Saturday, January 25, 2014


Thinking loud is a good exercise but if the thoughts are not put into action such thoughts are just futile. India is supposed to have a "powerful" Authority at Delhi which claims that it is overseeing the activity of food industry and ensure only good quality products with assured safety are manufactured and marketed. But looking back is this really happening in the country at the ground level and are Indians better off than they were a few years ago? Whole world knows that India has the weakest enforcement infrastructure to monitor thousands of food products marketed in the country and a sizable portion of the food basket is adulterated, some even dangerous when consumed continuously for long periods. The food fraudsters have a free run in this country as a microscopic minority of these criminals are brought to book. It is laughable that for a country of the size of India, the annual conviction for food frauds is hardly about 700! Against such a background the recent proposal to evolve a separate quality certification system for foods with quality higher than the minimum threshold level prescribed in the statute books, is a good "loud thinking". But is it reasonable to assume that this will really come into being and become a reality? Doubtful if the past track record of Government of India (GOI) is taken into reckoning. Here is the gist of the proposal now being "considered" by GOI.

"Processed foods in the country could soon be graded for their quality and safety by Quality Mark (Q Mark), a standard instituted by the ministry of food processing industries (MoFPI). It would be on the lines of Agmark, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and the International Standards Organisation (ISO) certification. This would be possible after MoFPI receives a universal nod on its report titled, 'Report on Establishment of Quality Mark in the Food Processing Industry'. The report, which was submitted by the Quality Council of India (QCI) to MoFPI sometime ago, was recently uploaded on both MoFPI's and QCI's websites for consultation and comments. The ministry added that it has also been circulated among industry bodies, such as the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ASSOCHAM), the All India Food Processors' Association (AIFPA), and the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PHDCCI). Speaking to FnB News, an official from MoFPI said, "The ministry received a proposal from CII for establishing a quality mark for the food processing sector. Following the proposal, a meeting was held earlier this year. It was chaired by secretary of food processing industries, and attended by industry representatives."  "At this meeting, it was decided to entrust QCI with designing the Quality Mark scheme for the food processing sector. It was envisaged that QCI would formulate the scheme following a process of multi-stakeholder consultation and subsequently the industry would decide whether and how to take it forward," he added. "The main purpose of the scheme is to offer the consumer the choice of purchasing a food product that gives a higher level of assurance of quality and safety. This assurance shall come in the form of Q Mark that would distinguish the 'marked' product from other products available in the market," the ministry added. MoFPI added that the scheme would be purely voluntary in nature and shall assist in providing both tangible and intangible benefits to the food processing industry, which must now decide whether and how to take it forward. The structure of the scheme shall help in validating both the product quality and safety amongst a plethora of products that are flooding the Indian market. The enhanced compliance by the food business operators (FBOs) who opt for the Q Mark scheme could eventually provide them a host of additional benefits, including a reduction in the regulatory oversight and an increase in the acceptance of food products from India in the international market, as well. Meanwhile, contesting reservations from some quarters about the prevalence of a number of other quality marks in the country, B Venkatraman, secretary general, QCI, said, "There is a basic difference between the existing standards and Q Mark – the others are for specific products (for instance, Agmark is only for agriculture produce, mainly for spices, and BSI is for packaged drinking water). The food processing industry needs a standard which will fulfil its own peculiar requirements according to the global standards."

It is not clear as to who is going to bell the cat? Any one involved in this proposal has any idea regarding the extent of efforts which is needed to put in place such a regime? Of course a few years will pass by before a number of committees to be set up come with their recommendations. Industry should be happy because there is an implied assurance that once the new quality certification is obtained they will have a free run with least interference from government agencies in monitoring the quality of their products. Every body knows the ISI mark which was once coveted by the industry and the pathetic experience during the last two decades. Even to day ISI mark is supposed to be compulsory for packaged water but where is the monitoring mechanism? Are all the ISI marked packaged water conform to specifications? Unlikely because of tardy implementation by the BSI which again is harm strung by infrastructural limitations.
One can only hope that the new "Q" mark scheme will not be similar to other existing "no good" government systems!



