Saturday, February 28, 2015

Another debate about safety vs advantages of GMO foods-Where lies the truth?

Reproduced below is a recently published treatise on genetically modified foods, their safety aspects and advantages. This is quoted below without any bias or prejudices and readers are free to come to any conclusion regarding the issues covered here:

In 2008, Duane Grant, who runs farms in Idaho and northern Oregon, began growing sugar beets from seeds that were genetically modified. As a result, he says he now uses fewer chemicals, tills the soil less often and gets larger yields from the same acreage — increasing profits and reducing his environmental footprint along the way.  "I am proud of that fact," he said. But that pride does not translate into support for a burgeoning consumer movement that would have mandatory labels placed on products containing sugars like his, such as juices, soft drinks and breakfast cereals, and on any other product containing a genetically modified organism, or GMO. Grant considers such labels irrational — a sentiment that aligns with the broader food industry, which has been spending tens of millions of dollars in recent years to avoid them, fearing they would drive customers away. Despite two decades of assurances from biotechnology firms, food processors, federal regulators and even a substantial share of scientists that GMO foods are safe, ballot initiatives and citizen petitions seeking labels on GMO foods are springing up as quickly as the industry can pay — or sue — to defeat them. Meanwhile, sales of foods labeled GMO-free have been steadily gaining ground on consumer shopping lists, and polls suggest that more Americans than ever favor labels that identify GMO foods.

This has even some supporters of genetic engineering wondering if it's time to rethink the labeling question. "If you give people a choice and value, that wins," said David Ropeik, a risk-communication consultant. He has begun calling on the industry to let go of its "fear of fear" and embrace GMO labeling, which is required in at least 64 other nations, including Japan, Australia, Russia, Brazil and more than a dozen European countries. But Grant, like many industry stakeholders, remains skeptical. "To allow popular perception of harm — or benefit — to be the basis for mandatory labeling would not result in food being safer," he argued. "It would result in the scientific community being pushed to the sidelines in favor of food-fad-of-the-day mob regulation."

Whether or not that's true, food makers are spending lavishly to avoid mandatory GMO labels. In 2012, for example, opponents of a California labeling proposition — including Monsanto, ConAgra and other genetically modified seed makers alongside food companies like Sara Lee, Coca-Cola and Kellogg's — spent a staggering $46 million, primarily on lobbying and advertising, to defeat the measure. Similar efforts in Washington the following year prompted the state's attorney general to sue the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA), alleging that the leading food industry lobby was hiding the identity of the contributors to its anti-labeling campaign in violation of state election laws. The GMA eventually came clean, revealing that dozens of contributors — including Nestle, Del Monte, Coca-Cola and Hershey — had chipped in $7 million to kill the measure. In almost all such battles, the companies easily outspend label supporters. Monsanto and Dupont Pioneer, for example, were among a long list of food industry interests that contributed over $15 million to defeat a labeling measure in Colorado during November's elections, according to state records. Supporters of the bill managed to raise a tiny fraction of that amount. The initiative failed. Dupont, Monsanto, Kraft Foods, PepsiCo and other food industry players pumped more than $30 million into efforts to quash a similar ballot initiative in Oregon — twice the amount supporters were able to muster. The industry is now locked in a fierce legal battle with Vermont, which passed a GMO labeling law last year, and companies have lobbied hard for federal legislation that would bar other states from following suit. A bill that would do that was introduced last spring by Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Republican from Kansas who, as it happens, received the largest single contribution — $10,000 — from the GMA for the 2014 election cycle, according to federal data. The bill did not make it out of committee, but Heather Denker, a spokeswoman for Pompeo's office, said he plans to reintroduce the bill in coming weeks.

The industry justifies all these expenditures on a variety of grounds. For starters, companies say, a hodgepodge of differing state labeling laws would be unworkable, and even a federal labeling rule would make food more expensive. They also argue that genetic modification, which involves the insertion of foreign genes into an organism — so far mostly crops like corn and soy — so that it expresses a new and ostensibly desirable trait, is really just one among a variety of plant breeding techniques that have been used for decades without complaint.
More substantively, GMO supporters argue that there is no evidence to suggest genetically modified foods present any more risk than conventionally bred fare, a view generally held by a long list of scientific organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the World Health Organization. Taking a similar position, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates food from GMO crops in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency, has seen fit to leave GMO labeling a strictly voluntary affair. "As a public health agency, we base our policy decisions on the best science available," said Theresa Eisenman, an FDA spokeswoman, in an emailed statement. "The agency is not aware of any information showing that foods derived from genetically engineered plants, as a class, differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way or that, as a class, such foods present different or greater safety concerns than their non-GE [genetically engineered] counterparts."
Although the FDA's review process is voluntary, virtually all producers of new GE products submit them to the agency for approval. Since the mid-1990s, the FDA has signed off on over 150 varieties of genetically engineered crops, though not all proved commercially viable. Most GMO-derived ingredients found on shelves today are from crops that were tweaked to improve resistance to pests and certain herbicides, but newer products with consumer-facing traits are in the pipeline. This includes the Arctic apple, which has been engineered to resist browning.
On Feb. 13 the USDA determined the apple was safe to grow, and the FDA is currently reviewing it. Eisenman also said that the agency is reviewing two citizen petitions urging the FDA to create a mandatory GMO label but that no decisions has been made — much to the chagrin of many consumers who remain unconvinced that GMOs are safe.  A survey published last month by the Pew Research Center, for example, found that while nearly 90 percent of scientists surveyed said they considered genetically modified foods safe to eat, only 37 percent of the general population agreed. An ABC News poll from last summer found similar results, with more than half of respondents saying they believed GMO foods were unsafe. In a 2013 New York Times survey, 93 percent of respondents said they wanted GMO ingredients identified on food labels.

