Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The GMO food producing industry's latest gimmick-Wants US Government to give them grants to "brainwash" the consumers!

Does not your blood boil hearing the latest gimmick in the US by the so called "biotech" industry in trying to siphon of public funds for its selfish interest of promoting GMO foods in that country? It is an outright criminal thing to ask government to fund an "education" program to be run by it to "educate" the food consuming public how much benefits are awaiting them if they buy the genetically modified food products churned out year after year without the consumer ever knowing about it! Already more than 85% of processed foods marketed in the US are either wholly based on GMO raw materials or contain one or more of GMO components and what is there to educate the consumer is beyond any body's guess. It is well known how this industry has been stonewalling the demand by the consumers to declare on the label presence GMO ingredients in the products and after years of struggle the law makers considered a bill on GMO foods which is an apology for transparency! To add insult to injury now comes the new strategy to make government fork out huge amounts to help the industry sell to the consumer their version about the safety of GMO foods. Here is a take on this important issue which captured the attention of all those campaigning against the unsubstantiated claims about GMO foods.

"Last weekend (Oct. 29), the New York Times ran a piece on how the biotech industry has failed to deliver on its promises for GMO crops. The article followed less than a month after the biotech industry asked congressional leaders for $3 million in taxpayer-provided funding to "educate" the public about biotechnology and agricultural production. Congress should turn down this request for two reasons. First, the biotech and food industries should spend their own money to market their products. And second, Congress shouldn't use taxpayer money to promote what scientists and international organizations have said for years, and the latest investigation by the Times reveals, is a technology that not only doesn't live up it its hype, but is counterproductive to resolving the critical issues of global food sovereignty and global warming.
As reported by Farm Futures, 56 groups, including biotech and food industry lobbying organizations, wrote a letter asking four members of the Ag Appropriations Committee to include $3 million in the  2017 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act in order to "ensure key federal agencies responsible for the safety of our nation's food supply – the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – are able to more easily convey to the public science- and fact-based information about food." The groups justify their request for consumers to foot the bill for industry's marketing campaign by stating that: "These benefits are passed on to consumers who reap the advantage of affordable food prices, greater access to nutritious food, an improved environment, a strengthened rural economy, and enhanced domestic and international food security." In their letter, the groups claim "there is a tremendous amount of misinformation about agricultural biotechnology in the public domain." We would argue, and the Times investigation confirms, that much of that "misinformation" comes from industry itself, in the form of false promises. Specifically, as the Times reports, GMO crops have not led to higher yields, while they have led to greater, not reduced, use of pesticides. That's not news to those who track issues of world hunger and the harm, to the environment and to human health, of higher and higher volumes of increasingly toxic pesticides. The United Nations Human Rights Council is just one international organization that has reported on the failure of GMO crops to feed the world, and the fact that the only path toward global food security is agroecology, or regenerative agriculture. In its "Agriculture at the Crossroads" report, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) drew the same conclusions. Next week, governments, scientists and activists will gather in Marrakech for the COP22 Climate Summit. Thanks to French agriculture officials, who launched the 4 per 1000 Soils for Food Security and Climate Initiative last year at the Paris Climate Summit, the COP22 agenda will include discussions about the potential for regenerative agriculture to draw down and re-sequester carbon in the soil. This soil carbon sequestration strategy, recently hailed by climate scientist James Hansen, requires healthy soils in order to work, the kind of soils that can only be generated by regenerative agriculture practices—not GMO monocultures. The  United Nations Conference on Trade and Development's 2013 Trade and Environment Review estimates that the industrial food system generates 43-57 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
We must reduce fossil fuel emissions. But we also must draw down the legacy carbon already in the atmosphere. Regenerative agriculture practices provide our best hope for achieving that, while at the same time providing food and economic security to populations at risk.
Admittedly, $3 million is peanuts in the overall scheme of congressional spending bills—especially for an industry that, according to 2015 report,  "has spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the past few years on stealth PR tactics and deployed over a dozen front groups to push coordinated messages to attack organic food, defend pesticides and the routine use of antibiotics, and promote GMOs — messages that are making their way, day after day, to the pages of the largest media outlets." GMOs have been on the market for more than 20 years. Yet the number of hungry people in the U.S. is on the rise. Congress should allocate money to support the type of agriculture we know will lead to food security, at home and abroad, not to what has already proven a failure."

Will there be a day when the peddlers of GMO foods are taken to task for misleading with tall and unproven claims about these bio engineered foods, none of them proved beyond a shadow of doubt? Probably we may be day-dreaming because most governments, even the democratic ones, are in the vice-like grip of the GMO industry which has bankrolled the election of most of the lawmakers making the latter beholden to them. Naturally money can do strange things including making the law makers sing the tunes set by the industry. It is unbelievable that a reputed organization like USFDA can twist the facts and come out with guidelines that favor the industry in stead of protecting the health of the citizens. 
Surprisingly both the presidential aspirants in the November 8 election are avoiding saying anything about food safety, lest they burn their bridges with their financiers. One can only gasp in disbelief that world is moving slowly towards a catastrophe because of short sighted visions of the governments, supposed to be the guardians of the subjects they rule! 


Friday, September 30, 2016

Declaring added sugar on the food label-A measure with far reaching benefits to consumers

Who is the villain in most of the packed foods marketed to day across the world? Sugar or Fat? During the last 5 decades consumers were brain washed to believe that it is the fat, especially the saturated version, that contributes to obesity and other modern diseases while sugar always got away due to reasons not known till recently. Only when the truth about manipulated research in sixties funded by sugar industry came out the real fact emerged. Sugar is definitely the most causative component in all diets and most people consume levels of sugar much beyond what is recommended by the health experts and nutritionists. It is interesting to know that an average American, typical victim of rampaging obesity that is prevalent in that country, consumes a whopping 135 gm of sugar per day which is more than double of what others in this blessed planet consume. Viewed against the current standard for sugar consumption which is not more than 50 gm per capita a day, one can guess what damage high levels of sugar do to the health of a normal consumer. What is shocking is the ground reality that is obtaining in most of the wealthy countries where sugar is omnipotent in its presence in more than 90% of the commercial foods whether it is really needed or not! Food and beverage industry seems to believe that sugar is an addictive substance like opioids that can hook on the consumer permanently without bothering to think about the devastating effect sugar has on human health. It looks like a substantial segment of food industry in general does not want any declaration about added sugar on the label for fear of adverse reaction from the consumer and its economic consequences. Recent moves by the US government to make it mandatory to declare added sugar have become a controversial policy issue and here is a take on that development  

"The new label might not look all that different, but it most certainly is. Among the many changes, which include larger type for the number of calories and servings per container, is a new line located just beneath "total sugars."It tells consumers exactly how much of the sugar was added by the manufacturer and what percentage of the daily recommended intake that added sugar comprises. The change addresses some of the early arguments waged by the sugar industry, which argued that having a line that says "sugars" and another that says "added sugars" would be confusing, because it wouldn't make clear that the latter is part of the first. The FDA addressed that problem by changing "sugars" to "total sugars" and adding "includes" to the "added sugars" line.  Still, the industry argued that the label puts added sugar in an unfairly negative light, vilifying even small amounts. "The Sugar Association is disappointed by the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) ruling to require an 'added sugars' declaration and daily reference value (DRV) on the Nutrition Facts Label (NFL)," the association said in a statement Friday morning. "The extraordinary contradictions and irregularities, as well as the lack of scientific justification in this rulemaking process are unprecedented for the FDA." Not all food organizations, however, agreed. Mars and Nestle have supported the measure. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade organization representing many large food and beverage companies, issued a statement calling the update "timely." Several health and nutrition groups, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, have issued statements expressing their support for the new label (CSPI, for its part, has been lobbying for them for almost two decades), which they say help inform people about the alarming prevalence of sugar in the American diet. Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University and a longtime critic of the sugar industry, called the announcement an "extraordinary accomplishment" on her blog Food Politics and told The Washington Post that it "has to be scored as a huge win."

