Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Improving the health sustaining quality and safety of food are high on the priority list of the Obama administration in the US, after tackling the health care environment through legislative intervention. The proposed food safety bill, now being considered, includes many features with far reaching impact. Food Industry which always prefer no government control often proclaim that it has the capacity to self regulate and take voluntary action to improve their products on their own. How far this industry, blamed for the health crisis faced by the country, can resist the temptation to garner more profits at the expense of the consumer, remains to be seen

The unusual interest being taken by the administration in the US to change the attitude of the food industry there by putting more emphasis on health, nutrition and well being of the consumers is ringing alarm bells amongst major industries. In a proactive step, they are assuring the authorities that they would improve their products voluntarily on their own and no government intervention is necessary. Of course no body likes government peeping over the shoulder which may have unforeseen consequences on the profit margins. But if one is to go by the experience in other countries such assurances are hollow and no one means to stick to such promises, hoping such periodic turmoil would be forgotten in course of time.

It is logical that some half measures will be taken up to appease the authorities and most likely there will be some marginal improvements in some of the products. Already many junk foods, being condemned for being unhealthy are being re-branded as healthy ones by modifying the recipe slightly or by adding a dash of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants etc. Probably industry has its own compulsions in resisting whole sale changes in food formulations, especially with regard to popular and successful consumer brands on which they have invested heavily. Industry seems to be taking the stand that the public marketplace is a different environment and government is least qualified to change the market dynamics. Being more experienced in the art of making popular food products through deployment of advanced technologies, the manufacturers are "supposed" to know better as to how such products can be improved. If the industry sources are to be believed more than 10000 products have already been nutritionally upgraded during the last couple of years and without any government intervention they would continue to do this in the coming years also! That means they can be the "accused:"as well as the "judge" when it comes to health quality of foods produced by them.

The claim that the industry has already improved the nutritional value of thousands of products already sounds hollow because there is no evidence of it happening in the market place. Incorporation of some vitamins or other nutrients in the food product does not mean that it is wholesome and healthy. There has to be a balance in terms of various components like energy, carbohydrate, protein, fat and sodium and unless this is done people will continue to suffer from the plethora of health disorders as they do now. Probably the present stand of the industry may be a strategy to defer the inevitability of mandatory action by the government. There are some responsible players in the industry who are conscious of their social responsibility but they are more an exception than a rule.


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