Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Food poisoning- How well the world is managing the food-borne diseases?

Food-borne pathogens, innumerable in number, cause a catalogue of diseases, many of them with potential to cause death. Why is that we are not able to prevent such food poisoning episodes totally inspite of enormous scientific knowledge and large resources at our disposal? The question is a difficult one to answer satisfactorily though many reasons can be cited. Think of the gigantic size of this sector spanning across more than 150 countries in 5 major continents. According to some estimates food processing industry produces more than 50, 000 products at any given time and at least 10% of these are replaced by new products using new technologies. In such a scenario where millions of hands are involved in handling the food from farm to the fork and an extended distribution spanning over 15000 Km where do we look for the culprits whenever a food poisoning episode breaks out? It is like picking a pin from a haystack! Still world has done reasonably well so far .

Globally the out put of processed foods is variably placed at 1.6 to 4.8 trillion  dollars from a raw material base worth 48 trillion dollars. How far these figures are reliable we do not know but by any standard the dimension of this sector is gigantic. If this is so how well we have done in controlling this scourge with the facilities, expertise and experience at our disposal?  World wide 2 billion cases of food borne disease incidences are reported every year though some doubts remain regarding such a high figure. Except in developed countries like the US, Europe, Australia etc the documentation of food-borne diseases incidences in most other countries, is a sham lacking credibility. USA reports that there were 47.8 million cases of food related incidences, working to about 1600 cases per 1 lakh population which highlights the seriousness of food poisoning in that country. Out of this 9.4 million cases were pathogen related, caused by 31 known bugs. Even after hospitalization and best medical care Americans are known to get, there were more than 3000 deaths which could not be prevented. In the UK there were 5.5 million food poisoning cases, almost 1 in 16 of the population affected by infection carried by the foods they consumed. Compare this with what is happening in Asia where there were 7 lakh deaths caused by spoiled foods, it is said!.

What are these pathogens about which world is so scared of? They can be bacteria, viruses, fungi etc which cause symptoms to appear in 12-72 hours. These symptoms include vomiting, fever, aches, diarrhea and others. How can these vectors gain access to foods? Through negligence in handling, processing, storage and due to bad sanitary environment. Campylobacter jejuni, Salmonella spp, Escherichia coli 0157:H7 are the major causative organisms for a major part of the food poisoning cases reported in many countries. There are many other bugs like B.cereus, Listeria spp, Shigella spp, Streptococci spp, Staphylococcus spp and a few others pitching in to cause other food poisoning episodes. Bacteria like Clostridium botulinum, Clostridium perfringens and Bacillus cereus secrete enterotoxins which are poisonous while Aflatoxins and Ochratoxins are secretary products from fungi like Aspergillus parasiticus and Aspergillus flavus. If we know so much about these predators in our foods what holds us back to improve the process technologies to ensure their destruction totally? Unfortunately many food borne diseases are caused during post-processing phase of food handling which is outside the control of the manufacturers. 

One would assume that the food industry will be keen to deploy most reliable, fastest and lowest cost diagnostic tools to detect and eliminate pathogens from their raw materials, intermediate materials and final packed products.  Researchers from the US have claimed to have developed a new diagnostic tool for detecting the presence of bacteria, viruses and other pathogens precisely and quickly. The test is based on the accepted biological theory that each and every microorganism has a specific and unique biomarker in their cells that could be DNA or RNA and by targeting this marker through a specially designed biochip, presence of these vectors can be detected fast. Though the present stage of development is confined to single biochip for each individual pathogen, there appears to be technical feasibility of developing multiplex chips that has the ability to detect several pathogens at one go.

Probably the enthusiasm of the scientists was spurred by the sufferings of millions of people affected by food poisoning and naturally they assumed that the food industry would be the perfect market for their new innovation. The quick time test they developed is claimed to identify, several bugs including the dreaded E. coli 0157, which has caused a number of deadly outbreaks in the United States and other parts of the world. Their test also is supposed to identify other pathogens responsible for brucellosis also which results from eating undercooked meat or unpasteurized dairy products. Though their test was inexpensive and fairly fast, the food industry does not seem to be too impressed as the latter wanted even faster tests that could give results in a jiffy! 

Probably food industry does not want to save on the cost on the testing kit considering that the consequences of "not catching" the infection in time could be more disastrous in economic terms. A bench mark time of 2 hours was demanded to conclude the test which the above innovation was not able to achieve. That shifted the focus of the researchers to target medical industry where hospital sanitation is crucial to avoid infection of patients through ill maintained environment, furnishings, medical tools, foods served, human interface and many other sources. The test can also recognize the virus that causes Dengue fever, potentially valuable for surveillance activities both here and abroad, and human papillomavirus (HPV), which is linked to cervical and oral cancers. That is how a test targeted at food industry became a darling of the medical industry in no time. Thus food industry's loss became medical industry's gain! 


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

From food to fossil fuel-Guar bean's long journey!

India is the top most guar bean producing country and this humble seed is a vital source of a variety of gum used extensively by the food industry for viscosity and texture modification properties. There are also other edible gum sources from plants but guar gum is preferred for its extraordinary properties liked by the food processing industries world over. Besides there are gum like materials derived by modification of starch which also find application in some products. Guar gum became "famous" after the fossil fuel industry found that it is essential for extracting underground fossil fuel products through the process of fracking which has made America self sufficient in its energy requirement. This diversion has made guar gum more and more expensive and in spite of the fracking industry trying its best to find effective substitutes to it, not much success has been achieved so far.

The guar price which peaked at one time to about $15 per kg has crashed to a more sedate figure of  about $ 2 per kg at present. What future guar gum will have is some what uncertain as furious efforts are on hand to develop universally acceptable fracking fluid sans guar gum in the US. Also efforts are on to cultivate guar in Texas region in the US though the production there is still minuscule and the fracking industry still looks to India for bulk of its supply. Guar gum has become so dear to the oil industry there that many leading players are stocking the same to avoid escalation of prices in the international market in the near future. The pull from other industries like textiles, paper, explosives, mineral ore processing, food processing, pharmaceutical manufacturing etc also is a contributing factor to the escalating demand for guar gum. Guar gum and its modified version Partially Hydrogenated Guar Gum (PHGG) have properties such as solubility, stability under acidic conditions and heat that make it a choice for many of these industries.

