Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Indian entrepreneurs in Africa-Hail the new breed of colonizers!

Indians are the latest colonizers in Africa, Ethiopia being the major destination for large Indian companies. The term "Colonizer" cannot be taken in a negative way because these investors from India do not own the land but take the land on least for 50 years at the rate of about Rs 1-2 crore per year. It must be remembered that Ethiopia was almost ruined by the communist rulers who had a stranglehold on the country without doing any thing to improve the lots of the people there. Now that progressive regimes have taken over the reins there, it has dawn on the country that it has neither the expertise or working population to realize the potential of the land to increase the GDP. What are these Indian agricultural entrepreneurs doing in Ethiopia which they were not able to do back home. Read further below to understand this phenomenon.   

"Firms from India have acquired over 600,000 hectares of land in the country, which is more than 10 times the land acquired by the companies in India under the 2005 Special Economic Zones policy. US policy think tank, the Oakland Group, says that Hyderabad-based Karaturi Global operates 300,000 hectares of land to grow palm oil, cereals and pulses, leasing the land for a mere 1.81 crore per year for 50 years.Apart from these, S&P and Energy Solutions operate 50,000 hectares of prime land to grow biofuels and edible oils, leasing the land for 2.2 crore per year for 50 years. According to the US think tank, BHO Agro PLC operates 27,000 hectares of land to grow cereals, pulses and edible oils, leasing the land for 93 lakh per year for 50 years. Exports to India from Ethiopia are primarily vegetable products which jumped from $2.7 million to $28.5 million between 2006 and 2012. Despite strategic holdings and the influx of food grains from those holdings, India topped the United Nations' 2015 World Hunger list surpassing China. This highlighted that despite the supply, problems persist with the delivery system, which cannot meet the basic needs of millions of Indians."

Whether one has to admire the initiatives of these entrepreneurs or frown on them for their "deserting" their homeland is an issue that does not deserve any consideration at all. India, despite the exhortation by the PM to promote "make in India", is not an investor friendly country and when it comes to land there is no rhyme or logic in obfuscating the issue causing considerable delays and hiccups for any entrepreneur to get into business. Look at the "circus" being played out in the open by various political parties to obstruct easing restrictions on land acquisition sending wrong signals across the world and how can one blame Indian investors looking beyond the country seeking greener pastures. When these entrepreneurs are being "finger pointed" for not being patriotic enough to send all their production back to India for improving food situation in the country is just plain non-sense! Industrial activity is not a charitable one and it presupposes that there is reasonable returns on its capital investment. Here also India investors cannot be expected to send their production to India as the dynamics of the market govern where it should be exported after meeting the local obligations under the lease agreement with the host country. Hail these new breed of Indian entrepreneurs who have the guts, gumption and courage to work in foreign soils under uncertain environments! 


Monday, June 22, 2015

The "Authority"-Raking up old "mantra" with no seriousness will not solve food safety mess!

How can one help from "throwing up" reading the latest "blah, blah" put out by the FSSAI? Till some lowly food inspector in a remote area in UP raised the safety of the noodles made by a  global manufacturer, reams of paper, number of days of telecasting time have been wasted condemning the MNC for its deliberate strategy to poison the Indian citizens by adding tons of MSG and Lead in their products! Now that FSSAI has "sent" a Rs 1700 cr spending plan to the government, one naturally must ask the logical question as to what this Authority has been doing so far except more and more bureaucratization of its functions, strengthening its own pleasure deriving office infrastructure and disbursing perks to its "committee" members. One of the four areas it wants to increase is its manpower, (read, more bureaucrats) while the existing staff itself is practically doing nothing leaving inspection, sampling, testing and prosecution to the terribly understaffed and poorly paid state machinery! Do they have no shame left, being responsible for the mess we see to day in this country vis-a-vis food quality and safety? Poor Prime Minister! It is a tragedy that he is depending on these "babus" to realize his dream of "make in India" a reality in the food sector also. Read below to realize what dreams FSSAI has through its latest mantra which is nothing but the proverbial "old wine in new bottle"!

