Saturday, April 30, 2011


The word "Endosulfan" has attracted national attention for all wrong reasons with GOI and Kerala Government locking horns regarding the need to ban the manufacture and use of this deadly pesticide in the country. One must admire the the 87 year old Chief Minister of the state for his tenacity in fighting for the cause of his people, many of whom faced the health consequences of using Endosulfan for the last few years, especially in Cashew Plantations in the state. According to him more than 400 people had died due to poisoning from this pesticide while thousands were maimed making their lives miserable. While it was the government led by Congress party that banned the pesticide in 2001, this was lifted by the Marxist government subsequently for reasons not very clear. The issue has come a full a circle with the same government banning the chemical again and now pleading for banning it nationally.

What is shocking is the stand taken by the Central government in opposing any ban nationally while leaving it to the states to do so at local level. The Prime Minister of this great country has the gumption to say that unless proved conclusively that use of Endosulfan is unsafe, he would not support any ban at the national level. The over active Environment Minister who finds fault with every new developmental project from the environmental angle, also is opposing ban on the pesticide for reasons not very clear! About 80 countries have already banned this pesticide while many are phasing it out before eventual banning. The Stockholm Convention in 2009 found Endosulfan to be of questionable safety while the 2010 Convention placed it on a critical list for considering a global ban. The 2011 Convention, meeting end of April this year has declared a global ban against Endosulfan. It is ridiculous that the sole country which defied international opinion happened to be India! Leading a charade the PM has "ordered" the GOI arm for health research, the ICMR to conduct new studies to "prove" Endosulfan is harmless!

Why this reluctance on the part of GOI to ban this dangerous substance within the country? Is it the lobbying power of the 3 or 4 private manufacturers which is influencing the GOI policy? Could it be that its own public sector company Hindustan Pesticides, world's largest producer of Endosulfan is likely to suffer financially, if a ban is imposed? It is interesting that India is the "capital" of Endosulfan, producing almost 90% of this chemical and while using about 4500 tons for domestic agriculture, more than 4000 tons are exported, mainly to China. Besides the agricultural scientists have not yet come up with an alternative to Endosulfan that is cheap and equally effective. Cashew industry which exports most of its products has a heavy stake in protecting its flanks and naturally will oppose any ban on Endosulfan. It is tragic that when there is a reasonable doubt about the safety of a chemical that comes in contact with human beings, GOI is supporting the industry ignoring the interest of the citizens. True, a government committee had reported that global agencies like WHO, FAO, IARC and USEPA never found Endosulfan to be carcinogenic, teratogenic, mutagenic or genotoxic but what about other health disorders besides these dangerous ones?

One can imagine the sufferings of a sizable section of population in the northern parts of Kerala who are exposed to Endosufan tainted environment for decades continuously as Endosulfan toxicity can cause a plethora of symptoms like hyper activity, tremors, convulsions, lack of coordination, staggering, breathing difficulty, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and unconsciousness. While sub-lethal doses can cause significant brain damage, doses as low as 30 mg/kg body weight can be fatal in some cases. If the recorded findings by experts in Kasargod district where large scale cashew plantations exist are to be believed, those working in these plantations and others residing nearby have serious health problems which include delayed sexual maturity amongst boys, frequent birth defects and many other series of health problems.

That Endosulfan is acutely neurotoxic to mammals is well known. There is no universally agreed LD50 value for humans. While WHO has determined it as 80 mg/ kg body weight, USEPA has a lower value of 30 mg/kg body weight. One of the main reasons for the Stockholm Convention for imposing a ban on Endosulfan is the ability of this toxic chemical to transport itself over long distance which has the potential to cause significant adverse human health and environmental effects. Imagine the situation when huge quantities are delivered through aerial spraying, a major part of it dissipating into the environment causing immeasurable damage and Endosulfan and its break-down artifacts having half lives from 9 months to 6 years can have long term effect on human lives. As this organochlorine pesticide is acutely toxic, a bioaccumulator and an endocrine disruptor there is absolutely no justification to continue its use any further. GOI must keep its citizens' interests above any economic considerations.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


