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A Major Food Safety Issue

By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Eggs have always been considered to be a standard safe food. Few people realise that every egg is different, and some may not be fit to eat at all.

An egg is made up of albumen, yolk and a porous shell made of calcium carbonate. The internal ingredients of an egg can be altered so that the natural composition changes by manipulating the feed of the hens. For instance, in Japan Omega 3 and iodine have been introduced into the eggs.

This means that the quality of the egg depends largely on the food given to the egg layer, and the conditions she is kept in. It is affected by many factors, before and after its laying. Everything from the weather, type of feed given to the hen, amount of water consumed by her, cleanliness of the surroundings, number of hours that she spends in daylight and even the way she breathes, can drastically change the composition of the egg. The way an egg is handled, before it reaches your plate, could make it inedible.

On average, a chicken egg should contain about six grams of protein and six grams of fat. To produce this level, it is essential that a laying hen receives a balanced diet, with adequate levels of protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals. Experts recommend a balanced ration containing 16 to 18 percent protein and approximately 3½ percent calcium, to promote strong eggshells. Laying chickens also require a constant supply of fresh, clean water, as water comprises more than half of an egg’s volume.

The fact, that an egg’s natural composition can be manipulated, is well known to commercial poultry farmers. Chemicals are added to the food so that they produce eggs that are better looking and last longer. Baking soda and ammonium chloride are commonly added as dietary supplements to improve eggshell quality. Potassium chloride is mixed with their water as it makes hens thirstier. The use of antibiotics is also common with Indian farmers, pumping hens with these from the day they are born.

The best eggs really come from hens that spend their days outdoors in a natural environment and scratch for insects, seeds and earthworms in the soil. The eggs you buy do not come from these hens. To ensure high production, with a minimum of money, all hens are kept captive in small crowded cages with a strict controlled environment, no sun, no fresh air and water, chemical food and antibiotics. They are kept under continuous lighting so that they lay more eggs daily. How nutritious would the product of such a stressed body be? India has particularly poor egg quality.

Indian poultry farms are known to be some of the worst in the world, with very low health and safety standards and little regard for public health concerns. Investigations at  poultries show hens covered with sores, badly fed, sitting in their own faeces, covered with spiderwebs, full of mites and lice, fed cannibalistically with the dead bodies of their own kind, cardboard, marble chips, fish meal and grain laced with antibiotics and pesticides. This destroys the nutritional quality of the egg.

Unhygienic rearing practices, and lack of quality control measures, is an open invitation for egg contamination. Despite India being one of the three largest egg producers in the world, with 47 billion a year, they do not meet international standards, and Indian eggs are rejected for export due to chemicals in and outside the shells.

Thick albumen, plump yolks and hard shells are what you should look for superficially. Do buyers look at the thickness of the shell ? Because a thin shell means that the mother has been ill. Diseases like infectious bronchitis, Newcastle disease, avian influenza  and egg drop syndrome, affect the shell quality. Infectious bronchitis virus causes soft/rough shelled eggs, discolouration and wrinkling of the shell. The egg, as a result of disease, has pale egg yolks, runny egg whites and rough shells. A deformed eggshell means the chicken has had a number of serious diseases.

The shell is formed by the activity of cells lining the oviduct and uterus. When the egg layer is under stress, the secretions of these cells become acidic. In extreme cases, stress induced effects can result in eggshells that are misshapen and have excess deposits of calcium - a powdery "bloom" on the surface.

During summer, the hen, already in a small stuffy cage, reacts by panting in order to cool herself. This produces a condition termed "respiratory alkalosis". The pH of the blood becomes alkaline and the availability of calcium for the eggshell is reduced. The eggshell becomes thin shelled. The thickness of the shell plays a vital role in preventing bacterial penetration. Thus eggs with thin shells are more prone to microbial attack.

