The Food Security Bill, now being debated in Parliament, promises supplies of rice and wheat to poor citizens at a subsidised price. At the time of writing this, the Lok Sabha had passed the bill. Is this good or bad? Food security is good. So is good health. Will this Bill ensure good health? Or is this an irrelevant consideration?
Let us consider rice. The nutritional value of polished rice is questionable. In fact it may be linked to diabetes, which is becoming an epidemic in India. Diabetes, to my way of thinking, is bad; increasing diabetes is worse. Research suggests that eating white rice may actually increase the incidence of diabetes. See http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/link-between-polished-rice-intake-and-diabetes-found/article5305.ece and http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/medicine-and-research/rice-and-reason/article3307234.ece. Also http://www.neweconomyworkinggroup.org/blog/story-refined-white-rice, and http://www.japantoday.com/category/health/view/white-rice-linked-to-type-2-diabetes-say-researchers.
The polished rice we eat is unhealthy! This came as a surprise to me. When I dug a little deeper, it turned out that this was not our traditional food. Most people ate millets. We have a large variety of them in India; the well known ones are jowar, bajra and ragi, but there are many more. Each region has its own. Rice was eaten in festivals. And that rice was often not the polished white rice of today. Rice became the preferred cereal when the public distribution system made it much cheaper than the others. So there has been a change in food habits in favour of the less healthy white rice.
This is disturbing, to say the least. What should Parliament do? I am surprised this issue has so far not come up in the debates. What about wheat, so popular for chapattis, naans etc? It seems to be bad too—for the same reason: it increases the incidence of diabetes. One doctor calls it a ‘perfect chronic poison’. See http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505269_162-57505149/modern-wheat-a-perfect-chronic-poison-doctor-says/
Researchers argue that wheat is bad for health—consider the ‘wheat belly’. See http://www2.macleans.ca/2011/09/20/on-the-evils-of-wheat-why-it-is-so-addictive-and-how-shunning-it-will-make-you-skinny/
Humans have eaten wheat for thousands of years, so it seems odd that it would have begun to bother us only in the past few decades. But read some more from where this sentence was taken.
And it may make you fat In 3 hidden ways. See http://drhyman.com/blog/2012/02/13/three-hidden-ways-wheat-makes-you-fat/
Wheat has been hydridised and that is where the problem lies. See http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2013/03/01/wheat-is-not-genetically-modifiedso-why-so-many-sensitivities/
Wheat has undergone a process of hybridisation for a long time. This process sought to make the crop shorter, to withstand winds. It sought to make the crop pest resistant. It sought to make it mature in less days. And so on. Researchers have succeeded in this effort. But the cost has been the nutritional value of wheat as a food. What we eat now is just starch. Even organically grown wheat is unhealthy.
So wheat is not good for health. Disturbing that we give it away at low prices to the poor. What will Parliament say about this? This issue has not come up so far.
The Public Distribution System in India already supplies subsidised refined sugar. It may not cause diabetes, but it is not good either. I won’t bore you with more than one reference to show sugar is not good for diabetes patients—or even or others. See http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2011/07/22/a-sweet-sweet-summer-why-is-white-sugar-bad-for-you/
So why are we passing a law that requires our government to supply unhealthy foods to poor people? Why is the government encouraging unhealthy crops like sugar, which are also water intensive [and India has an overall scarcity of water] rather than more healthy millets?
Research in India refers to millets as God’s Own Crops. See http://www.milletindia.org/publications/GodsOwnCrops.pdf
So if food security is more than just filling stomachs, if it is meant to provide healthy nutrition, then should we not encourage the consumption of what are called ‘coarse grains’ and ‘inferior cereals’ instead? Who has decided they are ‘coarse’ or inferior? Evidence from the MilletIndia network suggests that they are more nutritious and better for health. Does this make them inferior or coarse?
These crops also often grow on arid land in the poorer parts of the country. We can improve traditional techniques of farming that people in different regions have. Such work has resulted in success in the case of ragi in Karnataka. They provide local employment and the crops are locally consumed; this gives a fillip to the local economy. What stops us from encouraging them, and discouraging rice and wheat by pricing them high?
Or, does the government, in its wisdom, want to subsidise diabetes? If so, then why not openly rather than under the guise of a Food Security Bill?
Is this the lobby of insulin producing companies at work? Or corporate profit making hospitals, to set up which the Finance minister announced tax incentives a few years ago.
Has the government decided to create demand for hospitals that treat heart problems, kidney ailments and the like that diabetes leads to?
The Government is clearly aware that lifestyle diseases are on this rise and is taking steps to deal with this crisis. So all this is a deliberate policy thrust. See http://www.deccanherald.com/content/355608/ministry-sets-targets-reduce-lifestyle.html
If people were encouraged to eat healthy foods in the first place, such expenditures of taxpayer money could be reduced. Or is that an irrelevant consideration in this context?
Do we really want this Diabetes Subsidy Bill to be passed by Parliament under the guise of a Food Security Bill? I am confused.
[Disclaimer: Views presented above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CBPS.]