Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

All of us want peace on earth but, as we grow in size, we humans have become more distressed and more apart from each other. While we live together like lemmings, unfortunately we do not behave like lemmings who live in harmony. We have split the world into small pools of hatred and not only do we attack each other ceaselessly, we attack our own planet and everyone on it without thinking.

Do we want our children to grow up like us? No. We want our children to be happy but happiness has its own disciplines : gentleness, mindfulness, respect, a desire for peace, a love for nature. But do we raise them like this? Or do we teach them to be vicious and fearful from the day we think they can learn.

We teach them to be scared of all creatures, and fear breeds violence. By laughing when they pull up grass, or squash snails and ants, or by making them watch animal based cartoons like Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry where guns are fun, is sending your children on the path to destruction.

How does watching, or taking part in, cruelty to animals influence behaviour in children ?

Sigmund Freud, the Austrian neurologist and psychoanalyst, believed that the human psyche (personality) is structured into three parts - the id, ego, and superego. Children develop the id which deals with the instinctive side of human behaviour quickly.  But it takes time for them to develop their superego - the one that deals with moral conscience, which is why in their early years from 5-10, children are unaware of the moral right or wrong and usually act on their instincts and rely on imitation. If we show them cartoons, and these glorify violent games against animals, acting on their instincts they will develop moral leanings that they see in such animation. All violence, posing as fun, is going to bias their mental development and emotional understanding. From there they go on to video games: 90% of those are about violent supremacy, crashing, killing, shooting.

In the Little Albert experiment, Researchers John B. Watson and Rosalie Rayner worked on stimulus generalization. If a child has been taught to fear one thing, what else will he fear in general ? A little boy Albert was conditioned to fear a white rat. They observed that Albert showed fear in response to similar stimuli - he started fearing everything that was white - a white dog, a rabbit and even white hair.

This study proved that it’s difficult for children to distinguish between conditioned stimuli and generally similar stimuli. Meaning: if children are conditioned to believe that animal violence is justified, there is a high chance that they will start believing that all violence is justified.

The Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego showed that the prefrontal cortex grew smaller, and less active, in a group of people who had shown aggressive/violent tendencies as children. This validates the graduation hypothesis, which suggests that the presence of cruelty to animals at one developmental period predicts interpersonal violence at a later age. Animal abusers will always work their way up from harming animals to harming people. Their brain development actually predicts it.

Early experiences of violence may confer lasting damage at the basic levels of nervous, endocrine, and immune systems, and can even influence the genetic alteration of DNA. (Building a framework for global surveillance of the public health implications of adverse childhood experiences, Atlanta University, 2010.) What does that mean? It means that you are not just producing a violent child/person, you are changing the brain and DNA so that his children will be inclined towards violence from the day they are born. Is that the world you want ?

One of the saddest things I have ever seen is a tied dog being beaten to death by a woman with her high heels. A child being strangled slowly. Both films are part of an industry called Crush and Snuff. Crush videos typically depict humans, usually women, crushing, stomping on, or impaling small, helpless animals to satisfy the bizarre sexual fetishes of their viewers. Snuff kill young children – actually. The same people produce both type of films.

Jeff Vilencia, the person who introduced Crush films, recalls with pride that even as a child he was fascinated by seeing insects and animals being stepped upon, and was encouraged in his violence. Is he better than any serial murderer?

Cruelty to animals is a hallmark background for serial murderers. Eleonora Gullone, writing for Journal of Animal Ethics, states that Ted Bundy or Jeffery Dahmer, world famous serial killers, were also known for their animal abuse tendencies. During the trial of convicted sniper Lee Boyd Malvo, a psychology professor testified that the teenager, who killed 10 people with a rifle, had “pelted—and probably killed—numerous cats with marbles from a slingshot when he was about 14.”

Another study by Bill Henry and Cheryl Sanders, State College of Denver, found that nearly all homicidal sex offenders in the study engaged in significantly more animal cruelty when young.

The Violence Graduation Hypothesis suggests that animal cruelty in childhood is predictive of violence towards humans in adulthood. Of the number of serial murderers in a study, published in Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 36% engaged in animal cruelty as children, 46% engaged in animal cruelty as adolescent, and 36% engaged in animal cruelty as adults. This theory suggests that children practice animal cruelty, and are desensitised to the consequences of violent behaviour, before they graduate to violence against humans.

