Our articles on vanaspati ghee brought in a sheaf of letters - of approbation from the public and opprobrium from the manufacturers - naturally. A valued friend has coined nakali (imitation) ghee as the name for this product and we hope this will receive legal sanction as margarine (the word means imitation or nakali butter) has in Europe. An alternative name can be devitalized vegetable oil.
The burden of the battle cry of the manufacturers is stated below with our reactions.
One of the "scientific" minions of the manufacturers writes:
"If one compares vanaspati with cow's ghee, then it is definitely inferior in its food value. However, when vanaspati is compared with the oil from which it is made, then it is definitely a better food article because (1) it has a more palatable taste, and (2) it has better keeping qualities."
This statement is typical of the half truths and suppression of facts on which the manufacturers' case is built up. In dealing with ghee they admit the inferiority of vanaspati in "food value" meaning thereby nutritive value.
While dealing with the oil, the comparison is not on the nutritive value but is shifted to its keeping qualities and taste only, while to the reader "better food article" will convey the idea of nutrition.
Again the comparison is with cotton seed oil or ground-nut oil and not with cocoanut, til or mustard oils which are the commonly used edible oils.
Further the comparison is between the mill pressed oil and not with the cold pressed ghani oil. These statements are evidently calculated to mislead the unwary reader.
The manufacturers have launched out on a widespread, expensive advertising programme, by which they hope to confuse the public. They compare vanaspati to margarine. This comparison is not valid. While vanaspati is prepared from mill-pressed cotton seed or ground-nut oil, margarine is not necessarily prepared from such inferior hydrogenated vegetable oils. The history of its manufacture dates back before hydrogenated oils came to be known. Generally it is made from softer animal fats or from a mixture of animal fats and vegetable oils churned with milk and chilled with ice to give it an appearance of a milk product. Because this animal-fat-based margarine is used widely in Europe and America and "eminent research workers agree unanimously that it is both wholesome and nutritious," it does not follow by any stretch of imagination that vanaspati manufactured from hot processed inferior vegetable oils is also equally nutritious. Why not push the same illogical argument one step further and say, "because ghee is nutritious therefore vanaspati ghee is also nutritious"?
They proceed to compare the price of vanaspati with the price of dairy ghee and claim that it is one-third. A true comparison will be with the price of mill-pressed ground-nut oil. It would then be seen to be about fifty per cent more expensive. We are entitled to ask what additional or proportionate benefit have the manufacturers conferred to impose this heavy tax on the unsuspecting public?
One would think that these manufacturers are liable to be prosecuted for such misleading advertisements under the Defence (sale of goods) Regulations and by the consumers for damages.
In Great Britain cold-pressed olive oil is held in high esteem. In any case cold-pressed oils are better than mill oils. We should have expected the vanaspati manufacturers to prove their claims of superiority over cold-pressed cocoanut, til or mustard oil. Then alone they will have a leg to stand on. If at any time cold pressed oil goes rancid it is not the process that is at fault but the carelessness of the oilmen.
The manufacturers claim that they are meeting the "tremendous shortage in fats in the country". Have they increased the fat content in any way? All they have done is to transform good existing material into a bad and expensive product which will "taste better and keep better".
There are two ways of meeting this shortage: One is by increasing milk production and the other is to increase the production of cold-pressed oils both by stopping export of edible oil seeds and increasing the cultivation of oil seeds.
The Chairman of the Vanaspati Manufacturers Association of India in his letter refers to the apprehension that traces of nickel found in vanaspati may "prove poisonous in the long run" and assures us that:
"they would do no harm as it has been found that human beings can absorb and excrete relatively large quantities of nickel without any ill effects resulting there from,'" and that vegetables which people consume "such as carrots, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, etc. contain much large quantities of nickel than is ever likely to be found invanaspati."
He seems to be innocent of the fact that the nickel in the vegetables is in combination while that in vanaspati is definitely foreign matter. This will make a world of difference in the capacity of the human body to deal with such matter. The one may be excreted while the other may act as a poison.
Again the Chairman makes light of "Col. Sokhey's speculations" based on "two-month old experiments on rats". We are not here to put up a defence on behalf of Sir S. S. Sokhey. He is quite capable of taking care of himself. But when the Chairman goes on to state that "to condemn vanaspati on inconclusive evidence, while the case is officially sub judice is to do a disservice to the country in general and to an important food industry in particular," and calls upon us "to withhold criticism until the Expert Committee publishes its findings," we feel he is applying the safety valve in the wrong place. If 1 am walking through the jungle with a child and the child is picking wild berries to eat and two villagers passing by express differing opinions on the poisonousness of the berries, would I suggest that the child should go on eating the berries while the question of their poisonous nature is sub judice? The prudent course will be to stop the child eating the berries pending satisfactory proof that the berries are wholesome. Similarly, if the Chairman feels the matter is sub judice we submit that the proper course for the manufacturers, on whom the onus of proof would lie, is to immediately stop producing vanaspati until conclusive evidence that it is not harmful is forthcoming. We trust this reasonable course will now be adopted by the vanaspati manufacturers without a legal injunction.