Cong focusses on back-end infrastructure; BJP says no to FDI in retail

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) - currently in power at the Centre - is in favour of foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail, and is focussing on back-end infrastructure through the public-private partnership (PPP) model, which is largely dependent upon FDI in multi-brand retail.

However, its opposing coalition, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) - led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - has categorically stated that it is anti-FDI in multi-brand retail (although it would permit FDI in other sectors if voted to power following the 16th Lok Sabha election, which is underway across India).

Both the parties’ manifestos stated that the agriculture and food processing were key constituents of their economic agendas. Thus, both sectors are awaiting the outcome of the election, on the basis of which the parties would make their policies.

They promised to reform the Agricultural Produce Market Committee Act were the need of the hour, and concurred that there was a need to develop better seeds.

The incumbent’s manifesto

In its manifesto, Congress said its decision to permit FDI in multi-brand retail would transform India’s agrarian economy. “It would create a beneficial value chain from farm to fork, and rural infrastructure for sorting, grading, packing, cold storage facilities and warehouses. It would ensure that farmers fetch a higher value for their produce,” it added.

The incumbent party’s manifesto reiterated that it would continue to nurture PPP to increase investments in value chains, cold storage units, grading and standardisation, quality certification and warehouses. “This would greatly aid in increasing agricultural productivity and exports,” it added.

Congress stated that special funds would be earmarked for agricultural research to develop new technologies, livestock and high-yielding-varieties of crops.

BJP’s promises

The main opposition party stated in its manifesto that it would implement and incentivise the setting up of the food processing industry, which has so far remained just on paper.

“This would lead to a better income for farmers and the creation of jobs. We intend to establish agro-food processing clusters, in which there would be units that would undertake the processing of high-value, export quality foods, which would be vacuum-packed,” it added.

BJP categorically stated that genetically-modified (GM) foods would not be allowed without the full scientific evaluation of its long-term effects on soil, yield and biological impact on the consumers.

The party stated that it would work with the states to set up seed culture laboratories in each district and regional agriculture innovation laboratories to conserve agro-biodiversity, and to identify and preserve rare indigenous varieties.

When quizzed about the price rise issue, BJP appeared more focussed. They promised that their immediate task would be to rein in inflation by putting in place strict measures such as setting up special courts to stop hoarding and black-marketing; setting up price stabilisation fund; unbundling the Food Corporation of India’s (FCI) operations into  procurement, storage and distribution for greater efficiency; leveraging technology to disseminate real-time data about production prices, imports, stocks and overall availability to farmers; evolving a single national agriculture market, and promoting and supporting area-specific crops and vegetables linked to the food habits of the people.

Lauded by industry bodies

Industry bodies welcomed both the parties’ manifestos, terming them growth-oriented.

Sharad Jaipuria, president, PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said BJP committed to the agri rail network, which would transform the agricultural supply chain, accruing huge benefits to producer farmers and consumers and plugging the possibility of wastage of agri-commodities.

”However, when the BJP is pro-FDI in other sectors of the Indian economy, it makes little sense to bar them from multi-brand retail, since a decision to this effect has already been taken by the government and foreign investments have lined up for it,” he added.

“The move might send wrong signals to investors if insistence on it is not shed following the constitution of 16th Lok Sabha,” Jaipuria warned.

The president of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), meanwhile, stated that the body was happy to note that the policies mentioned in both manifestos were investor-friendly.

Inflation hits veg & fruit growers harder than city-dwellers: ASSOCHAM

People who grow fruit, vegetables and cereals are, ironically, hit harder by inflation than city-dwellers, although the outcry against price rise is more visible in urban areas. This was stated by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) in a study titled “The Producers’ Paradoxes in Food Items”, which revealed the inflationary gap in vegetable prices in rural and urban India.

Despite the fact that vegetables are grown in rural areas, people in these areas witnessed an annual increase of approximately 17 per cent in their prices in February 2014, while the city dwellers were somewhat  better off, with an annual consumer price index (CPI) inflation of  7.36 per cent  in this period.