Critics of such surveys argue that they only demonstrate ignorance of GM technology. Ropeik, for example, pointed to a 2013 study conducted at Rutgers University, in which participants were asked, in an open-ended question, what sort of information they would like on their food labels that isn't already there. Only 7 percent mentioned genetic modification. A more recent survey from Oklahoma State University found that 80 percent of respondents said they supported mandatory GMO labels. The same large percentage, however, also wanted labels on foods containing DNA. Such cognitive dissonance suggests to industry stakeholders that environmental advocates are simply exploiting consumer ignorance to force a label on technology they don't like. "It's clear to us that it's really meant as a skull and crossbones," said Cathleen Enright, the executive vice president for food and agriculture for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a trade group representing Monsanto, DuPont and other GE seed makers. "We shouldn't be using labels as a scare." Scott Faber, the vice president of government affairs with the Environmental Working Group, a public health advocacy based in Washington, D.C., disagreed. "If you're framing this as a debate about technology, you're really missing the bigger picture," he said. "It's about what consumers are entitled to know, broadly, about their food." He argued that the jury remains out on questions of GMO safety, not just at the dinner table but also in the fields, where cross-pollination with conventional crops is difficult to control and where heavy reliance on GM seeds is contributing to the emergence of new herbicide-resistant weeds, which in turn drives farmers to ramp up use of toxic chemicals. "These things have only been in the market for 15 years," Faber said, "and they've not been submitted to long-term studies, so it's still way too early to render a judgment one way or another on their safety." In the absence of consensus, the marketplace may be providing the differentiation many advocates seek. Labels certifying GMO-free foods are booming, with the lead certifier, the Non-GMO Project, placing its imprimatur on over 20,000 food, beverage and body care items. Nielsen, the market research firm, said sales of such products increased 15 percent last year, to nearly $10 billion, and it ranks the GMO-free sector among the fastest-growing food trends in the market today.

The USDA's organic certification already acts as a vouchsafe against GMO ingredients, and Whole Foods has taken the lead among major retailers in catering to consumer demand, requiring that by 2018, all products in its U.S. and Canadian stores either avoid GMOs or carry labels to indicate that they contain them. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has floated an even broader long-term solution: placing special bar codes on food packages that consumers can scan with their smartphones, obtaining all the information they could ever want about the food involved — where it was made, how it was processed, whether it was grown using hormones or antibiotics, what sort of allergens it might contain and, of course, whether it involved genetic modification. Brian Kennedy, a spokesman for the GMA, suggested that the bar code solution has merit. "Our members are always looking for ways to use technology to provide consumers with more information about their product choices," he said. Until that happens, though, the GMA and its like-minded industry partners plan to keep battling the mandatory label movement — and to let voluntary non-GMO labeling provide consumers with the choice they're looking for.
In Idaho, Duane Grant suggested that identifying and labeling products that don't contain GMOs would be a lot easier to do these days anyway. "The fact is, about 80 percent of the food in the U.S. now contains ingredients produced using GM technology," he said, "and it has been that way for years."

After reading the above, what type of conclusion a lay man can come to? More confusion and more questions! One thing which strikes one is that both sides have their own strong views and may have some merits in their contentions and unless there is a unanimity consumers may not accept GMO foods unreservedly!


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Indian farmers-Between deep sea and the devil

India has been traditionally an agriculture oriented country with millions of farmers peacefully ploughing their land and growing a variety of crops as food as well as for cash generation. Though for centuries the bullock drawn ploughing "technology" has been in vogue, advent of tractors in a big way in the country made many farmers switch over to partially mechanized agriculture. But for millions of small farmers the bullock centric cultivation practice is still  inevitable as buying mechanized gadgets is unaffordable to them. Bullocks have a few advantages when it comes to rural environment though lately even these man-friendly beast is becoming exorbitantly costly to acquire and maintain. Why is that Indian farmers cannot modernize their agricultural practices in spite massive subsidization of this in the country?

The continuing saga of farmers is best reflected by the unceasing episodes of suicides in the rural area and according to governments own data, more than 10% of suicides in the country happen in the rural areas by farmers. Why should a happy farmers, as being claimed by the government, takes his own life, leaving his kith and kin in his family as destitute? Human psychologists are of the view that human being commit suicides for either of the two reasons. First he is driven to suicide by his compromised self respect, fearful of the humiliation in the society. Alternately desperate economic situation where he is heavily burdened by loans with exorbitant interests from local loan sharks who have a way of extortion and blackmailing to extract his pound of flesh. In spite of many progressive measures successive governments have been taking to "pamper" to the farmers, as many citizens feel, the benefits of economic growth have not touched a large number of farmers coming under the category of marginal farmers. There is a feeling that these benefits have been cornered by well to do, rich farmers with political connections! 

Look at the land holding pattern in the country where 70% of the population is engaged in agricultural and allied activities. Those holding less than one hectare of land constitute 62 % of the population while others with 1-2 hectares make up another 19%. In other words 81% of the agriculturists own major part of the agricultural landscape of the country. Under such a situation what one can expect from these unfortunate brethren of ours who work the whole day to eke out an existence for him and his family while raising about 71 kg of wheat and 80 kg of rice to every Indian citizen! In this process what is he getting back? A decent livelihood? No way! While the counterpart of Indian farmer in Australia raises 10.8 tons of rice per hectare, he is not able to produce even 3.5 tons per hectare from his land. As for wheat Indian grower produces 2.8 tons per hectare while his counterpart in the Netherlands enjoy a harvest of 9 tons per hectare. Chinese farmer produces about 3 tons of Chickpeas from each hectare of his land whereas in India the average yield is a measly 0.9 ton per hectare. Why is this happening in our country which was a food bowl of the world for centuries? Who is responsible for this shameful and pitiable condition of our farmers?  

With majority of farmers owning less than an hectare, what type of economic viability one can expect from their operations? Modern farming technology cannot be applied unless farm sizes are at least 10 hectares and above and no subsidies can change this situation to any significant extent. Unproductive farm land cannot be sold as per the country's law even if the farmer wants to sell it off! There will be no buyer because of the restrictive clauses that the buyer must be a farmer and his income from non-agricultural activities must not be above Rs 2 lack per year! Is it not interesting as to how politicians and bureaucrats earning millions per year have active farms all over the country in violation of these rules? Another interesting or say nauseating rule is that scheduled caste owners of land cannot sell their land unless permitted by a babu in the government! Another restriction is that a farmer is barred from renting his land to another person even if he is not able to cultivate it economically. In China such renting out is freely allowed for the sake of increased production. Can the Indian farmer have salvation ever? No unless government brings about massive relaxation of these restrictions immediately. 

Cooperative farming is touted  as a possible route for land consolidation and application of modern technology in such cooperative farms but this has been tried previously and given up as impractical under Indian conditions! Why? If Tibetan refugees can convert the 5 acre land lots allotted to them into a 5000 acre cooperative farm and help the state to become the top producer of maize in the country, why not Indians do the same? Here again the problem lies with the land regulations which do not permit any formal linkages of land lots through a cooperative society! The only one crop that can still be managed with small holdings is sugarcane because of the high minimum support price government offers and high productivity in some of the sugar belts in the country. A hectare of land, with adequate irrigation can produce as much as 100 tons fetching an income of Rs 2.5 lakhs though the input costs are very high with sugar cane cultivation. Unfortunately these fortunate farmers in the sugar belt also suffer because of delayed payments by the sugar mill barons under one pretext or the other putting them in great economic hardships frequently. 