Genetically modified foods (GM Foods) face enormous resistance when it comes to acceptance by majority of the consumers across the world. The million dollar question that begs for an answer vis-a-vis GM food is whether this unnatural version is absolutely safe beyond a shadow of doubt. It is unfortunate that a beautiful technology that can have many advantages when it comes to production of food and their conservation is mired in enormous controversy for which geneticists, agricultural scientists, policy makers, biotechnology industry and consumer activist organizations are equally responsible. Without going into the merits and demerits of the case as propounded by the antagonists as well as the protagonists, it is suffice to say that whole world is being held to ransom by these stakeholders because of their inability to reach a consensus!

There is no doubt that GM food production technology can provide enormous variety of crops with various traits and nutritional diversity but ultimately it is the consumer who is the sole arbitrator as to whether the final product churned out by GM technology is acceptable to him or not. For example, the famous Golden Rice developed two decades ago, through GMO, was supposed to be rich in Pro-vitamin A, a nutrient deficient in natural rice but why this has not become an instant success? While suspect safety may be one reason the main factor is the appearance of the cooked rice which is yellow, contrary to the white color consumer is used to. Thus any thing and every thing nutritionally better does not click in the market due to consumer inhibition.

According to figures put out by pro-GMO lobby there are 16 million farmers around the world using GM technology for a variety of crops including food crops, most widespread being soybean and maize. The area under cultivation reached a significant figure last year and over 170 million hectares are planted with GMO seeds. This is a trend which indicates that as far as the farmers are concerned GMO crops are more profitable for them compared to conventional agriculture. Should this be a real reflection of increased yield from GMO technology? Need not be as the increased profitability can be due to several factors such as lesser wastage due to vectors, lesser use of fertilizers, more efficient pesticide use etc. 

One of the major constraints for wide scale use of GM technology is its limitation vis-a-vis seed generation locally making the farmer eternally dependent on the commercial seed producers who have practically the monopoly in this business. The fear factor is that once the GMO technology is regularly used the seed producer can hold the farmer to ransom by continuously hiking the price frequently as the farmers have no alternate option to fall back on. This situation can be obviated to some extent if government agencies buy the rights to generate foundation seed technology and produce them in captive facilities to supply to the farmers at reasonable prices. This does not seem to be happening as the monopoly suppliers are not willing to part with the technology as their profitability comes from royalty from seed supplies. 

Coming to the safety aspects, one of the pioneers of GM technology recently cited the fact that more than 70-80% of corn and soybean produced in the US are GMO versions and almost 80% of food products in American market contain one or more of GMO ingredients. Obviously he must be referring to the absence of any major health hazards to the American population during the lat two decades by consuming GMO foods in such large quantities day in and day out. Of course this is a solid point worth keeping in mind while condemning GMO foods outright. Whether the ill effects of consuming GMO foods will manifest over long years and after multi generation elapse, one does not have the wherewithal to know now! 

It is interesting that there is a powerful movement world over to let the consumer know that he is eating GMO foods through transparent label declaration which the GMO food industry is desperately resisting. Why? If the GMO food is absolutely safe what is the harm in declaring its presence in the food marketed by the industry? This is giving rise to the suspicion that GMO food industry has some information raising doubts about the safety of GMO foods which they are suppressing fearing adverse impact on their business! The claim that there are 2000 scientific publications bringing out the safety of GMO foods cannot be the basis for blanket clearance of these products as even a single publication based on sound scientific study raising doubts about the safety cannot be brushed away as irrelevant. To brand all those opposing GMO foods as criminals does not speak well about the attitude of those relentlessly pushing GMO food technology!

