Monday, March 30, 2015

How does Indian food safety vigilance compare with that of USA?

If number of violations and indictments for the same in the food safety area is compared between the US and India, probably we may get some solace that this country is in a better position, especially if health damages from such foods are kept in view. But scratching the surface further, we can realize that such solace is totally out of place because of massive deficiencies in our data base and relatively tough "bellies" Indians have, practically immune to many infectious food borne pathogens. There are neither regular inspections, nor massive product calls nor fast indictment of violators in our country. Can we say with any degree of confidence that any food or water consumed in our country is safe as measured by international standards? Take for example our water supply systems in metro areas. There is no city or town in the country which can assure its citizens that its so called protected water delivery system can pass the safety test where as in a country like the US even water from a toilet tap is relatively safe! Recently there has been some move by the law makers in the US to bring about further improvements in the safety vigilance system there which is commendable. Here is a take on this new initiatives being attempted to overhaul the food inspection machinery that is operating in that country.

"U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is asking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to increase the number of food facility inspections it performs and deal out greater fines to facilities found to have unsanitary conditions. He also called for an "easily accessible, real-time" source of information for restaurants and consumers who want to know about the conditions of the facilities that produce or warehouse their food.According to a press release from Schumer's office on Monday, in 2014, FDA cited more than 90 food warehouses and other facilities around the country for unsanitary conditions, including rat infestations. Food from those facilities could pose a public health threat, Schumer said. The press release cited a number of examples of facilities that received warnings, including a Brooklyn-based food warehouse containing rodent carcasses and feces, as well as insects at a rice producer and dead mice and rats at a cookie-production facility.FDA currently inspects "high risk" food facilities once every three years, while other facilities are inspected even less often. Even facilities with minor problems should be inspected more often than once every three years, he said.
Schumer outlined a three-part plan he feels would rectify seemingly widespread problems with food facility sanitation:
    1. More inspections. Any facility with problems that merit a warning letter from FDA should be immediately categorized as "high risk." FDA should also increase the number of inspections for high-risk facilities. When facilities provide evidence that they are no longer high risk, they return to a lower classification.
    2. Searchable database of problematic facilities. Restaurants and consumers need a clearer way to tell whether or not they're receiving food from clean facilities. "The FDA should provide an easy to find, search and navigate database of these facilities and their violations on their website or through another forum FDA believes can most effectively inform consumers," the press release stated.
    3. Increased penalties for violations. For fiscal year 2015, the fees associated with re-inspections of problematic facilities were estimated at $217 per hour. That's not a heavy enough fine to encourage strict compliance with food safety regulations, Schumer said."

What is very interesting is the relatively high level of awareness about the problems of consumers vis-a-vis food safety among the law makers and the extent of their involvement in consumer protection programs of the country. In contrast our law makers, if we go by their standards of behavior in the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha or state legislatures, have no time for any thing but shouting, demonstrations, personal fights and many non-issues of total irrelevance to the needs of the citizen. Bills are enacted into law with hardly any discussions and implementation details are rarely worked out. To day's Food Security Act is nothing but a sham, "managed" wholly by the hardened bureaucrats with very little commitment or honest objective. In a country of scarcities in every food category and high prices, probably people may have to build dedicated temples for the "Food God" to protect them from food fraudsters and criminals with very little concern or value for the lives of ordinary people and offer prayers regularly!


Sunday, March 29, 2015

A park for street foods? Odissa steals the show!

Whoever has thought of the latest "street food park" concept, being planned in Orissa deserves full marks for addressing an issue that poses multidimensional challenges to the civic authorities all across the country ever since India became an independent country. If reports are to be believed the Cuttack Municipal Corporation (CMC) in Orissa is "set" to launch such a park in the city within a month by providing some minimum infrastructure to enable street vendors to serve safe foods to the citizens there without affecting the pedestrian cross walks or the traffic nearby. CMC is also promising to provide necessary facilities like potable water supply, adequate cleaning water, lighting, toilet rooms and waste disposal system. It was not long ago that this Blogger suggested in one of the blogs about setting up a series of food plazas in almost all cities in the country away from busy thoroughfares within the city with suitable infrastructure so that city centers are not cluttered unnecessarily, adversely affecting smooth flow of both vehicular as well as the pedestrian traffic. Unfortunately such constructive suggestions never reach the ears of our politicians who have their own agenda and -priorities when it comes to spending public funds. There fore the developments in Cuttack should gladden the hearts of many progressive people in the country. Here is a take on this new development happening in one of the backward states of the country. . 

"The civic body has decided to set up the exclusive food park on Baliyatra ground, adjacent to the Mahanadi river bed, where food lovers can enjoy delicious and mouth-watering delicacies of the Millennium City such as dahibara, aludum and gupchup without being worried about falling ill.  The infrastructure of the street food park will be set up at a cost of Rs 10 lakh. Besides lighting arrangements, the CMC will ensure supply of safe drinking water to the park and some beautification work of the area. Toilet facilities and a garbage disposal system will also be put in place. The civic body officials said licences would be issued to the street food vendors to do business in the park and food inspectors will regularly monitor the quality of food. "We will start work on the street food park project within a month. The ground is used only during Baliyatra so we can easily accommodate the street food hawkers on it by creating the necessary infrastructure," said Gyana Ranjan Das, CMC commissioner.  Das said the food park would be made to look attractive to ensure footfall of food lovers and tourists. "Ensuring hygiene and cleanliness at the food park will be our priority," said a senior CMC officer". 

While appreciating such new initiatives especially in the government sector, one has to bear with some skepticism regarding the practicalities of such a revolutionary proposal. For example the place identified for setting up the Park is already being used by some sections of society for different activities and whether the new proposal will elicit protests from them remains to be seen. Similarly providing food inspection arrangement by frequent visits by the food vigilance officers is indeed a good thought, though how far in practice such inspections and action against defaulters will happen is uncertain. In stead it will be more effective if at least one dedicated food inspection officer is posted permanently to look after the quality and safety of products as well as the services offered by the participating vendors. Licensing must be hassle free and affordable to the micro entrepreneurs who come forward to invest in the Park. In stead of initiating legal proceedings against defaulters, it is worth trying for settling quality complaints within the park premises amicably through a committee system represented by the vendors and the CMC officers. Training program included in the plan is commendable as most violations take place out of ignorance and persuasive efforts can bring rich dividends.All said and done, here is a model being attempted in Cuttack and if successful deserves to be replicated throughout the country. .  