Though Jodhpur in Rajasthan is closely associated with guar gum industry as large number of processing plants are located nearby, Kutch region in Gujarat account for more than 70% of country's production. The country produces about 3 million tons of guar beans and out of 1 million tons gum derived from it 90% is exported for use mostly for hydraulic cracking to extract gases from the shale underground. Almost 70% of the international demand comes from oil and gas industry. Imagine the gas industry in the US needs guar beans harvested from one thousand acres in India to dig a well and what efforts go for achieving this production at the farm level. A valid and relevant question that does not get a satisfactory answer is how far the farmers are benefited by this gas industry boom in the US? Like all other agricultural commodities guar beans also are susceptible to manipulations by middle men who invariably gorge a major part of the sale proceeds with no one able to control their activities. Probably the growers must be getting only a fraction of the money involved in guar beans trade!

The recent crashing of petroleum prices has added to the worries of the growers in India because an oil production cut is a distinct possibility which in turn may affect demand very significantly. Whether fracking industry will also resort to production cuts is some thing which cannot be predicted as of now. In the long run, guar beans growers will have to be weary about their future and if alternate crops can be raised in their lands that could be a better alternative option. Such a trend is seen when erstwhile guar farmers are shifting to cotton, sesame and cumin in large numbers due to steep fall in demand and their income from this crop. Food industry which uses guar gum for many functional applications like baked goods, ice cream, dairy products, fried foods, emulsification, antistaling etc probably may shift to guar gum  and partially hydrogenated gum (PHGG) as the current prices are considered reasonable. Also produced are Hydroxy Propyl Guar (HPG), Carboxymethyl Hydroxy Propyl Guar (CMHPG), metal complexes with Boron, Titanium, Aluminum, Antimony, Zirconium and Chromium all of which have properties suitable for different industrial applications. Besides the health connotations associated with guar may raise its stature further as it is considered a dietary fiber source and many health foods are right candidates for its wide scale use. While guar gum as available in nature is fermented to the extent of 75% in the gut, PHGG is 100% fermentable producing desirable volatile free fatty acids. They are regarded as pre-biotics because of their action in the intestine.  

There is also another face to the guar gum industry which many do not know. A casual visit to the so called guar mills can expose the indifferent and unhealthy working environment where thousands are employed at wages not considered comparable to other industrial workers. What is appalling is the "dusty" environment within the mill resulting from the inefficient machinery used by the owners spewing out fine particles of gummy cotyledon which are inhaled by the workers causing serious lung disorders. There does not appear to be too much concerns on the part of the government to protect their health through strict control measures. We only see the glamorous side of the industry which boasts of bringing in sizeable foreign exchange to the national kitty!


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Organic foods with pesticide residue? An unenviable Indian situation!

Organic foods are supposed to be free from pesticides as the they are produced using no chemicals at all. Though some countries like the US permit limited use of chemicals and still call the product organic, this is not an acceptable option in many other countries. Fear of adverse effect of "artificial" or unnatural substances in raising crops or meat animals or during processing drive consumers in droves to the open arms of the organic food industry, willingly paying almost 50-100% more prices for them. But is the consumer guaranteed about the genuineness of organic foods, branded by the industry or is there an overseeing agency mandated to monitor the market and ensure the consumer is not defrauded? Obviously such controls by regulatory authorities in countries like India are at best nebulous. With such an unfettered access to the market, fraudsters and deceitful producers are having a field day! 

It is not that Indian government has not done any thing to encourage organic farming and processing but the progress in bringing the organic food industry to international level is less than encouraging. Organic food market world wide is estimated at $ 50 billion (bn) and current cultivation covers an area of 35 million (mn) hectares, spread of 141 countries involving more than 1.2 mn producers. Australia is the pioneering country that sets the agenda for organic food production and innovations related to it. USA is the major producing and consuming country accounting for more than 40% of global production. Compared to this India produces about 0.12 mn tons valued at $ 20 mn,  the cultivation area being mentioned as 2.5 mn hectares but these figures are some what skewed because a more reliable estimate puts it at 40, 000 hectares. India produces and exports about 30 products under the organic product banner which include Basmati rice, mango pulp, pineapple pulp, cashew nut, sesame, honey, walnut, spices, coffee, tea and tea and Indian products are imported into more than 70 countries through out the world.. 

Standards for organic foods are not uniform in all countries and even definition of what constitutes an organic food varies some what among the producers. In the US one can see 100% organic, 95% organic, 70%  organic etc throwing lot of consumers into confusion. World standards, about 61 in number, accepted among most nations include IFoam, Codex, EU, Demeter, JAS etc. In 2000 India government came out with the National Program for Organic Products (NPOP) to organize the production on a scientific footing and National Standards for Organic Products were set up to monitor the industry. Presently Agricultural Product Export Development Authority (APEDA) has been vested with the task of ensuring quality standards for organic products produced in the country. There are 11 accredited certification agency approved by the National Accreditation Board for checking the veracity of claims made by the industry vis-a-vis organic foods.

The malpractices in Indian organic food industry came to light recently when Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi, came out with its findings that many organic food samples tested in Delhi by it contained pesticide residue. According to this institute its laboratory analysis showed 33% of the samples it checked  during the last two years containing pesticide residues which are not supposed to be there at all as per mandatory regulations. Probably it may be a shock for the consumers but the practice of using pesticides must have been there since long without any hindrance from any quarters. The vegetables that tested positive for pesticides included brinjal, ladyfinger, tomato, capsicum, chillies, cabbage, cauliflower, coriander and green peas. Many were found to contain residues from multiple pesticides. Dearth of reliable brands and sources is posing a major challenge to genuine buyers of organic foods in the country. Consumers have to be convinced about the authenticity of the organic food certification as only such a situation will  ensure that organic food product conforms to the respective national standards established by the certification procedures set out in 2000. 

What is disturbing is that this fact was known since last two years from the on-going testing program in IARI in Delhi, located just a few kilometers from the offices of APEDA, the government agency earmarked for certifying organic foods and supposedly to be looking after the welfare of Indians domestically and other citizens in importing countries where Indian products are exported! Can such callousness be condoned? World over organic food industry is growing at a fast pace and to day the value of these "safe"products churned out by the industry is about 1% of that by the mainstream industry which generates a business volume worth $ 5 trillion. If India continues to neglect the organic food industry by not putting in place an effective surveillance mechanism soon, the faith and trust of dedicated consumers wedded to organic foods will be badly shaken, if not lost once for all. Millions of denizens across the world want their children at least to grow in an environment not vitiated by the main stream food industry which uses thousands of chemicals and other unnatural additives to make their products look "sexy" and taste "glamorous" so that consumers get hooked on to them without realizing the terrible consequences of eating them regularly! Probably government of India could set up a dedicated organic foods certification and monitoring agency with adequate powers to enforce the national standards for organic foods, in stead of the present ad hoc arrangement involving APEDA.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Another crazy study-How about getting the benefit of dark chocolate through a pill?