There is a general perception that foods frozen and stored at -18C can be preserved indefinitely and of course there is some truth in this belief. A product well prepared through sound processing techniques to attain commercial sterility can be "preserved" for long and can be considered safe for human consumption. At temperatures below -18C no microorganism can survive and therefore from that angle the food is safe from any hazards of microbial origin. If this is so why is that manufacturers put a "best before date" on the label which makes many consumers throw the food after that date? There is a logic in such an approach because for a common consumer a good food has to provide sensory satisfaction besides being safe.

It is an elementary knowledge that physical changes do take place in frozen foods that can affect the texture in a significant way and the pace of such changes can vary from food to food. There are well documented data regarding the shelf life of different foods and invariably most foods taste different after 6-9 months frozen storage. There are color changes that may occur in meat, poultry and some vegetables while freezer burns often appear as brown spots on the surface of the product. Inadequate packaging can dry out the product causing undesirable textural changes. Improper storage conditions with fluctuating temperatures cause changes in crystal structure of the ice particles which again adversely affect the texture of many frozen food articles.

Commercial freezing is based on well established modern technologies and there can be no comparison of freezing with any other technology in keeping the original quality of food in tact. If most of the foods available in the western markets belong to the frozen category, the reason is that consumers have come to recognize that these products meet with their expectations fully. Further fillip to the frozen food industry was received when microwave heating system became omnipotent in almost all kitchens making it easier to thaw and reheat for consumption. The extraordinary success of frozen food industry in many rich countries is also attributable to the high per capita income, excellent transportation facilities, efficient nation-wide infrastructure, adequate storage facilities at homes and above all the predominance of animal based diet that cannot be preserved by other processes as efficiently as the freezing process.

Why is that frozen foods have not got a footing in India? Seminar after seminar it has been proclaimed since last fifty years that food industry in the country could not develop because of woefully inadequate infrastructure for manufacture, distribution, storage and retailing. This applies to frozen food industry also as efficient processing machinery is not easily available, required cold chain does not exist, frozen display facilities at the retail level are inadequate and storage capacity for frozen foods in the house hold kitchen is very small. Even the consumers find it difficult to buy frozen foods regularly as ferrying them from the retail store to homes takes time causing some thawing before reaching their refrigerators. Yet very little is being done to address this problem either by the industry or the government. Added to this the frozen foods costs are very high in India due to limited production volumes and unfavorable scale of operation. Unless there is a close linkage between the farms and the processing centers the viability of the industry cannot be assured and such linkages are conspicuous by its absence in India.

It is an irony that thousands of ethnic foods for which India is famous cannot be preserved even for a few days using any technology other than freezing and unfortunately practically no R & D work takes place in any of the two dozen food research set ups in the country, boasting of reasonably good development facilities. While through common sense many traditional products are being marketed under frozen conditions in some of the urban regions in the UK and the US to cater to the immigrant populations there, the processes adopted by the entrepreneurs cannot be considered optimum, requiring further research inputs to make them technologically efficient. National food research organizations like CFTRI, DFRL and major Universities carrying out food research must focus on this area as frozen foods will eventually become a main stream food industry out pacing all others within a decade.


Sunday, April 24, 2011


Jack fruit has a lot of history behind it and no one is sure as to when it was cultivated first. If to day's experience is any guide the fruit tree must have been growing wildly though humans were quick to discover its value as a food. No wonder Brazil had to launch a massive program of felling thousands of these trees during 2002-2005 because of its uncontrollable spread in some regions. The tree grows in abundance in South and South East Asia where the it is well liked. Its heavy aromatic odor puts off many people and the slow metabolism in the human body leads to excretion for a longer time through perspiration and urine. The very same quality appeals to millions of people in India and other countries.