An egg should have phosphorous, zinc, Vitamins A, B 6 ,B 12, folic acid, thiamine and Vitamin D. During heat stress hens eat less and calcium intake is reduced as a direct consequence of reduced feed intake. This causes an elevation of phosphorous in the blood. Calcium and phosphorus balance is critical for proper eggshell quality. But high levels of phosphorus in the blood inhibit the formation of calcium. When the Calcium and phosphorus ratio is out of sync, zinc and manganese decreases. Vitamin D decreases in a sick bird. So, the egg is left with very little in it. Due to the lack of exercise in these caged birds, the fat component increases, and then the fatty acid composition in the yolk changes from healthy to unhealthy.

In free range poultries – which simply means that they are not in cages, crowded on the floor – chickens have a hierarchy. Those down the chain often lay whiter shelled eggs, with poor internal quality, due to the stress that they are under.

Many studies show that tap water containing sodium chloride has an adverse effect on eggshell quality.

What hens eat is of crucial importance. Every hybrid layer bird should have a specially devised diet. That does not happen in India. Feed nutrients are used by poultry owners without any knowledge of their nutritive value. They feed the cheapest food to their hens. If soya meal is expensive, they will replace it with cotton seed defatted cake and guargum, Nothing of these has any nutritional value.

When you eat eggs sourced from poultry raised on antibiotics and growth promoters, you ingest antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Heat cannot break down the antibiotic residues that remain within the eggs. When you fall sick, no antibiotic will be able to work on your disease. India has the largest number of people resistant to antibiotics, and the main reason is that our chicken/eggs carry them.

After leaving the farm, the entire supply chain poses additional risks of contamination to the egg. Cracked eggs (about 6%) are particularly susceptible to outside contamination. A 2005 study in Punjab found residue of hexaxhlorocyclohexane (HCH) and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) in eggs. These are both banned pesticides, and their presence on eggs is extremely dangerous to human health. Another 2010 study, by S. Dey and S.K. Dwivedi from the Indian Veterinary Institute, found lead and cadmium in eggs. Their study noted that consumption of contaminated eggs could lead to heavy metal poisoning in children, resulting in IQ deficiencies and even mental retardation.

Large scale egg handling invites salmonella and aflatoxin contamination. While most nations take measures to sterilise the egg surface from contamination, especially from Salmonella enteritidis, no measures are taken in India.

In a recent study done in and around Hyderabad, eggs were collected from urban retail outlets and directly from poultry farms. Salmonella bacteria was commonly found on shells and inside the eggs collected from urban retail outlets. Salmonella infection is a bacterial disease that affects the intestinal tract. Typhoid fever, food poisoning, gastroenteritis, enteric fever, are all types of Salmonella infection. It is linked to contaminated water or foods, especially meat, poultry, and eggs. Salmonella bacteria is abundantly found in poultry sheds, water tanks, drinking water and feed in poultry premises. The internal contamination of eggs, by Salmonella, is either because the shell is thin enough to be penetrated, or that the egg was contaminated by the infected reproductive organs  of the hen. Eschericia Coli, Enterobacter aerogenes and Sheigella were the other bacteria found.

The FSSAI laws state that the eggshells must be free of blood rings, must not be soiled, or have faecal matter, and they must not be cracked. They have laid down the hygiene parameters that must be observed during production, processing and handling, which includes sorting, grading, washing, drying, treatment, packing, storage and distribution. They emphasise on storage conditions, like moisture and temperature, so as to reduce microbial contamination.

No one even knows the laws. Poultry farmers, traders, exporters and even consumers, are unaware of the health risks of egg contamination.

Abroad, every batch of eggs has to have the name of the poultry where they have come from. That is how the food inspectors were able to determine so quickly that the eggs, with fipronil pesticide in them, came from 18 poultries in Holland (Indian eggs have the same pesticide in them). In India you have no idea where the egg comes from. Egg consumption is encouraged by the Government. This makes their quality, and contamination, a major food safety issue. 

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

  • Written by Denis Giles
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Pate Foie Gras: The first cultured meat without using animal

By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Many years ago, I asked a stylish, older, film actress from Mumbai whether she would be the ambassador of my animal welfare organization People for Animals. I had been to her house twice for dinner, and she had made the most amazing vegetarian food, and kept grumbling about how awful meat was.