One relevant question even a child in this country can ask is when are these farmers going to quit agriculture if the land they own does not bring adequate returns for them to lead a decent life with dignity? With more than 15000 farmers taking the painful route of committing suicide to escape from the harsh future faced by them and their families under the prevailing Indian conditions, what else can wake up the conscience of people and pressurize the government to address the situation on an emergency basis? More than 50% of the arable land in the country depends on rains for agriculture as irrigated water is restricted to only about 82 million hectares! Water scarcity is another challenge India is facing because of low progress in  irrigation projects and rapid drying of ground water resources. This can only aggravate the conditions of farmers in perennially drought hit areas in the country.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Is the wheat to day radically different from that produced 50 years ago? What is the truth?

Wheat is an ancient food grain that existed even 1000 years ago and the explosive growth of gluten free foods in the United States with no rhyme or reason is sending scientists on a leather hunt to fix the real culprit which creates the so called demand pull for gluten free food products. It has become fashionable to day to blame wheat for every ailment one can think of! This is reminiscent of a similar situation years ago when fat was the villain on which blame was placed for all human ailments. This leads us to question the logistics of opinion creation that makes a particular food constituents look dangerous to many people. Logically one must ask regarding the role played by scientists in this opinion making? Unfortunately some scientists themselves are responsible in creating fictional notions regarding risks posed by certain foods to the health of the consumer and this is compounded by physicians who rides this bandwagon by advising their patients to avoid these ingredients to overcome their physical discomforts for better health. 

A typical example is the so called gluten allergy which rightly or wrongly has spawned a multibillion dollar industry making fortunes right, left and the center, hawking hundreds of products containing no gluten. According the data put out by the US government there are hardly about 3 million people in that country who are really afflicted by celiac disease for whom gluten consumption can be lethal. As against this the gluten free foods are bought by more than 30 million people and annual turnover of this industry has almost doubled to $ 15 billion in 5 years time since 2009! While it is good going for the industry so far, what is intriguing is why the government is not frowning upon such happenings which may have far reaching implications. Not even a single scientific study has been able to pinpoint that gluten is bad for health and avoiding it in the regular diet may be a wiser option. What is the role of scientists in this whole sordid happenings?

It is not that scientists are not doing any thing to unravel the mystery of gluten free foods and their popularity in the US. There are many studies that attempted to bring to a conclusion regarding any bad effect gluten, contained in wheat, might have on human health. As usual scientific community is not capable to arrive at any unanimity on any controversial subject and gluten free food is no exception. One of the theories floating around talks about the genetic changes wheat must have undergone, creating a "bad" grain that causes allergy to some people. But this has been rebutted unambiguously by geneticists who confirm that wheat hundred years ago was same as it is to day and the fault may lie some where else. Modern agricultural practices have not done any harm to the wheat vis-a-vis wheat gluten. Naturally against such assertions backed up by irrefutable data are forcing the scientists to look for the cause of gluten allergy in other areas.

A culpable culprit was identified in the socalled FODMAPS components present in wheat. These are fermentable carbohydrates like oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols which are present in wheat and which after fermentation in the large intestine produce gas and pull in more water creating stomach discomfort experienced by many people after consuming wheat products. Some isolated studies do pont out to such a possibility but it is doubtful whether such an interpretation can be realistic universally looking at those avoiding wheat. Even if rue it is practically impossible to create wheat flours free of FODMAPS. Who knows next "fad" may be FODMAPS free wheat products if the industry smells money in this area! 

Bread was made earlier days using whole wheat flour before the advent of the modern "white" flour and there were no reported cases of gluten allergy to normally healthy consumers 50 years ago. It is only since 2011 that gluten free food industry has been seeing a boom though the trend was perceptible beginning the year 2000. Modern day bread is made using many ingredients which were never used during the preparation of the traditional bread. Among the ingredients used now include vital gluten, bleached flours and a variety of dough conditioners so that an absolutely white bread with "highly liked" features like texture, chewing quality and taste is obtained. Why these ingredients are not being blamed for the allergy for which the wheat grain alone is being blamed? Is this not an anachronism? In the name of "good" bread vital gluten is routinely added to the recipes that ensures good "raising" and texture. Do we know any thing about the ill effects of vital gluten that is routinely added during dough making? Is vital gluten as digestible as natural gluten formed from gliadin and glutenin during slow kneading and fermentation? Could vital gluten be a culprit in stomach discomforts caused by modern wheat products?

What is lost in this gluten free food "Circus" is the long term consequences of more and more people switching over to these foods for imaginary reasons though they really do not need them? In the place of gluten the product formulations contain carbohydrates like starch and effectively reduce the protein content of the formulated final product. This is analogous to the situation 3-4 decades ago fat free food was a "fad" and these fat free or low fat products were richer in carbohydrates, which we know to day is not healthy as per to day's thinking. Gluten free foods like bread becomes a junk food adding to the health problems Americans are already facing currently. 


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fat is no more a dirty word for health conscious consumers? Another twist to "fat saga"!

Every American child from its early development stage has been fed on a food myth that butter and cheese are not good for their health and the food industry in western countries found an opportunity to cash on this understanding of the consumers, churning out thousands of food products with no fat or low fat. Saturated fat was a still dirtier word because of the repeated claims by many studies that they contribute to heart disease by raising bad cholesterol level in the blood. Healthy plant oils like Palmolein and Coconut oil became a permanent item in the"no buy" list of most families since they are rich in saturated fats! What a paradox? To day both these oils are becoming popular for the very opposite reason that they are healthy! It is true that all animal fats do contain cholesterol but that is no reason to shun them indiscriminately without realizing their good qualities. It is a good development that at least some scientists of modern generation are asking hard questions as to whether dietary guidelines formulated a generation ago were authenticated by exacting scientific studies that to day are mandatory before arriving at such far reaching conclusions. 