Does Jack fruit mean it is jack of all fruits as being claimed by some of the ardent fans? Many may not agree. Similarly some western thinkers hold the view that Jack fruit was discovered by one William Jack though there are recorded documents about its existence hundreds of years before this person. Most probably the name must have been derived from the Kerala name "Chakka" which the Portugese colonialists adapted as Jaca in their language. Though it is the largest tree borne fruit in the world with individual fruits weighing as much as 40 kg, 90 cm long and 50 cm diameter, very little scientific research had gone into the agricultural or technological aspects of this fruit. It is considered rich in vitamins A and C and potassium mineral and traditionally many believe it has some medicinal value too.

Sporadic research has indicated the amenability of ripe jack fruit to cold storage at around 11-12C for about 6 weeks and products like canned pulp, dried bulbs, fruit bar, preserves based on sugar or jaggery are made in a small way on cottage scale level. One of the major reasons for this fruit not being able to become a commercially useful raw material is the presence of sticky latex inside the fruit making it difficult to handle. With 25-40% yield of edible pulp, jack fruit could have become a serious competitor to Mango but for the presence of the latex inside the fruit. Very little information is available on the chemical nature of this latex though pre-1950 research suggested it was alpha-artostenone in its enol-wax ester form. Horticulture scientists ought to have done some thing to evolve a variety that does not have the sticky latex long ago but it was left to some enterprising jack fruit growers in coastal Karnataka to come out with a non-sticky variety that raises the potential of jack fruit as a commercial proposition.

According to the spokesman of Kerala Agri Varsity millions of grafts of non-sticky jack fruit have been planted in Karnataka and Kerala by many farmers. The fruit bulbs in these fruits are reported to be very crisp, tasty and keeps well for long. The mother tree of this non-sticky jackfruit seems to have originated from one Menezes family in Mangalore in the Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka and efforts were made to propagate this unique tree with the help of some grafting specialists. Except for a few drops of latex in the core portion, the fruitlets of this variety appear to be non-sticky. It is claimed that this non-sticky fruit has relatively less fiber though it is less sweet than traditional ones. Unlike the normal jack fruit trees the new variety bears smaller fruits with weights not exceeding 10 kg and with relatively thinner rind, ripe fruits pose logistical problems in long distance transport.

if some of the protagonists of the new non-sticky variety are to be believed the fruit bulbs stay well for more than a weak at ambient temperatures with its crispiness not being affected at all. Similarly fried chips made from raw fruit of this variety are claimed to "keep well" for 3 months. Despite these credentials marketing of non-sticky jack fruits poses intractable logistical problems and many new growers are finding to their chagrin the economic uncertainties in maintaining the trees. Their argument that some of the super markets in the country should come forward to market the fruit through branding deserves some attention and the state horticultural agency, HOPCOM and National Horticulture Board must take more interest in promoting this fruit in a big way. Similarly lot of technical improvements can still be brought about through the intervention of horticulture and food scientists. The SOS from the new breed of growers of non-sticky jack fruit must strike a favorable chord amongst the planners and the scientists.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011


If there will ever be a "Nobel Price" for "food innovation" (read adulteration!), the contest for this award will be a close one between India and China! while Chinese adulterators have global reputation ( or notoriety?) Indians are satisfied with local "achievements". Probably international community might not bother about adulteration as long the tainted foods are not exported, poor citizens in countries with loose vigilance system with no teeth are the silent sufferers. The notorious "Melamine" milk from China exported to a number of countries last year brought the focus light on the "ingenuity" of Chinese fraudsters and some credit must go to the government there for taking drastic action of summarily executing two of the "culprits" found "responsible" for the crime. Look at India where adulteration of food seems to have become one of the "fundamental rights" of unscrupulous traders and business people as there are no deterrent mechanism to punish the guilty. Other wise how can one justify country-wide adulteration of milk, considered the most protective foods, especially for vegetarians with spurious ingredients like detergents, urea, animal fat etc with authorities least concerned about such incidences and the so called synthetic milk brings windfall profit for the perpetrators. There are hundreds of such instances of food adulteration through out the country with practically no one caught and punished for the heinous crime.