The new proposal for labeling added sugar serves two purpose. First the industry is likely to be more cautious in adding sugar in one and all products because sugar prices in the global market which is being manipulated to get at a ridiculously low price. It is a tragedy that sugar producing countries like Brazil, India and others export a great part of their production to countries like the US and depressed prices of sugar directly hits the livelihood of millions of farmers. Second by seeing the amount of sugar added in the serving size of the food product, consumers are likely to be more sensitive especially when they note how much is the recommended daily intake of sugar on the label. Earlier there was another controversy that High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) was the culprit causing obesity and interestingly there was a sustained campaign a few years ago by this industry to brand HFCS as just corn sugar to mislead the consumer! Fortunately this did not succeed as the industry anticipated. Now that all added hexose sugars have been found to be harmful beyond 50 gm a day, it should not make any difference whether such sugars come from sugar cane, sugar beet or grains. India should emulate such good steps that can protect its citizens from the tragedy of being faced by people in wealthy countries. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Upgrading the capabilities of desi retailers-A laudable initiative by an MNC in India

There was a time in India back in sixties and seventies when the word multinational evoked strong adverse reactions among the people as well as the rulers in India. It was not long ago that some of the MNCs were hounded out of some states like kerala accusing them of sabotaging the health of the citizens through their unhealthy products and dangerous manufacturing practices. It was only a decade ago that foreign investments in India were welcomed with open hands in several sectors including retailing. Though many MNCs were skeptical about the change in policy there were some who took the bite and invested in the country to set up their shop. Now that a super friendly regime is in charge of the country, many MNCs are rushing in to invest heavily hoping for success with the support of industry friendly policies. How long this will last cannot be predicted as governments change in a democracy with different parties having their own policy and agenda. Why should a country should be antagonistic to MNCs? Probably root cause of such perceptions is the belief that they are here to exploit the country like the old East India Company which eventually annexed the country and made it a colony of Britishers. If the recent report that a company like Coca Cola, one of the major food and beverage companies in the world, is true, a distinct change seems to be taking place in the attitude of these foreign based companies which augurs well for the country as well as these companies. Here is a take on this development. 

"With over 12 million outlets, India's retail sector, worth $500 billion, and growing at 15 per cent every year, plays a crucial role in the nation's growth story. A major constituent of this burgeoning sector is the chain of 'kirana' shops (your friendly neighbourhood small grocery stores), which contributes almost 90 per cent to the retail sector. These players cater to the majority of the Indian population, and more importantly, are the primary channels for the sale of the popular beverage Coca-Cola.Recognising the need to build the capacity of 'kirana' retail owners in the country, the  country, the Coca-Cola University (CCU)launched a nation-wide programme called 'Parivartan' (change towards the better). The programme aims to spread knowledge of best practices and equip traditional retailers with the right skills, tools, and techniques necessary to make their business more profitable, as well as build business skills in the four key areas of shop management, stock management, customer management, and finance management.An extensive research was conducted to understand the developmental needs of such retailers, the findings of which were translated into the programme content. To ensure that Parivartan is accessible to the remotest retailer, including those based in rural India, CCU was introduced on wheels - a mobile training unit armed with state-of-the-art equipment. The two-and-a-half hour programme is delivered in vernacular languages with practical anecdotes for impactful communication. The CCU has also announced that it will train 3,50,000 people by December 2017 in the areas of grocery and convenience store retailing, and in food services. The training module will be a mix of classroom training and in the CCU bus called 'Coca-Cola University on Wheels'. While the CCU has been training 'kirana' retailers under its Parivartan programme for the past eight years, the module on quality and food services is being launched this year. Titled 'Parivartan E&D', the training module has been designed by the CCU based on two key insights as the most important parameters while choosing an eating-out option by customers who are on-the-go. These are lack of hygiene, and the importance of good customer service. The training module will focus on the owners and employers of 'dhabas' and other small food service outlets and street food vendors, mostly in the unorganised sector. The training and upskilling of 3,50,000 people by the CCU will aid the government's Skill India programme, which aims at capacity building for employability. Announcing this at the India Retail Forum 2016, held recently in Mumbai, Sameer Wadhawan, vice-president, HR and Services, Coca-Cola India and South West Asia, says, "The Coca-Cola system in India has already taken several steps towards skill enhancement, both in the social, as well as sporting arenas. Other than through Parivartan, we are also partners in programmes such as training People with Disabilities (PwDs), and farmers in sustainable and efficient agriculture practices. We share India's urgency on skill training and want to do more than our fair share towards this goal." CCU certified trainers will conduct three-hour long training sessions through presentations and live-examples, as well as through videos, in regional languages. They will focus upon food quality and hygiene, clean atmosphere, customer satisfaction, customisation of food, and customer interaction. Until now, more than three lakh retailers have been trained under the Parivartan programme. Training is offered in six regional languages through trainers certified by the CCU. Parivartan is open to all retailers, not just those who stock Coca-Cola products. The programme has reached out to retailers in more than 5,500 cities across India. More than 7,500 training sessions have been conducted till date. The brand also launched a first-of-its-kind training delivery innovation on Interactive Voice Response (IVR). Using this platform, any retailer could dial into a toll-free number to take Parivartan lessons from the comfort of his/her home."

A knee jerk reaction on the part of many skeptics could be that the latest effort is nothing but to expand their market reach through such trader friendly strategies. May be there is a point in this argument but at this stage there is nothing on the ground to substantiate such an allegation. It is true the market size of India is next only to China and there is space for every body to work and earn through fair means of business. Using wrong advertisement and promotional strategies may bring short time gains but eventually such players will face the consequences in the long run. The present attempt by Coca Cola company, prima facie, looks like a progressive effort with no apparent connection to expansion of market reach for their products. Though organized retailing became a reality about decade and a half ago, still its reach is confined to less than 10% of the volume of business in the retail sector.The role of the old "mom and pop" stores in the lives of people in India is under estimated and probably those in business in the organized retail sector must have realized this bringing about an attitudinal change that the unobtrusive street corner small shop fellow cannot be just wished away leading to the new philosophy of "live and let live". This may be the major reason for MNCs like Coca Cola to hitch hike their fortunes to these stores and what better method is there but to provide technical help to upgrade their capabilities through some non-profit programs like training and skill upgradation. What government should have done long ago under its skill development program, private sector is stepping in to further this cause and this must be applauded.  

Sunday, September 18, 2016

USA leads in pushing the planet Earth into disaster-New dietary guidelines "misguiding" the consumers!

