Published: Wednesday 31 January 1996

Munch away cancer

There was a news item in your magazine (Down To Earth, Vol 4, No 10), which said that researchers at the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, have discovered that yellow and orange coloured fruits, like carrots, tomatoes and oranges, contain beta carotene which, apart from fighting blindness, is also an anti-cancer agent. In this connection, I would like to point out that all yellow-orange fruits are not rich in beta carotene. While carrots (6.5 mg/100 g) and mangoes (2 mg/100 mg) are rich sources of beta carotene, tomatoes and oranges are not. They contain only 0.5 mg of beta carotene/100 g of edible portion.

On the other hand, dark leafy green vegetables are rich in beta carotene - a precursor to Vitamin A. Besides, beta carotene plants also contain other carotenoid pigments, not all of which have Vitamin A activity. For instance, lycopene present in tomatoes has no Vitamin A activity.

The observation that the above mentioned fruits and vegetables are rich sources of beta carotene is not new. Also, the anti -cancer activity of beta carotene has been suggested earlier. The researchers at the National Institute of Nutrition have analysed some Indian varieties of fruits and vegetables. They have also observed that the dietary intake of fruits and vegetables by patients suffering from certain forms of cancer, such as upper digestive tract cancers, is lower, suggesting that fruits and vegetables have a protective action against cancer....

Keep it up!

I am a regular reader of your magazine. I rather appreciate the fact that it offers us an oppurtunity to update ourselves on issues relating to science. Articles like those dealing with environmental pollution are very enlightening.

The other point that I would like to make pertains to the magazine's cover. I feel the cover could do without cartoons. Instead, it could feature photographs of beautiful birds, animals or landscapes. Visuals of areas reeling under pollution or any other topic of scientific relevance may look good and appropriate too. I hope future issues of Down To Earth carry such covers. ...

Propping the courts

With the success of the Taj Mahal case, the courts are assuming a proactive role. Besides, with increasing awareness, more and more people will sue and get sued on environmental as well as occupational health issues. However, the judiciary already seems to be crumbling before the spate of litigations which are barraging the courts. The fact that the issues at hand are utterly technical just adds to the sense of despondancy.

The need of the hour is an apex, independent, regulatory authority on the lines of the us Environment Protection Agency armed with sufficient legal teeth and professional backing (unlike the limping Securities Exchange Board of India), supplemented by special appelate tribunals - as suggested by Kamal Nath. Also, voluntary efforts such as that of the underwriters labs in the us could be a great help in mobilising public opinion. Care should be taken to maintain its proactive role and not allow it to degenerate into a bureaucratic setup such as our own moribund BIS. The almost defunct Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and state PCBs are but a drain on the exchequer, serving only as legal extensions of a coterie of unscruplous industrialists and politicians. ...

Well-placed concerns

Your article on the Aral sea disaster (Down To Earth, Vol 4, No 12) of diverting the two rivers supplying water to the cotton fields and ignoring the environmental consequences is a warning to all of us. In this article, you have highlighted the grave situation and the pitiable condition of the inhabitants of the area and also sent cautionary messages to planners contemplating on setting up industries without concern for their future impact.

In your editorial, you have rightly emphasised the need for tree plantation Actually, tree plantation and family planning are two issues that should be given the topmost priority if we are interested in creating a healthier environment in the coming century. ...

Classy assumptions

May I take this oppurtunity to respond to your section on Africa (Down To Earth, Vol 4, No 13). 1 want to say that if the laws of science are what determines 'world class' or universal applicability of knowledge, then the reference to African, Asian or European science is irrelevant.

To say that African science is not world class' and to later refer to pockets of excellence in 'African science and research' is a contradiction. Please do understand that Africa is a continent and not a country and should be treated so. I do believe that the article may not have been intended to be malicious and derogatory with respect to Africa, but it failed to make its intentions clear.

Finally, I would like to seek your guidance on what exactly constitutes world class science and what criteria are applied in delimiting regional science....

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