Imagine the population of the US at 220 million in 1983 when the above dietary guidelines were imposed and that in the UK at 56 million, started the shift from normal diet to low fat diet believing the norms as absolute truth. These guidelines restricted consumption of fat to 30% of the total dietary calories and that from saturated fat to 10% of daily calorie intake. Unfortunately there was no improvement in the general health status of the people consequent to the new paradigm introduced in these countries. On the contrary there was dramatic decline of health when measured in terms of CVD, obesity, diabetes and other diseases! This is not to argue that new dietary guidelines caused this slump but it has something to do with the changes in the diet of consumers, who replaced the fat with carbohydrates from refined grain flours and sugar-rich products to meet their overall calorie needs!. It is now more or less agreed that white sugar, fructose sugars and high gycemic index (GI) carbohydrates of refined grain flours are the real culprits in damaging the health of millions of Americans, Europeans and populations in other wealthy countries.

A curious fact brought out recently by a group of scientists from the US and Scotland is that because of taking a premature decision on fat consumption then, world is facing the present health crisis. Butter is a very common food adjunct used world over for centuries and by casting aspersion on its health credentials, a whole generation of population has been shunning it ever since the guidelines were issued in 1977. Same is true with cheese and other dairy products also. Even to day there is a sustained attack on milk consumption in the US and the dairy industry in that country is struggling with declining demand, with the per capita consumption continuously falling during the last few years, from 78 liters per person in the year 2000 to less than 70 liters in 2009 and further anticipated to decline by 3% in 2020!. What was the result of this presumed mistake? The obesity epidemic, heart disease, blood pressure, kidney ailments, cancer cases have devastated the people with no hope of coming out of this crisis. Possibly consumers, in order to meet their energy requirements started depending more and more on carbohydrates in stead of fat. Added to this another folly was committed by consuming carbohydrate foods mostly based on refined floors, white sugar and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)! Further damage was done by decreasing consumption of fruits and vegetables which are considered the most health friendly foods in this planet! Is this not a right recipe for disaster?

It is too often forgotten that food cannot be considered in a fragmented format in terms of fat, carbohydrate, protein, fiber and other nutrients but should be looked at holistically through the every day diet people consume. If this is an accepted fact, then man will be well off if a mixed diet containing whole grains, healthy fats, proteins from lean meats or legumes, milk, fruits and vegetables are consumed regularly without over eating. There is a feeling now among scientists that the food market of to day is dangerously weighted against healthy foods and the consumers are not realizing the bitter truth that tastier the food more unhealthy it can be! This ground reality is being exploited by the industry in making market place foods highly tasty and mouth watering! Probably this situation may continue unless concrete action is thought of, to improve the "food environment" in the market place with more choices of healthy foods being made available while shrinking the portfolio of unhealthy foods! How this can be achieved is some thing the stakeholders in this triangle viz industry, government and the consumers, must sit together and take appropriate decisions.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

White Sugar vs Jaggery-indian contradictions

White sugar dominates the sweetener market in the country and both the sugar cane growers as well as the sugar mills have a symbiotic relationship and an organic linkage because of captive supply of cane grown in a certain area to nearby mills as per the law. Though India is one of the top sugar producing countries in the world, both the farmer as well as the industry are in doldrums due to many reasons. Payment arrears by the mills to the farmers run to thousands of crores of rupees while the mills are complaining about losses due to lower realization of prices for their product. Thus no one seems to be happy because of this multibillion industry as it exists to day. Adding to this problem is the declining prices ruling in the global sugar market making export also unattractive. If this is so, why not the government discourage cultivation of sugar cane and shift the land presently being used for cane cultivation for growing more critical food crops like oilseeds and pulses? Though this is an issue persisting for the last few years, no political courage seems to be evident among successive governments at Delhi.

There is another side story to sugar saga in this country which pertains to the low profile operation by a little known industry making another product from sugar cane viz Jaggery or Gud as it is known properly. Jaggery industry is a much neglected sector with no adequate oversight by the government, producing a range of jaggery products with non-uniform standards, filthy manufacturing environment and ill defined process parameters. Indian population uses jaggery as an essential ingredient in many of the traditional food preparations and the market can be enormously varying. Consumers are left at the mercy of the non-descript manufacturers and unreliable traders. Will this situation change for the better? After all almost 30% of the sugarcane harvested in the country estimated at about 260 million tons (MT) annually is thought to be going to the jaggery industry and this sector just cannot be ignored any more.

What is the difference between sugar and jaggery and why is that people prefer white sugar as a common sweetener in their day to day life? There are reasons such as the unattractive color of jaggery, its characteristic caramelized taste not liked by many, its unsuitably to make many products because of its physical properties, indifferent and non-uniform quality credentials and high cost compared to sugar. Jaggery is largely confined to micro and cottage scale operations near sugar growing areas and depend heavily on supplies of cane from the same belt as that linked to large sugar factories. Many traditional food preparations use Jaggery as a sweetener while sugar is the favored one for the food industry, especially for sweet products and by the house holds for beverages and traditional Indian sweets. What is intriguing is the vast price difference between sugar and jaggery, the latter almost 50-60% costlier though it is produced by a small scale sector with practically no over head expenditure in production costing. Besides jaggery yield is almost 100% of the sugar content in the cane juice making the process more economical. Management pundits may say that it is just a response to the demand supply situation!

Chemically white sugar is almost 100% sucrose with traces of minerals, Jaggery has about 3-10% water.with sucrose and reducing sugars being the major solids. Jaggery has some mineral constituents amounting to about 0.6 to 1%. Nutritionally the minerals like iron (10 mg%), Calcium (120 mg%), Magnesium (200 mg%), Potassium (800 mg%), Phosphorus (70 mg%) besides trace amounts of  Copper and Zinc. As it is a product made by prolonged boiling for hours together in open pans almost all biological nutrients are destroyed in the process. Still it is considered traditionally a nutritious substance used extensively in Ayurvedic medicines and traditional home remedies. No doubt white sugar production and over consumption in modern world is one of the great follies of mankind for which we are regretting to day collectively!

A typical Jaggey making unit is normally housed in a dilapidated tiled or asbestos roofed "shed". with no kutcha flooring, ill ventilated, full of cobwebs and fly infested and during the manufacturing operation the shed is ful of smoke literally choking the workers, doing the chores. The bagasse, after juice extraction is used as fuel for boiling the cane juice on an open hearth, naturally spewing out copious smoke all around. The cleanliness, sanitation and hygiene are so bade one has to see it to believe. Any consumer visiting such a unit will think twice before buying Jaggey again. Of course there are many exceptions where better managed Jaggery units also exist though they are far and few. It is in this context one has to appreciate the initiatives of the two agricultural university in Karnataka at Dharward and Bangalore deserve applause for setting up modern jaggery making units based on good manufacturing practices at Mudhol and Mandya. 