There are four stake holders who have to work together to ensure that food serves the essential purpose of providing a comfortable and healthy life for every denizen in this planet. These are the consumers, food industry, the government and the farmers. Each of these players cannot imagine independent existence without the others. Thus the farmer has to produce healthy crops, food industry must strive to preserve the nutrients to the maximum extent possible, government has the role of a watch dog to protect its citizens from unhealthy and dangerous foods and consumer has the unenviable role of influencing the processors to make the food tasty, harmless and most nutritious. Unfortunately all these players are found wanting in fulfilling their roles with the result that modern society is faced with an uncertain future due to rampant diseases and health disorders brought about because of shirking of their respective responsibilities. Who is to be blamed most? Probably government of the day has to bear the major responsibility because of its vulnerability to pressure tactics by the processing industry which invariably looks for maximizing its profits with very little concern for the well being of the consumer. At least that is the prevailing perception among the consumers. Specifically a country like the US provides a classical example of the "shirking syndrome' as manifested by the most recent edict on dietary guidelines put out by the food safety agency there. Here is a take on this unpalatable development. 

"Shocked. Disappointed. Disgusted. I'm still struggling to find the right words to describe my reaction to today's release of the new Dietary Guidelines for America. Not only do these new dietary guidelines fail to move us forward toward healthier and more sustainable food choices, I believe they actually take us a step backward. Kowtowing to extraordinary pressure from the meat and dairy industries, the USDA--and our own government--blatantly ignored the recommendations of its own panel of scientists and health professionals by removing language from the guidelines recommending what we all know is true: Americans should eat more plants and less meat. The final guidelines are nothing short of a steak knife to the heart of science-based food policy. I could list this document's many failures. How it urges Americans to focus more on healthy foods and less on nutrients--then proceeds to narrowly recommend reducing the consumption of things like saturated fats without actually naming any foods to avoid. How it was carefully scrubbed of most suggestions that meat consumption be reduced--even though Americans already eat around 40 percent more meat than is recommended under current guidelines, according to USDA data. How it even suggests that processed meats may be OK, mere weeks after the World Health Organization named these food products a probable carcinogen.
Perhaps most galling is the decision under an order of Congress to remove any language linking our dietary choices to environmental sustainability and food security. What a slap in the face. While many groups have already raised their voices to decry a policy that callously recommends Americans continue following a diet that is harmful to their health, I'd like to focus on this last point. The role of meat production in polluting our planet has been well-documented, yet unbelievably it still seems to be up for debate and not on most climate change agendas. It's been more than a decade since the United Nations declared that shifting the world to a plant-based diet would be critical if we are to avoid widespread hunger and prevent devastating climate change in the very near future. Producing meat clear-cuts our planet's forests; releases potent greenhouse gasses; causes species extinction; and pollutes our precious water resources. Congress ordered the USDA to base its guidelines only on nutrition, and to disregard any considerations outside of human health. But isn't fresh water, clean air, and our future food supply critical to the health of our children and our children's children? Rather than focus on what's wrong with these guidelines, I'd like to turn this into a call to action. We don't need Congress or the USDA to tell us what we already know: that "more plants, less meat" is the only way to ensure a healthy future not only for our own bodies, but for our planet. It's that simple. You can join me in leading our country by example. If you're still learning about healthy food choices, take responsibility for educating yourself--we already know the government isn't going to do that for us. If you still eat meat and dairy products, start cutting back (and reward yourself by trying something new that's delicious and plant-based!). If you already eat a plant-based diet, serve these foods proudly to your friends and family. Let's change the story of our government blatantly ignoring the advice of its own appointed science advisors and working against the common good. Let's take our power back from a government who no longer has our best interests at heart. Let's take back our health, our community's health, and our planet's health.
It's time to take back our plates."

It is appalling that the guidelines are designed not to displease the meat industry and the polluting industry. While it is globally recognized that meat consumption is linked to cancer, the guidelines do not recommend to cut down on meat consumption giving an impression to the consumers that meat is safe to be consumed day in and day out! Universally nutritionists agree that diets based predominantly on plant foods provide the best guarantee against most health disorders which are presently threatening the very existence humanity but American government does not seem to be subscribing to this scientific finding. Meat industry depending on stall feeding of meat animals and closed cage rearing of poultry birds is the biggest polluter on the earth contributing to global warming and consequent adverse weather changes. Just because Americans are rich enough to buy meat every day does not mean that they have the right to pollute the planet. It is sad that American government is shying away from its responsibility to guide its citizens properly due to the vice like grip the meat industry has on it. Probably citizens may have to fend for themselves in protecting their health by voluntarily giving up meat from their daily diet for their own good. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A new approach to fast detection of bacteria for food and pharma industry

Food poisoning by infectious and pathogenic bacteria of belonging to a number of species is reported to be affecting the lives of millions of people across the world. It is not that food industry is irresponsible enough to let this happen knowingly or willingly. In spite of high levels of precaution and preemptive efforts to make foods absolutely safe, there are limitations regarding how much industry can do. One of the major limitations in monitoring microbiological quality of foods is the relatively long time it takes for the quality control scientists to detect the nature of contamination and the bacteria responsible for it. Total count as is commonly used does not distinguish between live and dead cells and in the absence of such information it is next to impossible to determine the severity of the problem and prevent food-borne diseases causing unanticipated episodes of poisoning. Recent development of sensors that distinguishes between dead and live bacteria present in a product is timely and widespread use of this technique can be a boost to the efforts of microbiologists to contain and restrict food related diseases. Here is a peep into the new development as reported recently.

"A new type of electronic sensor that might be used to quickly detect and classify bacteria for medical diagnostics and food safetyhas passed a key hurdle by distinguishing between dead and living bacteria cells. Conventional laboratory technologies require that samples be cultured for hours or longer to grow enough of the bacteria for identification and analysis, for example, to determine which antibiotic to prescribe. The new approach might be used to create arrays of hundreds of sensors on an electronic chip, each sensor detecting a specific type of bacteria or pinpointing the effectiveness of particular antibiotics within minutes. "We have taken a step toward this long-term goal by showing how to distinguish between live and dead bacteria," said Muhammad Ashraful Alam, Purdue University's Jai N. Gupta Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "This is important because you need to be able to not only detect and identify bacteria, but to determine which antibiotics are effective in killing them."

Controlling thousands of food related human disasters is a Herculean task and it is tribute to the industry that, considering millions of tons of foods are processed, incidences of serious food poisoning are far and few. Of course that does not mean that scientists have to lower their guards and rest on past laurels. The above innovation as reported above is an excellent example of continuing and serious efforts to tackle food borned safety episodes which have to be eradicated eventually. It is hoped that commercial kits will soon be available for use by the quality control groups across the world. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Water "Biome"-A peep into the world of bacteria in water and its significance

Water borne diseases are known to cause havoc in human society since long and some of the diseases caused by them can prove to be fatal. It is this concern which is driving an entire industry called water purification industry that offers many technologies and equipment for supposedly making water potable. A new study questions the rationale of such an approach in using chemicals to purify water and hypotheses that natural water supply containing millions of bacteria is capable of purifying itself needing no elaborate treatment through intervention of any technology. It sounds crazy and may even be scary to believe such a claim though scientists may have their own rationale to come out with such a finding. In today's world even a child may not accept untreated water from a tap as is the case in most parts of India because of fear of serious diseases like cholera, dysentery and jaundice. The report of a scientific group on this issue can be seen below and it is very difficult to understand the logic of such an argument. 