Recent claim that world hunger problem can be solved if GMO technology is deployed world over is obviously an over simplification of the case. One may ask whether the hunger problem faced in some continents like Africa, Asia and South America is really due to food shortage? Obviously it is not. The low purchasing power among two billion people across the three continents does not give them adequate access to the food currently produced and added to this large scale diversion of food crops for animal feeds and renewable energy sources like alcohol is making the food dynamics some what skewed. To assume that increased production through GMO technology will rectify this situation in 2050 when population is estimated to touch the 9 billion mark, may be far fetched.    

Thursday, January 16, 2014


The high food inflation which is being experienced in India during the last 2-3 years can be attributed to soaring prices of fruits and vegetables in the country and naturally this situation has a bearing on the health of the population. While per capita consumption figures based on total production and the current population may not be so alarming but it hides more than what is revealed! It is a tragedy that the country's government puts out figures of production not based on ground realities and most of the figures coming out of Krishi Bhavan are more an estimate than the real production figures. Probably no one really knows how much is produced, consumed and wasted for want of protective measures during harvesting, storage and delivery to the consumer. Under such a situation, is the country destined to be a case of "blind leading the blind" with no one able to provide real time solution to the problem?

If a search is made regarding country's production of fruits and vegetables annually, either there are widely varying figures or a set of figures are repeated by many authors, citing each other! If one goes by most quoted figures, India accounts for 12% of world production of fruits estimated at 600 million tons (MT) and 20% of global output of vegetables placed at 1000 MT. That means about 60 MT of fruits and 120 MT of vegetables. Every article on fruit and vegetables do not fail to boast that India is the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables behind China which reported a production of more than 600 MT last year, though these figures have not been independently verified. Assuming that Indian production estimates are accurate, does any one know how much of this reaches the consumer? That is another story!   

From time to time claims have been made from different platforms that the country was incurring a post harvest loss of 25-40% though there is no authentication regarding these estimates. Even the Prime Minister of the country declared last year that food losses in the country is 30%! According to most recent estimates (veracity suspect) India is "wasting" food to the extent of Rs 44000 crore out of which fruits and vegetables account for Rs 13300 crore because of various reasons, most of which is due to negligence, mismanagement, sub optimum infrastructure, low level of education of farmers, lack of investment, etc, etc! Assuming these figures may be some where near the truth, why is that successive governments did not take any pro-active action to correct the situation?

Of course Government did set up the National Horticulture Board in 1984, supposed to be for boosting the horticulture industry. Then there is the National Horticulture Mission presumably for achieving increased production of these perishable produce. What has been achieved so far is some thing of a mystery because wastage figures still hover around 25-40%! Government does not seem to be learning any thing from its past experience as reflected by the colossal failure of similar such Missions on oil seeds, pulses etc which saw wastage of enormous public funds without achieving any thing as shortage of edible oil and pulses is still continuing. Does this mean that India can never come out of this morass and save its population from shortage of essential protective foods in the daily diet? 

What is shocking is that country has a successful model to emulate in National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) led by the great Dr V Kurien which made this country top producer of fluid milk in a span of three decades. How did he achieve this feat? A simple answer is that he led a team of technical and managerial professionals who worked from a small town far away from Delhi's interfering bureaucrats! The cooperative milk federation called Amul is a standing testimony to the success of cooperative model for production, processing and marketing. There is no reason why such cooperative system cannot work in the case of fruits and vegetables also if honest attempt is made and government does not interfere with its funct. 

According to a recent study there are about 6300 cold stores in the country, most of which are established in just 4 states while the actual requirement to take care of country's production would be of the order of about 12000. Existing facilities can handle about 30 MT of perishables while what is needed is additional storage capacity of another 30 MT calling for an investment of the order of 60000 crore. Only a dedicated organization like Amul can mobilize such a huge investment and implement the cooperative production at the village level. It is imperative that cold stores are established near the production areas as well as near the consumption centers to maintain optimum quality of the produce. Further an efficient supply chain consisting of refrigerated or insulated trucks is a pre-requisite for the success of such an effort.