Chocolates come in a variety of hues, shapes and tastes. Who is not attracted to products based on chocolates such as slabs, pastries, frozen desserts, many versions of confectioneries, dairy products etc? Whether an adult or a kid chocolate is always irresistible and this trait forms the basis of a roaring multi billion dollar industry across the world with a few giants operating out of the US and Europe dominating the industry. The health protecting properties of chocolates, more specifically some cocoa components, have emerged only recently and vow, look how the chocolate landscape is changing dramatically during the last few years.

Do we eat chocolates for their health benefits or enjoying the fine texture and delicate flavor? Most consumers will opine that they like them because they enjoy eating them to give a high sensorial satisfaction. Admittedly chocolates also have a health story to tell which is very compelling to listen to. Accumulation of a large body of scientific information during the last two decades and high degree of awareness among the consumers about the close linkage of food to good health have combined to create a euphoria and demand for a particular variety of chocolate called "dark" chocolates. These chocolates, also referred to as "bitter" chocolates, have high cocoa solids, some time to the extent of 90%, obviously containing far less sugar than that in conventional sweet chocolates. Why this shift in interest from sweet chocolates to bitter chocolates? Is it because of high sugar content in the latter or for any other reasons? The answer lies in the presence of a group of bioactive organic substances going under the name flavonoids in cocoa. 

Why this focused interest on flavonoids? Because they are reported to be beneficial in guarding the heart and protecting against cardiovascular disease and arterial related disorders, so common among people in many developed countries. Cocoa beans as they are present in the unfermented pods have very high flavonoid content but successive processing which the pod undergoes before reaching the final product stage brings down the level drastically. The final ready to eat chocolates will be having a fraction of this beneficial component compared to what was originally present. Still the concentration of flavonoids in bitter chocolates with high cocoa content is considered to be useful to get some of the benefits attributed to flavonoids.  

The jury is still out whether the health benefits attributed to cocoa are exclusively because of the flavonoids which are present in high levels in cocoa beans or other components which have not been studied properly. Methylxanthine, peptides and minerals in cocoa are known to have some influence on the health of humans. Still overwhelming evidence, available as of now, points to the predominant role flavonoids play, possessing high antioxidant properties, on the heart and brain health. Unfortunately all biological materials are vulnerable to inherent enzyme degradation and cocoa is no exception to this rule. Fresh cocoa pods are subjected to external fermentation to free the beans and debitter them before processing into chocolate products and loss of flavonoids can be any where from 30-70% between the pod stage and emergence of final products. High flavonoid cocoa are produced by Ecuador and according to industry experts if the process is carefully controlled almost 70% of flavonoids can be retained through the process. So called dark chocolates are bitter to taste because of the presence of high concentration of flavonoids which normally the processors reduce it through their processing operations. 

A recent report that some motivated scientists are working on a project to encapsulate the "health" promoting active principles from cocoa is both amusing and exciting. Amusing because if man is to depend on only pills containing various identified factors in food for good health what is the role of food itself in the lives of people? Exciting because such capsules will eventually be produced by pharma industries using standardized ingredients with assured purity and stability while cocoa by itself is a veritable mixture of many components with different properties with no assured value for a particular brand made by a particular manufacture. In the case of cocoa flavonoids, there are six sub-groups coming under this class of chemical entities in plants which include chalcones, flavones, flavonols, anthocyanins and isoflavonoids and cocoa is supposed to be rich in flavonols having the health boosting properties. Here again we have to content with monomers, dimers, trimers up to decamers, all categorized as cocoa flavonols. But flavonols can have stereo isomers also some of which are more bioactive than others. For example (-)epicatechin is six times more active than its stereoisomer (+)epicatechin and others like (+) catechin and  (-)catechin. 

In such a complex situation what will a future pill contain and how can it be made stable against undesirable stereoisomeric changes? It is well known that during the rigorous processing of cocoa highly active (-)epicatechin tends to transform into less active (+) epicatechin thus reducing the overall beneficial effect of the flavonols in general. The attraction of scientists to flavonols comes from the classical study on a section of population in Panama which consume more than 900 mg of cocoa flavonols in their diet every day through a drink made traditionally from cocoa beans and their health index was some thing unbelievable. Heart attack, cancer and diabetes cases among this population were just 10% , 6% and 20% respectively that of the national average! 

One interesting fact that emerges from this projected study is that one of the giants in chocolate industry is supporting this effort obviously with funding and one is puzzled by their interest in producing a pill that will compete directly with their products. One can understand if active cocoa growing countries or corporates are involved with this effort because positive results are bound to expand cocoa demand giving the economic incentives in future. Currently cocoa is in short supply and chocolate products are anticipated to be costlier due to this supply crunch. Probably far sightedness in hoping for a production glut in future and natural concern for the health of the consumers could have driven their push in creating a health pill out of cocoa.

As of now consumers should be weary of buying all and sundry brands of bitter chocolates or dark chocolates at a premium unless the label indicates the flavonol content in an unambiguous way. Probably it is time regulations are brought in to compel makers of these specialty chocolate products to declare the flavonol content on the label.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Exploring aquatic sources in search of future antibiotics-Fight against drug resistance in bacteria

Man cohabits with billions of other living creatures, tiny, small or big numbering trillions and trillions. Some of them are visible to the naked eyes while extremely small microorganisms cannot be seen with out the help of powerful microscopes. The living environment is full of viruses, bacteria and fungi, most of them being benign and pose not much hazard to human life. But a small fraction of them can cause infection in human body which if not treated with antibacterial or bacteriostatic drugs can be very harmful and in many cases become fatal. Antibiotics, several in number, discovered in nineteen twenty eight starting with Penicillin, are the front line of defence against pathogenic microorganisms. However over use  and misuse of these antibiotics during the lat 6 decades have created an unenviable situation where many pathogens are developing resistance against the killing power of these wonder chemicals. Why?

