Monday, July 29, 2013


One often wonders what the beef eating countries feel about the movement in India, advocating ban on cow slaughter as cow is only an economic tool in these countries for the beef industry there and a good source of food for the consumers. The way beef industry is organized in the US is indeed the envy of any other country in terms of management efficiency and the technological prowess that goes into beef farming. In contrast many Indians venerate cow and beef eating is relatively rare in the country with West Bengal and Kerala refusing to put in place a policy to ban slaughtering of cows. A larger question is why the very same cow venerated in India are slaughtered mercilessly in other countries and whether the cows in India are much different compared to western cows? There might not any answer to this vexing question. 

The eternal debate, on the desirability of going back to century old tradition of rearing cows in open pasture lands from the present massive industry scale farming where cows are restrained in limited pace, will continue with no satisfactory answer. Modern dairying business calls for rearing the cows in well ventilated and sanitized covered stables with adequate lighting because automatic milking machines are used and hygiene is an important part of such a regime. Unlike in India, milk is not "cooked" at home in countries like the US and just pasteurization is done to inactivate pathogens, enough to withstand the rigors of refrigerated transportation and distribution. Since raw milk can stay well at 4C for a couple of days, pasteurization extends its life further to 15 days under refrigerated conditions. In India milk is literally cooked destroying all pathogenic vectors and same is consumed within 12 hours. Probably hygiene plays a lesser role here and chilled milk reception centers in production regions linked to modern dairies makes it possible to pasteurize the milk within 12 hours. The rearing conditions in rural areas are not the best one can encounter and it is truly amazing how India has become the top producer of fluid milk for which the nation must pay homage to late Dr Varghese Kurien and the operation Flood program started by him.  

The cooperative dairying pioneered by late Dr Kurien did not go for the centralized production and processing mode though under such closely controlled system the economic and safety features are easily manageable. In stead village level cooperative societies with milk producers as members were organized with technical and financial support extended by National Dairy Development Board (NDDB). Though there was all round skepticism  regarding the practicality of cooperative organizations out side Gujarat state, the success achieved by NDDB was phenomenal with practically every state making the program a success. District level cooperatives working under the guidance of the State Federations are recognized power centers to day serving millions of consumers and protecting the interests of millions of milk producers in the rural areas. To day India can be rightly proud of its "Milk Power" and literally it has become a country where milk flows as envisaged by Mahatma Gandhi!

One of the features of rearing cows for milk production in India is that it involves small scale farms, if one can call them that, which are part and parcel of a village community of agricultural families. Each house hold with a few cows bestows personal attention to the well being of its cows and in spite of lack of most modern technologies for milk production, they are able to compensate by giving their love and affection to these mute creatures. With the cow dung becoming a valuable source of energy via the Gobar gas plants or dried fuel source for hearths and good fodder available locally, the dairying is an economic activity which is sustainable in India. In contrast Dairy farms in the West have hundreds and thousands of cows restrained in limited space with no freedom to move around and lack of exposure to fresh environment. Between freedom and comfort, it is a universal truth that many living creatures will prefer the former and that makes the Indian cow a happier animal compared to its Western counter part. Probably many may not agree with this concept though animal psychologists will swear by this scientific reality. 

The fact that many Western dairy farms are switching over to free range farms where cows can roam in vast areas without any restraint cannot be wished away and this goes to prove that Indian traditional system is better as far as dairying is concerned. From a practical angle it may be foolish to expect that the commercial dairy farms as they exist to day will be converted to free range farms at any time in future. There are huge practical constraints in doing so, the most important one being severe shortage of people for managing large number of small farms. Already, if recent reports are to be believed, the farming community in the US and other industrial nations is shrinking rapidly and it appears just two percent of US population supports remaining 98% through agricultural activity. In contrast in India almost 65% of the population reside in rural areas with agriculture being their main avocation. There fore small dairy farms make eminent sense. 

One of the reprehensible features of Western animal farming system is the total insensitivity to the sufferings of animals raised for milk or meat. Though there are some basic guidelines regarding practices to be followed when dealing with animals, they are ignored more often and most animals are not treated in a humane way. Many people do not understand that animals also have emotions, feelings and a sense of well being and ignoring them can be considered as cruelty. It is a consolation that consumers are getting more and more educated and a resurgent consumer community is increasingly demanding animal products made through humane practices. Milk and Meat from free range animals and poultry birds raised in larger cages are being demanded with consumers willing to pay premium prices! Organic foods are often made by building into the production system ethical and humane practices and the galloping demand for organic foods is driven partly by such feelings by the consumers.

