Where do the pesticides come from? – II

Arjun has more updates from Kishore Asthana on Cola banning and CSE, the lab which did the tests. According to his analysis Colas are some of the safest things to drink in India  compared to eggs, tea, rice, apples, milk, lassi and rabdi.

If someone tells you that if you drink one cup of tea, it will give you as much pesticide as 394 cups of cola, which one do you think would be the safer beverage? And are we focusing on tea? On eggs? On fruit or milk? No. CSE and our Parliament is busy trashing the drink which has the least amount of pesticide amongst all the things we consume. This is reason enough for us to put on our Sanity & Balance cape and jump into the fray.

To the best of our understanding, there are only about 20 laboratories accredited by the National Accreditation Board to undertake tests. The CSE Lab did not have this NAB accreditation three years back and does not appear to have it now. When we personally asked Ms. Sunita Narain about NAB accreditation after the NDTV program yesterday they tried to divert us by saying that they have ISO 9000 accreditation. Even a travel agency can get ISO 9000 accreditation and it does not qualify them as a certified laboratory.

Dr. Khandal, the highly reputed Director of the Sri Ram Laboratories has, in a TV interview categorically said that the equipment used at CSE cannot measure the level of Malathion which CSE claims to have measured with it. He also said that these results had not been re-validated by doing other tests, as was the norm. As such, the tests were not to be taken at face value.

Dr. Khandal then said that CSE have mentioned that they have used U.S. EPA protocols to test Colas. He pointed out that EPA has no protocols for Colas. They only have a protocol to test water. He said that if CSE has used this protocol to measure the pesticides in Colas then it is erronious, as the matrix of the test sample changes with the addition of the other ingredients and the protocol for testing water cannot be used for testing Colas

In an NDTV program yesterday, Ms. Narain said that the sample size of foreign Colas tested by CSE was just 2 bottles. As the scientists on the panel pointed out, on this basis she is not really qualified to make any comments at all about pesticides in foreign Colas vis a vis Indian Colas. Any good High School science student can tell you that the sample of two bottles is not a meaningful sample size, but CSE has no hesitation in announcing their comparison based on an analysis of a mere two bottles. [Cola Con]

See Also: Where do the pesticides come from?

Where do the pesticides come from?

Lab tests done by The Centre for Science and Environment in India have found large amounts of pesticides in various soft drinks.

The 2006 CSE study tests 57 samples of 11 soft drink brands, from 25 different manufacturing plants of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, spread over 12 states. The study finds pesticide residues in all samples; it finds a cocktail of 3-5 different pesticides in all samples

Why are we scared of Wal-Mart?

The Government policies for opening retail stores in India are restrictive and only single-brand retail stores are currently allowed. Due to this, companies like Wal-Mart, Carrefour and Tesco have been trying to get into partnerships with Indian companies to tap into the market. Most of India’s retail sector is family run and politicians fear that a Wal-Mart could shut down these Mom & Pop stores.

These politicians under estimate the trading skills of Indians and believe that we are not capable of dealing with home grown competition. Two months back Wal-Mart got out of South Korea and this week out of Germany. The company, it seems was not able to generate profits after operating 85 stores for eight years in Germany

German shoppers are accustomed to buying merchandise strictly based on price, German retail consultants say. They are willing to buy laundry detergent at one store and then go to another to get a better price on paper towels. That behavior is called “basket splitting.” It is the antithesis of what American shoppers like: one-stop shopping. A big plank of Wal-Mart’s strategy in the U.S. and elsewhere is getting shoppers to turn to it for an increasingly wide array of goods.[With Profits Elusive, Wal-Mart to Exit Germany (subscription reqd.)]

When President Bush visited India, Charlie Rose had a series of interviews with business leaders and one point Ratan Tata made was that Indians are similarly price and value conscious. They could give Wal-Mart a run for their money.