Monday, March 23, 2015

Healthy foods Vs unhealthy foods-A contrasting marketing landscape

Considering all the factors that have contributed to the progressive deterioration of health among people, the most important is the way food marketing environment is changing every where in the world. Food technology developments are boosting the capability of food processing industry to create foods tailor made to "trap" the consumers, with no concern about their well being. There is a qualitative transformation of the food "environment", that includes food retailing and eating places, where proportion of healthy foods to the total number of products offered to the consumers has been decreasing alarmingly resulting in more and more people sucked into the unhealthy food trap. Added to this the cost difference between healthy foods and junk foods is widening with the former some time costing more than double that of junk foods. Why is this happening? Does the market place play a part in this cost escalation vis-a-vis health foods? Or does the consumer attitude is responsible for this phenomenon? Probably this is a complex issue on which it may be difficult to arrive at a consensus. Here are some observations made by one of the study groups concerned about the deteriorating food environment that may drown this planet in agony and despair soon if some thing drastic is done to arrest the trend.

"Last December, researchers at Harvard published a paper scientifically examining a complaint common among conscientious eaters -- that healthy food is more expensive than junk. That paper, published in British Medical Journal, found that eating a healthy diet costs approximately $1.50 more per day. Today, researchers in the United Kingdom published a study in PLOS ONE that gives yet more insight into this topic: not only is healthy food more costly than unhealthy food but the price gap between them has grown significantly over a 10-year period. The researchers, led by Nicholas Jones from the University of Cambridge, used data from the UK Consumer Price Index to track the cost of 94 foods and beverages from 2002 to 2012. They also used  a technique called "nutrient profiling" to determine which foods might be considered healthy and unhealthy, based on information such as the amount of saturated fat and sugar per 100g. What they found: in 2012, 1000 kcal of "healthy" food cost approximately $12, while 1000 kcal of unhealthy food cost only $4. And while the mean price of all foods rose 35 percent over that 10-year period, the researchers found that "the price of more healthy foods was consistently greater than that of less healthy foods over the period 2002–2012, and that the absolute price gap between healthy and less healthy foods has grown over this period. "Food poverty and the rise of food banks have recently been an issue of public concern in the UK," Jones said in a statement about the research," but as well as making sure people don't go hungry it is vital that that a healthy diet is affordable."

One of the mysteries associated with the working logistics of modern food industry is how it is able to offer foods considered desirable, but not necessarily healthy, at such low prices and still make money? Mass production and bargaining muscle probably enable it to bring down production cost significantly. On the other hand insufficient demand for healthy foods make the manufacture some what less profitable making it a necessity to increase their price. Is it not paradoxical that when awareness about health and its relation to food is rising fast among people creating more and more demand for such foods in the market place, industry is unable to offer such products at prices comparable to that of junk foods? What justification industry can offer in making a whole wheat bread almost 50% costlier than white flour based bread? Technological limitation cannot be trotted out as an excuse because technology is relatively a minor component in the costing exercise. Considering these facts there is an urgent necessity for governments world over to bring in more regulations to compel the industry to manufacture more healthy foods and offer them on par with regular products now being churned out. The situation can become alarming if the present trend is allowed to continue with unhealthy foods overwhelming the portfolio of healthy foods, consumers can lay their hands on in the market place.    


Calorie counting in foods-Uncertainties regarding label declaration!

Why should the food industry print on the label the so called nutrition information? Those who came up with the idea of nutrition labeling were honest in their intention that such information would help the consumers to select the best foods from the market from the health point of view. But does it really happen the way it is intended to be?  Probably not! Why? The human biological system varies from person to person and the efficiency of utilizing the nutrients also will also vary. Therefore the figures printed on the food pack can at best indicate maximum efficiency without taking into consideration the individual variations or the extent of processing the food has undergone. Calorie values exemplify this paradox. The calorific value of food declared is based on the estimates arrived at through the Bomb calorie meter test where food is burned under controlled conditions to find out the calorific value. Unfortunately the human system cannot be expected to be as efficient as a bomb calorie meter with the digestion system depends on the compliment of enzymes and the microbiome that inhabit the GI tract. As a thumb rule more the food is processed or cooked more efficient is the digestion efficiency. Why this factor is important can be understood in the context of the critical role played by food calories in leading to over weight and obesity. Here is an interesting expose regarding the role of processing and cooking in calorie generation once the food is ingested and their fate within the system   . 

"Unfortunately, of course, in today's overfed and underexercised populations, nature's way is not the best way. If we want to lose weight we should challenge our instinctive desires. We should reject soft white bread in favor of rough whole wheat breads, processed cheese in favor of natural cheese, cooked vegetables in favor of raw vegetables. And to do so would be much easier if our food labels gave us some advice about how many calories we would save by eating less-processed food. So why are our nutritionist advisers mute on the topic? For decades there have been calls by distinguished committees and institutions to reform our calorie-counting system. But the calls for change have failed. The problem is a shortage of information. Researchers find it hard to predict precisely how many extra calories will be gained when our food is more highly processed. By contrast, they find it easy to show that if a food is digested completely, it will yield a specific number of calories. Our food labeling therefore faces a choice between two systems, neither of which is satisfactory. The first gives a precise number of calories but takes no account of the known effects of food processing, and therefore mismeasures what our bodies are actually harvesting from the food. The second would take account of food-processing, but without any precise numbers."

Ideally a healthy person must derive full benefit from the food he consumes and the nutrition guidelines do not make a differentiation between cooked foods and raw foods, the values of the latter being used universally in all guidelines across the world. If calorie needs are determined based on the theoretical calorie yield and if the calories contained in the diet are not absorbed, naturally the question arises whether man really needs so much calories as being recommended? Obviously consumers looking for 2000 kC from the food they consume will go by the theoretical values presented to them in the label. While a consumer eating minimally cooked or refined food will not derive the theoretical values because of the digestion inefficiency, those consuming highly processed foods will get almost 100% of the calories declared on the label. Another dimension to this paradox is that refined foods require less energy expenditure for the biological digestion system, eating minimally cooked foods calls for comparatively higher energy input by the body leaving very little for conversion to fat and consequently to weight gain. Sounds confusing? Well that is the reality and that is why health pundits universally condemn highly refined and over cooked foods because of their higher energy mobilization and fat deposition potential. No wonder consumers are realizing this "unpalatable" truth and shifting towards whole cereals and pulses and raw fruits and vegetables to avoid many life threatening health afflictions and improve the quality of life.  


