Wednesday, November 3, 2010


The age-old conflict between the food processing industry and the consumer revolves around the excessive zeal for profit by the corporate manufacturers often compromising on quality, value and safety. Basically a consumer, when in a super market, look for a product with following considerations. First it must be safe to consume. Second it must have quality that reflects purity, originality and sensory pleasure. Third the product must reveal the real ingredients, special process if used and the nutritional dimension. Last but not the least the product should not be an imitation one made from inferior components, being positioned as original. Though responsible food quality and monitoring agencies world over try their best to strike a balance between the conflicting interests of these two stake holders, it is rarely that they cover themselves with glory because of many factors, some beyond their control and others influenced by the environment within which they have to work. The widespread criticism against the FDA of the US for allowing unrestricted use of GM foods in that country is a classical example. Bowing to pressure from industry as well as the political class, many GM products with doubtful safety credentials are flooding the market with no label differentiation from normally produced foods.

Recent call by a minister in Germany exhorting the industry to be more transparent in their labeling of processed foods is some what intriguing because government has the authority to make the industry truthful through enormous executive power vested with them but do not exercise this for the benefit of their citizens. In fact the same minister went so far as to call upon the consumer community to set up an "Internet pillory" to name and shame food processors who do not live up to their claims and promises! If this is not shirking responsibility by the elected representatives for protecting citizens' interests, what else it can be? The provocation for such an outburst came when many industrial players were indulging in secrecy by not properly declaring what their products contain and what processes they are using so that consumer is in the know of what he is eating. The issue got attention when meat processors were found to use enzyme systems like transglutaminase, thrombin and fibrogen and similar preparations to upgrade low quality meat into products that resembled genuine original products.

Transglutaminase belongs to the family of clotting enzymes which are eight in number, all playing definite roles in human body functions. They are actively associated with blood coagulation, skin development and functions of prostate gland, testis and lungs. These enzymes catalyze the formation of co-valent bonds between a free amino group in a protein or peptide containing Lysine and the gamma carboxylic group of another protein containing glutamine. Bonds so formed are relatively strong and resist normal proteolytic enzyme degradation. Such bonded larger protein polymers are insoluble n nature giving it a property of resisting disintegration. They are ideally suited for production of larger meat pieces from pieces. improving texture of sausages and hot dogs, imitation crab products, improved quality products from low quality meats and in a variety of application including making of milk and yogurt creamers, noodles from ground meat and fish balls. The enzyme preparation can be obtained from Bovine and porcine sources besides through fermentation using some strains of bacteria.

Invariably industry justifies use of these so called meat glues because they are used only during processing and resist declaring it in the label obviously maintaining that it is not a part of the formulation of the product. While technically they are correct, the fact still remains that the so called processing aid stays right there in the final product.which certainly requires declaration for the information of the consumer. The EU parliament deserves kudos for its stand on the subject when it recently banned use of Thrombin+Fibrogen based meat glue preparation in meat products, finding insufficient justification for the proposal from the industry. Probably use of such so called glues could e permitted if proper label declarations are made..


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