The much hated Agriculture Produce Market Centers set up in most states have outlived their utility and are becoming a captive facility for cheating the growers by thousands of agents who monopolize the auction activities. If the cooperative entity intended for supporting the growers becomes a reality, the producers have an alternative to sell their produce in a transparent way in stead of to traders or at the APMC yards, assuring them decent returns. If private dairies are working successfully in many states competing with state milk federations, why not private nt nt players compete with the proposed cooperative fruit and vegetable entity? It is time Government finds another missionary cum visionary like late Dr V Kurien to redeem the sad conditions under which almost all small producers of perishables work to day.       


Tuesday, January 14, 2014


One of the most populist schemes churned out by the UPA government during its tenure has been the distribution of government stored food grains practically free to almost two thirds of the population. This scheme was started in a haste without studying in depth the consequences of such pampering of the public on the economic, social and life styles of the beneficiaries who number about 700 million. The subsidy outgo was estimated at 1.3 lakh crore annually which has to come from the general kitty, contributed by the honest taxpayers of the country. No thought was ever given whether such large scale diversion of development funds can be sustained year after year by the succeeding governments that may come to power in future.

One of the consequences already being felt during the operation of this scheme has been uncontrollable food inflation that is eating into the budget of every family in the country. While supply of highly subsidized grains does ensure "survival"of many people by keeping hunger away from their door steps, practically cost of every other thing in life has become intolerably high. It is like taking away with one hand what is given with the other hand! The warped thinking of political shenanigans who came out with the doling scheme is that all it requires for a decent life is cereals like rice and wheat! They seem to have ignored the nutrition security of these beneficiaries by not including pulses, fruits, vegetables or milk in the basket of subsidized "foods"! Is the nation heading for a future where people are destined to stunted growth and less than optimum mental health?

What impact the new scheme will have on the labor market in the country also has been ignored. To day the country is suffering from gross shortage of workers to do any chores, be it farming, manufacturing or civil construction. If food is provided practically free, what incentive people will have to go to work? If this is a correct reading of the labor market, the country may be in an unenviable position of negative growth in almost all spheres of economic activity with grave consequences. The ever escalating cost of getting labor is telling on every front. During the last few years labor has been demanding higher wages but this took a dramatic turn during the last one year with labor cost rising as much as 25-30% in states like Kerala. 

Why was there any necessity to ignore the well developed PDS which was working in many states with reasonable efficiency while propagating the present food security scheme? Many believe that this is largely a ploy to garner votes in the coming election for the present ruling dispensation by stealing the credit from a few states which have been operating their PDS with high management efficiency. It is true that in a few states PDS has not been working as expected and pilferage of rains was reported to be high. But proper reforms of the system and application of modern management technology should have been attempted. 

The quality of food grains supplied under the new food security scheme might not be good as in the case of PDS supplies with many recipients not using them for self consumption but diverting the same to flour mills and poultry industry! From where can the government bring good quality grains as the storage conditions in most ware houses are pitiable and not conducive to preserve the quality. There is even some suggestion that good quality food grains can be imported when there is a shortage in government granaries. With foreign exchange being maintained through generous remittances from immigrant Indians abroad, can the country afford the luxury of importing food grains for doling to the voters? Unthinkable indeed!  

Recent reports from Karnataka which is implementing the food security scheme indicate the ground reality as far as working of the scheme is concerned. Faced with shortage of grains in the state granaries, government started buying grains from the open market and it was soon realized that there was an active recycling process involving collusion between the beneficiaries and the grain trade. The beneficiaries who received grains promptly sold their quota to the private trade which in turn sold the same back to the government!      

Most interesting case regarding the adverse consequences of distribution of freebies comes from the state of Chhatisgarh where it was noticed that the alcohol consumption in the state went up dramatically after implementing the subsidized grain distribution scheme. It appears that beneficiaries of the food scheme in the state were selling the grains they received and using the money they got for buying alcoholic beverages! The State seemed to be happy because its liquor revenue jumped by as much as 90% during the last year. In 2013-14, Chhattisgarh is reported to have earned Rs. 1,900 crore from liquor sales, nearly Rs. 500 crore more than the revenue earned in the previous year. Paradoxically  the earning from liquor sales appears to be going to subsidize the food security program of the state! In effect the food security program intended to improve the health of the people inadvertently is driving them to be alcoholics! Probably the same story will be repeated in other states also and the only beneficiary is likely to be alcoholic beverage industry! Mahatma Gandhi must be turning in his grave seeing such things happening in his Motherland for which he sacrificed his life.


