U.S. to curb trans fats by 2018

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that it will seek to eliminate majority of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) from the country’s food supply by 2018. The decision comes after years of lobbying by health advocates and scientists that artificial oils, commonly called “trans fats”, clog arteries and raise the risk of heart disease.

  • The FDA aims to revoke the current status of PHOs as a “generally recognised as safe” food product and reclassify it as a “food additive.” This implies that manufacturers would no longer be able to use the oils in other foods without prior regulator approval.
  • The new policy could prevent as many as 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year in the country.

Trans fats:

Trans fatty acids (TFAs) or Trans fats are the most harmful type of fats which can have much more adverse effects on our body than any other dietary constituent. These fats are largely produced artificially but a small amount also occurs naturally. Thus in our diet, these may be present as Artificial TFAs and/ or Natural TFAs.

  • Artificial TFAs are formed when hydrogen is made to react with the oil to produce fats resembling pure ghee/butter.
  • In our diet the major sources of artificial TFAs are the partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (PHVO)/vanaspati/ margarine while the natural TFAs are present in meats and dairy products, though in small amounts.
  • The most common dietary source of Trans fats is the partially hydrogenated vegetable fat commonly known as ‘Vanaspati Ghee’/Margarine.
  • Since partially hydrogenated vegetable fat (Vanaspati/Margarine) is rather high in TFA, all food items prepared, baked or fried by using Vanaspati/Margarine contain TFA. These include: Cakes and Pastries; Patty, Rusk; Fried Aloo Chaat , AlooTikki (prepared in ‘Vanaspati’), Sweets (Mithai) (prepared in ‘Vanaspati’), Cookies / biscuits, French fries, Potato chips, Bhatura, Samosa, Parantha, etc.

Harmful effects:

  • TFAs pose a higher risk of heart disease than saturated fats. While saturated fats raise total cholesterol levels, TFAs not only raise total cholesterol levels but also reduce the good cholesterol (HDL), which helps to protect us against heart disease.
  • Trans fats consumption increases the risk of developing heart disease and stroke.
  • It is also associated with a higher risk of developing obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, infertility, certain types of cancers and can also lead to compromised fetal development causing harm to the yet to be born baby.

Why they are increasingly being used?

  • TFA containing oils can be preserved longer, they give the food the desired shape and texture and can easily substitute ‘Pure ghee’. F
  • These are comparatively far lower in cost and thus add to profit/saving.

Sources: The Hindu, PIB, Wiki.


India Signs Legal Agreement with the World Bank

The Loan and Project Agreements for World Bank (IBRD) assistance of US$ 400 million for Tamil Nadu Sustainable Urban Development Project were signed between the Government of India/ Government of Tamil Nadu and World Bank recently.

  • The objective of the project is to improve urban services in participating Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) in a financially sustainable manner and to pilot improved urban management practices in selected cities.
  • The total project size is US$ 600 million, out of which World Bank support is US$ 400 million.

The project consists of following three main components:

  • Investment in Urban Services: The project will support improvement in range of urban services, including water, sewerage, municipal solid waste, urban transportation, sewerage management and storm water drainage. The project also envisages creation of a reserve fund to provide credit enhancements for municipal bonds and other market based Loan instruments issued by ULBs.
  • Result Based Grants for Urban Governance: The project will provide results-based grants to eligible ULBs to implement new urban-management models that strengthen governance and financial sustainability.
  • Urban Sector Technical Assistance: The project will support strengthening the capacity of ULBs and urban sector officials.

Sources: PIB.

U.S. passes NSA surveillance reform

President Barack Obama recently signed into law, the first reform in a decade limiting the sweeping powers of the National Security Agency to conduct surveillance on millions of citizens’ telephone conversations.


  • The USA Freedom Act is now operational after the US Patriot Act, the post-9/11 measure permitting mass global surveillance by the NSA on an unprecedented scale, expired on May 31st, 2015 at midnight after attempts to extend it were blocked by Republican Senators.
  • The USAFA represents the first major reform to the NSA’s mass surveillance of global communications that has been effected since whistleblower and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed the full extent of the spying programmes to the world in 2013, even though many called for further reform pointing out that spying on foreigners was untouched by this bill.
  • The Patriot Act’s expiration effectively brought to an end the NSA’s bulk dragnet collection of telephone metadata relating to American citizens, executed under the Act’s notorious Section 215, and that included information on who called whom when, but not the actual content of the call.
  • However, the USAFA still required such metadata collection by the major telecom companies of the U.S., and authorities may access the information only with a warrant from the shadowy Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court, after the NSA identifies a specific person or group of people suspected of terror ties.

