Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Stifling innovation-How can governments indulge in such unethical activities?

Ever heard of the term infanticide? That is sacrificing one's own child, whatever be the reason. Why should a parent commit infanticide? Is it because of the potential for the child to become more famous than the parent? Whatever be the reason it is ridiculous that such things happen in real life. Innovations are like children and scientists creating them are like parents to them. Like every parent, innovators also want their findings to be of benefit to the society. But in a quixotic development in the US, the very government which professes its strong commitment to science and technology is reported to have made attempts to "kill" a novel food product developed by a "daring" entrepreneur, through unfair means though there is no explanation forthcoming from the concerned authorities as to why they did it. The case pertains to the successful development of a product by a start up venture that can replicate the taste and other parameters associated with natural egg from poultry birds, based on alternate formulation not involving real eggs. The new product had all the desirable qualities associated with natural egg and could have saved millions of consumer dollars because it was cheaper and healthier than the real egg. Here is a take on this unusual action on the part of US government agencies vested with the responsibility of providing wholesome food to its citizens.   

"A US government-appointed agricultural body tried to crush a Silicon Valley food startup after concluding the company represented a "major threat" and "crisis" for the $5.5bn-a-year egg industry,according to documents obtained by the Guardian. In potential conflict with rules that govern how it can spend its funds, the American Egg Board (AEB) lobbied for a concerted attack on Hampton Creek, a food company that has created a low-cost plant-based egg replacement and the maker of Just Mayo, a mayonnaise alternative. In a series of emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (Foia), AEB staff, a US department of agriculture official and egg industry executives attempted to orchestrate the attack. The documents were obtained by Ryan Shapiro, a Foia expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Shapiro's Washington DC-based Foia-specialist attorney, Jeffrey Light, and passed to Hampton Creek.Just Mayo is just not mayo: FDA says eggless mayonnaise must change name. Among the efforts coordinated between the AEB, the USDA and the egg industry:
    * Outgoing AEB head Joanne Ivy advised Unilever on how to proceed against Hampton Creek after the food giant filed a false advertising lawsuit against its rival last year.
    * The Department of Agriculture's national supervisor of shell eggs joined the AEB in its attack on Hampton Creek, suggesting Ivy contact the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) directly about Just Mayo with her concerns. The FDA later ruled Just Mayo must change its name.
    * The AEB attempted to have Just Mayo blocked from Whole Foods, asking Anthony Zolezzi, a partner at private equity firm Pegasus Capital Advisors and self-described "eco-entrepreneur", to use his influence with Whole Foods to drop the product. (Whole Foods still sells Just Mayo.)
    * More than one member of the AEB made joking threats of violence against Hampton Creek's founder, Josh Tetrick. "Can we pool our money and put a hit on him?" asked Mike Sencer, executive vice-president of AEB member organization Hidden Villa Ranch. Mitch Kanter, executive vice-president of the AEB, jokingly offered "to contact some of my old buddies in Brooklyn to pay Mr. Tetrick a visit".
    * The AEB's research arm, the Egg Nutrition Center (ENC), tested the strength of Hampton Creek's patent for its egg replacer, Beyond Eggs, using a consultant, Gilbert Leveille. Leveille concluded that the patent was "not very strong and could be easily challenged with an alternate product", he said in an email to Kanter. "Were I in your position I would focus on nutritional quality and on the emerging science, much of which ENC has sponsored," Leveille wrote.
The emails, totalling 600 pages, show the AEB has become deeply concerned about Hampton Creek. The San Francisco-based tech company has attracted $120m in funding from some of tech's biggest names, including the Founders Fund, started by Facebook backer Peter Thiel, and Vinod Khosla's Khosla Ventures.
The AEB represents egg farmers across the US and its board is selected by the secretary of agriculture. This year the politically connected AEB provided 14,000 eggs for the White House's annual Easter egg roll and Ivy was photographed with President Barack Obama"

It is matter of shame for the wealthiest country on earth to adopt unfair means to subdue a new entrepreneur in the narrow interest of protecting the fortunes of the natural egg industry. The argument that encouraging strong competition to the natural egg might adversely impact the poultry industry resulting in loss of employment to a few people will not jell because establishment of a new industry that caters to the same market will also provide employment, thus becoming an employment neutral development. What is forgotten in this debate is that the formulated egg products are much more healthier than their natural counterpart in terms of lower cholesterol and other adverse health parameters. It is a curse for this country that most law makers are lobbyists for one industry or the other because of the political donations they receive which the Federal court had made legal. However these law makers are forgetting that their primary responsibility is to the voters who elected them rather than the lobbyists, reposing trust and confidence on their ethical credentials, integrity and seriousness to address the issues affecting them.


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