The major culprits are indifferent physicians who prescribe antibiotics at the "drop of a hat" to most patients coming to them whether actually needed or not and the animal feed industry which incorporates these antibiotics in small amounts in their products for better growth of cattle and poultry birds. Constant exposure through the meat products carrying the antibiotic residues and over exposure through physicians' frequent prescription created opportunities to microorganisms to evolve mechanisms to overcome the lethal effect of antibiotic drugs over a period of time. Imagine how insensitive the animal food industry in a country like America could be considering that more than 80% of available antibiotics are used by the feed industry in that country during the last few years. This malpractice is spreading to other countries also thus expanding the dangers posed by antibiotic resistant super bugs in creating havoc with human lives. How to deal with this precarious and fast emerging situation that can be a threat to humanity?

Pharmaceutical industry is lagging behind in developing newer generation antibiotics, possibly because of the huge investments required to see through the process of testing and safety clearance while government led research investments are practically non-existent. We owe to many Universities and academic institutions for the scientific strides made by scientists and scholars in discovering new approaches in dealing with air-borne, water-borne and food-borne diseases working in different parts of the world.  One such area is discovery of Antimicrobial Peptides ( AMP) which were shown to have bactericidal, virucidal and fungicidal properties that can compliment the strength of current biotics and counter act the ability of pathogens to develop resistance. AMPs are short chain peptides containing 12-50 amino acids and mostly contain 2 or more positively charged residues provided by arginine, lysine and histidine. Besides they also contain hydrophobic residues to the extent of more than 50% of the chain length.They are derived from a variety of sources including humans, insects, amphibians, fish, pigs, cattle, crabs, fruit flies etc. But how feasible it is to manufacture them economically and logistically?

From whatever is known about these unique biological molecules, it is clear that scientifically they can counter act many micro vectors efficiently without causing any resistance in the invading species. Initial contact between the host surface and the vector takes place electrostatically as bacterial surfaces are anionic in nature. AMPs target the cytoplasmic membrane besides interfering with DNA synthesis, proteins synthesis and folding and cell wall synthesis resulting in a catastrophe leading to their death. One major limitation could be presence of cholesterol in human cells which makes them less reactive with invading vectors. However ribosomally synthesised peptides, unlike their non-ribosomally made ones are least prone to create drug resistance. Examples are Gramicidin, Bacitracin, Polymyxin and Vancomycin which are increasingly becoming popular as antibiotic alternatives. How can these peptide molecules be made commercially available? 

AMPs are present in almost all higher forms of living creatures in the dermis and they form the first line of defence against invaders when infection takes place. That is why they can be extracted from almost all of them including humans. However from a practical view point for a sustained supply of any product of uniform quality a reliable source needs to be identified. Recent works by a few scientific groups have identified aquatic creatures as a good source from which highly efficient AMPs can be made in a sustainable way. Gills in most fish species have AMPs that give protection to them against water borne infections while water is filtered through these gills for breathing. Each fish species secretes AMPs with different structural features offering a vast range for selection regarding their effectiveness against different species. Some of the fish species from which AMPs have be recovered and studies include Rainbow Trout, Carp, Winter Flounder, American Halibut, Atlantic Salmon, Zebra Fish, Puffer Fish, Tilapia and a few others. Diversity of genomic sequence encoding fish AMPs has been extensively studied and they can be a sustainable source for synthetic recombinant AMP products for use by therapeutic industry eventually. 

Recently progress has been made in bonding fish derived AMPs to Silicone, Gold and Silver surfaces so that the latter can be used in designing highly effective therapeutic applications in human beings. In transplantation and organ repair surgeries such coated surfaces can preempt contamination. and post surgical complications. Heart valve replacements or stent implants can also have such coatings for which further application studies are called for. As for direct use in human beings in place of current antibiotics, delivery mode has to be worked out for the AMPs to attack the invading organisms at the affected cites. Exciting developments in fish AMPs can be expected in the coming years and there is hope that the current antibiotic resistance among pathogens can be dealt with through fish AMPs.


Midday meal program in India-Whose interest it is serving?

 For the last several days in Karnataka, news papers were full of reports regarding the mid day school lunch program in a small village near Mysore where caste politics have caused considerable damage to the teaching environment there. The issue,  raised by this "storm in the tea cup" incidence as some people like to call it, poses a pertinent question regarding the very foundation of the concept of national school feeding programs across all the states. A honest citizen always wonders why the government is resorting to universal feeding in schools forcing all children attending a school where such a program is running to eat the "foods" cooked inside the school premises even if many of them can afford bringing good nutritious food from their home. The excuse for this program has been to try 100% attendance in the school as a part of right to education for every citizen. But the experience in this Karnataka village brings out starkly the anomaly of the program and in the face of some children refusing to eat the foods cooked in the school, authorities concerned were at a loss as to what to do next! 

Indian constitution confers on a citizen, even if he is a school going kid, the basic right to what he wants to eat or not to eat and therefore making it compulsory for all kids to eat the locally cooked foods, whatever be the reason, is coercive and unconstitutional. The "circus" going in this school to gloss over the issue is really amusing. Big politicians, religious saints and others are visiting this school and eating the same food as that being eaten by the students to show case their commitment to a "caste-less" society! The real issue is not caste or creed but the acceptability of the food to all children in the school. Why those who do not like the school foods should be "finger pointed" is baffling. In stead of making eating environment hygienic and clean, wrong emphasis is laid on eating only one food cooked locally! 

In another case reported from the city of Meerut in UP, teachers in a government school refused to eat the locally foods as they felt they are inedible! What logic is there in forcing the same food down through the throat of the hapless children is not clear. According to the rules prevalent governing school foods service, teachers are mandated to taste them before serving the same to the children and this is observed more in breach than adherence. If the teachers cannot eat the food how can the school authorities expect the children to accept them unless coercion is used. Shamelessly the school management routinely claims that complaints filed with higher authorities are routinely ignored and the situation continues, totally insensitive to the welfare of the kids! Does not this amount to criminal negligence on the part of the education department officials and local school management? Is there no solution to this systemic failure? Is it not a national blemish about which every Indian must hang his head in shame?

The concept of midday school feeding program is a novel idea, no doubt but the way it is practiced in the country needs reexamination. Every school must enroll voluntarily the names of kids wanting to be served with food during the lunch time. This should be based on economic criteria rather than on universal basis. Probably inertia on the part of the government in conducting surveys to identify families with low income who deserve free lunch in the school has resulted in opting for an easy recourse to giving food to every body without caring for the waste of resources on a worthless cause. In India there is considerable extent of suppression of income data by the citizens to get the benefit of many subsidies doled out by the governments at the central and state levels and this habit must be curbed as mercilessly as possible for the sake of the country and its honest law abiding citizens.. 

