STRAIGHT TALK

An article in the daily Dawn ‘What are we drinking in the name of milk?’ by Faraz Khan (https://www.dawn.com/news/1321371) states that the problem of adulteration and contamination of milk begins at the stage of collection. But that is not the only issue in the dairy sector.

In reality, the basic purpose of a fat content test is to set the price of the milk supplied by the farmers according to the level of the fat content. To the disadvantage of the end-consumer, milk is poured into a chiller many times before any quality checks are run on it. Murtaza chooses not to reply when asked how milk with varying protein levels will get homogenized in the chiller.

At ‘immobile’ collection points, water is often available for the personal hygiene of any staff working in the establishment. But not at mobile chillers — here, hygiene and milk quality both take a beating. Such unhygienic conditions can be seen at almost all small milk collection points set up by middlemen who connect milk producers from rural areas with milk sellers (including corporate entities) or directly with consumers in cities and towns, particularly Lahore.

But the great public concern here is that almost 80 percent of the total milk procured from dairy farmers is collected by these middlemen. In other words, 80 percent of the milk collected is impure and unfit at its source.

To the misfortune of the dairy sector and the public at large, there are no national hygiene standards for the milk chain. As such, from milking an animal to the delivery of the produce to the end-consumers, there is no existing mechanism to implement and monitor standards adopted by private operators.

The milk extracted from diseased animals is neither spilt nor stored separately; rather it is mixed into the milk obtained from healthy animals. This contaminates the entire produce.

On December 27, 2016, a report was filed by the Punjab Food Authority in the Supreme Court’s Lahore registry, which claimed that the milk packaged by Haleeb, Accha Milk, Al-Fazl Food, Doce, Al-Fajr Food are all unfit for human consumption. The dossier submitted reported that Haleeb’s milk contained formalin, a chemical used to preserve dead bodies, as well as sugarcane juice.

Subsequently, on January 30, 2017, the science and technology minister revealed more details of the enquiry against adulterated milk. Six brands in the ultra-high temperature processing (UHT) category, including Olper’s, Nestlé MilkPak, Day Fresh, Good Milk, Nurpur Original and Haleeb Full Cream were examined.

Barring Haleeb, the others were found safe. Samples from 10 pasteurised milk brands were also examined, including Anhar Milk, Daily Dairy, Doce Milk, Gourmet Milk, Nurpur, Nutrivi, Al-Fajar, Accha Milk, Prema Milk and Adams. Of these, only Prema Milk was deemed safe for consumption.

While the PFA report presents a gloomy picture of the dairy industry, it is worth investigating why most of the milk that is collected by various companies and sellers is unhygienic or unfit for consumption.

The problem compounds at collection and transportation stages. Besides personal hygiene, the cleanliness of cans used to carry milk from dairy farms to collection point(s), as well as that of chillers used for hauling milk to end-consumers are also very important matters.

At this stage, preservatives and caustic soda etc are added to the milk in an attempt to enhance its shelf-life. “Urea and vegetable oil are used to improve gravity or protein level in milk. These additives become health hazards,” says the professor.

Contamination at source is merely one part of adulteration in milk. More contamination is caused when this milk reaches towns, where dirty shops and lack of personal hygiene by those handling the milk for onward delivery add to the impurities being carried forward.

However, some private companies, including Nestlé, took the initiative on their own to mitigate the problems. Along with Engro Foods (Olper’s), a major portion of the 20 percent market share in milk collection goes to Nestlé (MilkPak), which takes credit for conducting around 28 tests to check the quality of milk and various contaminants at each of their 3,200 chillers installed in villages, close to farmers/suppliers’ doorstep, and at laboratories at their main plant in Okara.

Indeed, Nestlé has been the oldest corporate player in Punjab. Its move to enter villages is at least a decade old. As part of a layered strategy, Nestlé first involved local communities in milk collection, thereby gaining trust among dairy farmers and removing the need to sell to a middleman.

Nestlé gives competitive rates to dairy farmers and removes the hassle of taking the milk to a middleman who is often situated away from the village. The milk rejected by Nestlé often makes its way to middlemen accepting inferior-grade milk.

Dairy farmers bring milk in small quantities to Nestlé’s milk collection points. Here it is tested for quality and various adulterants, measured, and chilled to a temperature where it can last longer than it otherwise would. It is then dispatched to the main factory for processing and packaging.

Nestlé’s direct outreach to farmers has improved the quality of milk supplied and they have also been able to work with dairy farmers on building capacity, on animal surroundings and dietary needs.

Another issue, particularly significant at dairy farms around metropolises such as Lahore and Karachi, is the use of oxytocin injections to get higher yield from milch animals. In developed countries, only qualified and licenced veterinarians are allowed to use the injection. This is because trained professionals can maintain a proper ratio between the drug dosage and the health of the animal. But in Pakistan, the drug is available over-the-counter without any hindrance and the Milk Sellers and Suppliers Association Punjab admits to the use of the injection by its members presumably without any checks and controls.

The association chairman acknowledges that the drug causes premature menstruation in girls and also results in growth of facial hair. He demands the government put a ban on the import of oxytocin but would not go so far as to say if his organisation would also command its members to stop using the injection.

About the use of blue plastic cans for transporting milk, he says that association members across Punjab have been notified that these cans are injurious to health and that the body would not object to the government imposing penalties on milkmen using blue plastic cans.

But more on the Milky Poison next week.

                   (Email. trust@helplinetrust.org.pk)