From China comes another innovation reported as "Leather Milk" made from leather proteins using ingenuity that must be admired! It was "discovered" recently, if one is to believe the official story, the dairy industry is making milk powder with no milk solids at all and earning windfall profits through their illegal activities. Leather scraps commonly available in slaughter houses contain collagen in plenty and when hydrolyzed they yield protein hydrolyzates with high nitrogen content. As milk is priced based on protein levels in China and since protein content is assessed through estimation of nitrogen, any substance, especially organic in nature containing nitrogenous material, when added to milk can boost the protein value and high protein values can bring high income to the milk "producers". If normal milk is diluted and then "fortified" with leather protein hydrolyzate (LPH) to bring up the protein level and get high prices, no one will be wiser to this fraud. Detecting qualitatively and quantitatively presence of LPH is not easy unless sophisticated laboratory facilities are used and the process can be time consuming. As collagen is a rich source of hydroxy proline, one may have to go for detecting the presence of this characteristic amino acid in suspected samples.

While small addition of LPH may not be unsafe to any serious extent, production of milk like preparations devoid of milk solids is a crime that deserves severest punishment. As milk flavors of high quality are available, LPH can be a base that can be formulated into 100% synthetic milk conforming to a few chemical specifications laid for genuine milk. It is not that concerned people were unaware of this deplorable practice because demand for slaughter house waste has been high in China obviously under the pretext that they are used in animal feed. LPH manufacture is a thriving business and its current cost is about $ 120 per ton whereas milk powder market commands more than $ 2000 per ton. Even if LPH is used for adulteration of normal milk at the minimum level, powder made from it can be as cheap as $ 500 per ton. Why such an obnoxious practice was allowed to be perpetuated till now is one of mysteries of Chinese style of governance. It is unfortunate that the milk powder such as the one produced by the fraudsters is consumed predominantly by children and one can imagine its consequences on the health and development of these kids. It is well known that chemicals like dichromates, sulfuric acid etc are routinely used to soften the leather during processing and these chemicals are still present in LPH which go into adulterated milk.

Why it should take so many years for the Chinese government to ban use of LPH to edible foods defies logic and the ban in 2009 can at best be termed as "better late than never". Whether the adulteration business has covert sanction of the government is a point that perplexes many impartial observers. In India one hopes that the technology for leather milk will not be smuggled from China for the benefit of local fellow adulterators as the climate in India may be more conducive to such practices.


Saturday, April 16, 2011


When sugar is heated to about 170C, its molecule breaks down and the artifacts so generated recombine into compounds with characteristic color and flavor liked universally by most people. Basically the reaction is initiated by the removal of water from the sugar molecules, isomerization and polymerization into high molecular weight compounds of non-homogeneous nature. Since time immemorial caramel color as well as flavor were liked by the consumers, establishing it as a GRAS additive for addition in most foods consumed to day. Though there were periodic questions raised against uncontrolled use of caramel in a wide spectrum of foods, it is only recently that serious attempts are being made to curtail its use because of some studies highlighting its role in some health hazards, mainly based on animal experiments.

There are distinct four types of Caramel preparations with code numbers E150a, E150b, E150c and E150d, each with different properties and characteristics. By simply heating sugar without any additives yields the Type E150a, inclusion of sulfite compounds during heating generate Type 150b, use of Ammonia but without the presence of sulfites gives rise to Type 150c and if both Ammonia and Sulfites are used during the process Type 150d is formed. Alcoholic beverages like Whiskey incorporate Type150a caramel to provide the attractive mild brown color while Beer, synthetic soy sauce, confectionery etc contain Type 150c for the necessary color tint. Type 150d caramel is used extensively in acidic products like soft drinks and this version is considered the most dangerous by the toxicologists.