This Blogger has been raising the issue of school feeding during the last 30 years and always frowned upon the the "fresh food serving" lobby which has a powerful vested interest in making a fast buck from such programs through politician-bureaucrat-private contractor nexus. The meager budget for the food program reflects the sham that is being perpetuated in the name of education, social equity and poverty. In spite of some crazy politicians claiming that one can get a sumptuous meat for Rs 5 in this country, the ground reality is totally different. With rice costing Rs 50 per kg, edible oil price beyond Rs 70 per liter, Milk being sold at more than Rs 30 a liter, wheat flour available at prices more than Rs 40 per kg and egg Rs 5 a piece, what nutritious food can be served in the school at the ridiculously low budget of Rs 5 per head. A complete meal must have 16% proteins, at least about 400 kC of energy and adequate micro nutrients that will meet at least 50% of daily Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). If government wants to do justice to its school feeding program it has to double its present budget if 100% of kids in all schools are to be covered. Is it feasible? 

Another mind boggling issue is how advisable it is to make the school assume responsibility associated with raw material procurement, their safe storage, cooking within the premises with crude cooking facilities, accessing safe potable water, arranging for cooking fuel etc. With most schools grossly understaffed, is it fair to load the available teachers with additional burden of looking after the feeding program? No wonder instances like that in Meerut city keep happening all over the country. Food technologists, Nutritionists, medical practitioners, policy makers and industry reps must sit together to evolve a more credible and reassuring programs that will depend on packed foods, centrally manufactured and safety packed with minimum nutritional value and stable shelf life which are amenable to easy distribution, stocking, accounting, serving with minimum risk to the health of the children. 


Saturday, December 13, 2014

The much maligned Ghee that is a "magnet" for fraudsters in India! -Consumer in a blind!

Ghee is the Indianized version of butter oil which is a highly valued by-product of dairy industry. Why this is liked very much in India, despite it being demonized for presence of saturated fats and cholesterol? People love it for its delicate flavor that comes from high heat processing of fresh butter in open pans. Compared to other fats, ghee fetches a premium price to the extent of 100 to 150% and almost all diaries, private as well as cooperative, produce them being sold under various brand names. Ghee is also used in a variety of sweetmeat preparations through out the country. The ingenuity of food fraudsters in adulterating this valued fat product has spawned an entire industry that uses solid fats like Vanaspati in such proportions that cannot be easily detected by the hapless consumer. According to a recent report from the food safety authority sources, more than 50% of market samples of ghee are adulterated as discovered during a market vigilance operation and subsequent laboratory tests of seized samples. If this is true imagine the easy money the fraudsters are making through this devious route! 

Assuming that the figures trotted out by the above report is really true, what are its health implications? Antagonists of ghee consumption basically raise three issues regarding the desirability of taking ghee in our foods. First ghee is supposed to contain cholesterol as it is derived from animal sources. This cannot be refuted though the cholesterol content in ghee, about 250 mg % cannot be considered very high since human body does need about 300 mg of this fat emulsifying aid for digestion of fatty foods in the gastrointestinal tract. Second the saturated fat content, about 62% in ghee makes it eminently eligible for raising a red flag as there is a common impression that all saturated fats are bad for the health. Agreed that saturated fat consumption is not encouraged by nutritionists because of its tendency to raise the Low Density Cholesterol ( LDL) levels in the blood which is bad for the heart but consumption of saturated fat to a limited extent is not dangerous as long as major calories come from plant oils of liquid nature. The third issue is presence of trans fats (TF) in ghee which is being condemned world wide for its ill effects on heart. Why this concern about TF which is present only in small quantities in ghee? 

Of course trans fats are not desirable as a general rule but one has to make a difference between naturally occurring TF and man made TF. Hydrogenated Fats ( HF) made in huge quantities on demand by the food industry to incorporate into various processed products contain very high levels of HF, some times as high as 40% and naturally even a 10 gm portion can contribute about 4 gm of TF to the consumer. Unfortunately almost all baked foods are steeped in HF and intake of TF must be much more than what is considered safe. Health agencies all over the world are hesitant to put a "safe limit" for TF as far as human beings are considered and universally a zero tolerance is advocated. However practical ground reality makes it inevitable for humans to imbibe some TF through various foods consumed. This has necessitated for WHO to put an upper limit of TF ingestion equivalent to 1% of calories derived from the foods we consume every day. In the US there is a guideline which says TF consumption should not be more than 2 gm a day per person. 

Incidentally TF is present from 1 to 4% in human milk and naturally the child also imbibes this. But at such levels TF is not considered unsafe for a growing child. Similarly all animal derived milks contain TF to the extent of 2-5% of its total fat content. As a consequence both butter and ghee will contain TF passed on from the fluid milk during processing. One vital difference between saturated fat and TF is that the former just increases the LDL content in blood without any adverse effect on the HDL level. In contrast TF can cause both an increase in LDL and decrease in HDL, a double whammy! Health conscious consumers must avoid consumption of hydrogenated fats like Vanaspati be it any brand if to be protected against heart disease. But ghee cannot be categorized as a dangerous fat measured by any standards. On the contrary there are many reports highlighting the positive properties of ghee for human beings. As true with any food, moderation is always advised while consuming any fatty foods and ghee is no exception to this golden rule.

Talking about the extent of adulteration of ghee in India, one is left with an impression that a proper study has never been made about different markets in the country based on which any conclusion can be drawn regarding this menacing issue. If FSSAI is to be believed more than 60% of milk marketed by private players in the unorganized sector are adulterated and how harmful such a situation can be to the health of our population can be guessed. Similarly if this logic is extended to ghee market, one cannot doubt that most of the samples must be impure, adulterated with hydrogenated fat. Though no precise data is available, the estimated production of ghee in the country is about a million tons and even adulteration at 10% level can be a rewarding effort for the adultrators!. One comforting thought is that this heinous crime is perpetrated mostly by players in the unorganized sector though catching them is much more difficult than those indulging in this practice from the organized sector. Viewed from another perspective, the adulterated ghee containing Vanaspati can increase the TF ingestion among people with undesirable consequences in the long run. Sooner FSSAI takes preventive action to curb the growth of ghee adulteration "industry", better it will be for the health of the citizens of this country. 