The debate regarding the need to eat animal "sacrificed" foods is as old has human history. While the vegetarian population is hardly about 10% in the world, most people are non-vegetarians by nature. With the ever increasing population in this planet, the demand for animal foods is galloping and it is a question of time before the gap between demand and supply becomes too big to be bridged. Moderation in meat foods consumption is more easily preached than practiced. There are plant protein based simulated meat products but these are at best substitutes not giving full satisfaction to the eaters. Expanding meat production using modern technologies is possible but at a tremendous cost to the environment as the green house gas emissions can rise to alarming levels causing unbearable global warming. Thus the mankind is faced with a Hobson's choice as to whether meat is to be shunned more substantially than what is being practiced to day.

Modern biotechnology came with cloning which was touted as an answer to produce more animals with disease free conditions. However this approach has been given up as the technology is too expensive to be translated into commercial scale operations. Genetic manipulations gave rise to higher yields of meat and jumbo salmons. Here again consumers are weary of genetically modified foods because of uncertainties regarding their long term safety. The clamor for labeling of GMO foods in the US can be taken as a manifestation of the desire of consumers to shun such foods with unsure safety credentials.

Campaigns have been undertaken from time to time in different parts of the world to promote vegetarianism because of the many ill effects of animal breeding, slaughtering and meat processing as it takes place to day. Moreover ethically killing a living creature to get the food for humans may be difficult to be justified. It is true that humans during evolution had to hunt for food just like other animals co-existing with him but to day there is no such need as Mother Earth can support production of plant foods, equally nutritious as animal food through modern farming technologies. Some of the food grains like Quinoa, Chea, Amaranthus etc can be more healthy than meat foods. But leeway has to be given to the present generation and the next one in consuming meat foods before gradually weaning away from them in about 30-50 years time. 

The organization PETA ( People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) is to be applauded for instituting an award of $ 1 million for any one coming out with a technology to make chicken meat without ever killing a bird! This means that such a meat has to be produced in a laboratory under controlled conditions. Many attempts in the past in this direction failed because of a variety of factors. Recent claims by a private company to have developed an egg without going through the chicken route did create some excitement, only to be disappointed when it was realized that this plant based egg substitute in powder form can be used only as an ingredient in many food preparations containing egg solids.

Another claim was recently made by a group of scientists in India to have made a milk like concoction from plant materials like drumstick leaves, mushroom etc, calling it "Green Milk", whatever that means! There are many patented formulas for milk substitutes derived mostly from plant materials but milk from Cow or Buffallo is a unique product which cannot be imitated 100% in terms of nutrition and functionality. Besides such "senseless" development can be considered as waste of scientific talents, resources and time. Of course a small population allergic to Milk Lactose or Casein do need plant based milk products but this demand can be met by the existing range of plant milks without going in for more research. 

It is against this background one has to see the challenge taken up by a maverick entrepreneur in the US to promote a laboratory grown meat for which he financed a group of scientists to the extent of about $ 330, 000 and succeeded in creating a beef muscle bundle, resembling the natural beef meat. The scientists used the stem cells from the shoulder of a cow to grow meat muscles by feeding nutrients from bovine fetus serum. The effort by itself is amazing as it required 20000 strips of tissues to be grown get about 140 gm of meat, considered adequate to make a burger! The novelty of the approach is really noteworthy and criticism regarding the cost of making this sample may be some what misplaced. As a scientific endeavor it is notable. 