According to some farm owners in the US, animals locked up in huge dairy barns living on grains and hay are just like machines pumping out milk and most of them are not healthy, not able to live long because of such inhuman treatment. Cows are reported to be happier, more contented, able to live longer, producing better quality and quantity milk if they are treated well. There are some farms where cows are individually named and the owners deal with them as if they are their friends and well wishers. Such farms report dramatic changes in their profitability. Even those cows who are old and not giving milk are well looked after, allowing them to live as long they can. Some of these old cows are even used to suckle steers! This is similar to the philosophy in India where there are hundreds of "Goshalas" in some parts of the country where old and uneconomical cows are accepted and given a decent "retired" life in stead of sending them to the butchers. 

Some believe that talking to cows or providing them with streamed music can improve the milk yield. May be true but is costs money and how many cow owners will do that?. An inconvenient question is what about buffaloes and bullocks? They are also living creatures and it is but logical that they are also treated humanely, though bullocks are not relevant to the farmers after the advent of mechanical tractors and other ploughing tools. Same applies to chicken also and to day's economic scenario may never give a chance to poultry birds, even the layers, to be free roaming and they will always be "bonded" slaves of the meat hungry section of the population. Present moves in many countries to make it mandatory to use larger cages is at best a consolation!  The million dollar question is why man should kill any animal at all for food when plenty of good and nutritious plant foods are provided by the Mother Earth! Such abstinence from killing them would be the most articulated expression of humaneness!    


Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Food Security Bill, now brought into effect through an ordinance, by-passing the Parliament, is riddled with lot of contradictions with no one in the government coming out with any clarity. Many skeptics wonder whether this is a deliberate ploy by the government to confuse the electorate and win the next election! Otherwise it does not make any sense for the very same government to come out with some statistics in its latest claim on poverty reduction which seem to have taken many experts by surprise. What is the ground reality?

According to the figures prominently flashed across the media during the lat two days the present government was so "committed" to the poor man, it has reduced by magic the extent of poor people in the country, the so called BPL population, drastically by a whopping 15.3% within a matter of 8 years! These comparative figures pertain to the years 2004-2005 and 2011-2012, the period the present government has been "burning midnight oil" to "uplift" the population from abysmal poverty! Probably during 2012-2013, the percentage must have dropped further due to the "hard work" of this government, in spite of all scams that had taken place draining   
billions of rupees from the exchequer! Now the million dollar question or quiz is how many Indians are poor in absolute numbers to day?

If the ruling elite is to be believed there are only about 240 million people living below the government fixed BPL benchmark. However the cat is out of the bag if these figures are scrutinized a little more critically. A poor person really becomes a government certified poor person if the personal income is between Rs 35 and 27 per day depending on whether this person is living in urban area or rural hinterlands! One wonders whether such a person really exist in this country any more as this pitiful amount cannot get even a part of daily necessities required for keeping the body and the soul together! Probably such a person must be not be wearing any dress daily, may not have a roof above the head, must be walking to all the destinations, has no access to nutritious foods like milk, pulses, eggs, meat, fruits, vegetables etc! Rs 27 can definitely buy cereals with adequate calories so that life in absolute terms is not severely threatened though the quality of health must be very very low. 

If this is the real condition for 240 million of the population, the food security bill is more than justified in giving them rice or wheat at Rs1-3 per kg at the rate of 5 kg per person. By giving about 165 gm of cereals providing about 600 kC per day government probably wants to keep this poor person alive hoping that the Rs 27-35 earned by this "icon" will be used to top up the calorie content to the daily minimum requirement of 2000 kC. But in the actual scheme of things, the government is being more than magnanimous by covering two thirds of the country's population under its food security phobia. Why? Does the government have unlimited funds ( collected from honest tax paying citizens) to squander like this? If the government really feels strongly about the pitiable conditions of these people identified above, why not ensure that they are adequately provided with enough cereals to meet their total calories needs at least? Probably this can be done by restricting the number of people covered and diverting the grains so saved to be given to the real BPL people? 