"Days after the recall of Maggi Noodles from India highlighted glaring gaps in the food regulatory structure, the Health Ministry has sent a Rs 1,700-crore proposal to the Union Cabinet for a sweeping revamp. According to sources, the proposal focuses on four main areas: strengthening the state inspection apparatus, bolstering the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India's manpower, giving the FSSAI more powers and ensuring that the authority has access to state-of-the-art technology. "We have sent a proposal to the Cabinet to increase FSSAI's manpower, both technical and field staff, and make sure that it has at its disposal the latest technologies in its laboratories," a senior official in the Health Ministry told The Indian Express. "Currently, it (FSSAI) is a rudimentary set-up. In fact, 16 states do not even have a food testing laboratory. The actual increase in staff strength will have to be worked out once the proposal is passed because revamping the state food safety set-up is a very important part of the plan," he added. An investigation by The Indian Express this month had revealed a number of shortcomings in the country's food safety apparatus — at the Centre and states — including lack of staff, technology and accreditation for most state labs. Last week, Tata Starbucks said it was "suspending" some ingredients from its outlets after that products used by the company and a number of other top brands, such as Kellogg's and Venky's, figured on a list of around 500 rejected products prepared by the national food safety regulator. The official, meanwhile, stressed that that revamp was not connected to the recent controversy surrounding the recall of Nestle's popular instant noodles after lab tests showed unsafe levels of lead in some samples. "The restructuring of FSSAI has been in the works for long. It has got nothing to do with the recall of Maggi Noodles or whatever has happened since then," the official said. Sources said that the FSSAI currently has its own staff deployed in only five cities across the country, leaving the checking of imported foods mostly to state authorities and, at times, even to Customs officials. Sources said the proposal would pump Rs 1,700 crore into the food safety administration apparatus over the next few years. "A very important part of the plan is to hire more experts. At present, scientific work is mostly outsourced to committees formed for the purpose. For example, FSSAI has formed an 11-member expert committee to look at salt, sugar and fat content of Indian foods and recommend acceptable levels," sources in the ministry said."

While this Blogger is not holding any brief for noodles, the way the manufacturer was treated shabbily and recklessly by the governments at the state and central levels, by motivated "revelations", damaging statements and serious insinuations will send "shivers" through the global investors even if they have any remote plans to invest in Indian food sector! The belated discovery that noodles is a junk food, soft drinks are poisons and many products from big industrial players are not healthy can only reflect on the poor planning and governance in this country. Is India becoming a "banana republic" as being perceived by some or is it a "macho" image the present government is trying to send across? Whatever it is, enough damage has been done to the reputation of the country and it is going to take lot a of time to "repair" this self inflicted wound and restore our credibility across the globe.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Double speak-Our national trait?

Listen to the public utterance, splashed in the print media recently, of a person who seems to imagine he is the " numero uno" expert on food industry in the country. This is after wasting more than 16 years as head of the premier food research agency doing precious little to improve the food industry landscape in the country! It is a pity that Food safety authority (FSSAI) chose him to be the "head" of its panel on nutritious foods and dietary supplements with doubtful credentials to shoulder the responsibility. No wonder FSSAI is in a sorry mess with such people as advisers! No one disputes the fact that FSSAI is not equipped with the wherewithal to perform the duties cast on it because of incompetence, bureaucratic mindset and archival infrastructure for sampling and testing. But their problems will be further complicated if discredited and ill equipped people are chosen to undertake technical tasks which are beyond them. One can go on and go on as to what ails our food safety system but it can be set right not by platform speeches and media statements. Sincere political leaders with vision and an inspired group of scientists will have to join hands to overhaul the system. Has this country the necessary will power and determination to do it? Read further below. .     