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Saturated fats in foods-Are they villains or just harmless players?

Thousands of treatise have been written, millions of words printed, umpteen number of seminars and workshops organized and many national and international advisories issued regarding the dangers inherent in consuming diets rich in saturated fats. Practically every school going child has been indoctrinated into believing that saturated fats are not good for health and almost every nutrition and health expert of some standing "villainize" these fats endlessly with no respite. Can we hold all of them irresponsible in making such claims during the last 3 decades? One cannot help getting a feeling that they are all prisoners of the big hype created against saturated fats based on inadequate interpretation and improper appreciation of the knowledge already available. It is good that this record of denunciation is being set right by recent massive studies to decide once for all whether saturated fats are really as bad as it has been made out to be.

According to new studies surfaced during the last 2-3 years saturated fat when consumed as a part of a balanced diet can never be harmful to the body though on a nutritional scale unsaturated fats may score over the former. Dramatic shift in the attitude of Westerners towards saturated fats in favor of their  unsaturated counterparts during the last 3 decades, did not bring down the incidences of diseases like CVD, Blood Pressure, Obesity and Diabetes among the population there! On the contrary this shift in dietary changes in favour of unsaturated fats containing MUFA and PUFA with emphasis on Omega-3-acids has increased the obesity and over weight population to a record high of 35% of the total population in a typical wealthy country like the US! Against this background can any one claim that consumption of more unsaturated fats has contributed to this epidemic? The lesson one has to draw is that diet needs to be considered in a holistic way, not based on the presence or absence of one particular ingredient such as saturated fat.  

One of the defining moments in the history of American dietary habits was demonizing saturated fats which led to a situation when industry literally went over board, curtailing and eliminating fats altogether from their products. Instead of fats, the new range of products contained more sugar and highly refined carbohydrates to replace the pared down fat ingredients. One of the consequences was that these products were not able to create necessary satiety in the consumer, to stop him from eating more, leading to the phenomenon of binge eating and uncontrolled weight gains. The industry did not stop at that and went on creating more and more eye catching products with high sensory attraction to tickle unsatiated consumers who responded to this by buying such products more frequently. It is said that a consumer can eat a product containing no fat almost double the quantity compared to a normal product with normal fat concentration! This is how the history of American obesity epidemic is going to be written for posterity. Can we claim that saturated fats caused this? Positively not! 

Health pundits are now more or less agreed that saturated fat when consumed from a mixed diet in which carbohydrate components are derived from whole cereals, unprocessed legumes, fruits and vegetables can never cause those diseases from which world is suffering to day. When discussing about fat,  one should not forget to mention the role of trans fats which are created by man in food products, by bad processing practices and which is really considered harmful to human body without any doubt. Where does it come from? Many creamy products to which people including kids are addicted, use hydrogenated fats made from liquid oils through catalytic saturation using heavy metal catalysts. It is rather mysterious why no country in the world has banned production of hydrogenated fats which during its process of manufacture generate trans fatty acids. The policy of restricting its presence to certain levels came rather late after some procrastination and mandatory declaration of the same on front of the pack labels are right steps that can contribute to better health of the consumers.

Though the above commentary makes it clear that consumers should not abhor saturated fats altogether, further work with human subjects through well designed clinical trials can confirm the above facts beyond a shadow of doubt. Mean while if one wants to continue to use liquid oils in preference to saturated fats like Palm oil or coconut oil they are free to do so, probably for a better health index. Recent publication about the beneficial effect of a blend of raw sesame oil and refined rice bran oil.on human beings, in terms of lowering cholesterol levels and reducing blood sugar levels is refreshing in these days of fat bashing! These findings clearly bring out that unrefined foods, as natural as possible can be the game changer for the survival of humanity with sound health.  

It is good that the world is slowly coming to the realization that low fat foods do not achieve much in terms of health and probably lower consumption of refined carbohydrates like white sugar, HFCS, refined grain flours and restricting salt intake would do more good in the long run. A low fat product loaded with refined carbs and salt may put the consumer in the comfort zone without realizing that such diets can be more harmful that saturated fats. Those advocates who promote low fat and zero fat consumption must realize that there are many fat soluble ingredients including vitamins, some micro nutrients and a variety of plant derived health protectants that will not get access to the blood stream unless adequate fat is present in the diet consumed every day. The ultimate "mantra" for good health is live like a normal human being as our ancestors lived by adopting a diet which is based on natural, unprocessed and unrefined food components as much as possible without caring whether they contain saturated fat or not!  


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Russia's Buckwheat crunch-Real scarcity or fear of shortage?

The recent headline news about the panic that has gripped Russia over the reported scarcity of Buckwheat in the market raises a pertinent question as to why Russians are so obsessed with this pseudo grain which after all is not related to real wheat? While wheat is produced all over the world in terms of millions of tons and most western countries eat wheat as their staple, why Russians prefer Buck wheat over real wheat? As against an estimated annual global wheat production of about 715 million tons (mt), Buck wheat production was a measly 2.3 mt! Still an economic power like Russia feels threatened by a temporary shortage of this food grain! It is difficult to hazard a guess regarding the reason for this strange phenomenon though one can attribute this affinity for Buckwheat to historical facts dating back to the Russian Empire.

Buck wheat is known to mankind as far back as 8000 years ago and there is ample evidence to substantiate this fact. There was a time when Russians were growing and consuming as much as 6.5 mt of Buckwheat, about hundred years ago which started sliding down to about 4.5 mt in 1970 and production of Buckwheat in present day Russia is hardly 0.8 mt. It is China which took a gigantic step forward in growing this food grain producing about 0 .72 mt, a close second to Russia followed by Ukraine, an erstwhile part of Soviet Union recording a production of 0.28 mt. Probably Chinese must have taken up growing of Buckwheat largely for export to Russia. What has led to the present hysteria among Russian population to buy the grain in large quantities for stocking, may be speculation and rumors about shortage caused by the biting economic sanctions imposed by the western powers on Russia to punish it for its transgressions in neighboring Ukraine. One is reminded of the great salt shortage 4 decades ago in Soviet Union which also drove the people to stock salt which was later emptied into the drains causing heavy choking of drains in places like Moscow! One can attribute this to the "siege" mentality among the Russians to the bitter experience they had during the Communist rule when every consumer item was in short supply due to systemic flaws in the economy. Also the actual production of Buckwheat has declined this year by about 20% compared to last year due to wide scale drought reported in the growing regions of the country.
Buckwheat is a nutritious food grain, probably much better than the conventional wheat and being a staple food Russians are better off in terms of their over all health index. Added to this they are heavy meat eaters and the versatility of Buckwheat in blending with almost all other foods lends itself to ready acceptability across all segments of population. Its high protein content of about 18% ( non gluten), high nutritional quality of Biological Value over 92% and ample presence of minerals like Iron, Magnesium, Selenium, Zinc and high antioxidant content including the unique Rutin makes Buckwheat a nutritionist's dream food. Further presence of a rare biochemical, D-chiro-inositol DCI), a component of the secondary messenger pathway for insulin signal transduction makes it a deserving candidate for treating Type II diabetes in humans. Generally diabetics lack DCI in their system and consumption of Buckwheat is suggested as a therapy for ameliorating diabetic conditions significantly.  