Blame it on Globalization – II

Jo, has a new episode of his Malayalam podcast M-POD. This time it is an interview with Dr. C. R Rajagopal who teaches Malayalam at Sree Kerala Varma College, Thrissur. He is also the director of Centre for Indigenous Knowledge, a group working on documenting traditional knowledge.
To explain the value of traditional knowledge, he sang a a very nice folk song about various types of seeds and when to farm them. This song was from a book Krishi Geetha (Krishi = Farming) written in the 17th century and was taught in schools. Not anymore.
As people worked with nature, they observed many facts about weather, plants, animals and such information was captured in stories, legends, songs, and sayings. They also had art forms which captured various rituals. This knowledge is getting lost and now there are about 60 groups in Kerala which sing these songs and transmit the knowledge from the older generation to the younger. There are audio albums, photo albums and books available which capture these words of wisdom. A very commendable effort indeed.
If you are a Malayalee, then the words, globalization and western culture has to be used in a negative connotation due to how the Malayali DNA is structured. This word appears in this interview also for no reason. In his introduction Jo mentions that Dr. Rajagopal is going to tell us about knowledge which is getting lost due to the big influence of western culture in our lives. Then Dr. Rajagopal utters the word globalization in an unusual situation.
He said that collecting this information is required due to the globalized situation we are in. According to him, this information can also be used for fight globalization which according to him is trying to grab the intellectual property of local people. He has contempt for the current culture (calls it Azha Kuzhamban culture) and wishes that people would pay more attention to this knowledge.
Globalization has definitely introduced problems and the patent fights for Basmati and Neem are good examples. There is no doubt that local knowledge is getting lost, but it would happen even if the forces of globalization were not present.
Long time back itself, farmers stopped cultivating land and started selling it off for real estate due to the increased labor costs. Now due to the excellent living conditions in Kerala bought about by the globalization of labor, no one wants to work for a living. Fruits and vegetables come from Tamil Nadu and when there is a lorry strike, the prices of everything goes up. When you are not farming anymore, what is the need of songs which talk about various seeds?
Second, knowledge is being lost as people from villages move to towns. We are not talking of Dubai here, but towns in Kerala. Half of the knowledge of grandmothers get lost when mothers live far away from them. When this knowledge is transmitted by the mother to her offspring, some more knowledge is lost. Even if you exclude globalization, information is just lost as the current generation does not need it. This is happening in each family living in Kerala itself.
Instead of blaming everything on globalization, such people should take advantage of the forces of globalization to spread the knowledge. Already they are doing it by collaborating with universities and organizations outside India, creating websites and multimedia and by producing such podcasts. What is required is an attitude change to look at the positive power that globalization can provide.
Related Links: Blame it on globalization

Indians in Davos

Goh Chok Tong, Former Prime Minister of Singapore was in India recently and gave a speech asking India to accelerate the pace of reforms.

Arguing that the old mindset opposed to competition on the plea of foreign economic colonisation and the theory of protectionism would only breed complacency and inefficiency. He said “competition drives economic growth; you lose some but you win more,” and urged the Indian government to remove impediments to healthy competition.[Indian atma biswas and the positive sum economics of trade]

Looks like this message is being taken seriously. “India Everywhere”. This is the campaign that Indians are unleashing in Davos for the World Economic Forum on Jan 25.

“India: the world’s fastest-growing free-market democracy,” proclaims one sign. Others will extol India’s growing business prowess (it now boasts 91 companies with revenues of $1 billion-plus), its $500 billion stock market capitalization, and its vast and youthful consumer market.
Waiting for visitors at their hotel rooms will be gifts from India — a pashmina shawl, an Apple (AAPL) iPod loaded with Indian pop and classical music, a piece of traditional art, some ayurvedic oils — along with a CD packed with all sorts of economic information about the country.[Davos Days, Bollywood Nights]

Finally someone got the clue that being understated and unspoken is not the way to do business. Among the list of people in the delegation are some odd balls like Amartya Sen and Shabana Azmi. The article also mentions that the ruler of Kerala will also be present and Kerala is a magnet for foreign investment.
Ignoring all that, it is important that India perform the right song and dance routine where it matters and display its cultural power along with the economic might. As the Globalization Institute notes

The figures tell a story. Economic growth is expected to be 8% in 2006, at a time when Japan would consider 1% a major success. There are now 91 businesses in India with turnover in excess of $1 billion, stock market capitalisation is in the $500 billion range, and there are reportedly over 200 million people learning English in India.
It’s worth contrasting this image with the pessimistic predictions of the late 1960s and early 1970s. India was headed for “inevitable” mass famine. Its population would drop as disease and chronic malnutrition raised the death rate. Corruption was seen as “endemic” and the combination of bureaucracy, protectionism, and a willingness to support the pirating of foreign trade marks were major obstacles to inward investment.[India flaunts it at Davos]


Pockets of Poverty

When you think of poverty, countries like Saudi Arabia and United States do not come to mind, but there are pockets of poverty in both these countries. In Saudi Arabia, the guess would be that the poor people would be the expatriate people and the guess would be wrong. It seems there are poor Saudis too.