She refused, and her explanation was that while she did not eat meat generally, she could not do without pate foie gras. Everyday.

Pate Foie Gras is French for fat liver paste. It is a luxury item because few countries allow it to be made, due to the extreme cruelty involved. It is the cancerous liver of a duck or goose fattened by force in a process known as gavage. Birds spend their lives in semi-darkness. Till 8 weeks old they are confined to cages to prevent exercise, and fed a diet designed to promote rapid growth. Force-feeding begins when the birds are between 8 and 10 weeks old. For 12 to 21 days, ducks and geese are subjected to gavage. Every day, between 2 and 4 pounds of grain and fat are forced down the birds’ throats through a feeding tube. The tube “is pushed 5 inches down their throats, and more food than they want is gunned into their stomachs three times a day. If the mushy corn sticks … a stick is sometimes used to force it down.” The birds’ livers, which become engorged from a carbohydrate-rich diet, grow to be more than 10 times their normal size (a disease called “hepatic steatosis”). Most of the ducks/geese are lame and unable to walk without using their wings for support. Some ducks moved by pushing their bodies along the floor. All of them are severely stressed and ill. Most throats develop skin lesions and neck wounds, and get maggots in them.  The carcasses show wing fractures and severe tissue damage to the throat muscles.

When the bird’s liver weighs 2 or 3 lb (1.0–1.5 kg), (these livers are felt every day by farm workers, causing even more pain to the bird that is already in agony from the unnatural feeding and damage to its food pipe, its forced restraints and its huge liver), its throat is slit and the liver taken out. The rest of the bird is thrown away.

French chef Jean-Joseph Clause created and popularized pâté de foie gras in 1779, and was awarded a gift of twenty pistols by King Louis XVI  (probably to kill more animals). He obtained a patent for the dish in 1784 and began a business supplying pâté to the rich. By 1827, Strasberg (and now Toulouse ) was known as the goose-liver capital of the world.

Pâté is made by removing the veins, gristle and membrane. The liver is chopped and made into a paste combined with wine, salt, herbs, mushrooms and sometimes veal (which is the meat of a baby calf starved to death so that its meat turns white). This paste is pressed down to form a cake.  The product is exported to all parts of the world in several forms—the paste in tins, the plain cooked livers, sausages and purée. Pate is served as an appetizer with bread or crackers.

France produces more than 20,000 tons of foie gras each year. Only five countries still produce foie gras: Belgium, Romania, Spain, France and Hungary.

In July 2014 India banned the import of foie gras. Its production is banned in 35 countries, including Australia, Argentina, Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Turkey, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Israel and the United Kingdom. However, foie gras can still be imported into, and purchased in, these countries. The European Union is working to phase out the force-feeding of birds entirely by 2020.

 While it is banned in California, it is made in a few goose/duck farms in America.

Foie gras is unhealthy for humans. It derives 85 percent of its calories from fat: A 2-ounce serving contains 25 grams of fat and 85 milligrams of cholesterol.

Companies all over the world are now working furiously on creating meat from animal cells. The end product already has a name : clean meat. The science for cultured meat is an outgrowth of the field of biotechnology known as tissue engineering.

The initial stage of growing cultured meat is to collect cells that proliferate rapidly - embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells, myosatellite cells or myoblasts.

The cells are treated by applying a protein that promotes tissue growth. They are then placed in a culture medium, in a bio-reactor, which is able to supply the cells with the energy requirements they need. Nutrients and oxygen are delivered close to each growing cell.

To culture three-dimensional meat, the cells are grown on an edible scaffold.

It has been claimed that, conditions being ideal, two months of cultured meat production could deliver up to 50,000 tons of meat from ten pork muscle cells. Scientists have already identified growth media for turkey, fish, sheep and pig muscle cells. 

Once the scale and cost are dealt with, the price of cultured, or clean meat, will come down to the same levels as animal meat. 

A company called Hampton Creek Foods, founded in 2011 in California by Josh Tetrick and Josh Balk, has chosen to make Pate Foie Gras in this way.