Creation of new aluminum surface with bactericidal effect-A nano technology approach

Food contamination inadvertently or through negligence is one of the major challenges to the food industry as well as the safety authorities all over the world.Thousands of innocent consumers are maimed or killed by a dozen highly virulent bacteria and in spite of best of efforts food poisoning continues unabated. Bactericidal processes using heat, chemicals, high pressure, ultra filtration,osmotic pressure, salination, acifdification etc are routinely practiced by the processing industry reducing the episodes of food poisoning to the barest minimum.possible. Consumers still feel that the manufacturers must be more efficient in checkmating pathogens in the foods being offered to them. Scientific community is continuously engaged in a "war of wits" with their tiny adversary, the microbes, which show from time to time remarkable ability to outwit them through mutational changes. The amazing bio-film phenomenon unearthed some time back is a remarkable ploy by these bugs to stick together, attached to a solid surface capable of resisting most of the bactericidal methods to get rid of them. It is against this tendency of some pathogens to form bio-films and contaminate foods that a new strategy has been developed by which the metal contact surfaces are made hostile for the bugs to develop such films. Here is a take on this new exciting development.   

"The technology, developed collaboratively by researchers from Cornell University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, uses an electrochemical process called anodization to create nanoscale pores that change the electrical charge and surface energy of a metal surface, which in turn exerts a repulsive force on bacterial cells and prevents attachment and biofilm formation. These pores can be as small as 15 nanometers; a sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick. When the anodization process was applied to aluminum,it created a nanoporous surface called alumina, which proved effective in preventing surrogates of two well known pathogens, Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Listeria monocytogenes, from attaching, according to a study recently published in the journal Biofouling. The study also investigates how the size of the nanopores changes the repulsive forces on bacteria."

Modern metallurgical developments have enabled the scientists to treat metal surfaces by an electrochemical process whereby bacteria find it difficult to adhere there resisting cleaning, washing or various sterilization processes. According to the innovators the nano porous surface created by the anodizing process has electrical charges that repel the microbes when bio-film formation process is attempted by them. Since the surface so created has extremely minute pores, less than 15 microns in size, no food particles can be expected to be trapped inside them to provide any scope for microbes to survive. Though these materials have been tested against only two virulent organisms, viz, E.coli O157 H7 and Listeria monocytogens, there is no reason why it should not be effective against others also. Probably the nanopore size may have to be altered suitably to deal with other pathogens like Salmonella, Shigella and others. Besides application in food industry the new "nanopore" technology may benefit other sectors like medicines, water treatment, shipping industry etc where bacteria poses a challenge.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Do we buy foods in the market because of their color? It appears so!

Quality of a food is manifested in many dimensions that include appearance, flavor and nutrition. It is said that consumers first "eat" a food through their eyes by perceiving what is attractive in appearance without realizing whether it is safe or healthy for him. The consequences are the deliberate or some time ignorant action by the processors in adding colors of various hues to the foods they make for attracting them or using inedible mineral oils to give them a gloss. Whether the fact that the colors added are permitted or banned probably never enters the mind of the consumer. Invariably unscrupulous food handlers, be it the processor or trader or the farmer, use these unnatural substances to camouflage low quality or blemishes or non-uniform color and fleece the customers by charging a premium. India has a dubious record of harboring such unscrupulous elements in great numbers with apparently no resistance or control at any point of the supply chain. Probably the tortoise like speed with which adultrators and fraudsters are hauled up and punished naturally encourage the fraud industry to indulge more and more into such heinous activities. Here is a report from a town in Tamilnadu which reveals how even every day foods like boondi, bhujia etc are colored bright by using bright colors which are not permitted by the law of the country.    

"The Food Safety and Standards Act 2006 clearly states that 'unsafe food' is an article in which there is 'presence of any colouring matter or preservatives other than that specified for its category' or if the 'article is being coloured to make it appear better than it really is'. "This point was included in the Act because long-term consumption of such artificial colours is harmful to health, because they often contain colours made of chemicals," said Kathiravan. While colour is permitted to be added to ice-creams, lolly pops, jelly crystal and North Indian sweets, it is banned in South Indian sweets and savouries. "However, in some cases, approved artificial colour is allowed," he clarified. Though food makers admit that colours do not play a part in the taste, they find it hard to change the public's mindset. "They are used to seeing specific foods in specific colours," said Vivekanand Natraj of Moti Mahal Delux. "So we have tried to work around this by using Kashmiri Chilli which gives the red colour but is not as spicy as our local chillies. We use beetroot to add colour to vinegar soaked onion, so the difference is just 10%," he said. "Even after all this we have irate customers upset over the colour of food served or purchased," said a staff member at Nellai Muthu Vilas Sweets."

World over artificial colors are being banned one by one after their safety credentials were doubted and food processing industry progressively switched over to natural colors where ever color addition is unavoidable for technical reasons. The classical case is that of tomato ketchup in India and stout resistance by the industry to the ban of artificial colors to this product was over ruled resulting in breeding new varieties with more intense red color. This goes to show that under compelling situations food scientists can come out with alternatives for most of the chemical additives used in foods for aesthetic appeal. There are thousands of sweet meat shops in the country using unnecessary bright colors so that when these products are displayed openly or in glass cases, they can attract customers to these outlets. While use of color is absolutely unnecessary in any of our foods, if for any reasons they are to be used natural substances must be considered. Chilli, beetroots, annatto, safflower, curcumin etc are some of the natural sources from which colors are to day extracted with no taste or odor. In stead of depending on the government to protect him, consumer must be proactive in shunning such foods as part of a movement to punish those still using them. Though we can blame the governments for shirking their responsibility, in to day's India such blame game will have no effect at all as safety enforcement is yet to get the attention it deserves. 


Saturday, March 21, 2015

How trustworthy are food scientists? A vexed question"

Who is a scientist? Simple answer is the one who practices science. But what does science mean to many people who have neither a science qualification nor any idea about it? Science is nothing but pursuing truth and scientists are therefore pursuers of truth in thoughts and deeds. Unfortunately what we see to day is a perversion of science taking place across the world with many scientists sacrificing truth at the altar of materialistic gains. Though it is admitted that between truth and a lie there is a grey area where there could be differences in interpretation of scientific results. In most application studies scientists use basic methodologies to generate a set of results and when these results are to be interpreted, one has to do it again based on scientific principles. There can be honest differences which need to be confined within the scientific community without using them for commercial gains. Can any one justify when a scientist comes on the Television screen on behalf of some business entities and say that fast foods offered by his "client" is really healthy and flaunts his scientific credentials to convince the poor consumer? This issue is becoming a talking point among scientists and experts most of whom can be considered as honest and ethical not prepared to sell themselves for a few bucks. Here is a take on this controversial issue . 

