From the Editor's Desk, 


               FOOD INDUSTRY

                       Profit vs Human Health


             The rejection of two bills by Senate committee of US State of New Mexico, demanding a ban on the use of aspartame, an artificial sweetener in food items which is said to increase the risk of cancer, is revealing and exposes the strong hold of Food Industry on the law makers.  The simple reason for rejection was that about 6000 food products such as cough syrups, chewing gum, candy, desserts, soft drinks etc. contain aspartame and the bills would be an invitation to commercial chaos (Down to Earth, April 15, 2024).  A study by researchers from Cesare Maltoni Cancer Research Centre in Italy, showed that the Aspartame (a dipeptide of aspartic acid and a methyl ester of phenyl alaniney, produced by Mon Santo) can cause cancer on rats at levels approved for human consumption (Down to Earth, December 31, 2023).  As expected, the industry contested the results and the way the study was conducted.  Public witnessed similar drama before banning carcinogenic Cyclamate, a sugar substitute used in the food beverages in the past.  Morando Soffritti, Scientific Director of Ramazzini Foundation (Italy) sticked to his research results and agreed to share with regulatory bodies which plan to reassess aspartame’s safety. Other non-caloric artificial sweeteners namely Sucralose (a chlorinated sucrose derivative) under the brand name Splenda (Patented by Johnson and Johnson) has entered Indian market.  Soft drink manufactures have decided to use Splenda in their diet drinks.  Doubts are being raised on its safety and long term use may contribute to serious chronic immunological or neurological disorders. ( The sane advice is to avoid use of chemical artificial sweeteners in the interest of one’s own health.

            The story of artificial sweeteners opens up the Pandora’s box on junk foods causing the problems of obesity, diabetes, asthma and other health problems. The consumption of junk food places a greater burden on health care systems than Natural and Healthy food.  Doctors at Belfast BMA meeting recommended that Food manufacturers should be forced by law to adopt a “traffic light” system to signal nutritional content of food products, green symbol to indicate healthy and red symbol for foods in which most ingredients are not nutritious meaning that this food should be eaten only occasionally.  A report from US Institute of Medicine says that Junk food and the advertising that promotes it are serious threats to health of young Americans.  The Australian Divisions of General Practice, whose research found 99% television food commercials during children’s viewing periods were for sweets and soft drinks.  Australian Government threatens tighter regulation on junk food advertising.  The European commission is stepping pressure on the food industry to phase out junk food advertisements targeted at children to reverse the growing trend of obesity among young people. The European Union approved legislation on food labeling to set new standards for the claims that food manufacturers make about their products i.e. use of false or misleading terms such as “fat free”, “high fibre” or “low alcohol” etc.

            The first lawyer to sue the tobacco industry, Professor John Banzhaf is predicting a series of similar suits against the fast food industry for its role in the obesity epidemic. Eric Schlosser in his book ‘Fast food Nation’ accuses the Fast Food Industry of many things: advertising to children and playing a leading role in the Nation’s obesity epidemic.  He portrays how US as a Nation radically altered economic and social policies to accommodate the manufacture and consumption of fast food.  He writes that Americans spend more on fast food than on movies, books, magazines, newspapers and music – combined.  In 1970, Americans spent about $ 6 billion on fast food; in 2000, they spent more than $ 110 billion.

            Prof. Philip James has been driving force behind Britain’s Food Standards Agency, has been convinced that something “very dramatic and different” had to be done to strengthen the weak links in the Food Chain.  There is urgent need for food safety: from plough to plate which involves industry farming, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, food processing using various chemicals to present food more attractive and addictive for increasing consumption and make profit.  Lobbies of industries succeeded in making State legislatures to enact “Common Sense Consumption” law to discourage litigation.

            There is a feeling in the public that ministers, producers and retailers are patronizing, misleading and stemming more from a desire to protect profits than to protect the public health ( Adding salt to injury, a study suggests spread of multidrug-resistant Salmonella enterica Schwarzengrund from chicken meat to persons in Thailand and from imported Thai food products to persons in Denmark and the United States (Emerging Infectious Diseases, May 2007).  Indeed, true globalization of spreading diseases through food products. Future of food appears to be more challenging and fearful with introduction of genetically modified foods claiming the power to improve health, prevent disease, delay senility, boosting our mood etc. (The Future of Food by Brain J.Ford)

            Let us learn from advanced countries on the pitfalls of management of Food industry, and make ‘food’ labour intensive service and cottage industry, keeping away from MNCS.  Let us make and present food natural, fresh and homely, for human health is more precious than economic gain.  Good and tasty food does not need advertisement.

June 15, 2007

Prof. B. C. Harinath

(The author thankfully acknowledges the information of public health interest in the web