The real intention behind such a diabolical scheme, as being felt by many honest citizens in this country, is to "bribe" as many people as possible with state resources to collect "I Owe You" sentiments that is anticipated to be converted into votes during the next general election. Interestingly the most recent Census by government's another agency puts the number of BPL people at about 50% of the country's population based on quality of life and their aspirations. According to this version a person earning less than Rs 10000 per month or Rs 333 per day qualifies to be called poor and all others are above poverty line. If the government feels there is a resource crunch, take the figure of Rs 150 which is fixed as daily wage under the MGNREGA scheme paid for 100 days in a year which works out to Rs 50 per day per person. Under such circumstances what government ought to be doing is to just help these people to supplement their food requirement through subsidized foods which will make their lives more sustainable. This is what is supposed to be accomplished through the Public Distribution System (PDS) that is in place to day throughout the country. It is another matter that the PDS is a disease stricken arm of the government afflicted by corruption, bribery, pilferage and looting with hardly 40% of the targeted beneficiaries being really "benefited" with the rotten quality grains delivered through the so called ration shops. 

Instead of rectifying the faults of PDS where is the need to think in terms of enacting the meaningless food security bill which can never fulfill the needs of the poor people in the country. Even under the PDS what is the mechanism to identify poor people who really deserve help from the state? The burden on the PDS could have been reduced considerably if those really poor are identified through a very reliable mechanism, those falsifying the financial status being severely dealt for fraudulent practice. Laxity in management and criminal collusion among some politicians, bureaucrats and criminals have literally destroyed the PDS activities in most of the states with very little being done to plug the leakage of grains. 

Common sense tells that government must separate politics from matters involving life and death to millions of people and any poverty alleviation program must be based on bipartisan decisions through consensus.  Ask any citizen in the country about what must be done to ensure equity and fair deal for the common man and the answer will be a vociferous assertion that PDS must be made more efficient in delivering the essential foods in adequate quantity and quality to those who really deserve them, not for others who can financially afford to access such foods from the open market. The crux of the problem is how, who and when a honest exercise would be done to identify the deserving beneficiaries on whom the state can expend the public resources for bringing them on par with other citizens.       

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Food research globally is getting more and more confined to the private industry sector and with funds coming from large corporations there are a few Universities in the US which undertakes dedicated research for the benefit of the sponsor. The million dollar question that begs for an answer is who will do the much needed technology development and service system for the small and medium scale enterprises which cannot invest in research. Take the case of India where more than two thirds of manufactured foods in the market come from the SMEs and the so called unorganized sectors and there is no place for them to go in search of technical assistance due to the skewed policies of the government. What is the real alternative to such a disgusting environment in the country which is getting more and more loaded in favor of large scale players, both domestic and international, after the much touted economic liberalization process of mid nineties of the last century?

Till the advent of the much hyped NIFTEM set up with much fanfare a couple of years ago in Haryana, the major focus of food research was being carried out by CFTRI, a national public funded R & D organization located in Mysore. What are the reasons for the Government at Delhi to discard CFTRI and set up a brand new Institute like NIFTEM right from the scratch is some thing the tax paying citizens of this country was never informed. Billions of rupees are being showered on a organization with zero credentials to take up R & D in areas like tech development, technology training and development of management personnel supposed to be tailor made to the needs of food industry. A critical look at the performance of NIFTEM will show that nothing much has been achieved so far and even if the organization is able to assemble a decent group of scientists to perform some of the tasks assigned to it, it can take another decade before some results are visible at the ground level. This raises the question regarding the sins and omissions of CFTRI which caused its demise (almost) prematurely?)

Whether the prime movers of NIFTEM like it or not, CFTRI is the only public funded research organization with the highest concentration of food scientists and technologists in the world. Its post graduates in food technology are still being grabbed like hot potatoes by the industry even before the final results are out! Same is true with the milling technology course, a unique venture with milling industry collaboration and being industry sponsored those coming out go straight into the shop floor with minimum learning period. Is it not unfortunate that CFTRI had to pay the price for not being subservient to a haughty bureaucrat in the Ministry of Food processing a few years ago? It is crystal clear that unless an organizations pay obeisance to Delhi bureaucrats funds will not be provided for its growth. Another cause of decline of CFTRI is the incompetence of CSIR, the mother organization led by people who cannot see beyond their nose! Bringing subject "innocent" ( or is it ignorant?) "leaders" to rule the institute overlooking years of experience of the locally grown but reputed food scientists was another folly for which the organization had to pay a heavy price.     