"Who wants kale chips and coconut water when you can down a mini Coke and a few Kraft singles? After all, they're all health foods, right? Some nutrition experts seem to think so. Last month, in honor of American Heart Month, several fitness and nutrition experts wrote posts, which appeared on major newspaper sites and nutritional blogs, recommending a mini-can of Coke or other small soda for a snack, The Associated Press reports. Coca-Cola is one of many big food companies that pay experts to mention or endorse their products in online posts or other media outlets. Coke spokesman Ben Sheidler told the AP it's a common food industry practice, though he declined to disclose how much his company pays "experts." "We have a network of dietitians we work with. Every big brand works with bloggers or has paid talent," he said. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which represents 75,000 registered dietitians and other nutrition professionals, recently gave Kraft Singles (the bright yellow processed cheese slices) a thumbs up to use its new "Kids Eat Right" nutrition label, The New York Times said. It's the first product to bear the seal, and the first time the academy has endorsed a product. Kraft Singles is an interesting choice, especially considering "Kraft is a frequent target of advocates for better children's nutrition, who contend that many of its products are overprocessed, with too much fat, sodium, sugar, artificial dyes and preservatives," the Times reports. The academy told the Times that the label is not an endorsement of the processed cheese product. Academy executive director Mary Beth Whalen said in an email statement: "The Kids Eat Right logo on Kraft Singles packaging identifies the brand as a proud supporter of Kids Eat Right. It also serves to drive broader visibility to, a trusted educational resource for consumers," she wrote. Nutrition experts recommending Coke as a healthy snack and endorsing Kraft Singles in an eating right campaign aimed at young people has left many people questioning whether health experts are selling out to the food industry. It's why the Dietitians for Professional Integrity was formed. The organization said it does "not support the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' current sponsorship model." "We believe these sponsorships pose a serious conflict of interest for a nutrition organization and harm dietetics professionals' credential and reputations," it went on to explain. Marion Nestle, Ph.d, M.P.H., a professor with the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at NYU, recently expressed her dismay at Kraft earning the Kids Eat Right logoon her Food Politics blog: Kraft is well-known as a sponsor of [the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics]. Such seals are usually money-raising gimmicks. I'm wondering if "proud supporter of" means that Kraft pays AND for use of this seal. If so, I'd like to know what the seal costs. Clearly, some food companies are paying nutrition experts to endorse their products. It's smart marketing for them. I think the bigger issue is that the academy, a trusted organization of nutrition experts, is taking part, potentially misleading many consumers into thinking not-so-healthy food products are good for you"

There are many cases where benefit of doubt can be given regarding such instances though according to established jurisprudence they are guilty of misusing their scientific status to influence the minds of common consumers in making buying decisions which may turn out to be wrong. In India there are a number of instances of patently false claims being made on the electronic media by a few scientists with some academic credentials promoting products which are patently placebos with no health benefits! Products are routinely promoted using scientists to support ridiculous claims such as helping enlarge the brain, improving memory, making the kids tall, addressing special problems of women etc Unfortunately no one in the country seems to be too much bothered about such dishonest practices.


Anarchy, thy name is Indian towns and cities!

Most Indians never forgo an opportunity of proclaiming their rights but there are only a few who is wiling to concede citizens have also a duty to keep in mind their responsibility to the society and the nation at large. Our country is often branded as a "soft" state and harsh decisions are either postponed or never taken at all! One of the most visible symptoms of this syndrome is the ease with which all laws are broken with impunity because of the laxity of administration, be it the government agencies or the police personnel. Those who violate well laid down rules and regulations are sure in their mind that they get away with it either through some amnesty or by the limping judicial system which moves at an elephantine speed or by their influence on politicians and bureaucrats. Look at our own parliamentarians at Delhi and according to recent Lok Sabha secretariat report more than 300 MPs owe to the government millions of rupees for the power and water they had consumed without bothering to honor the repeated reminders from the authorities to pay up!. If the law makers can break the law they themselves make, how can one find fault with the ordinary citizen who also does the same with no respect for such laws? The provocation for such a drastic comment on our soft state syndrome is the strike by the business outlets in Kolkatta recently protesting against the rampant spread of street hawkers on the pavements of that city obstructing the pedestrians as well as blocking the road in many cases which is happening because of the political patronage received by them from the ruling party. Here is a take on this farce that is taking place in the name of "poor people" in almost all towns and cities in this country that will eventually convert them into a great open free for all bazaar places rather than helping to make them orderly and disciplined civic entities!    

"The legislation, now on the statue books, calls for states and urban local bodies to create town vending committees, with hawkers' representatives on them, which will register hawkers. Plus, and this is critical, there will be a street vending plan, to be revised every five years, which will demarcate public places into three categories: vending freely allowed, restricted and not allowed. Equally important, the law says vendors do not have permanent rights and can be relocated. At the heart of this urban chaos is the classical "soft state" which is the hallmark of underdeveloped societies ruled by either dictators or populist maverick politicians who neither know nor are willing to learn how to run a proper administration. Ms Banerjee left the imprint of her administrative abilities or the lack of them on the railways, which were set on the road to financial crisis every time she or her nominated partymen held the portfolio at the centre. For Kolkata's nearly 300,000 hawkers, their stalls are a way to keep destitution at bay for them and the 1.5 million people who are part of their families. But if there is no control on hawkers they will eventually clog not just pavements but roads too. Then nobody will be able to get to the hawkers by either public or private transport and the city will return to the pre-industrial age when people moved by only foot."