"India's food safety apparatus needs sweeping reforms to ensure that its norms are on par with international standards, including an accreditation system that not only screens labs but also its personnel on a regular basis, according to the head of a key panel of India's national food safety authority. "It is time we wake up and work on a science-based approach and move forward rapidly," Dr V Prakash, who chairs the scientific panel of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) on nutritional foods and dietary supplements, told The Indian Express. "If we have periodical evaluation in aviation for pilots, why not for analysts who test our food?" asked the former director of the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI). "If the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) sets guidelines, all airports and flights have to follow them — it should be the same for food analysis laboratories," he added. Dr Prakash's call for an overhaul comes after the FSSAI sought the recall of Nestle's Maggi Noodles in the country following lab tests that showed unsafe levels of lead in some samples. On June 10, The Indian Express reported that some products from top brands such as Tata Starbucks, Kellogg's and Venky's figured on a list of around 500 rejected items that the FSSAI had handed over to state-level officials. Tata Starbucks on Monday said it was pulling out the ingredients on that list from its outlets. Dr Prakash has also called for more scientists to be involved in the regulatory system, as is the case in other countries such as the US. "The system should be run by scientists with bureaucratic support and not the other way round," he said. "The top regulatory body FSSAI does not have many scientists on its permanent staff. Where are the scientists in our food regulation system and what is the role of the few that are there? Ideally, scientists should be involved in monitoring at every stage, including sampling protocols, setting standards, and testing and simulation," the senior scientist said. Seeking an overhaul of state and central labs, Dr Prakash said reforms should cover testing standards, training of analysts, infrastructure, role of scientists in regulation, and the frequency of monitoring. "India should not dilute the standards because many of our laboratories may not have advanced facilities for scientific analysis. We should be at par with international standards such as Codex," said Dr Prakash, who headed the committee that standardised testing standards at the micro-level (parts per billion) for packaged water in 2008".

FSSAI cannot function properly if it has authority only on paper and at least a minimum sampling and testing infrastructure will have to under its control. There is nothing wrong in the concept of a central authority like FDA that exists in the US. But in India FSSAI can only pass orders and cannot sit on judgment regarding the views and data provided by the state agencies. The four Central Laboratories in Mysore, Kolkatta, Ghaziabad and Pune are just referral laboratories "touching" only court referred samples. Another irritant is the legal system that is totally ineffective with years of delays and corruption being the normal norms.Exercising power without responsibility is dangerous. Take the present case involving noodles. Based on flimsy testing data in undependable laboratories, FSSAI did a great damage to its own credibility by banning the product as a knee jerk reaction which resulted in destroying more than Rs 340 crore worth of the product besides practically destroying the brand reputation of the company. Is not FSSAI culpable for collateral damages if the manufacturers sue the government for reparation? Ordinary citizen in this country will have to bear this burden for the folly of a few thoughtless persons in the government. Another pertinent question is why should India waste enormous time and resources for setting up quality standards and safety parameters in stead of adopting those evolved by WHO-FAO Alimentarius Commission? Products like traditional foods for which international standards are not available need to be studied for evolving country specific standards. It took more than 6 years for the GOI to implement the food safety regulations after initiating it in 2006 and to hear now that this has to be "overhauled" is nothing but a huge joke!  


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Crop insurance-Why India is not promoting this life saving route for farmers?

Farmer suicide has become so common and frequent in India that cases reported in the media are invariably ignored except for some noises made here and there by some vote conscious politicians and social workers. Of course India is considered the global capital of suicides and if statistics are to be believed the farmer suicides are not above the average figure for the country. It is rather sad that the country, meaning the governments and the politicians who exercise power, have not done much in addressing this grave problem though every body knows agriculture is the backbone of the country's economy besides being the "bread producer" for the 130 crore population! Imagine what catastrophe can happen if these most neglected segment of our population decides to "strike" work as most organized labor unions are doing to day literally blackmailing the country frequently for seeking more and more to their kitty! In a country like the US farming is no more an adventure or risk because of the beautiful farmer insurance system that provides a safety net to the farmers during crop failure. Here is a commentary on this insurance coverage as it operates in that country.  