"A glass of clean drinking water actually contains 10 million bacteria. But that is how it should be - clean tap water always contains harmless bacteria, researchers said. These bacteria and other microbes grow in the drinking water treatment plant and on the inside of our water pipes, which can be seen in the form of a thin, sticky coating - a so-called biofilm. All surfaces from the raw water intake to the tap are covered in this biofilm. These findings show that the diversity of species of bacteria in water pipes is huge, and that bacteria may play a larger role than previously thought. Among other things, the researchers suspect that a large part of water purification takes place in the pipes and not only in water purification plants. "A previously completely unknown ecosystem has revealed itself to us. Formerly, you could hardly see any bacteria at all and now, thanks to techniques such as massive DNA sequencing and flow cytometry, we suddenly see eighty thousand bacteria per millilitre in drinking water," said Catherine Paul from Lund University in Sweden. At least a couple of thousand different species live in the water pipes. According to the researchers there is a connection between the composition of bacteria and water quality. "We suspect there are 'good' bacteria that help purify the water and keep it safe- similar to what happens in our bodies. Our intestines are full of bacteria, and most of the time when we are healthy, they help us digest our food and fight illness," said Paul. Although the research was conducted in southern Sweden, bacteria and biofilms are found all over the world, in plumbing, taps and water pipes. This knowledge will be very useful for countries when updating and improving their water pipe systems, researchers said. "The hope is that we eventually may be able to control the composition and quality of water in the water supply to steer the growth of 'good' bacteria that can help purify the water even more efficiently than today," said Paul.

Though most people to day, educated on a staple diet of science may question the logic of the above findings, anecdotal episodes regarding millions of people in India living healthy by drinking water from natural resources in village area defies our understanding. In most metropolitan regions, it is hardly possible to find any people without a bottle of packed water in their hands because of the common perception that municipal water supply cannot be trusted for its safety. Under such a contradictory scenario what to believe or where lies the truth defy an answer.  Are we to believe that the multibillion dollar water purification industry has been taking us for a ride for decades by insisting on installing domestic purifiers or the large scale urban water purification systems working across the world are redundant?  Why is that health experts advise people to boil water before consumption? If the water pipes, storage tanks and water taps have biofilms of friendly bacteria, where is the need for any elaborate processing to make such waters potable? WHO of UNO must intervene to make the record straight for common man across the world to adopt a living practice that ensures safe water for drinking.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

"Cosmetic" food standards-Major causative factor for food wastage

If one can recall the words of late Dr HAB Parpia, doyen of food technology in India,  during sixties food wastage in the country amounted to more than 40% and according to him most of this wastage was taking place at the post harvest phase of the produce when it is transferred to the markets under none too ideal conditions. Probably many sceptics did not subscribe to this view though every one concedes there is "significant" loss of valuable foods in the food chain of the country. Is it not unfortunate that even to day ministers and bureaucrats conveniently quote this figure for food losses in their sterile speeches targeted at the gullible public? The tragedy is compounded by the reluctance or insensitivity all around to study this problem nation wide and arrive at consensus figures regarding wastage in different sectors like perishables including fruits, vegetables, spices, meat and poultry and so called durables like cereals, pulses and oil seeds that take place across the entire spectrum of food handling. It is against such a background that the following publication brought out the scenario in the US where food is wasted consciously by the citizens because they can afford it if not satisfied with the quality as represented by color, shape, size, appearance and texture. Here are further details about the whims of an entire population which has built up a "cult for perfection" in their every day life and throw away precious food that can feed almost a quarter of world population!.

"Americans throw away almost as much food as they eat because of a "cult of perfection", deepening hunger and poverty, and inflicting a heavy toll on the environment. The demand for 'perfect' fruit and veg means much is discarded, damaging the climate and leaving people hungry
Vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the US are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock or hauled directly from the field to landfill, because of unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards,according to official data and interviews with dozens of farmers, packers, truckers, researchers, campaigners and government officials as reported by the Guardian "It's all about blemish-free produce," says Jay Johnson, who ships fresh fruit and vegetables from North Carolina and central Florida. "What happens in our business today is that it is either perfect, or it gets rejected. It is perfect to them, or they turn it down. And then you are stuck." Food waste is often described as a "farm-to-fork" problem. Produce is lost in fields, warehouses, packaging, distribution, supermarkets, restaurants and fridges. By one government tally, about 60m tonnes of produce worth about $160bn (£119bn), is wasted by retailers and consumers every year – one third of all foodstuffs. That lost food is seen increasingly as a drag on household incomes – about $1,600 a year for a family of four  and a direct challenge to global efforts to fight hunger, poverty and climate change. Globally, about one-third of food is wasted: 1.6bn tonnes of produce a year, with a value of about $1tn. If this wasted food were stacked in 20-cubic metre skips, it would fill 80m of them, enough to reach all the way to the moon, and encircle it once. Food waste accounts for about 8% of global climate pollution, more than India or Russia. "There are a lot of people who are hungry and malnourished, including in the US. My guess is probably 5-10% of the population are still hungry – they still do not have enough to eat," said Shenggen Fan, the director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington. "That is why food waste, food loss matters a great deal. People are still hungry."
That is not counting the waste of water, land and other resources, or the toll on the climate of producing food that ends up in landfill.
This results in formation of methane gas contributing to climate change due to greenhouse effect."

Looking from another angle, every denizen has a "right" to buy whatever is offered for a price and what they do with it is their business. But can an interdependent global society  hide under such a narrow legal excuse to justify enormous waste of food,  especially in rich countries like the US just because these foods do not satisfy their aesthetic sense? If the above report is to be believed at a global level more than 30% of food is wasted advertently or other wise. While developing countries like India may be helpless to some extent in controlling food wastage because of lack of access to right types of agricultural and post harvest technologies, essential to save foods from the predators, they cannot be exonerated completely because most of them do not have visionaries and humane politicians at the helm of affairs to implement policies that can help prevent or reduce food wastage. This is nothing but callousness and indifference. While food wastes in wealthy countries can be understood because of the high buying capacity of the consumers there, same cannot be justified in poor countries where millions of people are reported to be going to bed every day on empty stomachs because of lack of accessibility to food due to improper cultivation and conservation practices. Why an agency like FAO of the UNO has not been able to do much in this area is baffling in spite of its existence for several decades. Present concerns about global warming and focussed international actions contemplated may be alright but same concern must be evident in ameliorating the hunger conditions of millions of people under starvation of different degree across the five continents through international cooperation. 


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The GMO labeling sham in the US-A fraud on consumers!

If the recent proposal to dilute the compulsory labeling of GMO ingredients on the food pack labels become law, (as it  is likely to be soon) a crucial question that will be asked by the citizens in that country ia whether whether their cherished democracy is really working.? The elected representatives in the law making bodies there seem to be more interested in serving the industry to the detriment of the consumers rather than serving them! Billions of dollars food industry is paying for financing the election of these law makers compel them to serve their financiers than the citizens as reflected by the hectic haste with which this new toothless law is going to be enacted soon. This move is also for negating the wishes of majority of Americans who feel strongly with conviction that transparency in labeling is a must for informed choice in the market place. Read further about this disgusting behavior of the law makers in the US in protecting the industry instead of serving their true masters who are the honest citizens of that country who elected them.