According to the paper, "The Relationship of Animal Abuse to violence and other forms of Antisocial Behavior" by Arluke, Levin, Luke and Ascione, the presence of cruelty to animals at one developmental period predicts interpersonal violence at a later developmental period. The study showed that animal abuse is uniquely related to violence towards humans, as opposed to other forms of violence. The results obtained by the study indicate that animal abusers were significantly more likely to be involved in some form of criminal behaviour, including violent crimes.

On January 1st, 2019  America’s FBI included acts of cruelty against animals alongside felony crimes like arson, burglary, assault, and homicide in the FBI’s criminal database NIBRS, and began collecting data  from 18,000 law enforcement agencies on acts of animal cruelty, including gross neglect, torture, organized abuse, and sexual abuse.  “Studies say that cruelty to animals is a precursor to larger crime,” said Nelson Ferry, of the Bureau’s Criminal Statistics Management Unit, which manages NIBRS. “That’s one of the items that we’re looking at.”

The National Sheriffs’ Association was a leading advocate for adding animal cruelty to the Bureau’s collection of crime statistics. The Association for years has cited studies linking animal abuse and other types of crimes, domestic violence and child abuse. The National Sheriffs’ Association urged people to shed the mindset that animal cruelty is a crime only against animals. “It’s a crime against society. By paying attention to these crimes, we are benefiting all of society.”

When police in India underplay, and try to avoid registering animal abuse crimes, this is what they should read – or be taught in police training academies. The report titled “Animal Cruelty as a gateway of Crime”, released by the U.S. Department of Justice, estimated that animal abusers are five times more likely than non–animal abusers to commit violent crimes against people, four times more likely to commit property crimes, and three times more likely to have a record for drug or disorderly conduct offenses. 

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Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Vegan festivals are probably good, in that they create a climate for you to turn into a non meat/milk/egg person, but these are events meant to peddle goods, not to advocate for the rights and freedom of other animals, or inspire political and social activism. Instead of advising people to consume less, they push people to buy more and, in doing so, send the message that veganism is a personal, consumer choice, instead of a moral imperative. “Vegan outreach” and “the power of the wallet” are unquestioningly upheld as the most powerful tools we have in the fight for animal liberation. But this is a damaging mix of dogmatic naivety, privilege and single issue reformism. This consumerism promotes capitalism by actively advocating for an increased demand of vegan products. It upholds the same structures that commodify and oppress all beings. How easily capitalism has accommodated vegan consumer choices in many countries — how easy it is now to shop vegan anywhere, even in Uruguay.

A vegan needs to truly see beyond the walls of his/her privileges. Why have we allowed the world to degenerate into a hellhole for all, why is speciesism, the superiority of humans and their right to kill and use all other species, the normal way to live. Why is western development superior to native societies – when clearly every indicator of mental and physical health indicates otherwise. Why do we allow a capitalistic company to decide what and how we live and what we use . Why do we allow governments at every level to do nothing, when the signs of global warming are all around us ? Why do we allow governments to listen to pesticide companies rather than cancer patients ? Why do we allow governments to ban e-cigarettes on the grounds that 500 people a year die from them, when normal cigarettes kill 500 people per second ? Why is meat eating normal ? Why are 80% forests dying because they are infested with animals that are grown for meat ? Why are people who oppose tree cutting regarded as anti- development – when the development is simply a hotel, or some other useless capitalistic structure ? Why are animals regarded as commodities when they clearly are as sentient as humans ? Vegans need to be humble and radical, to think their way through these issues before it is too late.

Veganism is sold by companies to people as an individual lifestyle choice, “ethical consumerism”. So, animal liberation is on offer, reduced to a choice of products to make us feel guilt free, that we’re “doing our bit”.

But the refusal of vegans to eat animal products has not led to fewer animals being slaughtered. Many companies selling “ethical” products are directly involved in, and profit from, animal exploitation. There is no such thing as ethical consumerism under capitalism. As Animal Liberation says  “The interconnected atrocities of petrochemical, weapons, fashion, pharmaceutical and agribusiness industries, alongside the meat and dairy industry, make “ethical consumption,” of any kind, an illusion.” The abolition of non-human animal exploitation must be part of a wider struggle to bring about freedom and autonomy for all living things.

