Pro-industry food safety and standards bill does not address safety concerns

"We may find in the long run that tinned food is a deadlier weapon than the machine-gun." -- George Orwell in his 1937 novel The Road to Wigan Pier

Seventy years down the line, Orwell could not have been more correct.

By Kushal Pal Singh Yadav
Published: Friday 30 June 2006

Pro-industry food safety and standards bill does not address safety concerns

-- (Credit: Samrat mukherjee / CSE)This is for all those who have switched from normal home-cooked food to takeaways. Rajma-chawal and dal-bhaat , or even the occasional pasta bake, have the right ingredients. Pizzas don't. And pizzas cost more. The point is all about what's happening to our consumption habits.

Less on food
What is clear is that Indians are spending more, but they are spending less on buying food. The National Sample Survey Organisation (nsso) has computed the monthly per capita consumption expenditure during 2004 to find that rural Indians spend roughly 57 per cent on food-related items, while urban Indians spend 46 per cent.

More on beverages and processed food
More importantly, the household food budget has been thinned out to buy less cereals and spend more on beverages, refreshments and processed food. Rural India spends Rs 37 on buying processed food and beverages, which is 10 per cent of its food expenditure in the month, on an average, across all categories of households. Urban India spends Rs 101, or roughly 20 per cent of its food expenditure. Both urban and rural India spend more on buying processed food and beverages, than they do on buying fruit for the family. In the case of urban India, the spend on processed food is even greater than that of the vegetables it buys each month. It certainly spends more on beverages than it does on milk and milk products. Desiring the lucrative and fast-growing market, food processors and retailers, including multinationals, have pulled out all stops to extend their business across the country. India is the only place where Pizza Hut has opened fully vegetarian eateries.

Eating differently


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Food habits are changing. In 1987-1988, rural India spent 26 per cent on cereals but by 2004, it was spending only 16 per cent on cereals. In the same period, its spending on processed food and beverages went from 4 per cent to 6 per cent of its food expenditure. Urban India reduced its spending on cereals from 15 per cent to 9 per cent of its food expenditure, while processed food and beverages increased from 7 per cent to 9 per cent of the household expenditure on food.

Rich, poor: No difference
What makes the food industry salivate is the fact that this spending is not restricted to the elite. This is 'mass' produced food for the 'masses': this factory food is reaching poor households in urban and rural India. The same nsso data shows that in rural India, households with a monthly per capita consumption expenditure of as little as Rs 225, spend Rs 6 on buying processed food and beverages, while their richer counterparts, with Rs 950 or more to spend, buy processed food worth Rs 100. In other words, even the poorest are hooked. The same is the case with the urban poor -- spending Rs 11 out of their food budget of Rs 158 or roughly 7 per cent on processed food and beverages (see graph: Different diets). In other words, the business of processed food has entered the kitchen and is a major part of the diet.

Spending more, getting less
The problem is that while industry is getting into our homes, the quality of our food intake seems to be declining. nsso data in its 55th round (1999-2000) estimated that the average per capita fat consumption was increasing exponentially in rural and urban India. "With the advent of the fast food culture, people eat more of packaged food and fast food like pizzas, burgers, chips and soft drinks. This leads to an increase in our calorie intake which disturbs our metabolic activities. Disturbed metabolic activity and a sedentary lifestyle lead to an increase in the chance of obesity, which has become a rule rather an exception in the upcoming generation. Type 2 diabetes (which basically come as a free supplement with obesity) has increased. This compounds the risk of heart attack," says Navjeet Talukdar, heart specialist at the Batra Hospital and Medical Research Centre, Delhi.

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