Same attitude also accounts for the mushrooming of hundreds of slums in big cities inhabited by migrants from rural areas and people who inhabit these slums no doubt lead a wretched life measured by any decent standards. The political class in this country is responsible for encouraging growth of big sized slums in cities like Mumbai and New Delhi because of the callousness and not foreseeing the problem faced by millions of honest citizens who pay all types of taxes levied by governments at the center, state and local levels aspiring for a decent quality life Can India take pride in the claim that world's biggest slum is in Mumbai going by the name "Dharavi" which is a cluttered township within the city with vast political and economic clout? Is this the democracy Indians have been aspiring for after independence? Vote bank politics, where politicians see each individual as a potential supporter to vote for him during election time, cannot be allowed to continue any more if we have to achieve economic power like China. If the ruling party in Kolkatta sees these street vendors as a sure vote bank and promise them protection, support and help, as being reported by the media, probably its calculation is that the 3 million families of these vendors would support them in the forthcoming elections with no qualms about the well being of and trauma caused to, honest citizens there by these law breaking group. One is tempted to pose a question whether this is what we have got after more than 7 decades of planning? Are we not staring at anarchy in the urban areas of the country with no law and order being maintained and ordinary citizens like children, women, senior people and other vulnerable groups forced to stay indoor for fear of violating their self respect and self esteem? Cries like these may be irrelevant in to day's India which is taken over by a section of the society with powerful connections, criminal tendencies, muscle power, scant regard for judiciary and no care for human values!  


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Apathy, thy name is FSSAI!-The Hyderabad "case"!

A recent report from Hyderabad regarding the food safety mess that is prevalent there makes a pathetic reading. A city where there are more than 20,000 eateries, monitoring of the quality of foods prepared and served there rarely occurs though the civic authorities are supposed to have qualified inspectors for inspecting the premises, sampling of the foods, testing them and ensuring consumer safety on a regular basis. Unfortunately the ground reality that is obtaining in this historical city is indeed shocking. Though the food safety act stipulates a certain number of inspectors and adequate testing facilities this city does not seem to be too much concerned about lack of them to meet the challenge.Passing on the buck seems to be the order of the day. While the civic authorities blame the state administration for neglecting their needs in providing necessary facilities and personnel, latter puts the ball in the court of the center for unclear laws and less than optimal resources allocated to the state. When a pompous Authority called FSSAI was foisted on the states, it was promised that center would provide all the assistance required to implement the new food laws. Unfortunately nothing seems to have changed after the formation of FSSAI which turned out to be a license giving authority, a call back of the old permit - license raj that existed before the economic liberalization started in early nineteen nineties! Here is a take on this sorrow state of affairs vis-vis food safety realities in Hyderabad, though same may apply to all places across the country.   .  

"According to the Food Safety and Standard Act, 2011, the civic body should have at least two inspectors for every circle (one in case of a small circle) to monitor the food quality in hotels and collect samples for examinations. Licences to caterers should only be given after a standard quality test is done, but this regulation is not followed. In 2010, only 45 cases were booked, 54 in 2011, 135 on 2012, 144 in 2013 and 256 in 2014. The number of eateries in the city is more than 20,000.  The civic body, incidentally, does not even have its own laboratory to carry out any of these tests. Instead, it depends on the Institute of Preventive Measures. The Act states the city administration should have adequate number of food safety officers to monitor all food establishments, draw samples for analysis and surveillance, act against unsafe food and ensure that food poisoning or similar problems do not occur. Owing to the staff crunch, the state's food testing laboratory at Nacharam tests just about 500-600 samples in a month collected from the entire state. Less than 200 are from Hyderabad, while the lab can test up to 2,000 to 2,500 samples per month. Officials rue that GHMC has no facilities to check food quality. Meanwhile, more than 3,000 cases related to food quality issues are pending in courts. Some of them have been running for the past 15 years. These cases ensure that the food inspectors are busy attending court proceedings instead of performing their actual duties. As per the rule, hotels violating norms are supposed to be fined and even closed down. There is a separate magistrate's court for these cases. Following the Food Safety Act, the corporation, during inspections, first checks the manner in which the food is cooked (taking samples of the materials used), then the way it is served and stored".

An interesting revelation that must shame all Indians is the long drawn legal cases, numbering about 3000, pending before the courts without any judgment and the time wasted by the food inspectors in dealing with these cases some of them pending for more than 20 years! It appears that there is a collusion between the lawyer community, accused parties and the food inspection personnel to prolong the cases so that indictment can be postponed almost indefinitely under such an arrangement! It is more than 4 years since the food safety act was implemented and if FSSAI could not put in place a satisfactory infrastructural facilities to implement the law, does it justify its existence at all? Are the citizens left to the mercy of petty traders, unorganized food makers and big players of the industry who break every conceivable rule with such impunity for ever with no hope of salvation? Probably the FSSAI as it operates to day needs drastic changes to make the entire system more reliable and accountable. Is the country with a political class with practically no vision about future ready for it? Doubtful! This "no win" situation is bound to continue leaving the consumers at the mercy of manufacturers, traders and hoteliers for a long time to come making citizens turn to God for protecting them and their families from food related dangers every day!


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Are some foods more addictive than others? New findings with far reaching implications!

Can some foods be compared to alcohol, tobacco or psychotropic substances from the point of view of creating addiction?. A significant number of experts are veering around to the view that there are a few foods being manufactured by the food processing industry which are capable of inducing addiction and one suspects that the industry also is fully aware of this, exploiting this knowledge to develop more and more such foods for catering to the consumers vulnerable to addiction. If this is true can the industry get away with such sinister designs and will not they be liable for class action before the judiciary for suppressing such an evidence? We cannot forget how the cigarette industry was caught doing the same and what penalty they had to pay running into billions of dollars as reparation for destroying the health and lives of millions of people in the US. Food technology has evolved into a fine art to day and creating a food with right proportion of sugar, fat and flavor is very easy. This is what the industry seems to be doing world over to improve their bottom line! In such a situation what needs to be done to reduce such addiction which is playing with lives of people in countries like the US as manifested by obesity, diabetes, hyper tension, kidney diseases etc? Here is a critique on this important issue that is worth reading. 