Rather than revolving around consumption, veganism should commit to combating the deeply embedded ideology of speciesism, as well as all other violent ideologies. Veganism needs to put its efforts to create a society with empathy; not to be the fifth wheel of the consumer train. As Prof Steven Best of the University of Texas, award-winning writer and seasoned activist, notes that veganism “seeks radical social transformation at the institutional level, rather than a lifestyle with occasional and perfunctory efforts at ‘education'.”

For Prof. John Sanbonmatsu, author of critical animal studies, “what is at stake is not simply a set of eating guidelines, but a total critique of society – of a way of life that has become inimical to life.”

 “Capitalism, as a global system with an unprecedented level of technological power, is the first to carry ecocide to a global scale. The biodiversity and biomass of Planet Earth today is the lowest it has ever been in human history. There is obviously a connection between capitalism’s abuse of animals, its destruction of the environment, and its oppression and abuse of humans.”

Because the meat industry is the ghastly face of abuse, the vegan movement has responded with a prohibition on the consumption of meat. But do these people also ban fertilizer and pesticides on their lawns and on agricultural produce? Is it easier to boycott the meat industry, or easier to change policies at government levels. I would say that the latter is easier, and that is where the vegan movement should be going. 

Can veganism’s boycott of meat alone destroy the meat industry ? “Within capitalism, a decrease in demand can lower prices, and increase total consumption. While the number of vegetarians and vegans in the US exploded from almost none to millions in the last decade, total meat consumption did not decrease In fact, it increased as meat prices decreased. More animals died. Veganism has become a religion rather than a liberation strategy. And, like all religions, it accommodates every wish that its followers have.

Do vegans not kill animals ? With our consumption of industrially farmed vegetables, use of plastics, dependence on petroleum-fuelled transportation, coal, hydro, solar- (mining for panel and battery construction) powered electricity, we kill thousands too. And those vegans who wear silver and gold, and pearls and any stone, kill millions. The shoes may be rubber but they are held together with glue which is made of animal bones. The insulin injection is made with cow/pig pancreas. The point is, everything we use causes suffering. So the answer to being a vegan is to use very little. Consumerism is killing the planet. The food, clothes, footwear, the useless toothpicks and umbrellas, facepacks and lipsticks. What is needed is for a generation to call a halt to this.

Will simply stopping meat, and carrying on with the rest of your extravagant lifestyle, change the world? Do the banks, they put your money in, invest in any supermarkets, or any other industries involved with the meat industry? Does your insurance agency also insure slaughterhouses? Are these not issues that vegans should look into? Products that should not be available should be off the shelves, not available as alternative choices. But for that to happen, vegans have to make time for policy, the only means to eliminating consumer choices that shouldn't be available because they are dangerous for the planet.

Direct action, for me, is more acceptable for a vegan. Go and liberate an animal from a laboratory or a slaughterhouse. Surround an abattoir and make it impossible to work. Stop trucks that carry animals. These actions are brave and passionate and inspirational – even though they save small numbers, but each individual is worth saving. They are also important for spreading consciousness of the viciousness of our civilization towards other living things. Vegans raise environmental consciousness, clean waterbodies, grow pesticide free crops, eat locally grown food only. Act, be an activist, rather than a consumerist and a person who sits on a computer and passes along T Shirt messages on veganism and listens to lifestyle gurus. 

To commit to veganism is good, but it is just the starting point to a more nonviolent and just world. We need to educate, disrupt, resist, confront, and change institutions that shape policies and culture and make animal abuse possible in the first place. It's a tall order that requires discipline and courage; not vegan ice-cream.

Decide what your issues are, and what difference you can reasonably make with the time and energy you have available. What are your skills? Who else can you get involved? What effect do you want to have? 

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

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Veganism must become a political movement. At the moment it is nowhere near that, anywhere in the world. And the fault lies with vegans themselves.

What is the current state. Capitalism has made it easy for every human to literally eat up the world. Every animal species, every forest, every ore in the ground  every fish in the sea, has been turned into trivial things to fuel an insatiable greed. And, as soon as one species becomes extinct we find another one. Our oceans are now full of jellyfish who have filled the emptiness caused by taking a billion fish out of the ocean every month. Hugely poisonous and of no edible value, 7 nations have, nevertheless, got together to see what they can turn jellyfish into. As mammals and birds dwindle, the food companies are promoting insects as the “new” protein.

What can a vegan do?