It is just about 2-3 years since these units were established and they seem to be doing a decent job considering the normal work pace associated with government institutions. The Jaggery Center at Mudhol in Bagalkot District is already reported to be producing organic Jaggery with a capacity to crush 40 tons of cane a day. The Jaggery Park as it is called was set up under the National Agriculture Development Scheme with an investment of about Rs 20 crore in 2011 and is supposed to improve Jaggery making process, infuse science in the practices, training of farmers, bring about cost effectiveness, preservation and packing improvements, minimizing chemical residue levels in the end product and further value addition to increase the farmer income. Besides solid Jaggery the center also makes Jaggery syrup and powder targeting different end users. Same applies to Mandya Jaggery Center also and both these units effectively meet the needs of more than 1000 organic cane growers in the state in selling their crops.  

One is really inspired by the achievement of the Mudhol Jaggey unit in creating a brand image for its products and exporting its products to countries like Russia within a short span of its launch. This jaggery according to the authorities there does not use unnecessary chemicals while manufacturing with only calcium carbonate, edible oil and wild okra going into its process. The Jaggery Park intends to promote setting up more such units as the entrepreneur can get a clean margin of Rs 900 per ton. According to the scientific team that is spearheading this mew initiative to promote jaggery, with an investment of Rs 1 crore a production unit to manufacture 40 tons of high quality organic jaggery, can be set up operated with the training provided by them. Probably more research is needed at food technology research institutions to diversify the use of jaggery in many products where sugar is extensively used at present. 


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Science and the Prime Minister-Words vs Action

No doubt our Prime minister is a great communicator and it is his ability to connect with the citizens through inspiring words, carried him through in last last general election to become what he is to day. Though many honest citizens believe that his actions so far between May 2014 and February 2015, a relatively short period he is in power, are marked by many decisions or indecision which are opposite to what he promised the nation. There is still lot of good will for him among the common man and people may yet give him some more time before making a value judgment on his performance. As a scientist this Blogger gets an uneasy feeling that he does not mean what he is preaching some times and his recent utterances on .science and scientists at the Indian Science Congress might be well meaning but his inaction in taking action to appoint to the post of Chief of CSIR belies that hope. It seems he has forgotten that CSIR, with 37 laboratories, 39 field stations and 17000 scientists belonging to different scientific disciplines is one of the biggest scientific assets of the country requiring nurturing through encouragement, resource investment and full policy support.

It is more than a year since the last Director General of CSIR ( DG) retired and till yesterday government did not consider it a priority to fill up that post! Is this not a serious lapse as CSIR is the largest scientific body under the government and keeping it headless is like treating it like a bureaucratic set up affecting the morale of the scientific community as a whole! It was only recently that the government sacked the Chief Scientist in Defense research unceremoniously which reinforces the impression that science has been put on the back burners, at least for now.Only to day there was an announcement that a new DG has been given the task of leading CSIR. Dr M.O.Garg the new appointee will have an arduous job on hand and how he can exert influence on this PM to get the needed resources and inspiration from him to run CSIR is a million dollar question. Have a look at PM's speech at the Science Congress on January 3 this year at Mumbai which is quoted below:.

"Prime Minister, Narendra Modi on Saturday morning inaugurated the 102nd edition of the Indian Science Congress hosted by the Mumbai University. Modi called for the need to rekindle the love for science and technology and the relaxing excessive regulations and cumbersome procedures for our universities to give a boost to research. Our scientists should be able to explore the mysteries of science and not get stuck in government procedures" said Modi. He added that our research is restricted to central agencies but it must be made broad based. "We have to place the university system at the cutting edge of the research and development activities in the country," he added. Speaking about the great work of Indian scientists, Modi said, "Just as children see sportsmen as role models, scientists should also be the same. Parents should feel pride in their children becoming scientists." He also lauded the work by ISRO for putting Mangalayan in the mars" 
PM's words about University system may be very apt but his minister for HRD does not inspire much confidence among the scientific community with her limited qualification, lack of experience and inadequate vision. University Grants Commission which controls the financial strings vis-a-vis Universities require urgent overhaul if the higher education system is to contribute any thing in the scientific research area. In sharp contrast to Universities in other countries like the US or Europe our Universities are a pale shadow of their counterparts. Most of them lack world class infrastructure for training and research in different areas of science and technology. The example of ISRO, which is role model for scientific achievements, must be emulated, simulated and duplicated in various scientific fields and this agency proves that our scientists are capable of delivering results if targets are well contoured and adequate resources are kept at their disposal. 

Another worrying factor is whether there is a possibility that indigenous research will be discouraged in the face of this PM's over drive to project India as a welcome destination for foreign players to pitch their tent in the country? Naturally they are bound to try to sell all types of technologies in the country, sidelining the efforts of Indian scientists which can be disastrous by doing a lot of harm to the scientific temper among youngsters of future generation. What the present government is missing in its pursuit of foreign technologies is that even to understand and evaluate the feasibility of foreign technologies under Indian conditions, technical expertise of a high order is required and if domestic research is neglected this capacity is bound to be degraded gradually making India a dumping ground for junk technologies of irrelevance to the needs of the country. One can only hope better sense will prevail on the part of the present government and science is given its due place as a priority area of action.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

"Eating out" practice in India-Any one concerned about irrational prices?

Compared to western population Indians generally do not go out for eating as frequently as the former, probably due to traditional culture of eating home cooked foods, prepared and served lovingly by the mother. But this trend is slowly changing with the advent of fast food culture dominated by reputed MNCs, who offer a variety of "taste good" foods with empty calories such as french fries, pizzas, fried chickens, coffee and allied products, pop sodas besides providing ambiance and social environment. Younger generation who seem to have been bowled over by this new experience does not realize how unhealthy these foods can be! Thinking for a moment they should see for themselves how Americans have been made to be addicts of these foods and consequent obesity epidemic spreading there like a wild fire!  The fast spreading life style disorders like diabetes, CVD, blood pressure, kidney ailments, intestinal afflictions etc have their origin traced to fast foods and similar unhealthy and imbalanced food products available at relatively low costs across the country with easy accessibility.

