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 country’s customs, religion and language.
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 nature’s 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 world’s 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 publicised.
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 plant’s 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 consumer’s 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 sheep.
¤ 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.