One of the reservations on accepting the above product as a satisfactory imitator of beef is regarding its taste and over all satisfaction from the sensory perspective. According to those who are privy to the above development the "lab created" beef lacked the fatty taste and the texture was nowhere near that of the natural beef. The concept has been proved to be workable and since stem cells are present in every animal, this technology may work out in creating other meats like chicken, pork, mutton, lamb or even more exotic things such as caviar or shark liver. Theoretically one biopsy could provide enough stem cell material to easily grow 20,000 tonnes of lab meat. There may be a need to develop techniques to incorporate fat into such meats, improve the color and texture which may not be difficult for scientists. Using fat stem cells fat can be added while myoglobin can impart the typical meat color. Of course more challenging would be to imitate the meat texture which can be possible only by providing suitable skeletons for the muscle fiber to grow. How the cost can be brought down is the million dollar question which may take a long time to resolve. But with persistent and sustained efforts, there is no doubt that food scientists will come with the right product with right sensory quality at right price within a reasonable time.


Thursday, January 9, 2014


Sugar is a natural food component present in almost all fruits but man learned to manufacture it from sugarcane and sugar beets in the last century and then started a big transformation in the health status of people in successive generations. At least this is the contention of a number of pundits knowledgeable about human nutrition and health. If obesity epidemic, diabetes, CVD and  hypertension are threatening to annihilate mankind, the first accused is sugar and its allies (other carbohydrates). Next comes fat (saturated and trans types) which get into the human system in a variety of ways complicating the case of over weight and other diseases. 

Recent reports trying to applaud the processed food industry for moderating their products vis-a-vis calorie content do not tell much though figures have been quoted regarding how many trillions of calories the industry was able to reduce in its total portfolio. Whether this was accomplished through fat reduction or sugar reduction is also not known. Credit to some extent must go to some of the leading players in food industry in recognizing the urgent need for reducing calorie content and increasing the nutrient density which can only bring about any perceptible positive changes in human health. The tragedy is that this world is inexorably rushing to a catastrophe through reckless eating aided and abetted by the processing industry which feeds them with mouth watering food products mostly with "empty" calories! It is time this trend is halted and eventually reversed.

Small policy changes such as ban on large serving sizes tried out in New York in case of beverages, can trigger a shift in population behavior to consume less but the over riding concern for personal liberty in choosing what one wants to consume is coming in the way of enforcing such enlightened and well meaning efforts. It may be true to say that wealth of a nation influences the eating behavior of its population. Look at a country like India where majority of its people live in poverty, the pack sizes of processed foods are progressively declining and consequently the unit price also are less as the industry wanted to bring more and more people with lesser income to its buying ambit. On the contrary in a rich country like the US, jumbo sizes of food packs and servings are order of the day! This raises the inevitable question whether the health policy administrators should start thinking in terms of restricting the pack and serving sizes through mandatory means. Possibly large sized portions or packs of foods can be taxed high while their smaller counterparts are spared. 

There is a class of pundits  who think that the current trend of uncontrolled development of obesity in many countries across the world is definitely due to high sugar content in foods manufactured by the industry and probably there is some truth in this stand. Their assertion that . the obesity epidemic can be arrested and even reversed within a span of five years if the food industry makes cuts the amount of "hidden sugar" in their products, must be viewed seriously in this context. According to many doctors, sugar is a major cause of obesity and it is also known to contribute to development of type 2 diabetes. A new campaign has been recently kick started under the banner of "Action Sugar" that aims to increase the awareness about the dangers of sugar and exert pressure on the industry and the policy makers to take effective measures to bring down the sugar content in processed foods.

" Action Sugar" seems to have taken courage by the success of similar efforts during the last one decade to cut down on salt intake by the population which is considered responsible for hypertension and stroke in millions of people across the world. This campaign is considered a success measured by the 15% reduction in salt intake among the population achieved between 2001 and 2011 and  reducing incidences of myocardial infarction and cerebral strokes significantly between 2001 and 2011, .