In fact, that is what inspired me to farm. I had a passion for growing food and, in the case of my home state of Washington where wheat is a highly exported commodity, I had the satisfaction of knowing that my work as a farmer contributed to feeding people not only at home, but all across the globe. The food security we enjoy in this country is made possible in no small part through United States farm policy. With the 2014 Farm Bill, Congress shifted the focus of farm policy to risk management. It made crop insurance the centerpiece, and quite rightly. It helps farmers recover from natural disasters and volatile market fluctuations. It enables them to plan and budget for the long term in the most effective and efficient way. Farming is an inherently risky business. Even my wheat farm, which is located in the rolling hills above the Palouse River, and considered some of America's most fertile ground, is vulnerable to serious weather events that can devastate my crops in any given year. I have been farming for more than three decades and I can say, without question, if it weren't for crop insurance I would not be in business. And, crop insurance is good for consumers and taxpayers, too. Without effective and affordable crop insurance, catastrophic production losses would sap the rural economy by setting in motion a series of harmful events: farm failures and consolidation, job losses, financial stress on rural banks and reduced investment in U.S. agriculture. Emergencies can happen to all of us. There have been enormous emergency bailouts for victims of floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and other disasters. But because of modern crop insurance, farmers have survived some of the worst production years in memory without that kind of disaster relief. Crop insurance fills the need. This reality is why I am always concerned by those who criticize farm policy or, worse, advocate for its demise, usually by spreading misinformation about the cost and mechanics of farm policy and crop insurance. One of the misconceptions is that crop insurance is a handout to farmers. Actually, farmers spend $4 billion a year out of their own pockets for insurance protection. They only collect an indemnity after they've suffered a verifiable loss and they've shouldered their deductible.Another attack includes barring farmers with large operations from participating in crop insurance. This would be foolish policy because any risk management pool needs a large and diverse group of participants. We want the most productive farmers in the pool to spread the risk. In the same vein, car insurers want safe drivers to buy insurance to help balance losses from more accident-prone drivers. A financially healthy rural economy requires a financially healthy farm production sector. And that sector relies on a safety net when catastrophic events happen. It is a modest investment considering the return, which is a stable and affordable national food and fiber supply.

Governments, coming one after another have been more interested in doling out "laddus" to the farmers in the form of a variety of subsidies and MSP regime for making the agriculture more viable and this cannot be ignored as they provide succor to millions under normal conditions. But when there are distress conditions like failed rains or droughts, compensation paid is paltry which cannot significantly reduce their debt burden in the event of crop failure. Almost 80% of the agricultural production in India depends on rains because of the painfully slow expansion of irrigation facilities. Under these circumstances why not Government come out with an insurance program for compensating those farmers suffering from contingencies due to crop failure? If Government can create a nuclear liability fund for covering nuclear reactor accidents, why not evolve a similar fund for insurance for farmers. Some of the programs of the present government like accident insurance at Rs 12 an year or the Atal Pension plan are really praise worthy. It is time Government focuses on evolving an effective crop insurance scheme and save the farmers from extinction.  


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Indian food industry ranks first in unsafe foods globally-What a flattering tribute!

Where lies the truth vis-a-vis the Maggi row which recently provided much comic entertainment to the whole world? There are several questions that arise out of this sorry mess created by the safety agencies at the state and central level. Is the manufacturer of Maggi noodles really guilty, willfully or otherwise? How is that the very same noodle passes the safety test in one state while it failed in another one? Is Maggi noodle the only culprit in the food industry landscape of the country in violating the food standards as laid down by the safety authorities? How serious is the problem of unsafe foods flooding the Indian market? In spite of 68 years of independence, has India failed as a responsible country in protecting its citizens from the dangers of unsafe and hazardous food products being bought day in and day out by the innocent consumers across the nation? Is Indian food industry so irresponsible to market unsafe foods in spite of the established brand reputation some of them enjoy? Are the multinational companies have diluted standards for internationally famous brands when they are manufactured in the country? Has the government no responsibility in ensuring that the citizens are provided clean and safe water and air? Is the safety authority only obsessed with reputed brands and big companies, most of them managed by desi managers and trying to score brownie points by finding fault with their products while millions of small fries with no brand image to protect are allowed to get away with products of inconsistent quality and doubtful safety? Government at Delhi must answer these questions before finger pointing at one product out of millions of them produced and marketed in the country to day. According to the admission of the national safety agency itself, India is a haven for adulterated, sub-standard and unsafe foods, even beating China, considered so far as the world capital of adulterated foods!  Here is a commentary on this sorry state of affairs vis-a-vis working  (or morbidity?) of Indian food safety agencies.    