The story was similar for fruit, but the difference between the rural and urban inflation was not as stark. “The orchards were located in the rural areas, but the people living there had to live with year-on-year  inflation of about 17.32 per cent in February 2014 vis-a-vis a lower rate of approximately 13.62 per cent borne by those living in urban areas,” the study stated.

Rana Kapoor, president, ASSOCHAM, said, “The possible reason for the large disparity between the rural and urban prices of farm products is the lack of storage facilities in villages, with the result that the produce first goes to the nearby towns and cities for warehousing, and then, through an inefficient backward supply chain, it goes back to the villagers.

“This is a real producers’ paradox, which needs to be fixed if we have to aim for food security and economic security,” he added. He said another paradox was the fact that poor rural labourers and marginal farmers ended up paying more than their compatriots in the city. He added that the policy-makers needed to mull over this immediately.

“Economic answers must be found and building efficient supply chain with warehouses in both cities and the semi-urban areas seem the possible answers,” Kapoor said.

Though the CPI-measured inflation differential was less in the case of wheat and rice, it is still there. While the cereal products witnessed the rural price rise of 10.42 per cent in villages, the inflation in cities on this score was 9.93 per cent for February 2014.

“Though people in both villages and cities have been squeezed out of their earnings by a double-digit CPI inflation for about two years between April 2012 and January 2014, the villagers suffered more,” the ASSOCHAM study said.

Saffron - The king of spices

No spice is more special than saffron. It has an unmistakable flavour that is earthy yet aristocratic and subtle. It has had a plethora of uses through millennia. In the writings of Galen and Hippocrates, saffron was mentioned as a cure for coughs, colds, stomach ailments, insomnia, uterine bleeding, scarlet fever, heart trouble and flatulence.

Saffron in filaments is the dried, dark red stigmata of Crocus sativus flowers and is used as a spice, food colorant and a drug in medicines. It is well known as red gold in producer countries. The plant is native to Southwest Asia and belongs to the family Iridaceae. The dried trifid stigmas with a small portion of the yellow style attached are used to make saffron spice. It takes about three years for the plant to grow from seed.

Saffron blooms once in a year and is collected in a very short time between October and November. Approximately two lakh dried stigmas obtained from 70,000 flowers yield 500 gram of pure saffron. It is a versatile herb and has many culinary, medicinal, cosmetic and commercial benefits. Saffron is largely cultivated and harvested by hand. Due to the amount of labour involved in harvesting, saffron is historically considered one of the world's most expensive spices per unit weight. The stigmas are also used to make medicine.    It has been used in folk medicine for various purposes.

Saffron has nearly 150 volatile and aroma yielding compounds mainly terpenes, terpene alcohol and their esters - a biochemical symphony that ensures that its mystery can never be unearthed. Characteristic components of saffron include Crocin (responsible for the colour), Crocetin, Carotene, Picrocrocetin (responsible for the bitter taste), Lycopene, safranal (responsible for the odour and aroma) and Zeaxanthin that attribute specific health benefits. The carotenoid Crocin comprises greater than 10% of dry saffron mass and is responsible for the rich golden yellow hue created when saffron is added to dishes.

The numerous health-promoting properties of saffron are attributed primarily to Crocin, a unique water-soluble carotenoid with powerful antioxidant property. Picocrocin a bitter glycoside is responsible for the flavour of saffron. Dry saffron is extremely sensitive to fluctuating pH levels and rapidly breaks down chemically in the presence of light and oxidising agents.


 

It has been used in folk medicine and Ayurveda as a sedative, emmanagogue, aphrodisiac and expectorant. Saffron has a number of therapeutic uses and this may be due to the strong antioxidant and radical scavenger properties against a variety of radical oxygen species and pro-inflammatory cytokines. The specific health benefits of saffron can be listed as below:

Anticancer properties of saffron- Picrocrocin and lycopene in saffron have potent anticancer properties. Crocetin is attributed to affect the growth of cancer cells by inhibiting nucleic acid synthesis, enhancing antioxidative system, inducing apoptosis and hindering growth factor signalling pathways. It has significant antitumorigenic properties and suppresses cell growth in neoplastic cells. All isolated carotenoid ingredients of saffron demonstrate cytotoxic activity against in vitro tumor cells. Saffron along with its carotenoid components can be used as a potential cancer chemo preventive agent.