Sources: The Hindu.

India raises with U.S. arms sale to Pak.

India and the US have signed a new strategically important 10-year defence framework pact envisaging joint development and manufacture of defence equipment and technology including jet engines, aircraft carrier design and construction.

  • Both sides also finalised two project agreements for hi-tech mobile power source and next generation protective suits for chemical and biological warfare.


  • The framework agreement was decided during the visit of US President Barack Obama to India in January and focuses on issues ranging from maritime security and joint training.
  • The new Framework agreement provides avenues for high level strategic discussions, continued exchanges between armed forces of both countries, and strengthening of defence capabilities.
  • The two countries have also agreed to pursue co-development and co-production projects that will offer tangible opportunities for American defence industries to build partnership with the Indian industries including in manufacturing under ‘Make in India’.
  • Framework also recognises the transformative nature of the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI). DTTI is an important element of the Defence Agreement. The first framework agreement, which expires this year, was signed in the US in 2005 by the then Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee and his then US counterpart Donald Rumsfeld.

Sources: The Hindu.

Republican Nebraska bans death penalty

Nebraska has become the first ‘red State’ since 1973 to abolish the death penalty after state legislators banded together to overrule a veto by Governor Pete Ricketts.

  • With this decision, Nebraska becomes the 19th US state to abolish capital punishment.
  • Capital Punishment is still legal in 31 states, but there are about 10 in which a moratorium on executions has been imposed.

nebraska location

The abolition of capital punishment in Nebraska is especially significant given that it is the first conservative state to do so in more than 40 years and it comes at a moment in which the appropriateness of the death penalty is being increasingly questioned.

Nebraska lies in both the Great Plains and the Midwestern United States. Its largest city is Omaha, which is on the Missouri River. The state has more underground water reserves than any other state in the continental U.S.

Sources: The Hindu, Wiki.

U.S. sounds caution as India inks port deal with Iran

India and Iran recently signed an inter-Governmental Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) regarding India’s participation in the development of the Chabahar Port in Iran.

  • With the signing of this MoU, Indian and Iranian commercial entities will now be in a position to commence negotiations towards finalisation of a commercial contract under which Indian firms will lease two existing berths at the port and operationalise them as container and multi-purpose cargo terminals.

Concerns raised by the US:

However, the US has cautioned India against rushing in with investments as the nuclear deal being negotiated was not final and said there was need to maintain the international solidarity that has brought this hard fought diplomatic victory.

Why is India interested in Chabahar Port?

  • Chabahar is located close to the strategic Persian Gulf. It will impart significant strategic leverage to India giving it access to Afghanistan and to the energy-rich Central Asia bypassing Pakistan. It also cuts down transit time by a third accruing significant time and cost savings.

Further plans:

India, which has invested over $2 billion in Afghanistan, plans to link the Chabahar port with the Zaranj-Delaram road, the garland highway, India built in Afghanistan by upgrading the Chabahar-Milak road opening alternative access to sea port for Afghanistan’s connectivity to regional and global markets. India has already committed $100 million to develop the port.

The Chabahar deal has been long pending due to U.S. pressure on India in light of the severe sanctions imposed on Iran.

Sources: The Hindu, Wiki.

Messenger crashes into Mercury

NASA’s Messenger spacecraft has crashed into the surface of Mercury (बुध), ending its historic 11-year mission that provided valuable data and thousands of images of the planet.



  • Messenger, launched on August 3, 2004, began orbiting Mercury on March 18, 2011.
  • The spacecraft completed its primary science objectives by March 2012.
  • It was the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury.
  • Because Messenger’s initial discoveries raised important new questions and the payload remained healthy,
  • The mission was extended twice.
  • With no way to increase its altitude, Messenger was unable to resist the perturbations to its orbit by the sun’s gravitational pull and slammed into Mercury’s surface at around 14,000 kmph, creating a crater up to 52 feet wide.
  • The MESSENGER mission was designed to study the characteristics and environment of Mercury from orbit.

Sources: The Hindu, NASA.