One of the grave consequences of proliferation of nuclear families, because of fragmentation of once redoubtable joint family system, is the slow disappearance of cooking skills among young house wives, most of whom are professionals having very little time to spend in the kitchen or for engaging with their kids. Progress in technology also played a role in accelerating this trend, consciously or unconsciously, by developing life style products like instant mixes and a whole range of ready to eat foods etc, aided and abetted by house hold gadgets like blenders, grinders, toasters, refrigerators, freezers, microwave ovens, induction stoves all available at affordable prices and deferred payment system. How many house wives to day can make a decent curry, southern or western style, similar to what their mom and grandma used to make? Very few! This is one of the reasons why cookery shows are becoming the staple of all TV channels irrespective of the language in which they are presented. This is also the reason why eating out practices are becoming more and more common these days.

Catering ready made food preparations can take different formats ranging from home messes to star hotels supposed to fit the pockets of different income populations.To day street vendors dominate the market because of the affordable prices, fast service, excellent taste and informal environment offered by them. Small hotels with specialized menus are an omnipotent part of many towns and cities while many high end restaurants cater to those looking for a relaxed eating session with family members. Having stated the current scenario vis-a-vis eateries in the country, a valid question that arises is whether this industry is really behaving in a responsible fashion without taking recourse to arbitrarily high prices not related to the cost of preparation of various foods offered by them? It is very difficult to answer this rational question without indicting a sizable section of the industry for their "customer fleecing' attitude by charging abnormally high prices through collective collusion and conspiracy in fixing high prices which cannot be justified under any norms of real time costing. 

Expanding a little bit further regarding the prices prevalent to day in most of the established restaurants, how can any one justify paying Rs 20-25 for a cup of coffee served in a "not- so-clean" cup, that too three fourth full, or for that matter Rs 15-20 for an idli or vada or Rs 30-40 for a plate of poori and bhaji or a dosa, with his hard earned money?  It still rankles in the minds of many customers, who do not go to restaurants regularly that on an average one has to shell out at least Rs 80-100 per person to get a reasonable satiety. It is mind boggling that there is a mark up of prices for the items doled out by most of the caterers which often works out to 200-1000% when calculated based on the raw material cost incurred by the vendor! Such exploitation was earlier noticed only with multinational companies like breakfast  products which cost about Rs 300-400 per kg though the basic raw material maize can be bought for less than Rs 20 per kg! The catering sector should not be allowed to get away with impunity for perpetuating such perfidy on the hapless citizens in this country. No wonder street vendors, home messes and self service "darshinis" are flourishing, providing succor to the low and middle income population. 

It is to e admitted that in spite of the government claim of low inflation, practically every food item costs almost 10%-20% more than what they were 2 years ago. Naturally this inflation has to be built into the pricing regimen and consumers know this fact fully. "Reasonable" price escalation is understandable but irrational hike up cannot be condoned as it amounts to consumer "fleecing" and fraudulence. A country like India where free enterprise concept has been embraced, any government control will amount to violation of the economic fundamentals.But government also has a responsibility to protect the citizen from fraud and exploitation. Those in power cannot wash off their hands saying that under the free marketing system each player has the right to fix the price for his product or service. What can the consumer do if these players all gang up and "fix" prices and who will protect them? A vexed question indeed!

 the established restaurants, how can any one justify paying Rs 20-25 for a cup of coffee served in a not so clean cup, that too three fourth full, or for that matter Rs 15-20 for an idli or vada or Rs 30-40 for a plate of poori and bhaji, with his hard earned money?  It still rankles in the minds of many customers, who do not go to restaurants regularly that on average one has to shell out at least Rs 80-100 to get a reasonable satiety. It is mind boggling that there is a mark up of prices for the items doled out by these caterers which often works out to 200-1000% when calculated based on the raw material cost incurred by the vendor! Such exploitation was earlier noticed only with multinational companies like breakfast  products which cost about Rs 300-400 per kg though the basic raw material maize can be bought for less than Rs 20 per kg! The catering sector should not be allowed to get away with impunity for perpetuating such perfidy on the hapless citizens in this country. No wonder street vendors, home messes and self service "darshinis" are flourishing, providing succor to the low income population. Here is an example of such a low cost vending service reported from a village near Surat in Gujarat where a home mess is doing a yeoman service by offering reasonably priced food preparations which appears to be a roaring success as measured by their popularity and increasing demands from their customers.

The helpless citizen can always go back to the road side vendor or to the darshini type of small eateries where food is still affordable but how many families can go to such places with their children expecting some relaxation from their routine and dreary chores? It is where government has to step in to provide succor to its citizens through regulatory policies. In a free enterprise country like India, competition is supposed to decide the prices in the market but catering services in the organized sector is proving the opposite by collective "muscling" of the consumers through unholy nexus among themselves to manipulate the prices! No wonder the Amma Canteen chains promoted by Tamil Nadu government has been wholeheartedly welcomed by citizens belonging to the low income category and there is a pressure on the government to expand the reach of this canteen chain from the public. If established caterers do not relent in reducing their prices to reasonable levels, government must encourage families and small entrepreneurs to start catering business by providing them required facilities and financial support. There must be a pro active policy to encourage mobile canteens all over the country and such a national endeavor requires designing of low cost mobile vans with minimum necessary facilities to cook and serve hot foods in designated places with over sight from the civic authorities regarding safety of food they serve. 


Saturday, February 7, 2015

Dietary changes, nutritional decline and economic improvement-Is there any relationship?

Do all the surveys and statistics doled out by the government agencies really reflect the ground reality? If there is a country in this planet where statistics can be grossly misleading, that is india! It may not be proper to condemn them as unrealistic and totally inaccurate as there can be some truth some where in such reports. The latest survey in India, findings of which have recently been published, tries to narrate a story which may not be 100% true. We all know that Indian economy is on a decent growth path and people do have money sufficient to fulfill some of their aspirations. The moot point is how badly or how properly this money is spent? If this survey is to be fully believed, the economic growth achieved has not translated into better food, better health and better nutrition. Probably such a broad conclusion may be on par with similar changes undergone by populations in other countries during their growth curve. Another conclusion which is significant tells about the wide disparity between the food intakes between rich and the poor which is natural because rich man can always buy more foods with better quality in terms of health and nutrition.  

There is a general perception that Indians are eating better foods over the last two decades, especially after the opening of the economy during nineteen nineties and naturally more income makes dairy products, eggs and meat, fruits and vegetables more affordable to most families. India's eating habits are bound to change and it should not be a surprise that such changes will be reflected in their health status also. However there appears to be a disconnect between such changes in food consumption and nutrition quality of the diets. To day people seem to be eating less cereals and indulging themselves with the increasing consumption of more and more fatty foods including fried snacks, sugar sweetened beverages and many unhealthy processed foods. Consequently protein levels in the diets have significantly declined, especially in rural regions.