With its team of food scientists, biochemists, and engineers, Hampton Creek is a technology rather than a food company. As of 2014, it has secured $30 million in funding, and is backed by six billionaires including Bill Gates, Jerry Yang (Founder of Yahoo), and Li Ka-Shing, the wealthiest person in Asia. Gates’ 2013 documentary, The Future of Food, features the company. Hampton Creek has signed agreements with Fortune 500 companies and is now valued at 1 billion dollars. Its food is sold across the States and many of its items, like egg-alternative mayonnaise, are the highest sellers of their kind, beating the egg based varieties.

They are now spending millions of dollars making the world’s first clean foie gras, while developing cell lines for various other meats. Like most of the clean food companies in America, many of their scientists are Indian.

One of those scientists is a stem cell biologist called Aparna Subramanian who grows the farm animal cell lines. She takes the birds from a local farm and removes some cells for the starting material.

Why Pate? The company feels that it is a high end luxury product which is technically easier to make by multiplying cells, and which chefs and foodies want as it is a status symbol. Because it is already so expensive, getting a cultured version of it to be cost-competitive is easier than trying to compete with other poultry products at first.

Liver is easier and cheaper to grow than muscle. If you feed liver cells a lot of sugar, they get fattier and fattier, to the point where they mimic the hepatic lipidosis that’s induced in ducks and geese when they’re force-fed to produce the delicacy.

Trials are on to get the cultured fatty liver to the exact taste of the current foie gras in the market – since no traditional pate eater cares about the cruelty part. “Until it scores better than the force-fed version on our blind tests, not a single consumer will buy this product” The company projects that Hampton Creek’s product will be “the world’s highest-grade foie gras.”

The current sales of foie gras are $3 billion globally. Its sale is banned in California (banned in 2004 by Arnold Schwarzenegger, it overcame all its legal challenges to become operative in 2017) so, if Hampton Creek became the first company to be allowed to sell Foie Gras in California, it would headline the progress that clean meats are making.

 “Foie gras is regarded by top chefs as perhaps the most prized animal product today. It can be sold for upto a hundred dollars a pound. ”

Tasters of the Hampton Creek pate say the pâté is meaty, rich, buttery, savoury, and very decadent. Hampton Creek wants to be the world’s largest meat company by 2030 – producing tones of blue fin tuna, Kobe beef and chicken meat of all kinds – without using a single animal . “We want to render the current model of meat production totally obsolete.

Our goal is to make meat so obviously better, that there’d never be a reason to choose the conventional kind.”

The plan right now is to commercialise Pate Foie Gras, the first cultured meat of an animal product made without using animal. Once it is on the market I will send masses of it to the actress, and then perhaps she will agree to be our brand ambassador. 

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

  • Written by Denis Giles
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The Difference Between Ants and Humans

By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

What is the difference between you and an ant? From war making to making slaves, from inventing medicines to farming, they do it much like humans, only better.

* In every dense community, human, mammal or insect, sanitation is a problem. Of all the creatures that inhabit the earth, man is probably the dirtiest, spreading his poisonous faeces everywhere and caring little about its pollutive effects. Lasius niger ants live in nests and they use the corner of their nests as common toilets, according to the journal PLOS ONE by the University of Regensburg, Germany. Ants normally keep a very clean nest, and usually throw out dangerous rubbish, like food remains and dead bodies. This piled-up dry waste is kept for defence, as building materials, and as manure for their crops.

* Lasius neglectus workers tear apart and spray acid on pupae in order to disinfect the nest. If pupae are found to carry an ant killing fungus in their bodies they are killed and eviscerated . How do they know which juveniles to kill, while the fungal infection was still in its incubation period before it had become visible or contagious? Believe it or not, according to researchers from the Institute of Science and Technology, Austria, the pupa itself communicates a find me/eat me signal, the ultimate altruistic act to save the colony.