The image of Saudi Arabia abroad is of a land teaming with wealth and opportunity — the “oil-rich desert Kingdom” as the international media insist on saying. Inside the Kingdom, it is a rather different picture. Yes, there is wealth and opportunity — and massive development — but there is also poverty. The slums of south Riyadh or south Jeddah are real and shocking. It is not expatriate laborers who live in such places; it is poor Saudis. They cannot afford anything better. Nor is poverty confined to places like Qarantina in Jeddah or Suwaidi in Riyadh. There is serious rural poverty as well; as elsewhere, it manifests itself in substandard, rundown accommodation.
For many years, Saudi poverty was a taboo subject, unspoken by those who saw it as shameful and who foolishly imagined that by ignoring it, it would go away. It was Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah who, as crown prince, broke the taboo. His unprecedented visit to the slums of Suwaidi just over three years ago brought poverty into the open and with it a determination address the issue. [Poverty in the Kingdom]

During the Hurricane Katrina, the world saw the poverty in New Orleans. Here in California, which is the fifth largest economy in the world, poverty exists and one such place is Fresno (about 150 miles from Silicon Valley), which is the hearland of the California farmland.

This city at the heart of the richest farmland in the world has been poor for so long, no one can remember it otherwise. Last month, when the Brookings Institution issued a report that said a higher proportion of poor people in Fresno lived in areas of concentrated poverty than in any other major city in the country — pre-Katrina New Orleans was number two — no one here was surprised. “My goodness, that’s why I ran,” said Alan Autry, who became mayor in 2000. “I called it ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’ “[In Fresno, Tackling Poverty Moves to the Top of the Agenda]

Since Saudi Arabia runs at the King’s mercy, some direction has to come from him to eradicate povery. According to Govt. study, it would take atleast 30 years to reduce poverty to minimal levels if the spending in human services increased and people are calling for Saudi Arabia to be a more inclusive and democratic nation in the hope that it would bring prosperity to all people. But then United States is democratic and very inclusive and still the problem persists.

Globalization helps customers

If America is the place from where globalization is radiating outward, then all American industries would be secure and only rest of the world would be in trouble, but it not so. Few American industries are in dire straits and the reason for it is globalization.
Ford, America’s second largest auto maker announced yesterday that it would shutdown fourteen facilities and fire a quarter of its work force (about 30,000 people). This comes as no surprise to anyone living here. It was obvious when they started giving employee discounts to entice people to buy their cars that disaster was on its way. Employee discount which means customers can buy a Ford car for the same discounted price as employees was one of the master plans that the management came up to boost sales. Also they could not afford to stay away from the race since the other American car makers, GM and Chrysler were also offering it.
It is not just Ford which is in trouble. Chrysler which saw a dip in sales started offering free gasoline and maintenance for two years. Other are extending the warranty and soon American car makers might pay you money if you agree to take one vehicle from the showroom.
All the while the CEOs of these companies never even paused for a moment to wonder why their sales are dipping. Getting to the root cause of the problem never seems to taught in management classes here. The problem was that American car makers were making cars which the consumer did not want while Japanese car makers Toyota and Honda were successully selling cars and increasing their market share. Toyota which will soon beat GM as the world’s largest automaker outsold Chrysler in December.
In this whole episode, just having capitalism did not help the consumer, for the local capitalists did not want to build fuel efficient cars or ones with hybrid technology. The manufacturers from Japan understood the customer needs and are killing the players who could not adapt. Thanks to globalization, the American consumers are getting the vehicles they want.
Some management consultants are going to take millions of dollars and educate the American car makers something which commonsense and globalization should have taught them – listen to the customers.
Related Stories: The Toyota Story

Expatriates and the Economy

Time Magazine has an article on the the 39th largest GDP in the world. That credit does not go to a nation, but to the expatriate community which sends money back home. The amount is set to cross $232B and in many countries the money from the expatriates have exceeded that from exports and foreign aid.
The article talks about immigrants from Africa, Indonesia and Mexico who work in Europe, Singapore and United States and send money back through both legal and illegal means of fund transfer. These migrants sometimes live in miserable conditions so that their family can have a decent life.

