China, once a sleeping tiger, seemed to awaken in the last few years to be perceived a juggernaut in the multibillion-dollar world of food processing. Then the "most favored nation" began to have its dirty laundry discovered in wave after wave of scandal. The execution of its director of the State Food and Drug Administration, Zheng Xiaoyu, (see "Heads Should Roll") hasn't stopped the run of outrages, revealed one after another. Two more Chinese officials in charge of food and drug safety have also received the death penalty for crimes such as Zheng's and others have received life sentences.
The cast of the horror ingredient contaminations Zheng and his ilk collected bribes to pass includes (according to various sources): the widely reported melanine in pet food and seafood; contaminated rice; pesticide-infested vegetables; beer laced with formaldehyde; prunes tinted with chemical dyes not approved for human consumption; frozen shrimp preserved with the carcinogen nitrofuran; mushrooms that had been sprayed with illegal and dangerous pesticides; contaminated vitamin C; and toothpaste and cough medicine tainted with the deadly solvent diethylene glycol.
According to a recent Reuters article, the $80 billion worth of imported foods reported by the U.S. International Trade Commission involve ingredients from more than 100 countries, including developing countries in Asia and Africa. It's no secret many of these locales have less than adequate control over processing, packaging and shipping conditions.
Luckily, China isn't the only Asian food and food-ingredient giant. Tiny Israel (the entire country could fit inside Lake Michigan) is geographically on the far western edge of Asia, but it is light years away in modernity. This country of fewer than 7 million is a source of the latest advancements in nutraceuticals and food-ingredient technology.
Israel has been a global tech leader for decades. Most aviation, communications and medical technology advances of the past decade have come out of this "Silicon Valley of the Middle East." And when it comes to agricultural leaps, well, Israelis are well known for making the desert bloom and turning mosquito-ridden swamps into lush forests and fertile farmland.
Working from both sides of agronomy, so to speak, Israelis developed fruits and vegetables that sip water and deliver increased nutrition, while coaxing previously barren land to accept and grow such produce. The archetype could probably be the Lycored tomato, by Lycored Industries, Be'er Sheva. It's a tomato that contains four times the amount of the powerful carotenoid antioxidant, lycopene, as is found in regular tomatoes and is grown in the blistering hot and dry Negev desert.
As the "little country that could," Israel scores high marks for security. Plants are protected by trained (usually armed) guards. Top-notch protection of proprietary information is the paradigm and nearly all personnel have been trained by the most advanced military disciplines in the world. This is because Israel requires mandatory military service for both men and women and has, per capita, the largest standing defensive army in the world. If only our own plants were protected as well!
Where China just announced the shutdown of hundreds of food processing plants -- a drop in the bucket of the thousands it has cranking out a quarter of a trillion dollars in product each year -- Israel is building or expanding its food- and ingredient-processing industry in leaps and bounds. So much so the country now is a leader in the production and supply of a diverse menu of ingredients such as fructose, glucose, starch, citric acid, minerals, antioxidants, herbal extracts, soy proteins, meat analogues and ready-to-eat vegetarian meals.
For instance, the Galam Group Ltd. (www.galam.co.il), Kibbutz Ma'anit, provides most of the fructose, glucose, and starch for Europe. Galam has grown into a global presence, with facilities in Europe, Asia and its offshoot, Enzymotec lipids (www.enzymotec.com), about to open a new facility in New Jersey.
The aforementioned Lycored (www.lycored.com) is the world leader in natural lycopene, as well as other carotenoid antioxidants. Gadot Biochemical Industries Ltd. (www.gadotbio.com), Haifa, is a major supplier of citric acid, citrate salts, phosphate salts and mineral fortifiers (such as calcium citrate, calcium phosphate, magnesium citrate and zinc citrate). It does big fructose business, too.
Two Israeli companies -- one domestic, one located in Slovenia -- have a strong lock on the rosemary antioxidant market. Rad Natural Technologies (www.rad-int.com), in the Tel Aviv suburb of Petah Tikva, is best known for its Origanox line of rosemary, sage and melissa extracts. These provide a dual antioxidant benefit by protecting processed foods from spoilage and increasing shelf life, while also imparting the health benefits of reduced cancers and heart disease risk. The extracts are also powerful antimicrobials.
Although he sited Vitiva SI (www.vitiva.si) in Markovci in Slovenia, far away from his homeland, Israeli Ohad Cohen rapidly grew it into the largest natural rosemary extract producer in Europe. The company's different product lines, such as INOLENS, SyneROX and AquaROX, each tailored to specific uses, ranging from stabilization of carotenoids, tomato-based products and paprika oleoresins to protecting polyunsaturated fatty acids from oxidative degradation.