"After several months of bargaining which resulted in backroom arguments, the Senate decided to vote for a new national standard set for labeling food that are made with ingredients derived from genetically engineered crops.  The purpose of the deal is that companies will be required to reveal their GMO ingredients (though they will not be required to put that information on the label). Most food companies are opposed to the existing type of GMO label because they feel consumers will view them (incorrectly) as a sign or warning that the products are either nutritionally inferior or unsafe to eat. If the new bill becomes law, food companies will be allowed to disclose the GMO ingredients used through a QR code that will be found on the package. That is the type of square barcode usually seen on an airline boarding pass. Consumers can scan the code to retrieve the information using their Smartphone. Smaller companies can print a Web address or a phone number where consumers can find out whether or not a product contains GMOs. Many who advocate for GMO labeling have attacked the bill. The executive director of Food and Water Watch, Wenonah Hauter, released a statement branding it "a slap to the face for all of all activists" who worked to pass compulsory GMO labels. Senators representing Vermont have opposed the bill as it strikes down Vermont' law that requires GMO labels right on a package. Despite these setbacks the Senate's proposal has endorsed support from the OTA (Organic Trade Association) an organization that represents major organic food enterprises and has been in support of labeling GMOs. The leaders of the Organic Trade Association sent a message explaining why they supported the bill to their members. They argued that the proposal contained key benefits for the organic industry."

The argument that GMO foods are safe is relevant in the above context because by the declaration on the label that the packet contains GMO ingredient does not make it lesser safe and therefore the demand by the consumers should have been honoured by the law makers if they had any sense of shame. A state like Vermont has already promulgated laws to make such label declaration mandatory for any foods manufactured or marketed in that state and it is not certain whether this law will be musseled by the new national one. If so it will be a sad day for the country that boasts itself as the strongest democracy on earth! Denizens world over can only pity the citizens in the US for their tribulations on this count.


Saturday, July 2, 2016

Indian organic food industry-A free for all situation!

Organic food industry globally is growing rapidly because of the dangers posed by the so called modern agriculture which uses a number of man made chemicals that include growth hormones, fertilizers, crop protectants and weedicides, many of them with doubtful safety credentials. Though organic foods cannot be considered as more nutritious or healthy as measured by well accepted yardsticks, their preference by many consumers is due to dramatic reduction of chemical residues in these crops giving some confidence that they are much more safer than their counterparts raised conventionally in many countries. When it comes to India the organic food industry is offering opportunity for many producers to compromise on their global standards and lull the consumers into apparent sense of safety though no one knows whether these products will pass muster if analysed as per global standards. After all Indians are more concerned about the acceptance of their organic products in the export markets while least bothered about domestic consumers. The fact that India's share of export in the international market is practically negligible because foreign buyers are not convinced about their reliability and credibility. The pitiable export figure of hardly 0.5% of the global market place speaks for itself. It is against such a bleak scenario that a report appeared recently in the media in India that government of India is "contemplating" setting in motion a "policy" to address this problem. Here is a take on this "information" from a "government source" about its "intention".

"ndia is creating its own organic products policy with clearly defined safety standards, traceability norms, soil certification guidelines and good agricultural practices.  The aim of the new policy is to boost exports of agricultural products and processed food from the country. The good agricultural practices (GAP) followed by countries such as the US, Brazil, the Netherlands and France are being studied by trade experts and officials to generate adequate inputs for the policy, a government official told BusinessLine. The Commerce Ministry is framing the policy in collaboration with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). "The idea is to have one uniform policy for the organic products sector so that domestic consumers as well as foreign buyers gain confidence that the items that are being sold to them as organic meet certain laid down standards," the official added. While the global organic food market is estimated at an annual $72 billion, exports from India are a mere $298 million. India exports mostly to the US, Europe, Korea, Australia, New Zealand and countries in South East Asia. In India, organic products for exports are certified by various certifying agencies accredited by the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP), India, under Agriculture and Processed Food Products Export Development Agency (APEDA). For organic products sold in the domestic market, the certification process is largely voluntary, but FSSAI and Agmark are taking some steps to regulate it, the official added. Certification of organic soil in the country is a problem as there are no domestic certification agencies for that and the services of foreign certifying agents is use to certify the soil. With a proper policy in place, the process of cross checking guidelines by importing countries would become smoother. The same guidelines would also apply on items for exports, imports and domestic market. Traceability of inputs, especially in case of processed food to determine if all ingredients in a certified organic product are also organic, is also expected to improve once the policy is in place, the official added. India produced around 1.35 million tonnes of certified organic products which includes all varieties of food products such as sugarcane, oil seeds, cereals & millets, cotton, pulses, medicinal plants, tea, fruits, spices, dry fruits, vegetables and coffee."

How credible is this information? Looking at the past record of the successive governments, one is not inspired by such reports because such statements are more political in nature with very little possibility of any follow up action. The monolithic organization set up to ensure food safety and standards in the country has already proved to be a damp squib and except for grand standing from time to time and frequent photo op conferences and press briefings from the corridors of power, the pathetic situation vis a vis food safety  continues unabated in the country with adultererators and fraudsters having a roaring time in fleecing the citizens as they please with very little fear about any deterrent action by the government. One really gets flabbergasted by the news that another agency will be created to "oversee" production of organic foods in the country  which will help a few retired bureaucrats to find refuge in fancy offices and derive immense pecuniary benefits from the tax payers' money! While international standards do exist for almost all organic foods, the present attempt to evolve "Indian" standards is nothing but a ploy to rehabilitate a few scientists under government patronage under the excuse of a "technical committee" to "reinvent the wheel"! With government's resources stretched to the limit, a number of private players with doubtful credentials may get the opportunity to "certify" organic products made in this country for the benefit of the domestic consumers. Probably it will end up like the ISO certification system presently working in the country with every "Tom, Dick and Harry" claiming the expertise for providing the certification! A more practical approach could be to license established foreign certifying agencies with impeccable credentials to work in India along with Indian partners to overhaul the industry and build trust with the consumers, domestic as well as international. 


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Changing face of agriculture and food-An encouraging trend

Agriculture provides bread and butter for the sustenance of population in this planet and every country strives to be self sufficient as far as food is concerned. But with limited land availability all countries cannot produce all their food needs without resorting to imports from surplus producers. Fair enough. What is galling however is the strategy, approach and practices indulged by those surplus producers to coax their land to produce more and more, year after year. The so called industrial agriculture, unlike the small farmer based economies that struggle in many developing countries, produces food that are patently unhealthy and possibly dangerous and most of the health disorders that plague the population in wealthy countries like obesity, CVD, blood pressure, cancer, diabetes etc have been attributed to the reckless way food is raised in these countries. Though dispassionate and well respected critics were crying hoarse about the direction in which agriculture has been moving during the last 3-4 decades, there is hardly any audience for them, the industry behaving as a law into itself without being checked or moderated by governments vested with the power of the people to ensure their welfare. Though there have been some minor changes in the attitude of the industry, still these changes were not considered significant enough to make any serious dent in the already deteriorating health of the denizens. Ultimately citizens are realizing that they cannot depend on the governments totally to protect them and being the consumers who sustain the industry they can have a sobering influence in the market place. According to some experts perceptible but significant changes are taking place in the food front in countries like the US where the influence of big agriculture is declining significantly and more healthy foods are providing options for them, mostly driven by consumer pressure. Read further about this epoch making changes in the food front.