To begin with, stop buying. Everything you buy, vegetarian or non-vegetarian, has its consequences and impact. Forests are cut down to grow cotton for T Shirts and soyabean. Each death of a tree means the death of thousands of animals and birds. Cotton is grown with the worst pesticides in the world. Those destroy millions of lives annually, and poison the waters. So, what is ethical ? Wearing cotton ? Or not wearing silk because it boils thousands of silk worms alive ? Choices have to be made intelligently, and the best choice is to keep your wants to a bare minimum. You do not need more clothes, shoes, or cosmetics. You do not need facecream. Vegan- or non-vegan- consumer capitalism is responsible for the destruction of the entire natural world. Veganism means addressing all these issues. Less consumption—not more—should be part of every real vegan's mantra.

Not only are you creating more wealth for the wrong companies, but you are also adding to the burdens on the same earth you wish to save. Vegans who believe in eating/using/buying/exploring the exotic are simply another exploitative group. People who drop lipsticks made at home, to buy chia butter lipsticks, have not factored in how much it costs in terms of fuel to get the chia butter to the factory. And no one is checking whether pesticides and chemical fertilizers have been used to grow the chia. So, the halo that the vegans have put on their own heads is uncalled for. European companies have replaced chicken wings with jackfruit wings for vegans. But jackfruit goes all the way from Asia to England.

Vegans, who believe that backpacking to the wildernesses is about sustainability, are fooling themselves. Eating carrots while entering the last domain of animals and birds, defecating and urinating, spreading germs and clearing pathways for themselves- this is not veganism. This is consumerism.

Secondly, vegans must realize that they should not confuse veganism with all the other labels. Unfortunately, it is competing: not with meat, milk and leather, but with “organic” “locally sourced”. Most retailers say that they have stopped advertising “organic” and replaced it with “vegan”. It is hopelessly confused with healthy, raw food and gluten free. The advertising agencies are toying with your head, and making all the wrong mental associations, by providing completely unnecessary items with the vegan label. By making vegan products look young and vibrant , they have created an image that associates vegan with health. Social media blogs are about how pretty the food should be, rather than where it comes from. You cannot eat avocados from Mexico or Kenya, beans from Brazil, blueberries from the US and goji berries from China, and be vegan. Mexico makes more money from exporting avocado than it does from petroleum, and is cutting down its forests to make way for planting more avocado trees. So what did the vegan achieve? Veganism is not a casual consumer choice. Deciding to go vegan and choosing gluten-free bread are not the same thing. But it has degenerated into that.

Vegans must make political lobbies and compete with Carnism. Carnism, the capitalist philosophy of eating meat and using animals, has caused global warming, with 15% of greenhouse emissions coming from cattle farming alone. And then is the deforestation by clearing land for animal farming. The amount of food needed to raise cattle represents a massive waste of land and grain, with 80% of world soymeal used to feed animals. The world is in its end stage and it has taken us just 200 years of carnism to get there.

Veganism must be a form of boycott, with individuals/communities refusing to put money into harmful industries. You can no longer be a Jain who is vegetarian at home and has a factory that produces gelatine or plywood. Veganism, if it wishes to be environmentally useful, should hold these companies to account, by undermining their profits, and encouraging the development of entirely new sustainable food systems and agriculture.

The Vegan Community Needs Less Consumerism And More Compassion. It needs to put the animals first again. Don’t go shopping, support the building of forests, animal sanctuaries, liberate animals from exploitation - like not buying medicines that are needlessly tested on animals - don't go to zoos, vote for green politicians, refuse to let trees be cut for trains. Put activism over entrepreneurship. And don’t make the excuse that first you will earn money through producing vegan products, and then you will spend it on saving the world.

If vegans would merely replace animal-based production with a vegan market, without challenging the violent logic of capitalism. According to Peter Gelderloos the famous anarchist activist and writer “What if everyone or nearly everyone in wealthy countries adopted a vegan diet? The meat industry would collapse, but other industries and capitalism as a whole would continue, leaving us with the contradiction of a vegan society liberating animals in the limited sense understood by the critique of factory farming, but destroying the environment nonetheless, and all the animals with it”

 “…a world without slaughterhouses could still be a colonialist one, engaging in excessive consumerism that destroys the lives of non-captive animals through habitat destruction and pollution and other forms of environmental devastation.”