Why did the food industry shirked its responsibility in saving CFTRI? Can it be due to its traditional "yes sir" syndrome, always paying obeisance to the sarkari babus traditionally? Did CFTRI play its role as the premier R & D agency in India, for that matter in the entire South Asia? The answer may not be entirely favorable to this once famed institute which is a pale shadow of what it was during its glorious days under Directors like late Dr V Subrahmanian, late Dr Hossy Parpia and Dr Bansi Lal Amla. Progressive exclusion of food industry from decision making regarding selection of R & D projects over the years made the organization irrelevant to the manufacturing sector, especially from the small and micro enterprises section. The ivory tower research which even to day the institute is carrying out can further exacerbate the situation.

It is in this context that a recent report from California is music to the years of erstwhile scientists of CFTRI, still living, who were responsible for developing this institute into a world class set up with international recognition and reputation. University of California at Davis is a well recognized academic institution with many food technology stalwarts coming out of it during the last 7 decades and its renewed dedication to the subject is reinforced by its new $ 100 million plan to form an integrated and coordinated R & D network among various food science disciplines which were working in isolation pursuing unrelated research during the last several years. 

The World Food Center in California, that is proposed to be created will incorporate more than 30 centers presently in the Campus working on areas like food, nutrition and health. If the expectations of the planners do fructify, world would see an institution similar to the reputed Brooklyn Institute working on every aspect of food ranging from policy to genomics. It is further envisioned that this Center would be working with other universities and research centers across the U.S. as well as worldwide. The fact that this Center would function under the direct supervision of the Chancellor further enhances its importance and seriousness. Interestingly the required funding, estimated at $ 100 million is expected to be garnered from the food industry with liberal donations but with no strings attached. When the Center takes shape eventually it has the potential to bring together teams of experts from around the world to develop solutions to the challenges of feeding a hungry planet.

Is there any one in India with such a far sighted vision to consolidate food research as is being attempted in California? With politicians and bureaucrats holding the reins of power and controlling the purse such a possibility is very remote. But visualizing a World Food Center built around CFTRI and another equally competent DFRL both at Mysore is too tempting to be brushed aside. There are more than 30 research institutions and departments in half a dozen universities working on specialized areas of food within a radius of 150 km from Mysore under different administrative control which can be woven into a network with unified command structure and common program of intense relevance to food industry in the country. When CFTRI was at its peak health it had about seven regional centers acting as eyes and years for seeing and listening to the problems of industry in various states. It is sad that they were starved of funds, human resources and infrastructure leading to closure of most of them and what ever is remaining are limping along eking out a bare existence! If this is not shortsightedness, what else it is? Probably creation of a financially autonomous apex body for food research with national mandate for food technology development in an integrated manner may be the need of the time. Wishful thinking? May be!

Thursday, July 18, 2013


In spite of enormous strides made by medical science, there are still a few diseases which defy standard treatment protocols. Use of antibiotics which are widely available with different efficiency can control most of the infectious diseases caused by different pathogens though its over use is reported to be causing the so called antibiotic resistance among people leaving fewer options to the physicians to treat them. Added to this problem is the tendency of the meat industry to use some of the antibiotics in the feeds to facilitate the growth of food animals which practice indirectly increases the exposure of consumers to these life saving wonder drugs. Infection by Clostridium difficile can be serious for many and most strains are not amenable to antibiotic therapy and development of an unusual treatment regime, reported recently involves fecal transplant from healthy persons to the one suffering from infection by this pathogenic bug. 

C.difficile is gram positive bacteria which has been found to cause difficult to cure intestinal disease. It is not yet known where these bugs flourish though hospitals and nursing homes are the usual places from where infection is transmitted.  Interestingly fecal matter of some individuals are reported to contain this microbe in significant numbers and therefore any surface coming in contact with fecal matter can be vulnerable to C.difficile infection. Only few persons harbor the bacteria in their guts along with others, most of them beneficial. As this is a spore forming bacteria, it is resistant to most bactericidal techniques and stay put for long time with the capacity to regenerate under favorable conditions. For example those who get exposed to C.difficile, ingest the spores which go through the acidic condition of the stomach unaffected to become active once they gain entry into the intestine. The million dollar question is why only some people are vulnerable to C.difficile rampage while a large majority are safe from this dreadful disease?