Saffron in improving blood circulation- Crocetin has been found to improve oxygen supply in myocardial areas. It increases microcirculation. Some metabolites of the spice have hypolipidemic properties and are cardio protective. It is also known to decrease lipoprotein oxidation. Saffron has an effect on peripheral resistance thus reducing the blood pressure. Crocin exerts antiatherosclerotic effects through decreasing the level of oxidative LDL that plays an important role in the initiation and progression of atherosclerosis.

Antioxidant properties of saffron- Zeaxanthin, a carotenoid that is present in saffron, has been found to filter and shield the retina from UV light and prevents free radical damage to the retina and the lens of the eye. Crocin analogs significantly increased the blood flow in the retina as well as the choroid and facilitated retinal function recovery in ischemic retinopathy and age related macular degeneration. Crocin scavenge free radicals, especially superoxide anions, and so may protect cells from oxidative stress.

Skin care- Saffron is considered good for the skin; it is used for the treatment of acne and dry skin. Often used as an anti-blemish agent and anti-ageing agent in cosmetics. Scars that remain after chicken pox and small pox too are treated with saffron. It is a blood purifier and thus regular use makes the skin appear a few shades lighter.

Menstrual discomfort and anti-inflammatory effects- Saffron is known to relieve the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. It also soothes lumbar pain severity and duration of the menstrual cycle. Saffron stigma and petal extracts exhibited antonociceptive effects in chemically-induced pain test as well as acute or chronic inflammatory activity. It gives relief from chronic joint pains and increases the enzymes that help the body to track down toxins.

Neurodegenerative disorders and memory impairment- Saffron extract and two extracts, crocin and crocetin improve memory and learning skills. It can be used in the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders and related memory impairment. Crocin has been shown to inhibit the aggregation and deposition of amyloid Beta peptide fibrils in the human brain, which may be the causative factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

Antitussive property- Saffron is used for asthma, cough and as an expectorant. It has been shown to reduce cough and also aid recovery from Whooping cough.

Anxiolytic activity and relaxant property- Saffron has shown to reduce anxiolytic activity and promote relaxation in many studies. It can be a cure for insomnia and a treatment for mild to moderate depression. Crocin has been reported to calm the nerves. Supplementation with saffron has been shown to improve the moods of people and the effects were comparable to the antidepressant drug Prozac.

Antidiabetic property- Active components of saffron were observed to improve insulin resistance and reduce the formation of advanced glycation end products resulting in diabetic vascular complications. It also has weightloss promoting properties via appetite suppression that may help to achieve glycaemic control.

Saffron is also known for its hepatoprotective, carminative, anti-catarrahl, antispasmodic and anticonvulsion properties. There is some research that indicates the role of saffron in the prevention of obesity by increased peripheral utilisation of glucose. Saffron also boosts immunity by aiding the maturation of the White Blood Corpuscles. In lieu of the cost, saffron is frequently adulterated with cheaper substitutes such as marigold flowers and safflower. The substances used as a substitute may belong to three categories namely - Substitution by other materials that have some external resemblance to saffron, exhausted saffron recovered by dyes and substances added to saffron in order to increase its weight. Saffron is generally not associated with toxicity when ingested in culinary amounts. Toxic effects have been reported at 5 gram. Ingestion of high doses can cause severe purpura, thrombocytopenia and severe bleeding.

(The author is assistant professor, department of home science, St Teresa’s College, Ernakulam. She can be contacted at rashmipoojara@gmail.com)

Regulator faces PIL over caffeine content of energy drinks

An activist has filed public interest litigation (PIL) against Food Safety and Standards Authority of India's (FSSAI) for permitting energy drinks manufacturing companies to increase the caffeine content beyond the earlier prescribed limit. The court, on April 9, directed these firms to reply.