"Are Americans in denial about symptoms of food addiction? But are these foods addictive?  Michael Moss, author of Salt, Sugar Fat, states: "I tried to use the "A" word sparingly because the industry argues convincingly that food lacks some of the technical definitions of addiction and narcotics. They prefer words like alluring, craveable, smackable. But the aim is the same, which is to create the perfect formula and amounts of salt, sugar and fat that will send us over the moon and make their products irresistible." (2) Moss reports, "There are estimates, of course, but we're averaging something like twice the recommended amount of salt. The best estimate of sugar is 70 pounds a year. We're averaging 11 percent of our calories [from] saturated fat, the bad one linked to heart disease, and the recommendation is to get it down to 7 percent or less." (2) New study reports that highly processed foods are shown to be addictive, leaving consumers with substance dependence symptoms and behaviors. The University of Michigan is hoping that their new study will help consumers make more informed decisions. The new study confirms what many people have suspected:highly processed foods like chocolate, pizza and French fries are the most addictive (3) This is the first study to examine which foods can truly be implicated in food addiction. This has recently become a growing interest due to rising obesity epidemic. Prior studies with animals showed that highly processed foods or foods with added fat and refined carbohydrates trigger addictive-like eating behavior.  Clinical studies performed with human subjects indicated that individuals eating processed foods meet the criteria for substance dependence. (3) U-M assistant professor, Ashley Gearhardt, explains that highly processed foods are known to be preferred for their taste, it has remained unknown whether these food elicit an addiction response. Unprocessed foods such as brown rice and salmon have not been associated with addictive behaviors. (3) Erica Schulte, lead author, explains that individuals with symptoms of food addiction or higher body mass indexes report greater difficulties with processed foods. "If properties of some foods are associated with addictive eating for some people, this may impact nutrition guidelines, as well as public policy initiatives such as marketing these foods to children," Schulte said. (3) Nicole Avena, co-author of the study, reports, "This is a first step towards identifying specific foods, and properties of foods, which can trigger this addictive response," she said. "This could help change the way we approach obesity treatment. It may not be a simple matter of 'cutting back' on certain foods, but rather, adopting methods used to curtail smoking, drinking and drug use." (3)"

To be fair to the industry it must be argued that they have to look for decent returns for their investments and efforts in the form profits by creating a market for their products and after all they can sell only products consumers demand. Whether one likes it or not, organoleptic quality of foods has been the single most driving force as far as product development programs are concerned and launching a product is invariably precede by a market acceptability study trying to gauge the reaction of the consumer. Until recently consumer always decided whether a product is acceptable based on his perception regarding over all flavor including color, taste and texture and only now health aspects are coming into focus with demands being made on the industry to make healthier foods. If foods like chocolates, pizza and others with high sugar or fat or salt content are really addictive as being made out to be, there must be restrictions against their manufacture and marketing. Can any country treat foods like alcohol and regulate their sale without impinging on the rights of the consumer to decide what he wants to eat from among the products that pass the quality and safety standards prevailing there? One has to only recall the experience of the government in New York which tried to restrict the size of bottle sizes of soda which was rejected by the courts there as violation of personal freedom! Similarly look at the resistance that is emerging in the US for a simple proposal to include extent of added sugar to a product by the processing industry on the nutritional label and it is unlikely that similar efforts in reining in food industry will ever succeed!


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Mechanical tenderization of meat-What difference does it make?

Food technology always provides new insights into food quality and accordingly strives to develop appropriate processes and techniques to achieve the goals. Take the example of meat carcass from animals like cattle and pigs which are naturally tough to eat straight away unless they are softened for easy consumption and achieve the characteristic eating quality. Age old techniques like marinating, use of vinegar, wines, butter milk, yogurt, enzymes like papain, bromelain and actinidin to tenderize meat are giving way to more sophisticated techniques like mechanical tenderization using large machines with steel needles and blades. Though the new innovation does avoid too much handling by the workers in meat processing units, different type of problem seems to be emerging causing more contamination cases involving the much dreaded and virulent E.coli 0157H7. This has led to wide spread demand from the consumers to differentiate between traditional tenderization and mechanical tenderization on the display label that would help them to cook the latter more severely to kill the contaminant that might have been pushed deep into the product because of the use of needles and blades. Here is a take on this vexed issue that has led to a tricky situation faced by the industry and the safety authorities in some countries.   

"According to a final rule by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), mechanically tenderized beef products will not require special safety labels for at least another three years. The tenderization process softens the meat with tools and devices that are known to cultivate pathogens that can lead to food borne illness. Initially proposed in mid-2013, the meat labeling rule would require that food packaging displays specific cooking instructions for meat products. FSIS's concern has been that consumers are not cooking meat long enough to prevent foodborne illness.  The labeling rule was not finalized as expected by December 31, 2014, thus it cannot take effect before 2018 according to FSIS requirements. Had the rule been cleared in a timely manner, the meat labeling requirements could have been enforced as soon as next year. The two-year incremental delay is meant to make changes easier for food manufacturers to comply. Proponents of meat labeling believe that consumers will be put at risk for another two years without more stringent instructions to follow when cooking meat. However, the meat industry has taken a stance against this labeling proposal, arguing that measures put in place by meat processors are sufficient in making sure that meat distributed to consumers is already safe."

Though the number of serious cases arising out of meat contamination due to mechanical tenderization process is relatively far and few, consumers are fearful while selecting their meat requirements and therefore their demand for label declaration appears to be reasonable. Such a declaration will enable them to adequately cook the meat till the center temperature reaches 67-71C which is supposed to kill the contaminating pathogens completely. While this demand has been accepted in principle, what is causing consternation is the unnecessary prevarication on the part of the safety authorities in enforcing the labeling rule during the last three years which gives the consumers an impression that meat industry is getting more favorable treatment at the hands of the governments ignoring the well being of the citizens. It is time such an impression is nipped in the bud by immediately enforcing the new labeling rules and restore the trust between the industry and the consumer.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Food Adulteration cases withdrawal-Is it justified?

A million dollar question that may pose some problem to government of India pertains to the thousands of food adulteration cases pending before various judicial courts through out the country. This issue became a hot potato to the new government in Delhi when trader associations filed a plea with the Prime Minister's Office to dismiss all such cases immediately since the present food quality and safety laws have replaced the old ones prevailing between 1956 and 2012. But is it ethical for the government to direct the judiciary to ignore such cases, some of them pending for decades, when prosecutions were initiated based on laboratory evidence? A crime does not become a crime just because the law has been slightly tweaked! The new Food Safety and Standards Act has inherited all the liabilities and assets of erstwhile Prevention of Food adulteration Act 1954 and therefore a crime committed then cannot be condoned under any circumstances. Here is a take on this issue which makes a funny reading.  .