Even though C.difficile present in some people does not exert any ill effect probably due to the overwhelming numbers of other bacterial species present in the intestine which do not allow this pathogen to grow in sufficient numbers to produce the toxins that produce the typical disease symptoms. C.difficile infection when become evident causes bloated stomach and severe diarrhea, leading to "toxic megacolon" and can be fatal in many cases. In the US alone over 14000 people die because of this disease. One of the observations of some significance is that C.difficile infection assumes serious health problem mostly in persons who are administered repeated antibiotic doses which destroy the natural flora in the GI tract allowing C.difficile to assume critical population density necessary for the manifestation of the typical symptoms. The age old practice of replenishing the natural bacterial population after antibiotic treatment by good physicians is based on this perception that there is such a need to protect the gut health adversely affected by the antibiotic administration.  

Metronedazole, Vancomycin and Fedaxomycin are last line of defense to control the rampage of this pathogen though all the infected patients do not respond to them equally. C.difficile, because of its spore forming capacity can pass through the highly acidic environment of the stomach without any damage to it and once it reaches the intestine where conditions are favorable for "sprouting' of the spores into vegetative phase of growth the deadly toxins are produced with the attendant consequences. While debating about the ability of C.difficile to gain entry into human digestive tract, it is believed that lack of personal hygiene and poor sanitation practices are primarily responsible for introducing them into the environment like that exists in some hospitals and nursing homes where they can stay for long time in their spore form, waiting to be transferred to all and sundry who come in contact with surfaces so contaminated. Food industry is vulnerable to C.difficile contamination as most detergents and sanitizers are not effective in killing them. Chlorine is one of the few bactericidal agents found to be able to control the C.difficile population in food processing facilities.    

According to some recent studies transplanting feces from a healthy person into the gut of one who is sick can quickly cure severe intestinal infections caused by C.difficile. Such transplants appear to have cured almost 95% of the patients studied so far who had recurring infections with C. difficile bacteria. In contrast antibiotics could cure only less than 25% of the infected patients  The treatment appears to work by restoring the gut's normal balance of bacteria, which fight off C. difficile. Fecal transplants have been used sporadically for years as a last resort to fight this stubborn and debilitating infection. Worldwide, about 500 people with the C.difficile infection have had fecal transplantation. It involves diluting stool with a liquid, like salt water, and then pumping it into the intestinal tract via an enema, a colonoscope or a tube run through the nose into the stomach or small intestine. Stool can contain hundreds or even thousands of types of bacteria, and researchers do not yet know which ones have the curative powers. Therefore as of know feces must be used intact for transplanting.

Unlike organ transplants, fecal transplant does not suffer from any rejection problem and therefore needs no life time consumption of anti-rejection drugs. Imagine the relief the affected patients will get from such a transplant who other wise suffer from severe diarrhea, vomiting and fever. Interestingly this treatment regime has been worked out based on trial and error with no supporting scientific data. Human GI tract contains more than 700 species of microorganisms and man's knowledge about them is still incomplete. If recent reports are to be believed human microbiome study is more or less complete and the puzzle involving fecal transplant may soon be resolved once this study is completed. If and when scientists are able to identify the specific bacteria, singly or in combination, present in the feces of healthy adults, responsible for the beneficial effect of fecal transplant, the treatment may see a dramatic change with isolated and laboratory cultured bacteria being used in stead of the feces.   


Sunday, July 7, 2013


Egg is a unique food that is considered almost complete with respect to most essential nutrients required for a normal health. Unfortunately the human world is divided into two succinct groups based on the dietary habits. One group eats practically every thing that is edible on this planet while the other one abhors most foods of animal origin that include meat, fish and poultry. In between there are sub-groups who take milk called lacto vegetarians and others consuming eggs called ovo vegetarians. Newer generation of vegetarians do not have inhibition in giving egg and products based on it to their children, realizing that it provides the best nutrition to growing children along with milk as most plant sources of proteins are inferior to milk and egg in terms of amino acid make up and protein efficiency ratio. 

Egg industry is big business and has a powerful lobby that protects its interests. Though egg can be from a variety of creatures that include Chicken, Duck, Quail, Roe and Caviar fish, most commonly consumed comes from Chicken. As its unique nutritive role is well established many countries classify egg as a meat food. Chicken egg is a historically important food its antiquity dating back to 7000 BC. To day world consumes annually about 65 million tons of eggs produced by about 6.5 billion Hens. Besides its high value proteins present in the white portion ( 12-13%), egg is also a rich source of Vitamin A, B2, B6, B9, Choline, Iron, Calcium Phosphorus and Potassium. though 75% of its weight is accounted for by water! Controversy surrounding the dangers associated with regular egg consumption is so confusing that many health pundits opine that healthy individuals should not take more than 4 eggs a week to avoid developing diseases like CVD, Stroke, Diabetes etc. The rationale of this view is that egg is a rich source of Cholesterol (424 mg %), triglycerides (10-11%) and lecithin, all considered villains of peace as far as human health is concerned.

