¤ Food - A Necessity of Life
Ever since we could foresee our death, we have sought the means to
forestall it. Our mistake has been in thinking that the key to
longevity must be exotic: rare herb or some alchemic formula.
If consideration is given to those factors likely to prolong and
enhance life and those which are considered more likely to shorten it,
we can understand the dilemma of the modern food industry which is
frequently called on to explain its role and activities in
relationship with its consumers.
Food is vital for the survival of all organisms, but we consider it
something that is taken for granted. Obesity in some societies is a
sign of affluence, while the underdeveloped world is starving, thanks
to the uneven distribution rather than failures in production.
Food is embedded in every countrys customs, religion and
Words that originally referred to food and eating are accepted as
general vocabulary : problems are meaty, gossip in juicy, language in
fruity, children are sweet, old maids are sour, the disappointed are
bitter and everything is a matter of taste. Luxuries are the icing on
the cake, top people are la creme de la creme, the basic necessities
of life, the bread and butter, can be beefed up or given spice!
¤ The Worry of Availability of Food
The food supply is no longer completely subject to the whims of
nature, because some measure of control can be exercised over natures
hazards. Most of our society does not worry if there will be enough
food to last them through the winter.
In view of the advances in agricultural and food processing
techniques, why has food quality and safety become such an emotional
issue ? As society has become more urbanized, most people have become
more dependent on others to produce their food. This dependency has
led to resentment and mistrust of the food industry, and a yearning
for a return to the good old days and ways. Technology has been blamed
for degrading the food supply.
As of today, biotechnology is threatening to transform every area of
the food industry. By manipulating genes, scientists hope to grow
crops in the hardiest of climates.
Fuelled by consumer demand, different species of plants and animals
are created through gene technology. and coming soon to a supermarket
near you, will be bright, round and more perfect
vegetables genetically altered so they stay fresher longer.
Already the majority of the worlds staple crops have been
genetically modified. These genetically modified crops have sneaked
their way into the supermarket shelves in the form of processed foods.
¤Adulteration In Food
A necessary prerequisite of the food supply for any population is
that it should be safe. Adulteration of food, for reasons of scarcity
to deceive customers, brought about some of the earliest food
legislation. Contamination through ignorance, neglect, or sometimes by
malicious intent by individuals, groups or companies, showed scant
concern for the health and well being of customers. The common
adulteration of foods with commodities as dangerous as lead sulphate,
as innocuous as chalk or as irritating and abrasive as sand is often
The need to provide sufficient, inexpensive food for the growing
urban markets spurred on the development of new fertilizers and the
chemical control of pests. Lack of knowledge of the long term effects
of the use of pesticides and lack of concern for the environment
brought stern, almost hysterical, comments from the researchers with
prophesies of doom and prediction of mass poisoning form residues of
such chemical agents in the food chain. The analytical chemist can now
measure levels of content that toxicologists are unable to evaluate
for biological significance.
The implications involved in dabbling with a plants chemistry
are unknown and therefore foreboding. Scientists are prepared to upset
the genetic codes of animals and foodstuffs to increase the profits of
corrupt and greedy chemical multinationals. Nature has the power to
adapt changing circumstances and critics fear that these plants,
genetically altered thwart pests and weeds, may upset the ecological
balance and possibly lead to superweeds and superbugs.
¤ The Food Safety
All would agree that water is not only safe but essential, yet pure
water kills if ten liters are consumed at one sitting. Safety refers
not only to the food but also to the customer. The major food safety
issues from the consumers viewpoint have been pesticides and
additives. Very little attention was given to nutrition, almost
nothing to microbiological contamination and there was no recorded
interest in natural toxicants. Many homes have unsafe food storage and
preparation practices, but consumers rarely consider their own food
practices a hazard.
Meanwhile, the natural toxins will not go away, but there is little
anyone wants to do about them. Ironically, less is known of their
effects than about the pesticides and additives everyone dreads. A new
hazard facing the consumer is the result of the genetic engineering of
plant and animal systems. There are undoubted advantages to the
producer, but is the consumer safe ?
Already scientists in Scotland are injecting growth hormones into
Salmon in order for them to grow five times their normal size. The
salmon is not alone. We also have fast growing pigs, chickens whose
immune systems is tricked to target their own fat cells and therefore
produce leaner meat, sheep which have been genetically engineered to
produce more wool and Australia even boasts of some self shearing
¤ Quality Control
Various definitions of quality exist, but two of the most useful are
; "Quality is fitness for use" and "Quality is
conformance to requirements". Consumers now require round - the
-year availability of fruit, vegetables, fish, and meat, giving more
marketing opportunities. Shelf life is expected to extend almost
indefinitely irrespective of store, transport or consumer abuse.
Convenience of shopping, packaging, storage, preparation and
consumption are demands that accept no denial in a no growth market.
Value for money is most frequently in the eye of the perceiver. One
stop shopping is a value factor, much undeterred.
Consumer demands now extend to regions previously unvisited by the
industry. Fresh, natural (nature identical), wholesome (unprocessed
?), healthy (fits current diet) are all specifications that consumers
are using to define their ideas of quality. General ignorance of
composition, processing, spoilage and hygiene can make minimally
processed food a hazard and not a treat. A good example is the drop in
safety in moving from frozen to chilled foods. Higher perceived
quality is matches by higher potential risk and a need for more
sophisticated handling techniques. The need for greater vigilance in
handling such food products in not often met.