Due to persistent efforts by some consumer groups in some states in the US for banning this coloring substance, attention is being received at the national level to review its use in a limited way. The Food and Drug Administration of the US was petitioned recently by the reputed Center for Science in the Public Interest, long associated with efforts to ban potentially harmful foods, charging that the caramel coloring contains two cancer-causing chemicals, requesting that it should be banned. The chemicals in question are 2-methylimidazole (2-MEI) and 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI). Studies published in 2003 and 2005 by the National Toxicology Program of NIH are reported to have found that these chemicals caused cancer in some mice and rats and raises serious concerns regarding the advisability of continuing its uncontrolled use in various products, from pharmaceuticals to rubber. Other studies also found some evidence for cancer in lungs, liver, thyroid and leukemia in experimental animals. It may be illogical to take any risk whatsoever from a purely cosmetic coloring angle and such a situation may not justify the use of caramel in foods. As is to be expected beverage industry maintains that there's no evidence that the chemical, 4-MEI, causes cancer in humans but in its own interest it must take action to voluntarily cut down on the use of caramel in some of its products.

For some time there was this illusory feeling that caramel with a reported ADI of about 200 mg per kg body weight cannot cause any health damage. How ever with new scientific evidence emerging, even an exposure of 16 mcg per day is considered risky and therefore giving warning to consumers on the label of products with more than this limit may be an appropriate step to safe guard the safety of the consumers in the long run. Some cola beverages are known to contain more than 100 mcg of 4 -MEI alone per a 12 oz can and there may be many products which may contain this chemical, much more than this level.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011


There is an increasing tendency for people to go for "fresh", "local", "natural" or organic foods and the reason is not far to seek. It is simply the fear factor that is driving millions of consumers away from preserved or processed foods and the food industry is to blame itself for this sorry situation. Historically food technology evolved over centuries to extend the supply chain so that adequate foods are available all year round. Use of salt or sugar which increases the osmotic pressure in food system to discourage proliferation of pathogens and many spoilage organisms continues even to day though from healthy angle they are shunned by a substantial strata of the society. While uncontrolled salt consumption is known to be linked to hypertension and cardiovascular disease, high sugar can be responsible for dental decay, diabetes, obesity and other disorders. Organoleptically too much sugar or salt can create quick satiety. Salt and sugar preserved food products can be farthest from the concept of fresh foods.

Sun drying or the more scientific mechanical drying of perishables which contain high levels of moisture gives products with altered textural features but it still served the purpose of extending the life of the food significantly due to low water activity in such foods after removing bulk of the water content. Besides, the reconstituted final product has drastically different eating quality, not often liked by consumers. Vast improvements in dehydration technology have contributed to better finished products and freeze drying can give a product that can be quite satisfactory though cost wise such products can be very expensive. However dehydrated foods can also never qualify to be called fresh.

It is true that while advances in technology and transportation can extend the shelf life of food, consumer always will have to pay a price for availability and convenience in terms of nutrition and taste. Relentless progress of food science and technology has made it possible to have a wide choice of processing methods for the industry and techniques like atmospheric packs, storage of apples in 1-methylcyclopropene (1-MCP), vacuum packing with carbon dioxide and nitrogen, and refrigeration have provided reliable tools to extend the shelf life very significantly. While most technologies are able to ensure safety of most foods for a long time, what happens to the quality of these preserved foods is an issue often ignored. For example most frozen foods when stored at a constant temperature of -18C can stay safe beyond an year but whether the consumer will accept the eating quality of these long term preserved foods is a genuine concern. Same is true with all preserved foods what ever be the technique used.