"There are now more than 8,000 farmers markets in America, an increase of 180 percent since 2006. More than 4,000 school districts now have farm-to-school programs, a 430 percent increase since 2006, and the percentage of elementary school with gardens has doubled, to 26 percent.  During that period, sales of soda have plummeted, falling 14 percent between 2004 and 2014.The food industry is rushing to reformulate hundreds of products to remove high fructose corn syrup and other processed-food ingredients that consumers have made clear they will no longer tolerate. Sales of organic food have more than doubled since 2006, from $16.7 billion in 2006 to more than $40 billion today.
The kind of grass-finished beef and pastured eggs that Joel Salatin produces at Polyface Farm were so exotic in 2006 that national sales figures for them didn't exist; now, you can find these foods in many supermarkets, and both categories are growing by double-digit percentages each year. (Carl's Junior, the fast food chain, introduced a grass-fed hamburger in 2014.) From California to Georgia, there are now hundreds of farms modeled on Polyface's intricate choreography of animals. And Salatin himself has become an international celebrity farmer, a social type I don't think existed in 2006. In fact one of the most encouraging developments of the last few years has been the rising prestige of farmers, who, as Salatin pointed out, used to be the butt of dumb hick jokes. One of the most popular internships among college students today is to work on an organic farm. Most of these aspiring farmers will no doubt decide farming is not for them, but even those will emerge from the experience with a keener appreciation for what it takes to be a farmer and a greater willingness to pay a fair price for the important work farmers do. But some of these novices are evidently sticking it out: The total number of farmers in America, which had been in free fall for most of the 20th century as agriculture industrialized, has begun to rise again for the first time since the U.S. Department of Agriculture began keeping track. This is encouraging news, since it's hard to imagine creating a more sustainable and diversified agriculture without a great many more farmers on the land."

In a country like India green revolution and white revolution during the latter half of last century did bring about dramatic increase in the production of rice and wheat but the fortunes of millions of small farmers did not see much change. Thousands of small farmers are finding farm life unbearable and committing suicides to escape from misery and sufferings because the small landholdings, most of them being less than an hectare, cannot provide enough to elk out an honorable existence without heavy debt burden. The land scenario as it exists now does not lend itself to application of modern farming technologies and the financial wherewithal for adopting them is sorely missing. It is no wonder that rural farmers are shifting in hordes to urban regions looking for a livelihood as laborers and their number is dwindling fast. India is thus in a dilemma as to how it can feed its 1.2 billion plus population in the coming years having neglected agriculture for so long. The new emphasis by the present regime on agriculture needs to be translated into a mission based ground level action to save the farmers from extinction and spare the country of famine in future. Fortunately the much hated industrial agriculture has not been able to take roots in the country, in spite of the attempts being made by large MNCs and if healthy food is to be ensured this has to come from millions of small farmers who must be organized into modern cooperative organizations for large scale application of new indigenous technologies developed by our own varsities suited to small farmers. India must not repeat the mistakes of countries like the US in promoting powerful agricultural private corporates who eventually become too powerful to be controlled or moderated for the welfare of the citizens.. 


Ethics of food advertisements-Are the celebrities promoting unhealthy foods?

In a unique study in the US where consumers depend very heavily on processed foods and beverages, advertisements provide the most powerful tool for the food industry to persuade the consumers that their products are good and desirable. Interestingly industry has struck a gold mine by tapping the popularity of celebrity stars to endorse their products. Consumers seem to be accepting the words of these celebrity stars as truth though latter do not have any idea about the quality, healthiness or the safety of these products. The unique study carried out in the US as reported in the following report brings out clearly that most food products promoted through this route are unhealthy and one of the reasons for the US to become the capital of obesity is such unethical promotion of sugar sweetened and other unhealthy products by these stars. They make enormous fortunes by putting the lives of their admirers into danger by endorsing such products with least reservation! Reading this story makes on sad about the reckless way the processed food industry is coning the consumer. Read further:

The investigators then catalogued every endorsement between 2000 and 2014 using AdScope, an advertisement database that contains all forms of ads, including television, magazine, and radio. They also searched for official commercials or endorsements on YouTube and in media sources. Endorsements were defined to include a celebrity's participation in a concert sponsored by a product. After sorting the endorsements into different marketing categories, the authors found that 65 of 163 identified pop stars were associated with 57 different food and beverage brands. Food and nonalcoholic beverages were the second-largest endorsement category, comprising 18 percent of endorsements and ranking after consumer goods at 26 percent and ahead of retail at 11 percent. To assess nutritional value of the endorsed food products, the investigators analyzed nutrition information on food labels using the Nutrient Profile Model (NPM), which has been used in other food marketing research studies and provides a score that represents nutrient content. Twenty-one out of 26 food products -- or 81 percent -- were deemed "nutrient poor." The investigators determined a beverage's healthfulness by looking at calories from added sugar. Of 69 beverages endorsed, 49 or 71 percent were sugar-sweetened. Full-calorie soft drinks were the most commonly endorsed in the category. In contrast, water-related endorsements appeared only three times. Food & beverage companies spend $2 billion a year on youth-targeted ads, with American children seeing approximately 4,700 ads each year and teens viewing 5,900 ads per year, according to Institute of Medicine research. There were about 313 million views of the YouTube video versions for food and beverage endorsements associated with celebrities in this study's sample, although unique views could not be counted. Celebrity food endorsements promote higher product preference, and exposure to any kind of food advertising is linked to "excessive consumption," according to research. "These celebrity endorsement deals are often worth millions of dollars each, suggesting companies find them critical for promoting products," said Dr. Bragg. Food and beverage marketing has been identified in a variety of epidemiologic and psychology studies as a significant environmental contributor to childhood obesity. In 2012, over one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Public Health Service. Although many food and beverage companies have taken voluntary pledges not to target children under 12 years old with certain marketing, teens are not included. "Given the heavy targeting of adolescents and the amount of money they spend on foods and beverages, voluntary food marketing reduction pledges should expand to include teens," said Dr. Bragg. "This also would be consistent with American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations, which encourages pediatricians to support local and national efforts to reduce food marketing while also counseling patients to limit screen time." Celebrities also should use their influence to promote more healthful marketing and encourage consumption of healthy foods, the authors suggest. "The popularity of music celebrities among adolescents makes them uniquely poised to serve as positive role models," said Alysa N. Miller, MPH, study co-author and research coordinator in the Department of Population Health. "Celebrities should be aware that their endorsements could exacerbate society's struggle with obesity -- and they should endorse healthy products instead."