The current thinking that if major manufacturers reduced the amount of sugar in their products, (about 20 to 30 per cent decrease in sugar content) in three to five years, the obesity epidemic could be stopped or even reversed. How this can be achieved is the crucial question. The voluntary approach is an ideal way of solving this problem but whether this will really work out on a collective level is doubtful. The 6.4 trillion calorie cut down claim by the industry and a consequent reduction of 74 calories per capita per day does not seem to have made any impact and hence mandatory restrictive policies will have to be thought of to force the manufacturers to reduce use of sugar drastically in most processed products.  


Saturday, January 4, 2014


Food industry world over might have been emboldened by the relatively inefficient law enforcement mechanisms put in place in most countries which leaves the citizen clueless regarding what he is buying or eating! It is true that front of the pack labeling rules followed in many countries give the consumer some elbow room to pick and choose what he wants though the veracity of information provided is suspect in many cases. In countries like India where most traders follow their own rule that once the customer buys some thing and takes them home, no complaint will be entertained regarding the quality of the products bought. Consumer has no way to prove that a particular product was purchased from a particular shop as most traders do not give authentic receipt to support any claim against the sellers. 

The retail market in the US is a shining example of trust between the consumer and the supermarket as there are special "returns" counters in most places to take back goods already sold if the quality is not satisfactory or the customer is not satisfied. Probably the retail marketing system there may be providing adequate cushion or margins to meet the financial loss due to returns received every day. Still it is a commendable system that should be considered as most consumer friendly. There are well laid down guidelines that stipulate the period within which the product must be returned and other logistical conditions. 

In a country like India such a system may never be implemented because of the limited role of organized retailing which is estimated at about 10% of the total market. imagine the chaos that is prevalent here when more than 7 million retail shops owned and operated by families or single entrepreneurs have been working for ages catering to different localities and most of them have earned the confidence of customers by their trust worthy service. The street corner trader even takes back defective goods and returns the money so that he continues to enjoy the confidence of his customers. What he does with the returned goods is any body's guess! What is amazing is that appearance of multinational retailing giants has not made any dent on this unorganized business sector so far and if economic analysts are to be believed none of the organized sector players are any where near the break even point still. 

Food adulteration is considered rampant in China, India and many emerging economies where wheels of justice move agonizingly slow in booking the culprits, most of whom get away with barely a rap on their knuckles! Of course China has an authoritarian regime which hands out severe punishment summarily but there also food adulteration is the rule rather than an exception, probably supported, albeit secretly by some of the powerful players in the ruling group. India has a unique food safety administering regime which is practically toothless with no machinery to enforce its own regulations! Most of the regional governments do not seem to have high priority for food quality and safety and it is an irony that the federal food safety agency depends on their machinery to implement the national laws! What can the citizen expect from such a situation! An average Indian can only pray that the food he buys is edible and free from unhealthy adulterants! 

It is against such a background one has to to appreciate the bold program being taken up by a tiny city like Dubai which is experimenting with a 'Smart City' initiative to protect its citizens from those indulging in the dangerous game of making and selling non-standard and unsafe foods. The program is expected to provide better connectivity between the law administrators and the citizens in identifying food culprits where ever they are operating within the municipality. As per the newly developed GIS based smartphone application, any consumer can report violation of food quality and safety norms to the authorities on the spot as soon as it is detected. When this system is fully implemented it is expected to be a boon as they will be able to help the authorities in real-time through their mobile phones by identifying the exact market location on an interactive map. The authorities further expect that the citizens can share their experience when shopping for food items and with provisions for capturing photo images and sending the same the enforcement agency can book those selling expired or rotten food items. Such complaints get registered automatically into the authority's case management system. Based on such real time information authorities can dispatch suitable inspection forces quickly to take punitive action.

It will be interesting to watch the experience of Dubai municipality in its new endeavor and if successful can be a model to other urban areas around the world. Though the population in India with smart phone facility may not be much, even a few enlightened citizens with interest to protect the nation from the criminal activities of food fraudsters may act as an effective deterrent in the market place.