What about the calories intake? The average calorific value of food consumed was 2,099 kilocalories (Kcal) per person per day in rural areas and 2,058 Kcal in urban areas in 2011 compared to the recommended level for normal health. This is less than the calorie values prevalent in 1993-94,viz, 2,153 kCal in rural areas and 2,099 kCal in urban areas. If we go by the national guidelines the recommended calorie intake 2320 Kcal per day for a man aged 18-29 years weighing 60 kg and doing sedentary work. The erstwhile Planning Commission had set a norm of 2,400 Kcal per person per day for the rural sector and 2,100 Kcal for the urban sector. These are averages for the whole country, which hide as much as they reveal. One aspect that is hidden in them is variations across states. Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat have nutritional levels that are almost 10% lower than the national average for rural areas while UP, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan have levels 10 to 20% higher. 

Another much interesting revelation by the survey is that the huge difference in calorie intake between rich and the poor residing in rural regions of the country. For example a person belonging to the poorest 10% of population is consuming daily foods that can yield only 1724 kCal, 45g of protein and 24g of fat. In contrast a person from the richest 10% segment consumes more than 2,531 Kcal every day, almost 47% more than the poor person. A similar chasm can be seen in protein and fat consumption too. The survey has just reiterated the skewy nutrition landscape in the country though averages may gloss over this fundamental fault line. A moot question that begs for an answer is how far such "under eating" is impacting on the health of the poor folks in the country? Since no data is available regarding the incidences of diseases directly linked to under eating it may be far fetched to come to any conclusion in this regard. 

Probably it is time that the country takes a call on the nutritional needs of Indians without being biased by the western standards. The story of such countries provides a sad story as to what happens when the whole population gets hooked on to processed foods most of the calorie rich but imbalanced in terms of vital nutrients like dietary fiber, phytonutrients and whole foods without too much processing. If obesity, CVD, Blood Pressure diabetes and similar diseases are widely prevalent it can be attributed solely to unscientific diets, improper eating habits and sedentary life styles. It is relevant to recall the universally acknowledged scientific finding that a calorie restricted diet is invariably more healthy, being able to confer longevity of life. Could it be that our rural cousins are much better of with diets with lower calories than their urban counterparts? Probably true!.

Such views as stated above are bound to attract criticism about our bias against rural folks whose cause is supposed to be "dear" to the vote seeking politicians of the country. Nutritional science as we know to day, as propounded by the pundits in the ICMR prescribes what is optimum blend of food for leading a healthy life but whether these guidelines are universally applicable to all the people with different ethnic, cultural and social background is a gray area. While calorie needs may need some revision, the requirement of proteins, essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, micro nutrients and dietary fiber may be relevant. There was a time when whole country was talking about protein malnutrition which later shifted to protein-calorie malnutrition with other deficiencies of nutrients like iodine, vitamin A etc. When nutrition and health issues are considered, average figures cannot work in a country like India with vastly divergent populations living in different geographical areas with different environmental conditions.  


Friday, February 6, 2015

The Water "saga" in India-Lack of restraining policy and inefficiency of use spell future crisis!

Water is the very foundation of life on earth and man's quest in space for habitable planets focus mainly on existence of water. Of course air is also an essential prerequisite for any life to survive and unlike water it is available in plenty in this planet though its quality is questionable in many places adversely affected by uncontrolled pollution caused by man himself. As for water there is no dearth of it as more than 71% of earth's surface area is covered by water. Out of this 96.5 % is found in sea and oceans unfit for use for any human activity. !.7% ground water and another 1.7% in glaciers and ice caps in Antarctica and Greenland are considered pure. However for all practical purpose only 2.5 % of water on earth is considered fresh water fit for human use while 0.3% of earth's fresh water supply comes from lakes and rivers. These figures clearly indicate that water is not an inexhaustible resource and therefore must be conserved as much as possible, avoiding wastage with all the means available to man.

Human body is made of water to the extent of 60-78% depending on the body size and for sustenance body water needs to be replenished at the rate of 1 ml per calorie consumed through the food. On an average a man needs about 3.7 liter water per day taken directly as well as through the food while the corresponding figure for a woman is fixed at 2.7 liters a day. Drinking water or potable water has to conform to certain minimum standards and nature's water has to be cleaned up to remove undesirable and unsafe components, suspended as well as dissolved for which many technologies are available. In acute water scarce countries huge plants are able to convert sea water with 3.5% salt content into potable water with minimum cost. According to estimates by some international agencies more than 50% of the world's population will face water crisis. Even to day it is presumed that almost 1 billion people lack access to safe water while more than 2.5 billion lack access to sanitation due to water scarcity. Imagine the tragedy that is unfolding to day when about 1.4 million children die due to severe diarrhea because of consumption of contaminated water! 

In most developing countries about 90% of fresh water exploited is used by the agriculture sector and there is a fierce competition between potable water sector and irrigation sector for tapping the available water supply. In contrast a developed country like the US uses only 30% of its water resources for agriculture through deployment of modern cultivation and water conservation technologies.  However in India, of the 700 billion cubic meters (BCM) of water consumed annually 88% goes for irrigation while the industry accounts for 8%. According to projections for future India is likely to tap about 833 BCM water by the year 2025 from all sources out of which 81% will go for irrigation while 11% will have to be supplied to the industrial sector. The industrial need will go further up demanding more than 18% of the water available. Household needs which stands at a mere 5% to day may go up to 11.% of the total fresh water available. Thus there is a clashing scenario for water among farmers for irrigation, industry and the house holds for daily use and unless agricultural technologies are upgraded to use less water without harming the productivity expectations, India will be in a dire straight in a few years from now!

It is interesting to see that our thermal power power plants gulp more than 70% of the industrial water which will further increase if the present government's thrust for more power plants, especially nuclear plants materializes after recent agreements with the US government for collaboration in the nuclear energy sector. Industry wise Steel industry consumes about 7-10 cubic meters (CM) of water for every ton of steel produced, paper industry needs 75-100 (CM) per ton of paper produced, power industry's need is 75-100 (CM) per megawatt hour generated while soft drinks industry consumes 3-5 (CM) per cubic meter of products made. As electricity production in the country is massive, total power needs by the power sector become huge while other sectors do not produce even a fraction of the end product output by the power industry, hence their apparently smaller share in the industrial water use..