Yajurvedi Rao, a social activist, had filed a right to information (RTI) application in February, seeking information about the caffeine content in popular energy drinks. He was informed that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials in Maharashtra drew samples in 2009, which contained over 200 mg caffeine per litre; much higher than the prescribed limit.

The prescribed limit of caffeine in energy drinks is 145mg per litre. In 2012, FSSAI amended the existing regulations to permit firms to add more caffeine. The amended regulations stipulated that the caffeinated beverages should contain no less than 145 mg per litre and not more than 320 mg per litre . The FSSAI, thus, increased the caffeine limits by almost 175 mg per litre.

Rao then filed a PIL against the regulator, stating that they did so without thinking about the risk to human health.

Advocate Anjali Purav, who is representing Rao, confirmed that a PIL has been filed. "Caffeine, being a stimulant, could have an adverse effect on human health, which is one of the reasons why the regulators should refrain from permitting companies manufacturing caffeinated beverages to increase it beyond the prescribed limit. High caffeine content damages nervous system," she said.

"FSSAI representative has meanwhile assured that no permission will be given until the next hearing takes place on the case," said Purav. She added FSSAI has plans to make caffeinated beverages an additional category.

"Making caffeinated beverages an additional category is only to permit the companies to add more caffeine than the standards mentioned in the existing regulations," the PIL alleges. Adding to the argument, clinical nutritionist Dr Nupur Krishnan said, "Excess caffeine consumption leads to insomnia, body's reduced power to absorb calcium, increased heart rate and anxiety. Energy drinks are not meant for all kinds of bodies, as not every body can tolerate high caffeine level."

Meanwhile, An official from a popular energy drink company said, "We manufacture drinks not to kill people. Rather, one will find more caffeine in coffee than in energy drinks. The complainant has no scientific backing to prove anything."

Sneha Maisheri, a resident of Mulund said, "Permitting such high levels of caffeine is not a good idea. Companies are already flouting norms and this will allow them to do so even more. The government should not permit this, as youngsters are already addicted to them. The health department should take stern action against violators and cancel their licenses." When contacted, officials from popular energy drink company Red Bull refused to comment.

Nutraceuticals slams FSSAI 'Product Approval' scheme

Mumbai, Apr 14 (IBNS): The importers and manufacturers of dietary supplements, health supplements, functional foods and nutraceutical industry have deplored the alleged ambiguous scheme of 'Product Approval' by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), despite having a stay order from the Bombay High Court for 6 months.

The Food Safety & Standards Act of 2006 was implemented in August 2010 and the FSSAI had framed regulations covering food products in August, 2011.

In January 2012, FSSAI introduced the 'Product Approval' system directing all Food Business Operators (FBOs) to obtain a product approval before applying for the licenses under the new Act.

The new Act provided automatic transition of existing licenses under the earlier regime of Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, but the Regulations issued in 2011 provided for one year time limit.

According to the FBO associations, most of the FBOs, including those who were producing proprietary foods for a long period of time have applied for the product approval by paying Rs.25000 for each product applied, in order to transfer the licences of existing products under erstwhile licenses and regime to the new one.

However, due to lack of clarity in implementation and the criteria adopted for such approvals, many of the FBOs have been facing significant problems. The majority of them have not received Product Approval/NOC despite having applied for it over a year ago, thus making them unable to apply for licenses, the industry players noted.

The FBOs noted that the scheme since 2012 and its guidelines have been changed eight times, the last one being in May 2013.

Following this, a Writ Petition was filed in the Bombay High Court against the advisories of Product Approval issued by FSSAI, for which the proceeding is on.

So far, FSSAI has been unable to justify whether this power to release advisories has been passed before both the Houses of Parliament or not, the FBO associations informed.

They further noted that the stay order meant to provide interim relief while decision on the Product Approval scheme is pending, has failed to blow life in the fading businesses of importers and manufacturers alike.