"The country's packaged food industry is hobbling from a domino effect after the Maggi mess blew the lid off flaws in safety checks, inadequate information on labels and the lack of a uniform national protocol for laboratory tests of products. The raging row over Nestle's popular instant noodle reconfirmed shortcomings in the country's food safety network as data from the central Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) shows about 13% of the 2.4 lakh various product samples had failed lab tests since 2011. This makes India the number one country in terms of unsafe food, followed by China where 9.9% of the tested samples failed to meet prescribed standards. The enormity of the problem can be gauged from the global average of failed tests that ranges from 5 to 6%, according to quality monitoring organisation Food Sentry.
The state-wise breakup is even more alarming with Madhya Pradesh (40%) and Uttar Pradesh (36%) leading the count in 2013-14. It's not surprising then that the Maggi crisis began in Uttar Pradesh, where inspectors are regularly on the lookout for adulterated foods.
The FSSAI data also shows misrepresentation on labels of food packets. Consumers remain in the dark about ingredients and nutrition facts of a product because of inappropriate labeling, says Amit Khurana, food safety and toxin unit head at the Centre for Science and Environment.

"Every ingredient of a food product should be clearly mentioned on the pack with the quantity of each element and in comparison with the recommended daily allowance. Easy to understand and easy to read front-of-pack labeling should be adopted," he says."

What makes this story more sordid and disgusting is that these statistics are derived from a minuscule number of samples from the market and the story would have been gut wrenching if statistically significant number of samples representing the real quantity of products manufactured by different sub-sectors of the industry were analyzed! According to a recent report from the US the extent of rejection of Indian foods exported to that country has increased phenomenally during the first 5 months of this year due to indifferent quality and safety violations. One can only sympathize with our poor Prime Minister who is exhorting the industry in this country to boost the image of India made products through his "Make in India" campaign. Unless there is massive shake up of the food safety agencies and dramatic infusion of funds for elevating the level of performance by the field staff and testing laboratories through vastly upgraded and expanded infrastructure, Indian citizen is destined to be at the mercy of unscrupulous food fraudsters and criminals, endangering the lives of 1.3 billion people inhabiting this country. 


Saturday, June 13, 2015

COOL Law for imported meat products in the US negated-A logical move

"Bullying can be met only with counter bullying" is a hard learned experience which people and nations are well to remember. The regressive measure on the part of the US government to compel meat industry in that country to declare country of origin  (COOL Law) for meat products imported and marketed in that country generated lot of heat earlier. Strong reaction from countries like Canada and Mexico which are natural and neighborly trade partners of the US, threatening to impose retaliatory taxing on US products imported by them seems to have had its salutary effect on the law makers in that country, leading to the cancellation of this law. WTO also had taken this issue seriously promising punitive action against the US, if COOL law is not scrapped. Here is a commentary on this issue which would have snowballed into major global flash point adversely affecting food business world wide.     

"The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to repeal the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) Amendments Act of 2015 for meat--specifically beef, chicken and pork. The bill, spearheaded by Rep. Michael Conaway (R-Texas), passed with a vote of 300-131 late Wednesday evening.
The COOL Act requires that meat packaging sold in the U.S. must display a few pieces of crucial information:  * where the animals are born, raised and ultimately slaughtered.  * whether or not any of those steps occurred in different countries The bill was originally introduced in May on the same day the World Trade Organization (WTO) shot down a U.S. appeal of their stance that COOL favors domestically sourced meat while unreasonably singling out meat imported from countries like Canada and Mexico. Conaway believes that the COOL program doesn't work, saying that "it is time to put this failed experiment behind us once and for all." He and other representatives stand firm that meat labeling has zero impact on food safety. The repeal is a win for the U.S. meat industry having already experienced some strain in relation to the COOL Act. Supporters of the repeal are also pleased to not have to endure retaliatory taxing by Canada and Mexico in the tune of $3.6 billion which the WTO authorized to go into effect within 60 days of the final ruling. The repeal of the act is a loss for consumers though, one of the main groups that supports country-of-origin labeling simply for informational purposes. House Democrats are ready to move on, saying that while the COOL Act had good intentions, the WTO has rejected it four times. Therefore, repealing it and moving on is in everyone's best interest. The WTO will convene yet again next week to consider Canada and Mexico's plans for retaliatory taxes imposed on the U.S."