Is this true in India too? Of course such practices are more rampant in India than in any other country because the industry knows that Indians adore almost all the cinema artists and for many of them these stars are demi-Gods! Where else in the world one can see temples being dedicated to popular cinema stars except in India? Is it not unfortunate that these so called mega stars never pause for a moment to think about the health risks associated with many products they endorse so enthusiastically for a few quick bucks? While there is reasonable restrictions on dubious claims being printed on a label of a food packet, there does not appear to be in place any credible mechanism to book the culprits making false claims in the electronic media, allowing them to get away scot free. Look at the kids food scenario in India where many big manufacturers promote their patently unhealthy products on television media targeting the kids with tempting toys to attract them. It is time we take corrective action now to stop the industry from indulging in such "corrupt" and unethical practices for improving their bottom line by putting the lives of kids in danger in the long term. Cine artists must evolve a code of conduct for their members in patronizing industry products based on the healthiness of the products as recommended by the food health authorities in the country. This is a social responsibility from which they should not shy away.   


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Not shunning fat and still keeping good health-Another obesity control theory

Food and nutrition sciences seem to be turning upside down if a latest report by a charitable trust in the UK is to be believed! In essence the "scientists" in the trust are saying the eating more fat is the solution to overcome obesity epidemic that is ravaging wealthy nations in the world! It is not that the main stream health experts are sitting quite without challenging this new theory which does not appear to be based on any great scientific study and they have cautioned consumers not to "trust" this Trust for changing their food habits. Here is a take on this report and readers can come to their own conclusions regarding the credibility of the claims made. 

Thirty years of official health advice urging people to adopt low-fat diets and to lower their cholesterol is having "disastrous health consequences," a leading obesity charity warned yesterday. "Eating fat does not make you fat," argues a new report by the National Obesity Forum (NOF) and the Public Health Collaboration, as they demanded a major overhaul of official dietary guidelines. Promoting low-fat foods is perhaps the biggest mistake in modern medical history according to Dr Aseem Malhotra, consultant cardiologist. The report says the low-fat and low-cholesterol message, which has been official policy in the UK since 1983, was based on "flawed science" and had resulted in an increased consumption of junk food and carbohydrates. The document also accuses major public health bodies of colluding with the food industry, said the misplaced focus meant Britain was failing to address an obesity crisis which is costing the NHS £6 billion a year. The authors call for a return to "whole foods" such as meat, fish and dairy, as well as high-fat healthy foods like avocados. The report, which has provoked a broad backlash among the scientific community, also argues that saturated fat does not cause heart disease while full fat dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and cheese, can actually protect the heart. Professor David Haslam, NOF chairman, said: "As a clinician treating patients all day every day, I quickly realised that guidelines from on high suggesting high carbohydrate, low-fat diets were the universal panacea, where deeply flawed."Current efforts have failed, the proof being that obesity levels are higher than they have ever been, and show no chance of reducing despite the best efforts of government and scientists." Processed foods labelled "low-fat", "lite", "low cholesterol" should be avoided at all costs and people with Type 2 diabetes should eat a fat-rich diet rather than one based on carbohydrates, the report urges. Dr Aseem Malhotra, consultant cardiologist and member of the Public Health Collaboration, a group of medics, said dietary guidelines promoting low-fat foods "is perhaps the biggest mistake in modern medical history, resulting in devastating consequences for public health". "Sadly this unhelpful advice continues to be perpetuated," he said. Eat fat to get slim. Don't fear fat; fat is your friend says Dr Aseem Malhotra. The current Eatwell guide from Public Health England is in my view more like a metabolic timebomb than a dietary pattern conducive for good health." Dr Malhotra also suggested the scientific integrity of the PHE advice had been compromised by commercial interests. "We must urgently change the message to the public to reverse obesity and Type 2 diabetes," he added. "Eat fat to get slim," he concludes. "Don't fear fat; fat is your friend." Snacking between meals is one of the main causes of the current obesity crisis, the report argues, while added sugar should be avoided because it has "no nutritional value whatsoever".Snacking will make you fat, the report warns. Calorie counting is also a damaging red herring when it comes to controlling obesity, said the NOF report, as calories from different foods have "entirely different metabolic effects on the human body, rendering that definition useless". Similarly, "you cannot outrun a bad diet" the authors state, citing the "incorrect" assumption among the public that the solution to obesity is to burn more calories than are consumed. Our populations for almost 40 years have been subjected to an uncontrolled global experiment that has gone drastically wrong Prof Iain Broom. "Obesity is a hormonal disorder leading to abnormal energy partitioning which cannot be solely fixed by increasing exercise," the report says. Responding to the NOF document, Professor Iain Broom, from Robert Gordon University, said: "The continuation of a food policy recommending high carbohydrate, low fat, low calorie intakes as healthy eating is fatally flawed. "Our populations for almost 40 years have been subjected to an uncontrolled global experiment that has gone drastically wrong."
However, scientists from a range of fields have criticised the report and questioned its evidential basis. Dr Mike Knapton, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said the NOF findings were "full of ideas and opinion" but could not be counted as a comprehensive review of the evidence. The report's main headline – simply to eat more fat – is highly contentious and could have adverse public health consequences says Dr Mike Knapton. "This country's obesity epidemic is not caused by poor dietary guidelines; it is that we are not meeting them," he said. Professor Naveed Sattar, Professor of Metabolic Medicine at Glasgow University, said: "The report's main headline – simply to eat more fat – is highly contentious and could have adverse public health consequences."

It is true that all the actions and programs taken by the countries suffering from obesity have not brought any positive results so far and on the contrary the obesity population is surging at an unprecedented rate. Whether it is low carbohydrate diet or massive promotion of low fat food products, there is no dent in the galloping growth of overweight people. Naturally this has given opportunity to some "queer" people to try to swim against the tide and gain some popularity and attention. But the damage such unproven claims on the health of the people is forgotten by them while propagating such outlandish claims. It is understandable that those practicing low fat diets have to depend on carbohydrates for bulk of their energy needs and white sugar and HFCS provide the same. There are scientific evidence to show that too much carbohydrates in the diet can be a worrisome factor that can precipitate metabolic syndrome disease and other disorders. The lesson that is to be learned is that there is no sure recipe or quick fix for maintaining healthy weight and following a balanced diet giving importance to fat, proteins and carbohydrates derived through natural diet ingredients combined with regular physical activity is the best approach for good health


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Aeroponics technology-An alternative to hydroponic production system

Man's constant endeavor to ensure adequate food to every denizen in this planet jas seen tremendous progress over the last few decades and agricultural and biotechnologists have revolutionized the food production landscape beyond recognition. Their innovative spirit and efforts have provided a variety of growing technologies for all edible crops consumed by human beings. Probably constraints on availability of land to expand cultivation through conventional or traditional methods have resulted in evolution of technologies like hydroponics, aquaculture, tissue culture, genetic engineering, etc which are becoming main stream practices in some countries. One of most amazing technologies that is going to revolutionize agriculture is aeroponics which does not need neither land nor large quantities of water. Though it is at an early stage of commercialization, aeroponics may be the most attractive option available for food producers around the world. Recent reports that world's largest commercial aeroponics production facility is about to be commissioned in the US are indeed exciting. Read further details below.  