"Considering the plea submitted by the Chandigarh chapter of the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) regarding withdrawal of cases registered under the erstwhile Prevention of food adulteration Act (PFAA), 1954, the Prime Minister Office (PMO) has directed the Food Safety Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) to take appropriate action. A significant number of cases were registered against traders under the erstwhile PFAA and are pending in various courts across the country. According to CAIT (Chandigarh) President Harish Garg, many of these cases are as old as 20 years and are still in the initial stages. "Now with the PFAA being replaced by the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, all the cases registered under the previous Act have no relevance. Highlighting the problems faced by traders, I had told Prime Minister Narendra Modi that all such cases should be compounded because there is no merit to continue these cases after the replacement of the Act." Garg said the PMO has considered the issue sympathetically and directed the FSSAI to take appropriate actions. The move will help traders carry out their businesses in a smooth manner. Garg also said earlier the issue was also taken up by the Central office of CAIT with former Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, urging him to evolve a "compounding of offences". Alternatively, if compounding of cases is not feasible, then "fast-track court or arbitration or reconciliation proceedings may be initiated, to clear all the pending cases".

What is appalling is that the PMO has unwittingly played into the hands of this lobby which is spearheading the campaign to withdraw these cases by directing the FSSAI to take action in the matter. It is not clear whether PMO has directed FSSAI to withdraw these cases or to just process their plea appropriately as per the law? No doubt the judiciary has to take some blame for this sorry situation because of its delaying procedures compounded by ruthless lawyers who try to prolong the cases as much as possible. Is it not a joke that some of the accused parties in such cases do not even live to day because of repeated adjournments and prevarications by the clever lawyers which drags such cases for decades deliberately serving the cause of those being prosecuted!


How safe is your food picked up from the market? Here is a useful guide

Are you confused by the label that appears on all packed foods available in the market? It is true that consumer has lot of information about the contents inside a pack on the label printed but the most crucial question remains unanswered even if you scan the label with a magnifying glass! That question is whether the contents inside are safe for consumption even after the expiry of the expiration date printed on the pack? There are many pundits who advise you to see whether the pack is bloated, torn, leaky etc which are some of the tell tale signs of product deterioration. But what if there is no apparent or visible changes on such date expired packs? Many countries are advising its citizens to curtail food wastage which, according to some estimates, can be as high as that capable of feeding almost the entire population of poor people inhabiting the continents of Asia, Africa and South America! One of the actions suggested is to test any date expired packs for signs of off color, off odor, unattractive appearance or touch feeling before tasting a speck of it for the ultimate decision whether it should be tossed out of your kitchen. Here is guideline which this blogger found very useful to take a decision on this matter. 

"Keep It or Toss It?  Browse Shelf Life Information By Category Fruits, Vegetables, Dairy & Eggs, Meat & Poultry, Fish & Shellfish, Nuts & Legumes, Grains & Pasta, Condiments & Oils, Herbs & Spices, Snacks & Sweets, Baked Goods, Beverages"   

Though the information provided in this web site is very useful, it cannot be taken as the Gospel truth. Individuals must take an appropriate decision based on their perception and understanding of the data furnished by the publisher. After all the sensitivity of foods, even if they are safe as measured by other yardsticks can vary from person to person and as far as possible one must try to buy the most recently packed foods if feasible. Also to be borne in mind is the scientific truth that most foods with a one month expiration date at room temperature (30C) is likely to keep good for another two months easily in a refrigerator at less than 10C. Till a non-destructive test is discovered to "divine" the safety of foods in a sealed pack, consumers have to depend on their common sense to decide whether a particular food is safe or not! 


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Californian chickens to be happier under the new law? That is a million dollar question!

Is it humane to apply human standards to animals? That is the million dollar question now being asked by some critics who feel that the new law promulgated recently in the Californian state of the US has gone too far in upholding animal welfare. The issue is simple but the answer can be very complex! The new law stipulates how large a chicken cage must be and unless poultry farmers raise the layers in such cages their eggs cannot be sold in any market in that state. On the face of it it looks very "humane" but scratch a little deep then the realization comes that it does not make much sense. This is what the critics tell us.They ask the question whether the birds are happier now than before? Who can answer that question except the chickens themselves! If the contention that larger cages are more dangerous to the birds is some what difficult to understand but they illustrate their view by pointing out that birds in larger cages are more prone to physical harm and diseases. One of the reasons for small cages being order of the day is that if more moving space is given the birds start attacking each other, waste the energy through unnecessary movements and do not put on weight which in turn affect the meat yield. Listen to these opposing arguments and decide for yourself where the truth lies!

"California's revolutionary animal-welfare rules — which mandate that chickens be given enough room to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely — are finally going into effect with the new year, 2015. Voters passed the law (it was a ballot initiative) in 2008. Since then, there have been legislative tweaks and a lot of legal wrangling, all culminating in a law that bars selling eggs in California unless they come from chickens that are given a little more room to move around. There are two things that make this fascinating to a food-policy nerd like me. First, instead of primarily regulating farmers, the rules primarily regulate eaters. So far, voters and lawmakers have been a lot more interested in telling farmers what to do than in passing laws that constrain what eaters can buy. The distinction has massive implications for the effects of the law. Second, the rules institute a completely new logic for determining animal welfare than has traditionally been used in American farming. That has chicken farmers tearing at their hair in frustration: If you accept the traditional logic, these animal-welfare rules may actually leave the chickens worse off; but if you accept the logic of the reformers, it's clear that this will be an improvement (if only a marginal one). It's one of those tricky situations where the conclusions matter less than the reasoning used to reach those conclusions."

Traditionalists always feel that old is gold and chicken and egg produced by large farms to day do not taste as well as they did during olden days, say about 50-60 years ago. It is difficult to vouchsafe for this bland statement without any comparative scientific study. But it a fact that even to day many consumers have a distinct preference for cage free chickens and free roaming pasture animals for which they are ready to pay a little more in the market. If this is the trend industry has to fulfill the consumer asp[aspiration by changing their current practices irrespective of the cost involved. One of the problems inherent in a vast market with no boundaries is that such standards, if not accepted by all the producers across the country, there is bound to be wide price differences with most consumers invariably choosing to go for the cheaper versions whether they are bad or indifferent! If Californian eggs become costlier because of new cage rules, cheaper eggs from neighboring states are bound to dominate the domestic market. If that happens, what will happen to the domestic poultry industry? Probably the new law which started kicking in only recently, let us wait and watch the consequences of its operation, if any.  