Forget focusing just on your own consumption practices, and get onto anti-speciesist politics. What do I mean? Don’t replace cow’s milk with soy or almond milk. Drop all three and put the money into a shelter and a march against the export of meat. The abolition of animal exploitation is part of a wider struggle for social justice.

Imagine if Mahatma Gandhi’s independence struggle had made the wearing of Khadi its sole purpose as a way to defeat the British. We would still have been labouring under British rule.

The struggle has to be a political one. You have no impact if you go the consumer route. The government doesn’t care which lipstick you buy. It will be a thousand years before you, as consumers, make any dent in the lipstick market which has not reduced the number of lipsticks that use beeswax and gelatine but expanded it to meet your lipstick needs. But if you were to make a group that votes determinedly for people who will stop meat export, and shut down slaughterhouses, and legislates on what lipsticks can be in the market, then your veganism would have some meaning.

While becoming vegan is important in the step towards saving the planet, the minute you go looking for "cruelty free underwear", you have lost the battle. You don't need more goods, vegan or otherwise, that deplete resources, pollute ecosystems, fill landfills, and kill free-living nonhumans — you need less of everything.

Veganism is about dismantling a system that depends on the enslavement and abuse of nonhuman lives. If you are to be vegan then be so in every capacity; reducing or eliminating your travel, your reproduction, consumption, waste. You need to be politically informed and active and engaging others, being willing to take a stand and speak out . And you need to rescue animals. 

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

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Health and fitness advisors often emphasise on seafood for muscles, high protein, weight loss etc. Few of them have studied the immense health risks that come with eating seafood.

Mali Ston is an Adriatic Sea coastal town in Croatia, known all over the world for its unique farmed oysters, of which 5 million sell every year. For centuries, rows of oyster-filled underwater farm beds have spread through the bay. An annual oyster tasting feast has tourists pour in. In 2019 they have had to cancel it because the Institute for Marine and Coastal Research in Dubrovnik has detected norovirus in the oysters. The virus has been caused by the sewage from the town pouring in all these years into the bay. Norovirus is a dangerous virus, causing over 20 million illnesses and hundreds of deaths annually. Symptoms, which include chronic vomiting and diarrhoea, can become very severe, very quickly, requiring the need for emergency treatment.

Flame-grilled carp, seasoned with sauces and known as masgoof, is Iraq's national delicacy. Iraq produces 29,000 tonnes of carp each year, grown in farms along the Euphrates river. In 2018, millions of carp died overnight in the fish farms. Samples of the dead fish, the water and sediment, sent to laboratories, confirmed that the fish died of a  virus caused by low temperatures, overstocking of fish farms and polluted river water. Warnings have been issued by the government not to eat carp.

Seafood is responsible for a large proportion of food-borne illnesses. These are caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Chemicals, metals, marine toxins, and infectious agents have been found in seafood. The illnesses caused by these agents range from mild gastroenteritis to life-threatening conditions.

Seafood includes molluscs (e.g., oysters, clams, and mussels), finfish (e.g., salmon and tuna), marine mammals (e.g., seal and whale), fish eggs (roe), and crustaceans (e.g., shrimp, crab, and lobster). Some seafood commodities are inherently more risky than others, depending on the environment from which they come, their mode of feeding and how they are prepared and served. All seafood are susceptible to surface, or tissue, contamination. Bivalve molluscs feed by filtering large volumes of seawater. During this process, they can accumulate and concentrate pathogenic microorganisms. Contamination of seafood by pathogens can occur when areas are contaminated with human sewage. Additionally, seafood may become contaminated during handling, processing, or preparation. Unlike meat and poultry, that are usually fully cooked, seafood is often consumed raw, or prepared in ways that do not kill organisms.

Seafood has been implicated in so many outbreaks of illnesses that data is collected by official agencies in every country. The Food and Veterinary Office of the European Union has initiated a Rapid Alert System for food. The source of danger, and the country of origin, are reported. Between 1992 and November 1997, the 71 seafood alerts from this system represented 42.5 percent of all food alerts. The seafood products implicated mussels, tuna fish products, oysters, squid, raw sole, shrimp, octopus, shellfish, crawfish, scallops, cuttlefish, anchovy, Nile perch, bivalve molluscs, king prawn, salmon, mullet fillets, canned fish, clams. These alerts have doubled and tripled since.

