From the Desk of Coordinator, Bioinformatics Centre

Healthy Food should be a Service and not MNC business

  After clean air and water, natural and healthy food is important for optimal physical and mental health. Obesity is assuming epidemic proportions in developed countries and is becoming a serious public health problem in developing countries as well with faster economic development and globalization.

Though automation, sedentary life style and lack of exercise do contribute to obesity problem, the real culprit is addictive junk food with increased sugar, salt, fat and chemicals dished out by the MNCs by aggressive marketing and targeting in particular children and teenagers. Now a days every magazine and news paper do publish reports of harmful effects of junk foods which are heavily neutralized by MNC’s marketing manipulation write ups and advertisement using glamorous celebrities. For every dollar spent in the US on nutrition education, it is estimated that the food industry spends about US $5000 on food advertising (Down to Earth, May 15, 2024). In Indian mythology, we are used to stories of God Shiva making Rakshasas powerful by blessing them and then worrying about their misdeeds. Food should not be treated as business and leave in the hands of MNCs. The sooner we realize the better will be our physical and mental health. How much of the proposed Food Safety and Standards bill by our rulers, laying standards to regulate manufacture, import, export, storage, processing and distribution of safe and wholesome food will be effective is debatable with the experience of America having obesity epidemic with two thirds of adults and 15% of school age children either overweight or obese due to consumption of fast food. In 2000, the economic cost of obesity in the United States was put at 117 billion dollars. I wonder whether the governments really are focusing on the real contributors to obesity. It is of interest to know that gut microbes (gut contains 1023 microbes of about 500 different species) are responsible for fat deposition in our body thus linking with obesity. The scientists speculate that changes in microbial ecology promoted by western diets (fast foods) could be the environment factor affecting predisposition towards obesity (Shouche et al. Curr.  Sci., Feb 2005).  WHO is discussing the global strategy on diet, physical activity and health as a guideline which is supported by consumers International. But Food Industry lobbies are pressurizing the governments to support corporate interests over public health.  

When Governments fail to understand and tackle the obesity problem, the consumer is waking up and taking the corrective measures. Here I must thank Dr. Wig for sending news item from BMJ about lawyers going to sue US junk food manufacturers. Professor John Banzhaf of George Washington university, the first lawyer to sue the tobacco industry is predicting a series of similar suits against the fast food industry for its role in the obesity epidemic. He predicts that many obesity related suits will be filed in the near future. Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition in her book ‘Food Politics: How the food industry influences Nutrition and Health’ states that food companies will make and market any product that sells, regardless of its nutritional value or its effect on health. In this regard, food companies hardly differ from cigarette companies (Fred Charatan Florida, BMJ 2002).

Two teenagers had filed a case against fast food giant Mc Donald’s corporation blaming it for their obesity, were allowed by US court to move forward with the law suit. They can now demand secret company documents on food preparation and advertising (Down to Earth, Feb 28, 2024 P-12).

Central Board of secondary education at Kolkata has decided to junk junk food on campus at CBSE schools. Mike Adams has come up with e-Book, The Five Soft Drink Monsters; how to finally kick the soft drink habit for good. Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger has said that he wants to ban all sales of “junk food” in schools (Down to Earth, April 15, 2005, P-58).

Why not our country come up with novel ideas? In our culture we consider guest as god and we like to give fresh food. Let us make supply of food, a service and not profitable business. Small food outlets and hotels supplying farm fresh and home cooked food and not stocking junk foods should be encouraged and exempted from income tax. More jobs will be created along with healthy food. Tasty food does not need advertisement. Advertising expenditure of MNCS should be taxed. All possible steps should be taken to educate masses and discourage consumption of junk foods in the interest of better human health and saving National health management costs.





Prof. B.  C.  Harinath

  July 1, 2005