Industrial use of Buckwheat is showing an increase for some time now as it is used by some brewers to make gluten free beer catering to those allergic to gluten. Buckwheat has similar malting characteristics comparable to that of barley. in the US Buckwheat is attracting more and more attention as a health food, some describing it as the "world's healthiest food". Besides, the explosive growth of gluten-free food industry there, it has found a ready ally in this grain and demand for it is bound to grow in the coming years. The proteins found in Buckwheat flour act as a functional ingredient in food formulations with reported claims that it reduces plasma cholesterol, body fat and cholesterol in gallstones. Many nutrition experts agree with the view that a daily intake of 100 gm of Buckwheat can consistently lower serum cholesterol levels significantly, lower LDL values and elevate HDL levels which is attributed to the presence of Rutin, a well established antioxidant in the grain.    

As far as Russians are concerned Buckwheat has values beyond that which makes it a good and balanced food. For them it is a "national idea". Though it was cultivated and introduced to Russia by early Mughal invaders in 13th century, it being the main food of Byzantine monks, Russia readily accepted Buck wheat giving it the name "Grechka". Today Buck wheat is consumed in Russia in many forms like porridge for breakfast, mixed with chopped liver for lunch in preparations for dinner and in a variety of other ways. It is ubiquitous in restaurants, cafeterias, schools, hospitals, military barracks, prisons and in almost every house hold. Naturally having got used to it no wonder Russians are panicking at the first sign of scarcity as they did with salt 4 decades ago!


Sunday, December 7, 2014

The diabetic dilemma - A complex disorder with diverse dimensions

Is it not shocking when we are told that in this planet one human being dies every 6 seconds because of diabetes and complications arising from this scourge? The staggering figure of 384 million people being affected in his world by diabetes is indeed disturbing and look at the death rate-1.5 million (mn) dying because of this disease every year. How come this so called metabolic syndrome was allowed to creep in slowly without being taken seriously a few years ago? Probably adequate knowledge might not have been available then to understand unambiguously the basic reasons for human beings to develop diabetes. Progress in medical science and human physiology has created a fund of knowledge regarding various causes that can be responsible for spreading of metabolic syndrome in practically every country in this globe.

Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar are prominent countries where those affected by diabetes is as high as 20-24% of their population. That means 1 in 5 citizens suffers from this disease. According to the WHO the diabetic is expected to be prevalent among 600 million people by the year 2035. What about India? While as a percentage of the population it is small, about 5%, in absolute numbers, this country can be called the diabetic capital of the world. From 31.7 mn in the year 2000, the number of diabetics has jumped to 62 mn in 2014 which is predicted to reach almost 80 mn by 2030. India, China and the US have most diabetics compared to other countries though in terms of percentage figures, these countries have relatively less affected by diabetes measured per thousand population. Though statistics can be quite revealing, what is not understood is why some are more vulnerable while others are immune to this disorder, considered a life style disease caused by sedentary living conditions giving no scope for the body to expend the calories consumed through physical activities. 

If one asks the crucial question as to what is really responsible for this surge in diabetic population, the most common answer would be "obesity". According to present understanding about diabetes, over weight and obesity contribute to insulin insensitivity leading to a condition when body finds it difficult to push glucose into the cells where it is supposed to be converted to energy. However a closer look at the situation will reveal that obesity cannot be the sole factor causing diabetes. In the US there are almost 100 million obese people while the diabetic population is only 23 mn and it will reach a figure of 30 mn only by 2030. Similarly China the second largest obesity prone country has 46 mn cases of obesity whereas its diabetic population is only 30 mn. The third ranked India on obesity scale with 30 mn people suffering from obesity, has a whopping number of diabetics, viz 62 million. Thus it is difficult to establish a direct linkage between obesity and diabetes. There must be other reasons for developing diabetes which need to be looked into.

Three new studies carried out fairly recently have brought to surface the role of genetic make up, disturbed Amylin hormone cycle and disturbances in the body's natural circadian clock  Qualitatively some conclusions can be drawn regarding the role of genes and mutations undergone by them. The fact that certain ethnic groups are more prone to diabetes than others has been pointed out in support of genetic factors influencing the onset of diabetes. The inherent contradiction, that some lean people get diabetes while many over weight people are protected from diabetes, cannot be explained easily unless we fall back on genetic factors. A probable interpretation could be that the diabetes can occur with a 50:50 chance determined by family history and life styles followed by different people.

Those who contend that gene factor is important cite the 9 variations possible in the gene PPARG which has some influence on obesity development and which is not strictly related to BMI. Building up of fat around abdomen in some people who do not appear to be "fat" to look at, can be explained only though the above basis. Decreased function of PPARG can simulate such a condition. According to this school of thought diabetes that is seen in India and Pakistan is of this type. This is reflected by the fact that in India obesity is much less as a proportion to diabetic population than that found in the US and China. Diabetics to obese population in the US, China and India are 23:100:,30:40 and 62: 30 respectively reflecting the difference found in the above countries. 

The Amylin hormone produced by pancreas works in conjunction with insulin and plays a role in preventing over production or under utilization of insulin affecting glucose levels in the blood plasma. According to those who support the theory of Amylin hormone's role in developing diabetes, too much production of this hormone can get deposited around pancreas as toxic clumps causing death of insulin producing cells. This theory lacks precise scientific evidence regarding the cause of Amylin over production though it is thought to be related to inactivation of concerned enzymes involved in the metabolism of Amylin. But the qualitative finding as reported recently cannot be brushed away easily. Further studies can only throw more light on this aspect related to development of diabetes, at least among some people, not vulnerable to obesity.