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Recycling of plastics-New approach to save water and energy

To day's world cannot live without plastics as practically every walk of life is associated with use of one or the other plastic material. Out of the 300 million tons production of plastics of different types world wide, about one third is used for packing,  rest being channeled into a variety of products like tubes, pipes, structural parts, sheets, containers etc. In India more than 40% goes for packaging including that for protecting foods. As they are derived from non-renewable fossil fuels, man must be wondering whether his head-on rushing into massive use of plastics will prove to be a folly, considering that world was using for centuries traditional materials like metal, glass, ceramics, wood etc all of which are readily recyclable endlessly and with relative ease, besides being renewable in nature. Plastics, which are high molecular organic molecules are impervious to water and are not degradable in nature for hundreds of years. Recycling of plastics can be done by just melting it after sorting and cleaning at relatively low temperatures but there is a limit as to how many times it can be recycled as its property is adversely affected after recycling. Conventional recycling involves use of high quantity of water and lot of energy, both at a premium in countries like India. A new technology reported from Mexico claims that the water consumption and energy use can be significantly reduced making the recycled plastic.cheaper. Here is a take on this new development.    

"Mexican startup Ak Inovex has developed a 'Greener' plastic recycling uses no water and only half the energy  At the same time, it produces plastic pellets of equal or better quality,  resulting in an environmentally friendlier process that also promises to be significantly cheaper. Plastic recycling can turn discarded bottles and other scrap into a myriad of useful objects, helping produce anything from polyester clothes to 3D printing filaments and even diesel. However, it is a long, laborious affair that consumes plenty of resources  –  especially water. Among other things, the plastic needs to be thoroughly washed to get rid of impurities, carefully dehydrated inside an oven, and then water-cooled once again as the newly-formed plastic filaments are cut into small pellets. According to Marco Adame, the new method that his startup has come up with can produce pellets of equal or better quality using just half of the energy by getting rid of the need for these temperature extremes, while also doing away with the need for water altogether. The system uses special walls that, on contact, are able to both mold the plastic into the desired pellet shape and cool those pellets at the same time. The energy-demanding dehydration process, which involves temperatures of around 180° C (360° F), had been a necessity so far because, after being washed, the plastic molecules would otherwise attract water to themselves and prevent the plastic from crystallizing properly. Being able to process scrap plastic without water has therefore simplified things considerably. Adame says that using his technique, the same machines are able to process styrofoam, polystyrene and ABS, which together make up about 90 percent of all plastics. The improved versatility would mean less space would be needed for operation."

Limitation vis-a-vis plastic recycling does not lie in technology but logistical problems associated with segregating different plastics from the garbage for channeling them to different recycling systems. There are at least two dozens of plastics in common use and they come to the garbage dump mixed with organic and biological waste and this restricts the extent of plastic recycling to less than 5% of total used through out the world, the figure varying from country to country. Increased use of plastic wastes for energy generation is another encouraging development that will remove more and more of these naturally indestructible man-made material from the environment. Comparing to paper which is recycled to the extent of 80% plastics will have to go a long way to remove the tag it has earned as "chokers" for its role in contaminating oceans and river bodies, bringing about destruction of natural aquatic creatures.


Indian Malls-Where are the customers?

What is a Mall? It is am American innovation for attracting customers by providing a comfortable shopping experience where a variety of products, mostly consumer oriented, with different brand names and some services are offered under one roof. Before the advent of Malls in a big way, there have been shopping arcades which also provided essentially the same service but on a smaller scale. Malls are generically huge in size with different individual shops with their own characteristic ambiance, inter connected for easy access and generally have food courts for refreshment and meal service. Being mostly air conditioned they provide protection from severe summer heat or winter cold. It is estimated that business volumes in such Malls for branded products are comparatively high because of high visibility and more foot prints of consumers. The ease of parking vehicles makes them particularly attractive for urban consumers, especially in India where most roads are cluttered, with parking space being at a premium! Still why the Mall concept is not catching on in India as expected though there are many established ones in a few cities like Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkatta etc? Here is an incisive analysis of this phenomenon which explains why Malls are not taking roots in India.

"Revenue from organised bricks-and-mortar retail in India is expected to more than triple to $150 billion by 2020, according to consulting firm Technopak - spurred by a raft of foreign retailers planning their first foray into the market, heating up competition for mall space. In the past six months, Gap Inc (GPS.N) has said it plans 40 stores, The Children's Place (PLCE.O) is looking at 50 while Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) (HMb.ST) has plans for an initial 50 shops. Established brands are also expanding, with Marks & Spencer (MKS.L) aiming to lift its store numbers to 80 from 45 by 2016/17. But India has only 77.6 million square feet of mall space, less than one tenth of U.S. levels, despite having nearly four times the population, with the shortage of attractive malls most acute in New Delhi and Mumbai. One in every six stores is empty, according to property consultants Jones Lang LaSalle, while advisory and management firm Beyond Squarefeet estimates thatup to 25 malls have been shut or converted to other uses in the past two years. That does not include two of Mumbai's oldest suburban malls, Centre One and Nirmal Lifestyle, which have said they are shutting down as shoppers stayed away. Many centres, especially those that went up during the 2006-2007 real estate boom, were built by developers with little mall building experience. Ownership of shops was often sold off piecemeal while many do not have sufficient parking for shoppers or areas for retailers to bring in their supplies. "Many of the malls that grew up did not even think of these things," said Kumar Rajagopalan, CEO of the Retailers' Association of India. Until new and better malls are built, some retailers are looking at alternatives such as leasing standalone shops that can often be less lucrative or investing big in fast-growing but nascent online services. "We...have to look at online spaces in a bigger way much earlier than before, because there is definitely a big shortage (of physical retail space)," said Govind Shrikhande, managing director at Shoppers Stop."

When government of India opened its arms to foreign companies to invest in India in the retail sector lot was expected and it was assumed that international retail chains would flock to India for setting their shop here. Alas this hope seems to have dashed looking at the retail landscape at present. Though many malls and supermarkets were established with lot of enthusiasm, due to poor customer response a significant number of them have already downed their shutters. Though market experts expect that the organized retail sector (a euphoric term for super markets, hyper markets and the Malls) would triple their business volume by 2020, it is a highly optimistic forecast, unlikely to materialize fully. We may recall how pundits were predicting the death knell of our traditional "mom and pop" stores, estimated to be about 8 million in number, once organized retailing comes to India with better resources, organizational skill, management wizardry, decades of experience and financial muscle. What happened? The ground reality is that they are not able to capture even 10% of the retail market business, in spite of struggling for past one and a half decades! Probably unlike in other countries, in India these super business models may not get a supremacy over traditional vendors in the foreseeable future and there has to be a peaceful coexistence between these two competing groups!