A pertinent question that arises from this sorry episode is the inability of the food safety authorities in the US to apply its mind before promulgating such an "apartheid" resembling Act. After all consumer is least interested to know from where his food comes as long as they are safe and conforms to quality specifications laid down in the statute books. Meat industry in the US is right in claiming that such a discriminatory law would affect its fortunes severely, adding further to the labeling cost significantly while it does not serve any purpose. One can understand if country of origin information enables the consumer to determine the carbon foot print of the product which increases with the distance traveled by the product before it reaches the US shores. But that is not the reality and consumers can only think in terms of buying locally produced products putting even better products from other countries in great disadvantage upsetting the very basis of WTO foundation! Protectionists policies can be pursued only if wealthy countries like the US start "cocking a snook" at economically weaker nations who have no strength to defend themselves from such patently unjust and unilateral actions. Present set of US law makers are to be congratulated for correcting an historical mistake with far reaching consequences, restoring the credibility of America as an honest and humanitarian country.   


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Poison in Tamilnadu grown vegetables-Kerala's complaint

Tamilnadu and Kerala are locked in a tussle over the issue of Mullaperiyar dam and this has been going on for several decades with the judiciary trying to find a solution from legal angle. Passions are running high because each party to this dispute believes the other one is unreasonable and insensitive to its fears. Against this backdrop comes the news that Kerala is agitated over the safety of vegetables coming from Tamilnadu which is claimed to be causing health problems to its citizens. Kerala is peculiar state which does not produce any thing in quantities sufficient to feed its population and hence depends on getting these supplies from the neighboring states of Tamilnadu and Karnataka. Its anxiety is understandable as the government has the responsibility to safeguard the health of its population and no  cost is considered too high for fulfilling this responsibility. How much truth is there in the claim that vegetables are dangerous because the farmers there use dangerous chemical pesticides to increase the yield with no control on application, is difficult to gauge at present unless a thorough and unbiased investigation is carried out by FSSAI immediately. Here is a report about this unsavory episode which will further create tension between these two warring southern states of the country.

The letter has specially raised concern over the addition of poison in polyhouse farms, which the Tamil Nadu government encourages by giving subsidies. The letter requesting intervention against the use of poison in farms was sent as per the instruction of the Chief Minister of Kerala.When a team, including joint commissioner of food safety division K. Anil Kumar, assistant food safety commissioner D. Shiva Kumar and technical assistant V. Gopakumar, visited polyhouse farms in Tamil Nadu, they found out how vegetables mixed with dangerous levels of poison were coming to Kerala. Most of the cucumber used in salads in Kerala comes from polyhouse farms in Tamil Nadu. An artificial climate that suits agriculture is created in polyhouse farming to take yield every day. But its problem is a surge in insects that attack plants. So the use of insecticides in these farms is ten times the normal. Twelve types of insecticides are used in cucumber farming. In this way, 21 types of vegetables come to Kerala from farms in Tamil Nadu. Farmers in Tamil Nadu told the Kerala team that there was no cucumber for sale in Tamil Nadu because all the produce is sent to Kerala because of the demand. While Furadan is applied on red banana, which is widely used in Kerala, beetroot, carrot and potato are grown in soil mixed with the powder of Forite, an extremely poisonous insecticide. It was found that insecticides are applied on cabbage, cauliflower and brinjal not only when they are growing but also before loading them on to trucks going to Kerala."

While the problem may be genuine, the way it is proposed to be addressed cannot be considered correct. A junior officer of the state sending an official letter to the Tamilnadu government on"instructions" from the Chief Minister is not the way interstate disputes are addressed and instead the CMs of both states could have met for sorting out this issue. Besides FSSAI should have been first consulted whose officers could have undertaken inspection of polyhouses in Tamilnadu for hauling up the wrong doers before making it a public issue. It is interesting to hear that these vegetables grown in that state are not sold locally but exported to Kerala 100%! This reminds us of the practice by many farmers in some parts of the country to cultivate a small plot of land for growing vegetables for self consumption without using pesticides while for commercial purpose heavy dose of pesticides are routinely used! In the present case too that could be the explanation for presence high levels of dangerous chemical pesticides in consignment destined for Kerala. Whatever it is FSSAI can take a suo motu notice of this issue for resolving the issue amicably.