Fear of Cholesterol and fat keeps consumers away from the egg. Is this justifiable? Probably not, because at moderate consumption level and with normal physical activity, egg cannot do any harm at all. After all both Cholesterol and fat are normal biologically relevant nutrients which are metabolized in the body. Still egg poses some challenges in terms of health hazards because of the recent finding that the lecithin present in it can produce artifacts in the intestine such as TMAO which facilitates plaque formation in arteries leading to heart damage. Also true is the potential allergy caused by egg white to many consumers. Due to unsatisfactory hygiene conditions in many egg producing facilities, one of the biggest threat to egg industry is fatal contamination with Salmonella which is known to kill scores of people every year. If egg consumption can raise the chances of heart attack because of its association with TMAO formation through action of intestinal bacteria and Salmonella threat perception becomes serious in the coming years, what is the alternative to it for consumers who are used to egg consumption in the form of boiled egg, fried egg, omelet, scrambled egg and many other products containing egg solids?. Here comes an interesting development which speaks of vegetarian egg!

Many ovo vegetarians consume egg because modern day egg is an unfertilized one incapable of forming live birds on incubation and thereby justify its consumption. As for regular egg consumers Salmonella infection is sought to be addressed by vaccinating the birds in countries like England against this pathogen. Some ovo vegetarians are put off by the fishy smell due to generation if Triethylamine when feed materials contain rape seed meal or soy meal. The so called "Plant Egg" is not an egg possessing the shape of the regular egg but at best an egg powder analog that can be used in many food preparations containing egg solids. It cannot make a boiled egg like product or a fried egg but preparation of omelet and bakery products is possible. 

Scientific efforts in creating  products from plant sources similar to meat or egg have been going on for quite some time and there are a few products already being marketed with some success. In India soy chunks and granules are used to at least extend the meat used in preparations cooked at home and thus save some money. But except for texture these meat substitutes do not measure up to the expectations of the consumer. Similarly there are egg substitutes made from plant proteins which are not easily accepted by those used to natural egg. It is against this background that a new claim is being made recently by a US company regarding development of egg powder like product which cannot be distinguished from egg powder made from chicken eggs. How far this claim is substantiated is not clear as it is not yet launched commercially.

The USP of chicken egg is the extraordinary properties of the proteins present in it which help to make many products from it. The proteins in the yolk coagulates at a temperature of 150-158F while that in egg white gets coagulated between 145F and 165F and this phenomenon is responsible for the unique texture of preparations like boiled egg, fried egg and omelet. To replicate this has been a Herculean effort for the scientists as most plant proteins are more heat resistant and the protein texture when coagulated does not match with that of chicken egg. This is sought to be addressed by screening a vast array of plant species to identify those capable of mimicking egg protein. The new development is based on discovering plant protein sources which resemble the egg protein in their response to heat.    

Eggs have also some amazing properties, such as the ability to enable oil and water-based foods to mix permanently. The challenge to create a genuine substitute for the egg is daunting as such replacements should also match the latter in terms of nutrition which calls for massive studies involving proteins from different edible plant sources. If the claims made so far are to be believed a few baked goods can easily be prepared using egg replacements from plants with barely any difference. One of the species of plant from Asia it was found that its proteins coagulate and turns solid, with heat  similar to the process that scrambles the eggs. With present state of knowledge, plants like the one identified it should be possible to create hundreds of products that can provide the culinary pleasure to the carnivores without going through the animal route. 

Animal system is increasingly being criticized for some of the ills the world is facing to day including global warming. In general livestock is considered environmentally taxing producing 51% of greenhouse emissions due to flatulence. Besides considerable acreage of land is locked up in rearing them. Added to this, according to some calculations, livestock consume more food than it would take to feed the 1.3 billion people in this planet who go to bed hungry every night! Probably the world will have no option but to turn to the plant kingdom to sustain itself before long!