It is disputable whether the industry can call any of these foods "fresh"because they can never be equal in sensory quality and nutritive value to freshly harvested produce. According to common sense 'fresh' can only be those foods put on sale as early as possible after the time of picking, catching or producing. True, developments in food technology and storage ensure that the consumer has a wide range of fruit and vegetables available all year round, but it is not correct to call apples that are nine months old truly fresh. Similarly spinach refrigerated for just eight days is known to loose more than 50% of its key nutrients and consumer is never aware of this fact while buying a "fresh looking" spinach from the supermarket. Same is true with most fruits and vegetables seen in these markets. Probably some awareness has been generated amongst the minds of consumers about the relatively lower quality of retailed fresh produce which has spawned the "farmers markets" and "locavore" phenomena in some countries in Europe and the US.

Compared to many technologies freezing process provides the best product approximating to quality as close to its field fresh counterpart and this may be the reason why frozen food industry has made rapid strides world over during the last 3 decades. They are definitely superior to the so called fresh produce offered by supermarkets procured from far away places and transported over long distances. Here again if the consumer is quality conscious long time stored frozen foods must be avoided since even under frozen conditions quality loss does occur, albeit slowly. In the interest of the consumer no processed food industry players must be allowed to use the terminology "fresh" to describe their products, no matter what technology is used..


Tuesday, April 12, 2011


A recent report about development of an ice cream type product from human milk in the UK has raised many questions regarding the ethical, legal and safety aspects of peddling such a product in the open market. No doubt this product will have many takers because human milk is supposed to have many advantages as compared to normal dairy milk in terms of nutrition and health benefits. Massive promotion of of breast feeding at least till about 12 months of baby's life has further given an aura to the human milk. The fact that human milk is not freely available makes it all the more desirable like the mythological "forbidden fruit"! The innovators who mooted the idea, developed the product and introduced it in the market, had to discontinue the product at least temporarily till the food safety authorities wanted it to be tested and assessed for any potential safety hazards.

Human milk is a precious commodity and a baby's survival and active development depend very much on breast feeding. Though some mothers do wean away their babies from breast milk due to some reasons or the other, a vast majority do nurse their babies with religious fervor to ensure their even and robust development. If this is so the very concept of any commercial product derived from human milk cannot have a sustainable source for making the project financially viable. According to the innovators their initial product offering was based on donations of breast milk received from volunteers though it is not clear as to the motivation of these mothers in parting with this precious fluid. Probably extenuating circumstances could have persuaded these mothers to make such donations with a perceived sense of commitment to help fellow citizens in a small way.

An important issue that cropped up during the marketing of human milk derived ice cream was whether the mothers were screened for any diseases, especially viral ones, which could be transmitted to others through the breast milk. Dairy milk industry is so well organized that every drop of milk marketed can be traced to the source for taking remedial action in the event of any communicable disease caused by it. The health authorities are to be lauded for becoming alert as soon as the product went on sale and subjecting the product to tests for hepatitis. How ever the larger question still remains unanswered and that is how regular testing can be organized for such a low volume product industry. Besides there are no well laid down standards for the product and no one is sure how much superior such a product would be to the traditional dairy based ice cream products. How far some of the unique biological substances that distinguish human milk from dairy milk will remain active after the processing is another critical issue.

What is interesting is the reported readiness by more than 200 mothers to donate their milk for making ice cream, though the manufacturer swears by the "donation" story. If an industry based on human milk is allowed to be established, what would be its repercussions on the society? Will it be like the "blood donation" industry where pecuniary benefits do play a part in maintaining the stock in many blood banks? Will the poor be attracted to sell their milk, starving their own children, for making an extra buck that may put the life of the children in great jeopardy? What is the motivation for the crazy consumers who do not mind paying a premium price to lay their hands on breast milk ice cream? One really has no answer to these logical questions.

Recent reports about development of GM animals for yielding milk similar to that of humans again raises perturbing questions regarding the direction of scientific research which can cause unknown miseries to millions of people in this universe. There are many, many areas of food research that cry for attention which can benefit common man and it is better that food scientists concentrate their energy in these fields for most wide spread benefits.