The Mango saga!-A clueless consumer being fleeced by the traders

Whoever does not like the delicious mango, especially if the variety is Mallika, Badami or Alphonso? Many old timers still remember the good old days when mangoes were being sold at your door steps by vendors carrying baskets containing ripe and attractive looking fruit, offered for prices for a dozen! To day the situation has changed dramatically with consumers totally helpless in buying good quality mangoes at affordable prices. What a market distortion which has happened during the last 5-6 years! An average consumer is befuddled by the prices being demanded for fruits whether it is banana, orange, apple, guava, sapota,or mango. Apple to day costs about Rs 30-50 a piece! Oranges in season may be available at Rs 10-15 a piece while mango price can be as high as Rs 15 to Rs 100 a piece depending on the variety and quality. More tragic is the fact that consumer does not know what he is buying till he goes home and peels it for eating! It could be bland in taste, practically flavorless and some times rotten inside. Unfortunately branding of fruits is still not in vogue in the country and even a few who sell branded fresh fruits do not guarantee the quality with consumers having no recourse to redressal of their complaints. Now it is the mango season, consumer woes are spilling over with no sure way of selecting good quality fruits because of the unethical and criminal acts of a few traders who ripen the fruit using acetylene in stead of ethylene. Acetylene gives a bright color to the fruit but the typical flavor and taste of mango will not be perceptible. Recent news reports that food safety agencies here and there are catching these criminals is really welcome but the action is too late and too little. Here is a take on this development. 

Food safety officers are gearing up for surprise inspections at mango mandis in the city to book fruit merchants found using the banned calcium carbide to artificially-ripen mangoes. Amid reports of continued use of calcium carbide, which has been banned under Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition and Restrictions on Sales) Regulations, 2011, owing to its harmful effects on health, Food Safety Officer (Mysuru urban) M.S. Lokesh told The Hindu that they had received instructions to conduct surprise raids at mango markets. "If we find calcium carbide, we will seize the chemical and the fruits. After a mahazar, we will submit the evidence to the court along with photographs," he said. The Food Safety Officer said they were unable to begin the checks earlier as the State government lacked lab facilities to test samples of seized mangoes. "But now, we have been given instructions to conduct surprise checks, book erring merchants and submit the evidence to the jurisdictional courts," he said. Earlier this week, about 45 mango merchants of Mysuru attended a training programme by the Department of Horticulture organised as part of the mango mela at Curzon, where they were trained to use of permitted ripening agents like ethylene spray. However, a section of the merchants continued to use calcium carbide as ripening agent. When asked, a trader at the mango mandi on Akbar Road affirmed this. However, Farooq Pasha, president of Mango Merchants Association, Akbar Road, sought to clarify that only a section continued to use calcium carbide while most traders had begun spraying ethylene gas. He said the mangoes take about five days to ripen when treated with ethylene gas against the three days when calcium carbide is used. Sources in the Horticulture Department pointed out that a section of the mango merchants used calcium carbide to earn a quick buck.

Imagine the despair of a consumer when he buys these fruits from the market attracted by the color at astronomical prices and realizes at home when the family tries to enjoy the delicacy, only to realize that they have been coned! Their pleasure is snatched away crudely while they are poorer by a few rupees spent on buying the sub-standard material. This is further to the misery caused by underweighment due to "doctored" weighing scales used by most of the sellers who are immune to any fear of punishment by the authorities for using defective scales. Some ffear that acetylene ripened mangoes are not safe to eat though there is no unanimity regarding this issue. Why government cannot ban sale of calcium carbide which is used by traders to generate acetylene is not clear. What is disturbing is that even large shopping markets buy their supplies from contractors with very little control on their behavior. Probably a solution to the vexed problem could be to encourage packing and branding for which Ministry of Food Processing Industry must think of giving incentives. Large scale chilling, cleaning, packing houses must be encouraged in the coming years for this purpose.  .