Generally food processing industry needs huge volumes of water and especially soft drink sector depends heavily on water as its products viz beverages contain almost 100% water by volume. Similarly others like fruit and vegetable canning, bakery industry, dairy sector, breweries and distilleries, sugar factories, poultry farms etc all require water to maintain peak hygiene and sanitation, letting out in the process large volumes of spent water. Pollution from food and beverage industry is considered vey high and in spite of tight fisted laws existing in the statute book most of them go scot free because of lax enforcement by the pollution control agencies working at the state level. If the new government's "make in India' mantra becomes the national strategy, the industrial sector will need much more water than that is predicted.

Conflict between the industry and people for water access may intensify and the recent controversy in Gujarat regarding diversion of water from Narmada meant for irrigation to a giant soft drink manufacturer is still fresh in our minds. Similar incidences of diversion of water intended for irrigation being diverted for sugar and distilleries in Maharashtra are just a preview of such mega conflicts in future. We may recall the shameful incidence in Plachimeda in Kerala where a soft drink giant set up a plant in the beginning of 2000 which had to be abandoned due to local uprising by people because of supposed over exploitation of ground water and alleged pollution of ground water by the effluents let out by the factory into surrounding fields. India is in a Catch 22 situation with such a dilemma faced by the nation to meet the expectations of one and all vis-a-vis water and government must address this problem sooner than later to prevent discontent among its citizens in the coming years.

A national policy on agriculture can draw the necessary road map for water sparing crops and developing varieties that can be grown with sea water. Enormous wastage of water happens through the chain of activity of human beings in their every day life and sooner this tendency is curbed better it will be for the country. The agricultural sector presents a paradoxical picture where a section of farming community gets high share of water while another section has to eke out a dreary existence using drought based agriculture! Water intensive crops like sugarcane and paddy must be taken up to the minimum extent possible while development of varieties that need significantly less water must be a priority for the scientists in ICAR and agri varsities. Similarly it is time a national water policy is evolved to "optimize" use of water, conserve water resources without running the danger of over exploitation, launch intensive waste recycling efforts and massive sea water reclamation as the country has a long coastal area with easy accessibility. A country like Israel which is a willing collaborator of India can teach us lot of lessons in increasing water supply from our precious resources and its optimal use.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

High protein diet and smoking-Any relation?

Protein is a nutrient that comes from the daily diet needed by the human beings for tissue building and the amino acids contained in the long chain molecule provide the building lock for the body. As there is a limitation with respect to absorption of many molecules across the intestine, complex foods will have to be broken down to simpler chemical entities by enzymes present in the gastrointestinal tract. Specifically proteins in the diet are hydrolysed by a series of enzymes like pepsin, trypsin etc present in excretions of stomach and intestines into amino acids which are then absorbed into the blood for further utilization by the cells. The process of building proteins from this pool of 16 odd amino acids is through anabolic metabolism and there are hundreds of such proteins which are involved in metabolism to generate energy and other vital materials needed for a healthy life.

There was a time in the last millenium when too much focus was laid on protein malnutrition and national and international agencies were working over time to provide protein rich foods to malnourished poor people across the globe. Agencies like World Health Organizations (WHO) and United Nations  International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) are in the fore front fighting against malnutrition among people with special emphasis on women and children. However during the last five decades the emphasis has shifted from protein malnutrition to protein calorie malnutrition as many believe when adequate calories are provided through traditional cereals and pulses the protein needs are automatically taken care of. But there are some countries which are over dependent on only carbohydrate rich foods like Yams and Manioc and the populations there are vulnerable to protein deficiency. Research efforts in the past as well as at present are going on to enrich such foods with proteins from different cheap sources.

According to nutrition experts daily need for proteins among adults is around 50-60 gm and this has to come from a balanced diet containing plant and/or animal food sources. Though plant proteins are not considered as efficient as that from animal sources like meat, fish, egg and milk because of the limiting amino acids concept, people depending on plant foods compensate such handicaps through consumption of mixed diets containing different plant protein sources and cereals. From time to time there have been reports about the ill effects of consuming animal proteins linking it to diseases like obesity, CVD etc, it is more a misconception because it is not the protein per se that can be blamed but the presence of saturated fats in such foods that cause the problem. The differentiation between red meat and white meat and preference of white meat from sources like fish by nutritionists has to be understood in the context of the quality of fat present in them. 

While insufficient protein consumption can lead to diseases like Kwashiorkar and if calorie deficiency is more prominent it causes Marasmas, both the diseases can be fatal if allowed to progress without appropriate intervention. These diseases are characterized by fatigue, pale skin and hair, muscle wasting, diarrhea, infection, edema, swollen abdomen, stunted growth and a host of other symptoms. If WHO is to be believed, one in twelve people in this planet is malnourished and almost 58% of the 62 million mortality recorded is considered to be due to malnutrition! Unbelievable indeed! It is more or less agreed that if adequate income is generated among the economically poor population, mostly in Africa, South America and Asia, they can come out of this trap on their own by buying their needs of food. The million dollar question is how can that happen unless equitable economic development takes place uniformly across the world. 

On the other side of the coin is protein over nutrition. One has to draw an analogy to fat consumption and every body agrees that over consumption will lead to obesity in the long run. With proteins such a consensus is not there still though there are reports implicating over consumption to fatal diseases like cancer,.If that protein comes from animals, chances of developing diseases like cancer are considered some what high, it seems. In a recent report emanating from the US the consequences of over eating proteins were dramatically illustrated when the lead researchers proclaimed that high protein diets, especially during middle age, can increase the chances of cancer as much as that of a smoker puffing out 20 cigarettes a day. This conclusion was arrived at after tracking the lives of thousands pf subjects over a period of 20 years. How far this is correct cannot be judged now unless more data come from other independent scientific groups.

Though comparing high protein eaters to cigarette smokers may be far fetched, it does convey a powerful message about the potential risks involved in those indulging in too much meat eating, especially during their middle age phase of life. An interesting historical observation supports these findings. Eskimos who eat a predominantly meat based diet have a short life span though they have powerful bodies and extraordinary stamina. Same is true with many special groups of population scattered across the world who adopt a predominantly meat based diets excluding carbohydrates in their day to day lives. The relationship between calorie intake and longevity is another phenomenon not understood well and the present studies highlighting protein intake and cancer may also be an area which will attract more scientific groups to unravel the mysteries in the coming years.