Thirty-three different countries had exported seafood/fish on which an alert was reported. The highest alerts were received on fish sent from India. So you can imagine the state of seafood being sold within India.

34 people died from poisoning by shellfish, and fish in Japan, in the 1475 outbreaks of poisoning ( 33,253 cases) reported between 1987-96.

In Canada 29 different species of fish and shellfish, and/or seafood products, were implicated in seafood-borne illnesses. The top six in number of outbreaks were mussels, clams, tuna, barracuda, and marlin. These six represented 56 percent of the outbreaks. The others were whelk, mahimahi, mackerel, swordfish, crab meat, salmon, oysterss, clams and dips, haddock, halibut, sole fillets, sharks, scallops, pollock, chicken haddie, shrimp, quahogs, kippers and parrotfish/doctorfish. Ten countries, that had exported these fish to Canada, were implicated. India was one of them.

In the United States, from 1973 to 2006, over 500 outbreaks involving thousands of people, have taken place. Forty-nine percent were due to infectious agents generally associated with faecal pollution, and 46 percent were from agents associated with processing and preparation.

Some of the pathogens responsible for sea food infections are:

Vibrio bacteria, which cause outbreaks of gastroenteritis. Symptoms include watery diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting. V. vulnificus is particularly virulent, especially among patients with liver disease and iron storage disorders, who are at increased risk of invasive disease.  Infections can lead to sepsis and severe wound infections. The fatality rate is about 50% for bloodstream infections and 25% for wound infections. In January 2007, vibriosis became a nationally notifiable disease .

Salmonella  bacteria, which cause acute gastroenteritis, with symptoms including diarrhoea, abdominal cramps and fever.  Seafood-associated outbreaks have been caused by fish, shrimp, oysters, and clams.

Shigella bacteria in fish comes from sewage in the water. Clinical manifestations range from watery, loose stools, to more severe symptoms, including fever, abdominal pain and bloody diarrhoea. Complications include seizures in young children, toxic megacolon, Reiter's syndrome, and hemolytic-uremic syndrome.

Clostridium botulinum,  which is characterized by an acute paralysis. Early signs and symptoms of botulism often include twitching, slurred speech, and difficulty in swallowing, progressing to descending weakness and paralysis. Foods identified in outbreak investigations have included fermented or salted seafood, specially salmon and whale.

Other toxin-forming bacteria: Staphylococcusaureus, Clostridium perfringens, and Bacillus cereus can form enterotoxins that cause acute gastrointestinal illness.

Norovirus infection is characterized by diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea, abdominal cramps, headache, myalgias, and low-grade fever. Seafood, harvested from sewage-contaminated waters, has caused large outbreaks of norovirus gastroenteritis.

Hepatitis A virus is the most serious viral infection associated with seafood consumption. It is an acute illness associated with fever, malaise, jaundice, anorexia, and nausea; symptoms may last from several weeks to several months. However, deaths can occur. Outbreaks of hepatitis A virus infections, associated with oysters and clams, have been known since the 1960s. The largest reported outbreak occurred in China in 1988; almost 3,00,000 persons were infected after consuming clams harvested from a sewage-contaminated area.

Helminths: large, worm-like parasites that infect most marine animals. Clinical manifestations, associated with helminthic infections, range from no symptoms, to mild, chronic gastrointestinal symptoms, allergic reactions, and sometimes intestinal perforation. Infections are likely under-diagnosed and underreported, due in part to a lack of routine diagnostic tests.

Some other common seafood-related diseases and infections, around the world, include diarrhoetic shellfish poisoning, paralytic shellfish poisoning, scombroid histamine poisoning, Vibrio cholerae, Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus, Bacillus cereus. Many outbreaks likely go unrecognized and are not investigated.

Contamination through sewage is a very common practice around the world, and especially in India. Overboard sewage discharge into seafood harvest areas, illegal harvesting from sewage-contaminated waters, and sewage runoff from land after heavy rains or flooding, are the many ways in which this happens.

Right from the production phase to packaging, transport and consumption, seafood is likely to be contaminated with bacteria, viruses and fungal infections. Intensive fish farming, which involve massive crowding of fish into pens, has substantially enhanced the incidence of seafood diseases in India and abroad.

At the processing and packaging stage, seafood is often exposed to unhygienic handling by workers, bad storage conditions, irregular temperatures, the addition of preservative compounds. With a heavily globalized food trade, the long journey seafood travels before reaching our plates, drastically increases the chances of it becoming dangerously contaminated.