* Diseases can spread quickly among dense populations of organisms, whether they're people living in crowded cities or groups of social insects such as ant colonies. When humans are infected with a pathogen, the immune system churns out proteins, called antibodies, that rally to the body's defence. Some ant species use antimicrobials — chemical compounds that kill pathogens — to stop disease, according to a study at North Carolina State University published in RSOS. These antimicrobial compounds are applied by the ants to their own bodies, to those of their nest mates, and to their nests.

These compounds may be acquired from antimicrobial bacteria; for example, leafcutter ants cultivate bacteria on their bodies that protect them against infection from parasites that feed on the fungus they grow as food. Other ant species harvest the ingredients from tree resin. These microbials are shared among the colony.

* Ants have all kinds of different weapons. Often, ants will cooperate to pin down members of the other colonies, or cut them to pieces while the enemy is being held down. Ants are really quite nasty. Other ants have glands in the head, or abdomen, that exude toxic chemicals to confuse their enemies. Their tactics range from physical fighting to chemical warfare, just like it does in humans.

Their wars are large scale, intense, tactical. Mark Moffett’s book, Adventures Among Ants, documents barbaric and bizarre combat strategies – the same as human ones.

130 army ant species operate like Roman armies. Moving as a massive, united front, they depend entirely on the element of surprise to overwhelm the enemy. Once the food in the new territory has been eaten the army moves on.

As in human armies, which place the young and inexperienced as foot soldiers or infantry in front, ants also assign the smallest, weakest, older ants and the cripples on the front lines. In effect, the expendables. The actual fighters are behind the lines waiting for the enemy to get tired and reduce in ranks while fighting the cheap labour. Then the large sized, mega-jawed killers move in and bite the enemy to death.

And, while ants will readily die for their community, they're also pragmatic.

"An ant would never go out of its way to save another ant," Moffett says. "They go in to get the job done, not take care of one another."

* Slave-maker ants attack other ant colonies, captures their eggs and larvae, bring them back to their own nests and raise them as slaves to increase the worker force of their colony. After emerging in the slave-maker nest, slave workers work as if they were in their own colony, while the slavemakers only concentrate on replenishing the labour force from neighbouring nests. A colony may capture 14,000 pupae in a single season. Most slave-raiders capture only the young, but Strongylognathus ants also enslave adult workers.

Workers that emerge from eggs  in the slavemakers’ nest will rear the brood, feed and groom the workers, defend the nest against aliens, and even participate in raids, including those against their original colony.

In some cases, the enslaved ants rebel against their slave-maker ants, killing a large number of the slave-maker ant offspring. Thus, the slave ants protect their native colonies from further raids by slave-maker ants.

* Unlike in other ant colonies, all dinosaur ants are able to reproduce. However, there’s still a single queen, surrounded by beta females. If any of the queen’s servants becomes greedy for power and decides to lay eggs and be the new queen, it’s subdued by the rest of the courtiers and pinned to the ground for up to four days until the urge subsides.

* Dracula ants are the fastest animals on earth. One species, Mystrium camillae, has a pair of mandibles that snap at 90 metres a second or 320 kilometres an hour, according to a study in Royal Society of Open Science. That’s 5,000 times faster than you can blink your eye and 1,000 times faster than you can snap your fingers. Their name derives from their cannibalistic feeding habits, As adult ants are unable to process solid food, they feed prey like paralysed termites or centipedes to their larvae and then chew holes in their larvae and drink their blood.

* Weaver ants, Oecophylla smaragdina, build homes out of tree leaves. Their larvae produce a thin silk which acts as the glue that sticks the leaves together.

* Allomerus decemarticulatus ants of South America make tiny holes in a plant stem, hide and cover themselves with a fungus they produce themselves. When an unsuspecting insect lands on a stem full of those trap holes, the ants jump up and catch it with their mandibles. Then, they slowly drag the captive to a leaf pouch and tear it apart.

* Leafcutter ants are fulltime farmers. They  cut out fresh leaves with their sharp mandibles and  bring them to their nests to feed a particular type of bacteria that lives with the ants. That bacteria develops into fungi to become the food source for the ants. 

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www. peopleforanimalsindia. org

  • Written by Denis Giles
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