Saturday, April 9, 2011


There are ups and downs in the life of every human being and this is true of great institutions also. Small upheavals are managed with good sense of understanding and dedicated action. But when it comes to precipitous falls due to human greed, obsessive personal interests, subjugating institutional interests and absolute insensitivity to degradation and destruction, one can only watch with disbelief and utter shock that such things could happen so blatantly and openly with impunity in Indian scientific establishments. The 1994 Untold Story is the saga of an illustrious food institute under CSIR when it was handed over for management to a green horn youngster with absolutely no experience for man, material and financial management, over riding 48 of his senior colleagues who unfortunately had no God fathers at Delhi to promote their case!

The malignancy in the institution started even before because of total insensitivity of successive heads of CSIR to the special needs of a food research set up in terms of funds and personnel and through a "manipulated" selection system a person was installed as the chief scientist, "imported" from the US, his only qualification being that he belonged to the same community as that of the Head of CSIR at that time. 3 precious years of this institution were lost irretrievably because of the incompatibility of the institutional requirement and the sorry credentials of the "imported" scientists who ultimately scooted the scene unable to stand the burden of managing the institution. Unfortunately neither the Head of CSIR responsible for his transplant nor the selection committee responsible for this fiasco has been brought to book for this callous action.

Then came the year 1994. The usual charade of spotting, screening and selection started all over though there were suspicions that the process of selection could never be transparent due to vested interests and lobbyists trying to install their favorites, a la to day's Nira Radia style! True to the fears of many truly concerned food scientists the "horse' that "won" the race did a remarkable job of fobbing everybody through his gift of the gab and an inflated CV and getting installed as the chief scientist, boasting of credentials like the youngest Kannadiga scientist ever to occupy the "throne"! August 1994 is a landmark date in the history of this institution when it started its rapid slide downwards, never to recover, ending in the ignominious exit of this "scientist" due to incessant pressure from honest scientists, serious Central Vigilance Commission cases and CBI cases involving billions of rupees of unjustified and motivated purchases of redundant and defective equipment, rapping on the knuckles by Women;s Commission and SC and ST Commission and a host of other irregularities committed over a period of 17 years. To day this ravaged institute stands totally denuded, dazed and traumatized, not knowing what future it has with practically no honest and capable scientist willing to touch this "hot potato"!

Millions of rupees had been spent on projects having no relation to develop technologies for the food industry, though that is the major objective set forth by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1950 when it started functioning. Till 1994 there were about 200 technologies but this number was boosted artificially to 500 through deviously dividing many of them into separate ones, renaming some of them and adding some "bookish" technologies! Not even a single genuine full fledged food technology has been developed or delivered to the industry and all that can be shown as the out put for an investment of more than Rs 12 billion since 1994 includes glorified and ornamental arches, pet personal schemes to promote the chief scientist's image, hosting hundreds of pliable scientists with five star hospitality, non-functional and redundant equipment, hundreds of foreign jaunts for favored few, publishing glossy books irrelevant to the field of work, filing of hundreds of irrelevant patents involving huge expenditure ( no patent ever got commercialized), Equally guilty are some of the out side "scientists" associated with the management of this institute for their lackadaisical attitude, least interest in the technical programs, rubber stamping the decisions of the chief scientist while enjoying extraordinary hospitality at the expense of the institute.

Now that the disgraced chief scientist has been thrown out, every concerned citizen in this country could have hoped for a better tomorrow for the organization but the credibility of CSIR selection system, at its nadir to day, is such that no one expects any miracle to happen in installing the most suitable person for the job. If the past experience is any indication the whole charade for finding a suitable person, in all likelihood may end up with another "crony", close to the head of CSIR with no right credentials, being "enthroned" that will prolong the misery of the institute. It is time that the senior scientists who carry with them enormous responsibility to restore the past glory, stand up against CSIR and demand a deciding role for choosing the next chief. Who ever is considered for the position must have the basic qualification of a doctorate in food technology, at least 2 decades of experience in man, material and industry management, amiable disposition, leadership credentials, ability to inspire the colleagues and carry people with a distinct vision ahead. Those candidates considered must spend at least a week with the institute staff for deep understanding and interaction and a final decision regarding the choice by CSIR must be based on the majority view of the scientific staff.