The associations asserted that stay on product approval process remains till August 2014, yet port authorities have been demanding the product approval from importers of dietary supplements and nutraceuticals.

The authorities refuse to send the landed products for testing without the product approval; as a result, no clearance is being made for import of goods in India, they said.

Jayesh Mehta, Proprietor, Paradise Nutrition Inc., said, "We filed for the product approval application 2 years back, but there is no revert on it from the authorities. It has neither been processed, nor rejected or accepted. This has affected over 70% of our business."

Mehta added, "Our imports have completely stopped since September 2013 and we are struggling to stay afloat with the sale of old insufficient stock. We have the necessary licence required to import and do business, and as per the stay order, we should have been allowed to run the business during this while."

The industry leaders said that, Indian players are suffering huge losses with many forced to shut down business.

A large number of FBOs are also exporting Nutraceuticals and Dietary supplements to developed markets like US & Europe, where there is no such product approval system, however, are adversely affected by the uncertain regulatory regime in India, they said.

Leading industry associations after making several representations to FSSAI officials, intense discussions with its own members and open conferences with the stakeholders have found no direction or definite solution from the authorities on the issue of Product Approvals.

Food Business Operators (FBO), however, through their associations are determined to find an effective way to resolve the prevailing issues and demand an independent body to help the cause.

Cheese and snack sample of a super market fail food test

LUCKNOW: The food samples collected from Lucknow's Khoya mandi and two major stores have failed the authority's test. Around 33% of food samples collected from the market during Diwali time have been reported to be violating Food Safety and Security Authority of India's norms. The team had taken around 34 samples, out of which 12 could not pass the laboratory test.
The official in charge of FSSAI JP Singh said that according to the report collected from food analysis laboratory of Varanasi, the cheese and snacks' samples collected from a prominent super market in Aashiyana colony have been found to be of inferior quality. Officials said that labeling norms were violated in the packed snacks of the store. Another big store for food purchase in the locality also came under FSSAI scanner during Diwali.
Packets of raw material of sweets being sold in the store also violated packaging norms. The khoya samples picked from Pandit Khoya Mandi, Thakurganj Khoya Mandi and Kursi Road Khoya Mandi have also been reported to be substandard during Diwali time. Similarly sweet samples collected from a Rahimnagar shop and cheese collected from a dairy shop in Khurram nagar near Picnic Spot Road were of inferior quality.
The ghee samples picked from Biharipur Saadatganj and sample of mustard cooking oil from various shops have been found to be ignoring the standards. The curd collected from a famous dairy shop in Chowk was of substandard quality. FSSAI officials said they would soon file case against shopkeepers selling inferior quality food material to consumers in the ADM court.
If their guilt is proved in the court, the shopkeepers in question would be charged a penalty of Rs 1-5 lakh, said FSSAI officials.

NASA to grow more veggies in space

The International Space Station
Astronauts will now turn into cosmic gardeners and grow lettuce in space as United States space agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is all set to send the largest ever plant growth chamber to the International Space Station (ISS).
It will launch the Vegetable Production System aboard SpaceX’s Dragon capsule on Monday.
The plant growth chamber will grow lettuce inside prototype flight pillows that will help the plants withstand zero gravity, The Verge reported. Red, blue, and green light emitting diodes (LEDs) will help sustain the vegetables, and the plant chamber itself can grow to 11.5 inches wide and 14.5 inches deep, NASA said.
This will be “the largest plant growth chamber for space to date,” according to NASA payload scientist Gioia Massa.
The project was originally slated to launch late last year, but faced delays meant to ensure all safety precautions were taken, the report said.
It is now hoped that the chamber will eventually be used to grow a wider variety of vegetables, and even be used for recreational gardening, the report said.
The chamber may even be used for more ambitious projects, like providing food for the average person back on Earth. After extensive testing on weightless horticulture, NASA is confident the lack of gravity will not impede growth.
However, space-borne microbes that may develop during growth are a cause of concern. Therefore, the lettuce will undergo extensive testing before astronauts chow down.