At the consumption stage seafood is often prepared in ways that do not kill organisms, or even many times eaten undercooked or raw – making it a particularly dangerous food.

It is important that you understand the consequences of seafood consumption. If not for reasons of sustainability and animal welfare, look at seafood in terms of your own immediate health.  People with underlying medical conditions such as liver disease, diabetes, or immuno-suppressing conditions, are at higher risk of acquiring severe infection and should be especially careful.

As the waters grow warmer, sea food will get more and more dangerous to eat.

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Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Yellow fin tuna products sold in the U.S. are being recalled, through an order by the Food and Drug Administration, because they can cause a type of food poisoning called scombroid fish poisoning. This happens when people eat fish that's contaminated with high levels of histamine, a compound that causes allergy like symptoms.

The contamination occurs when the fish are not properly refrigerated and bacteria break down the fish's flesh, resulting in high levels of histamine. Symptoms of scombroid fish poisoning can include a tingling or burning sensation in the mouth, facial swelling, rash, hives and itchy skin, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, flushing of the face, headache, faintness, sometimes with blurring vision, abdominal cramps, wheezing or other breathing problems, a tight feeling in the throat, or a metallic or peppery taste in the mouth. Symptoms of Scombroid poisoning typically begin within 5 to 30 minutes after eating the fish, and last a few hours. In some cases, symptoms can persist for a few days. Sometimes antihistamines can help. In severe cases, a trip to a hospital emergency room is necessary for care with IV fluids, oxygen or other medications and treatments. Histamine poisoning can be life-threatening in persons with conditions such as asthma and heart disease. Symptoms related to histamine poisoning can also be similar to those of coronary heart disease, increasing the possibility of an invasive medical intervention if misdiagnosed. There is insufficient knowledge about it in the medical community in India.

Some kinds of fish contain naturally high levels of the chemical histidine. This chemical is converted to histamine by bacteria. Unrefrigerated, or improperly transported, fish of the families Scombridae and Scomberesocidae (e.g. tuna, mackerel, bonito), are commonly implicated in incidents of histamine poisoning, which leads to the term, "scombroid fish poisoning", to describe this illness. However, certain non-scombroid fish, mahi-mahi, bluefish, and sardines, anchovy, herring when spoiled, are also implicated in histamine poisoning.

Histamine is a naturally occurring compound that helps regulate specific functions of your digestive, nervous, and immune systems. If you’ve ever experienced an allergic reaction, you’re probably familiar with common symptoms associated with elevated histamine levels, such as nasal congestion, itchy skin, headaches, and sneezing. You may also ingest histamine through your diet – it occurs in certain foods like cheese, wine, pickles, and smoked meats.

The Tuna samples, that have caused this recall, had histamine levels above the Food and Drug Administration regulatory level of 50 ppm (levels were between 213 and 3245 ppm). In most cases, the tuna used to prepare burgers and salads was frozen and thawed more than once before serving. Tuna ground for burgers and sandwiches can be susceptible to both, temperature fluctuations and bacterial contamination. Tuna is served raw as sushi , sandwich fillings and salad, and cooked as filets, steaks, burgers. Tuna is canned in oil, brine, water, and  sauces, and used for sandwiches and salads. Some parts of the meat are used as canned pet food. Canning retains any histamines that may have been produced by bacteria.

Tuna is brought to cities from both local and international waters. It is supposed to be refrigerated from the minute it is caught. But most Indian fishermen bring it in the hot sun to port only a few hours later. From there it is supposed to go in refrigerated trucks and this takes 7-14 days. The fish meat is put into freezer bags and stored in freezers for 2 to 4 days until served as salads, steaks, filets or burgers. It is taken out at intervals to be ground into patties, and restored in the cooler until cooked and served. This requires several freezing and thawing cycles. These food-handling practices are common to all restaurants that serve tuna. Inadequate refrigeration, dirty grinders, are some of the problems discovered in restaurants. Histamine poisoning from fish is probably the principal cause of morbidity from toxic fish consumption worldwide.

Histamine development is more likely to occur in raw, unfrozen fish. Because the fish might appear and smell normal, the consumer is unlikely to identify a problem before eating the fish. Once the bacteria have formed the enzyme histidine decarboxylase, histamine production can continue even if the bacteria are killed. The toxins produced are heat stable and, once formed, are not destroyed by cooking, smoking, or freezing.