Two decades have been lost irretrievably and if another wrong choice is made, the institute can as well be closed down for good. If CSIR does not have the will to revive this institute, it is better that the existing staff is transferred to other organizations doing same work under the DRDO and MFPI. Probably the property situated practically in the center of the city can be better utilized for improving the amenities of local citizens who will get some benefit at last, after mutely watching the unfortunate developments during the last 6 decades, often wondering the relevance of this institute to their daily lives!

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Why is that the very name Pepsi or Coke evokes adverse reaction amongst many people in India, especially the intellectuals? Is it because they are multinationals with excessive focus on profit, ignoring the welfare of the local communities where their manufacturing centers produce multitude of products targeted at the middle class? High fat, high calorie products from these food giants have already been indicted partly for the gigantic obesity epidemic in the US and other rich countries and can this be the reason?

Look at the decade old war of words and insinuations between the Kerala Government and the Coca Cola regarding the social, health and economic damage caused by one of the cola bottling plants in that state and how silly it can be for the government to claim damage for using under ground water without which the bottled beverage cannot be made! Why the hell Coke was given license knowing well such a thing could happen? Why not take action against those Babus who overlooked the social aspect of the project at the evaluation stage? In contrast here is a case of PepsiCo receiving accolades in Mexico for its close social liaison with the local population, especially the farmers.

PepsiCo, Inc. the global rival of Coke, seems to have consciously courted a course that would endear them to people in Mexico, especially the farming community and where they have considerable commercial interest. Their Sun Flower cultivation program encourages the local farmers to grow sustainable version of Sun Flower with a 100% buy back guarantee, reducing the risk to the growers to a considerable extent. In partnership with the lending institutions PepsiCo offers to provide technical support and training to 850 farmers who will be using sustainable agricultural practices to meet PepsiCo's contract, estimated at $52 million over the next seven years. The investment is indicative of the new trend and growing demand from the snack food industry for higher quality vegetable oils and probably may provide income and security to the farmers and their families. The world's number two seller of nuts and seeds will be processing a majority of the sunflowers into a high-oleic, heart healthy oil to be incorporated into product lines from many regional brands.

While one can ignore the "adorable" words like sustainable agriculture, nutrition, food security etc used by the MNC to highlight their involvement, the fact still remains that the this global giant is at least sensitive about the issues on which they have to live up to the expectations of the civil society. It is also true that they are producing same junk foods and beverages like in other countries for which they will be taken to task one day or the other. All said and done this new sensitivity as being shown in Mexico must be perceptible in other countries like India also. Looking at the development of MNC food companies in India during the last few years, there certainly exists an awareness about the local needs vis-a-vis taste and flavor as evidenced by range of new products in the market specially designed for local palate that never exist in any other part of the world. Probably this approach to serve the needs of the consumer rather than attempt to change their food habits can be expected to stand in good stead for these MNCs in the coming years.

Of course there is the famous ITC program being run in some states in the northern part of India under the e-Choupal project which covers millions of farmers engaged in growing wheat through technical and other supports that help them to maximize returns on their crop. Of course ITC has an abiding interest to securing adequate supplies of high performance wheat which go in the manufacture of their branded atta through out the country. There is nothing wrong for the commercial and farmer interests coinciding for mutual benefit and such role models need to be replicated several fold in areas like pulses and oil seed production in which India is still not self reliant. If GOI is pro-active to promote, encourage and incentivize such PPP projects, India may really become the super economic power for which right now there is only a yearning, no concrete action.