sun exposure is to go outdoors). Avoid statin drugs. And if you must, consume meat and eggs that come from organic, grass-fed sources. (5)"

Though this 180 degree turn by the health pundits can cause some outrage among consumers, it is better late than never. The erstwhile "guidelines" seem to have helped the pharmaceutical industry which have been hawking its Statin formulations to unsuspecting consumers based on certain maximum levels fixed arbitrarily by safety agencies few years ago.Between 1994 and 2006 massive promotion of statin drugs brought down the high cholesterol population (65-74 age bracket) from 87% to 54% in the US but did it bring down the number of people dying because of CVD? Absolutely not! It remained almost the same! However the statin industry world over increased their business reaching $ 29 billion per year at present. Probably most people taking statin drugs regularly may not need them at all but massive promotions, motivated or well financed scientific "findings" put out by the industry and unwary physicians have contributed this euphoria or mysteries about cholesterol! Will the 200 mg maximum limit under the present guidelines continue to be held as "sacred" as before? Probably we will have to wait to achieve unanimity on this issue before throwing our much revered statin drugs from the medicine chest at home.