"An upcoming indoor vertical farm is not only claimed to be the world's largest, but to use cutting edge growing technology. AeroFarms' new 69,000 sq ft (6,410 sq m) facility in Newark, New Jersey, will be based in a converted steel factory and will incorporate a new corporate HQ for the firm. It's expected to grow high-quality and healthy produce all year round. As with the soon-to-start-trading Growing Underground, which is based in formerly disused tunnels beneath London, AeroFarms' new indoor farm will look to serve local markets. This will minimize the farm-to-fork journey and benefit both the environment and the produce itself in the process. Where Growing Underground uses hydroponic technology for crop rearing, AeroFarms uses an "aeroponics" approach. Similar to hydroponics, aeroponics employs a cloth medium for seeding, germinating and growing crops and LED lighting for photosynthesis. Specific wavelengths of light are targeted to help to maximize photosynthesis efficiency and to minimize energy consumption. The major difference between the two growing systems is that hydroponics uses a liquid solution to deliver hydration and nutrients to crop roots and aeroponics uses mist. AeroFarms says this produces faster growing cycles and more biomass than other approaches. The new facility is a public-private partnership and has been variously funded by the City of Newark, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA), Goldman Sachs, United Fund Advisors, Dudley Ventures and Prudential Financial. Designed by KSS Architects, it offers a controlled, safe and sanitary environment in which to grow crops without the need for sun or soil. In addition to faster crop cycles and the ability to grow crops all year round, the benefits of this sort of farming are said to include the elimination of pesticides, increased produce shelf-life, a reduced contamination risk through the lack soil used, the production of clean and dry produce at the point of harvest and minimized wastage through the use of a closed-loop irrigation system (one that repeatedly recycles any run-off water). In addition, the modular vertical stacks used for growing the crops make the operation highly scalable. AeroFarms says its approach to farming is 75 times more productive per square foot annually than a traditional field farm and uses over 95 percent less water. Once up-and-running, it estimates that the new facility will have the capacity to grow up to 2 million pounds (910,000 kg) of baby leafy greens and herbs every year."

It is not that aeroponics is a brand new technique invented recently but its technologization took several years with its viability not established beyond doubt. Now that commercial facilities are being set up based on aeroponics, the economic viability may not be a hindrance for its fast spread in the coming years. Though it is limited at present to production of greens and high value herbs, time is not far away when aeroponics become a major contributor to many of the food crops we consume to day. High efficiency of aeroponics compared to the conventional cultivation and hydroponics is going to be the driving force for its manifold expansion. With high pressure on land from the non-agricultural sector, aeroponics presents itself as a panacea in future as far as food production is concerned. There must be global cooperation in making this technology affordable to growers in developing countries with limited capital availability..


Raw milk consumption- Hazards and their control

Milk is a life sustaining food that can provide almost all the nutrients required by a human being. The dairy industry as we know to day is a high tech venture that involves high expenditure to ensure that the consumers get only safe milk after necessary tests are done. Consider the plight of vegetarians whose dietary habits do not permit consumption of high protein foods like egg, meat and fish and who depend on milk for deriving most of their protein requirements. For them milk is elixir of life though there are a few protein sources in the plant kingdom that can furnish proteins in the diet, albeit of a lower quality nutritionally. Since the world has moved away from small sized milk farms serving locally to huge mechanized and automated dairy conglomerates with adequate infrastructure to distribute their products over thousands of kilometers with absolute guaranteed safety, most consumers do not bother about safety relying heavily on the industry to ensure the same. It is only recently that a small movement started some years ago by some people to consume raw milk has grown into a phenomenon attracting all round attention. Though food scientists will never vouch safe for the safety of raw milk without pasteurization, those patronizing this product are least deterred and if latest reports are to be believed raw milk consumption is growing in a country like the US where there are sizeable patrons posing challenge to the organized dairy sector. Read further to understand and form your own opinion regarding this new phenomenon. 

"The numbers say it all. There were only six raw-milk dairies in the state in 2006. There are now 39 — more than double the number in 2013 when there were 18. All are Grade A licensed dairies, which means their milk must meet the same food-safety standards as milk from conventional dairies. State officials say the number of raw-milk dairies will likely continue to climb. Raw milk is milk that hasn't been pasteurized. When milk is pasteurized, it is heated to a high enough temperature to kill disease-causing bacteria such as E. coli , Salmonella andlisteria. Health officials warn that children are especially vulnerable to pathogens in raw milk, primarily because their immune systems are still developing. State law in Washington requires that all retail raw milk products carry a warning label that states: "WARNING:  This product has not been pasteurized and may contain harmful bacteria.  Pregnant women, children, the elderly and persons with lowered resistance to disease have the highest risk of harm from use of this product." Despite numerous outbreaks and recalls of raw milk across the country and warnings from federal and state agencies about the potential dangers associated with drinking raw milk, demand is strong. And continues to grow. A passionate lot, raw-milk advocates have a range of reasons for avoiding pasteurized milk. Many say they can drink raw milk without experiencing allergic reactions such as bloating and other digestive discomforts. Others like that it often comes from family farms, in contrast to what they refer to as "factory farms." Still others laud it for its power to cure ailments ranging from arthritis to cancer — claims that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says are anecdotal and not based on science. And, most raw-milk consumers say that it just plain tastes better. "The real deal" is a popular rallying cry in raw-milk circles. "The cat's been let out of the bag, and no one's going to be able to put it back in," said Jim Sinnema, owner the Old Silvana Creamery north of Seattle, referring to the growing popularity of raw milk. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration bans the interstate sale or distribution of raw milk. In other words, raw milk produced in one state cannot be sold in another state. The U.S. Pasteurized Milk Ordinance requires that milk sold across state lines be pasteurized and meet the standards of the ordinance. A dozen states currently allow raw milk sales at retail outlets. Among them are California, Idaho and Pennsylvania. However, the milk has to meet certain  standards, usually Grade A standards. Sixteen states ban raw milk altogether. With Washington state's requirement that raw-milk dairies be licensed as Grade A, the operations must be inspected and have their milk tested on a regular basis. It's a practical way for dealing with reality. If raw-milk sales are illegal, say many public health officials, consumers will seek it out anyway, putting themselves and their families at risk. Here's the rub — raw milk requires more tests than conventional milk. Yong Liu, manager of  the microbiology lab at Washington state's Agriculture Department, said since raw milk is not pasteurized, it must also be tested for foodborne pathogens, in addition to the same quality-control tests performed on pasteurized milk. The five pathogen tests are for Salmonella, Listeria, campylobacter and two types of E. coli. Up to nine tests are often conducted on raw-milk samples. Washington officials say raw milk is one of the highest risk food products for sale in the state."

Milk is a rich food and naturally it is more vulnerable to spoilage by many bacteria within a matter of few hours causing irreparable damage to its flavor, taste and texture. In a country like India where milking is done manually without using vacuum machines, the shelf life can be expected to be extremely short. Fresh milk vending still exists in the country but care is taken to deliver the extracted milk within a couple of hours and the buyers do not lose any time to boil the milk to kill all microorganisms which may be present in the product. If the maintenance of cows are scientifically efficient, if the milking person is hygienically "clean", if the utensils are washed thoroughly and if the milk is immediately chilled there is no reason why it should not keep for a day or two without "splitting". But large scale distribution of raw milk may be inconceivable in India because of the sanitation limitations at all levels. As for the claims that raw milk is superior to pasteurized milk, the jury is still out and unless scientifically proven will not stand critical scrutiny. As long as the avowed devotees of raw milk are prepared to take "risks", no one can grudge their privileges, if one can all them so!