Monday, July 1, 2013


Urbanization is an inevitable step when economic development models world over ignore the rural population and their aspirations. The great divide between urban and rural population is a classical feature of demography in almost every agrarian economy and there was a time when this trend in migration of rural people to urban areas was frowned upon for a valid reason viz the the adverse consequences of its impact on agriculture, especially food production. After all food security is of primary concern and priority in every country and no agrarian economy can afford to do any thing that may contribute to dip in food production caused by lesser land being tilled due to diminishing availability of farm hands. In India more than 70% of people live in over 5 lakh villages, their avocation being mostly tilling the land. However decreasing size of landholdings progressively is making the agriculture a nonviable option and consequently farmers are trying to move to urban areas in search of better prospects and income generating opportunities. Added to these woes many regions in the country face droughts fairly frequently making agriculture next to impossible. Government of India consciously tries to arrest this trend through various farmer friendly policies to make rural living as comfortable as possible. 

If recent survey figures are any indication,  urbanization trend continues unabated in spite of all policy measures and social pundits are intrigued by this fatal attraction of rural people to urban life styles. No doubt that most service and manufacturing industries are concentrated in and around cities where supportive infrastructure exists for smooth functioning of the industry. Naturally the industrial sector seeks able bodied personnel, unskilled and semi skilled to support the shop floor operations at wages not available in rural hinterlands. But in reality these new entrants to the city end up in hundreds of slums living under squalid conditions unimaginable. The quality of life in cities can be terrible and unemployment becomes the norm. Government of India's SRJY scheme is supposed to help these unfortunate people to get trained in different skills so that they become truly employable or entrepreneurial for earning a decent livelihood. How far such policy orchestration has helped is some thing not very clear even after one and a half decades after its conception.

Another interesting aspect of the rural scene in India is the income opportunity deliberately created by the government through its flagship scheme under the MGNREGA which guarantees a person a job for 150 days in an year on projects in the rural area and government has earmarked hundreds of crore of rupees for this scheme. The concept is that agricultural operation is a seasonal one and most rural families are under employed with no income to sustain them. Some of the reports do indicate a limited success of this scheme while there is also criticism that farm labor is getting diverted from farm operations resulting in the dislocation of important activities like tending the plants and harvesting. Government of India comes out periodically with incentives and subsidies to industries which can be set up in rural areas so that local people get gainful employment near there dwelling places. Even these enlightened policies have not proved adequate enough to stem the migration tide that is threatening to overwhelm the much neglected urban infrastructure which is overstretched beyond recognition. Urban India presents total chaos with protected water supply, continuous power supply, lack of houses and transport facilities unable to cope up with the needs of burgeoning population swelling by the minute due to migration of rural folks in large numbers.

In contrast to the Indian situation look at what China is doing with its rural population! Obsessed with fast economic growth through industrialization and factory culture, this country is reported to be building huge cities spending billions of dollars for rehabilitating rural farming population after they were dispossessed of their agricultural land. Farmers are being converted into factory labor by force and compelled to live in sky scrappers, a culture entirely alien o them. Such mass shifting of population from villages to newly built cities is supposed to generate a consumer based economy for which industries are being set up with bias on consumer products manufacture. The philosophy seems to be to entice the citizens to buy more and more consumer goods and thus boost the GDP and the economic power of the nation. Will this model work? What are its repercussions on the people displaced from their natural moorings? What will happen to the food production? Will this lead to massive import of foods in future? Already China has become the biggest consumer of pork and the insatiable thirst for pork meat is leading to its import in massive quantities putting the local pork industry in trouble. Same will happen practically with every food item for which demand is increasing at a fast pace.    

In the mindless pursuit of global economic power the Chines government seems to be replacing millions of small rural homes with high-rise buildings with small apartments, paving over vast stretches of farmland and drastically altering the lives of simple rural dwellers. If present projections are to be believed the number of brand-new Chinese city dwellers will approach the total urban population of the United States! Already China is literally bursting with mega cities, projected as a symbol of its technological prowess!. Why it has not dawned on the rulers of this country that such deliberate "urbanization" will drastically change the character of China in a matter of few years sidelining its earlier policy of making peasants remain tied to their tiny plots of land to ensure political and economic stability. The shift is rather dramatic involving huge costs and its potential to foment unrest in the country side in the coming years is very high. Do the present rulers expect that the rural folks will willingly allow themselves to be used for radical social engineering? What are its social consequences?  Is it going to be the harbinger of another bloody revolution that many devour the country? Only time will tell!