The Circadian clock theory also appears rational though the evidence generated so far is with mice as subjects. The finding that during the night when mice are active, they showed high insulin efficiency to burn the foods they consumed into energy while in the same mice during day time when they sleep, their insulin resistance increases leading to accumulation of fat and weight gain. Insulin after all is  the driving tool for pushing glucose in the blood into liver, muscle and other cells. Mice population in which the gene responsible for circadian rhythm is knocked out were found to develop insulin resistance and consequently gained weight abnormally. Same thing was found when they were exposed to uninterrupted light for 24 hours upsetting their circadian rhythm. If such a phenomenon is confirmed by clinical trials with humans, it provides logical explanation for the vulnerability people working in night shifts and others ignoring the normal sleep cycle to diabetes more often. 

The above three findings throw lot of insight into diabetes epidemic the world is facing and must serve as a guide to future development for appropriate therapy to deal with this disease in the coming years. While diabetes related to genetic factors will have to be dealt with at the genetic level involving gene manipulating intervention drugs,  Amylin therapy to reduce insulin resistance will have to work at the enzyme level and circadian clock disruption will need to be avoided to pre empt this causing diabetes. The world is headed for an exciting era ahead when more precise and reliable drug therapy may emerge based on the latest findings. 

Beware, a person looking lean need not be free from diabetes while another person looking obese may be really non-diabetic!  


Thursday, December 4, 2014

What is the connection between Tobacco and Food?-A tenuous one?

Tobacco played an important role in the economy of some countries like the US which accounts for two third of the world's production and ever since its use is being frowned upon because of its association with cancer, those engaged in tobacco business have been looking for exiting the same for greener pastures. The tragedy of tobacco industry was so gigantic that no one wants this to be repeated again for the horror it created for millions of smokers who were addicts to this seemingly innocuous habit of smoking. If  WHO is to be believed 100 million people are supposed to have perished due to the smoking habit while it estimates another billion to die during the current millenium if smoking addiction is not reversed in time. In terms of economic impact the manufacturers of cigarettes containing tobacco had to suffer severe losses due to scientific findings that proved they cause cancer. A logical question that arises out of this punitive action on the tobacco industry is how culpable are consumers in this complex case which had become a land mark judicial judgement indicting the industry?

In a democratic country the citizen has the right to do any thing that does not "injure" the society at large though in constitutions of different countries reasonable restrictions are imposed, again for the benefit of the country as a whole. After all smoking a cigarette is a personal choice but smoking in the public can definitely harm others nearby and therefore any country will restrict smoking in public places. Even to day no country has totally banned cultivation of tobacco or manufacture of cigarettes, probably because of economic reasons. Same is true with Alcoholic beverages also and it is a part of history that "prohibition", famously coined to a situation where alcohol consumption is legally banned , never worked leading to illicit distillation and emergence of a "dangerous", substandard potions being distributed under the very nose of the government. The lesson to learn from these two examples is that human behavior is difficult to be controlled by any government and ultimately education and better awareness about ill effects of such habits can only work in the long run.

Coming to food industry, is there any similarity between this industry and tobacco industry?. Some legal pundits ascertain that damage to health due to high fat, high sugar and high salt foods being promoted by them, knowing well that they are addictive in nature like tobacco, cannot be condoned. There are a few scientific studies implicating these foods in creating addiction to them due to the physiology of humans and such addiction becomes irresistible over a period of time. Imagine almost a third of American population numbering more than 100 million are proved to be clinically obese causing that nation to incur a whopping medical bill of $ 147 billion annually. Obesity was declared as an epidemic in the US a decade ago and if adequate scientific data can be marshalled to link it up to foods they eat, sold to them by the food industry, could there be a case for a mass action suit for economic damages by the state, similar to the one that succeeded in the case of tobacco? 

As strange coincidence one can notice is the shifting of business interests during the last 15 years by many of the tobacco giants to food processing by acquiring many major companies with reputed brands of a diverse portfolio of packed foods. How can any body be blamed inference is drawn that they would repeat the strategy of making these foods as addictive as cigarettes which they did systematically in the last millenium? The indictment of tobacco industry was based mostly on the following counts: guilty of racketeering, conspiracy against the public by hiding about health dangers and the addiction quality of the products, secretly working to increase addiction power of their products for kids etc. Can these same counts be applied to today's food industry? Probably some of them may be applicable to foods also though more evidence has to come for conclusively proving them.

In discussions centering around obesity, some industry players are taking it more seriously and there are many instances when dangerous ingredients have been weeded out voluntarily. Similarly voluntary measures such as reduction of salt in food products is being achieved through persuasion and cajoling in some countries. On the other hand good intentioned measures to restrict serving size and jumbo packings to curb over consumption, are being resisted by the industry. So also is the innocuous demand by consumers to declare use of GMO foods which the industry does not want for reasons not very clear. Recent attempts by consumer activists to make food industry more transparent regarding the safety of hundreds of flavor chemicals used in thousands of products to make them more attractive, is also being resisted by the manufacturers who do not want any oversight by independent safety authorities. If such illogical practices continue, a day will come soon when the industry will have to pay a very heavy price if and when linkages are established beyond doubt to diseases like cancer, r high blood pressure, cancer, CVD etc. It is in the interest of the industry not to repeat the mistakes by the tobacco industry which hid the true data from the government and the consumer about the seriousness of health risks associated with cigarette smoking. Full cooperation with the government and a transparent relationship with the consumer will go a long way to preempt any situation in future that may cause huge financial damage to their business.. 

When we talk about punitive legal action in a country like India it may never work. Even in tobacco products the very same industry which forked out billions of dollars to smokers in the US who suffered from smoking, got away scotfree in India and we have not heard of any reparations paid to any Indian citizen so far. Therefore there may not be any possibility that citizens here will be benefited by such class action suits. Such a sobering thought should not make the food industry insolent and intractable to ignore genuine grievances of the consumer community. The fact that FSSAI is not functioning as efficiently as it ought to have been doing, should not be exploited by the industry to ignore the well being of the consumer through undesirable malpractices and less than optimal processing conditions. One redeeming feature of food industry in India is that majority of manufacturers are law abiding and will not do any thing that infringe on safety of the products they make. The biggest worry is the large number of players in the unorganized or informal sector who can play spoil sport due to ignorance, lack of assistance from public food technology agencies and limited market out reach. Ministry of Food Processing must wake up to address this reality if it has to serve any purpose for its dreary existence.