The life of squirreling away money is grueling: it involves years-long separation from families, miserable living conditions, and the threat of deportation for the many who are working illegally. All the same, remittances play a vital role in recycling money from the rich world to the poor one. “Migration is going up,” says Ratha. “We had better not wish it away, because it’s very much there to stay.” [Follow The Money]

India too has a large expatriate community which sends money back home and a vast majority of them come from my home state of Kerala. According to the Prime Minister of India, 2.5 million NRIs from Kerala alone contributed 50% of India’s $102 Billion of foreign exchange reserves in 2003. In 2004, India topped the list of countries which obtained remittances from abroad.
Some of these expatriates, especially the ones in Arab countries, live in miserable living conditions without access to fair trial and the right to practice their religion. The state of Kerala depends a lot on this NRI money obtained due to the globalization of labor and in turn they protest globalization of capital.
The article concludes witht the following observations

Vital though the flow of remittances may be, it cannot, on its own, lift entire nations out of poverty. Those who study the impact of remittances argue that the money allows poor countries to put off basic decisions of economic management, like reforming their tax-collection systems and building decent schools.
Remittances to poor countries can also mask the fact that they don’t produce much at home. [Follow The Money]

When it comes to Kerala, the second observation is right, but the first one is not. This NRI has money (along with other social reforms) has lifted the state of Kerala from poverty and if you walk around you will not find a single beggar there. But then once the umbilical cord from the Gulf countries is cutoff, the state may slip back into poverty.
Another disagreement with the article is regarding the image it portrays of immigrants in various countries are people being opressed. There are educated Indian immigrants in various countries who live in excellent conditions (sometimes even better than natives) with their families, without facing any threats of deportation.

Why Fear Globalization?

The opponents of globalization in India make you believe that once the economy is opened up, Indians would be overrun by competition and eventually all Indians would be rendered jobless. This fear campaign plays right into the inferiority complex driven mindset of people and gives political parties one more reason to destroy public property.
These kind of arguments against globalization have few issues, the primary one being the assumption that we Indians cannot compete in a global market. The opponents of globalization assume or want to assume that Indians are incompetent, cannot compete against foreigners and need protection all the time. These opponents also do not mention the number the jobs that can get created due to investments from abroad.
Sadly such views are not answered with a historical perspective. India was a globalized country since Harappan times and there was prosperity all around and it was this prosperity that made India the target of so many invasions. There are many Indian technologies which had a global market in ancient times and one of the items we covered at The Palm Leaf, was Wootz Steel. A form of crucible steel formed by adding large quantities of carbon to Iron in South India, Wootz was famous all around the world. Another area where Indians had a monopoly was textiles and in some parts of the world Indian clothes were considered ‘sacred’ and preserved for their ceremonial, religious and magical power.

Like the gaja or elephant patola, woven using the double ikat technique with elephants and tigers signifying wealth and power. Sourced from Gujarat, the Dutch offered them to South Asian kings in exchange for trading privileges. Or, the ‘maa’ cloths sent to Indonesia for ceremonial use; radiocarbon testing dates these to the 13th century. There are also fragile hand-blocked fabrics excavated from Fustat, Egypt

TV Education

From the West Wing, live debate

It’s some kind of debate I’m watching. Alda’s opponent who is evidently a Democrat, touts his economic plan that will create a million jobs. The moderator asks Alda how many jobs his plan will create. Zero, Alda says. In fact, he adds, I’ll cut jobs. I’ll cut jobs in the federal government. Besides, he adds, Presidents don’t create jobs, entrepreneurs do. My job as President is to get out of the way and let the market work.[Alan Alda for President]

In a country like India with a large young population, it is impossible for everyone to get a sarkari job. Why not listen to Alan Alda?