Tuna are especially vulnerable to temperature fluctuations, because their average body temperature when caught tends to be several degrees warmer than that of other types of fish.  Thin pieces of fish, such as the belly meat used for ground tuna and salads, are more vulnerable to temperature fluctuations. Violation of storage and temperature controls are also more likely with tuna used for salads and burgers, because pieces are stored over a longer period than filets and exposed to multiple thawing and refreezing cycles. The grinding process, used to make tuna burgers, can contaminate the fish by either mixing histamine-forming bacteria into previously uncontaminated material or by increasing the temperature of the tuna through mechanical friction.

Currently, tuna are caught in gill nets, which causes the fish to get bruised and injured when they try to fight their way out. By the time the nets are hauled, and catch sorted, many hours pass after death and histamines build up.

Histamine levels should remain below 100 ppm, which is possible when tuna is frozen immediately after catching, but in tropical countries with poor freezing facilities, levels are known to rise above the acceptable threshold, even if the fish remains above 4 degrees Celsius for five minutes. In India, tuna are sold in the open, with no ice (along with seerfish and mackerel).

Tuna is now being pushed by this government. Till now, most of it was sold in Kerala and Goa and is not among the most preferred species in the domestic market, because it is not traditionally caught.  It is being promoted for domestic customers through the Ocean Partnerships for Sustainable Fisheries and Biodiversity Conservation, a World Bank/GEF-funded project, and  The Bay of Bengal Programme Inter-Governmental Organisation (BOBP-IGO), headquartered in Chennai. The Indian seas, according to the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, have nine species of the fish. But the tuna that are brought in are not maintained well. Indian vessels are relatively small, do not use on-board refrigeration, and depend on ice, which limits the amount of fish that can be properly stored. This is being sought to be changed, so that more tuna can be caught. The object is to compete with the US and France.

But, is this the time to promote a fish that is considered dangerous to health?

Tuna is known for its mercury content. Many fish species carry high levels of the metal mercury — a dangerous contaminant that can affect the nervous system. Pollution has raised mercury levels in our oceans. This mercury is consumed by fish and converted to a toxin known as methylmercury. Fish, like tuna, are high on the food chain. They consume other contaminated fish, compounding their mercury levels.

Children are vulnerable, as their developing nervous systems are particularly vulnerable to mercury’s effects. In March 2004, the United States FDA issued guidelines recommending that pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children, limit their intake of tuna and other predatory fish.  A January 2008 report revealed potentially dangerous levels of mercury in certain varieties of sushi tuna, reporting levels "so high that the Food and Drug Administration could take legal action to remove the fish from the market."

While fish like bass, carp (rohu), cod (gobru), lobster, snapper, have moderate amounts of mercury and are advised to be eaten less than six times a month, and not by pregnant women and children, tuna ranges from medium (Canned Chunk light) to high (less than 3 servings a month) Tuna (Canned Albacore, Yellowfin) to highest mercury (avoid eating) : Shark, Swordfish, Tuna (Ahi). Among those calling for more warnings, about mercury in tuna, is the American Medical Association.

Environmentally tuna is about the worst fish to eat.

Dolphins swim beside several tuna species. Tuna schools associate themselves with dolphins for protection against sharks, which are tuna predators. Commercial fishing vessels exploit this association by searching for dolphin pods. Vessels encircle the pod with nets to catch the tuna. But the nets entangle dolphins, injuring or killing them. 1 million tonnes of tuna are caught annually, but the 'bycatch', which is fish that is discarded because it is not tuna, runs into millions of sharks, turtles and other oceanic fish.

According to the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, Indian Ocean yellow fin tuna, Pacific Ocean bigeye tuna, and North Atlantic albacore tuna, are all overfished. A 2010 tuna fishery assessment report, released in January 2012 by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, supported this finding, recommended that all tuna fishing should be reduced. In 2010, Greenpeace International added the albacore, bigeye, bluefin and yellowfin tuna, to its seafood red list, which are fish in danger of becoming extinct. The bluefin, are now considered by IUCN as critically endangered.

Research shows that increasing ocean temperatures are taking a toll on tuna in the Indian Ocean, where rapid warming of the ocean has resulted in a reduction of marine phytoplankton.

Is tuna what India needs on its plate ? 

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