Milk as a complete food is inescapable from our daily life. It is important for the growth of bones as well as for blood clotting, nerves and muscle functions.
As a calcium-rich diet it is particularly important between the ages of 11-15, to prevent osteoporosis, a disease, in which bones become fragile and become likely to break.
Osteoporosis can also lead to other complications like stunted height and a hunched back due to of collapsing of bones in the spinal region.
The adulteration of milk with water not only lowers its quality but can lead to a number of health problems related to potential waterborne diseases.
The use of detergents for adulteration purposes can cause food poisoning and other gastrointestinal complications. Its high alkaline level can also damage body tissue and destroy proteins.
Other synthetic components used can cause impairments, heart problems, cancer or even death.
The immediate effect of drinking milk adulterated with urea, caustic soda and formalin is gastroenteritis, vomiting, nausea while the long- term effects are more severe.
Caustic soda is harmful for kidneys also and can prove fatal for people suffering from hypertension and heart diseases. Formalin can cause more severe damage to the body, such as liver damage. The health impact of drinking milk adulterated with these chemicals is worse for children.
Pakistan is the 3rd largest milk producing country in the world but the sector has not developed to its maximum potential.
Only 3-4% of total milk produced is processed through formal dairy industry and marketed through formal channels; the remaining 96% to 97% reaches end users through traditional middlemen (known as Gawala or Dhodis), acting as key players in the milk supply chain.
While collecting and delivering milk these traditional milk sellers find ample opportunity to adulterate the milk to increase its quantity and to make financial gain.
Interestingly, they use sophisticated adulterants hard to detect by the milk processors. This wide spread milk adulteration has enormous social, economic and health implications.
Presently the Pure Food Rules of 1965, the Cantonment Pure Food Rules of 1967 (for military areas), and parts of the Pakistan Penal Code of 1860 are applicable to the dairy industry along with other food items.
The Punjab government has taken the lead amongst the provinces by introducing the Pure Food Laws 2007 and Food Safety Standards Act 2011.
The above legislative and regulatory measures legislate for the dairy industry, including milk marketing and adulteration, in Pakistan. But the ground situation tells that there are other complimentary steps also need to be taken to curb this menace.
The need to establish milk adulteration prevention legislation framework in Pakistan is becoming necessary for provision of pure milk to Pakistani citizens.
Considering the health perils faced by over 180 million Pakistanis due to widespread and ever increasing milk adulteration, Plan International, Pakistan has initiated a campaign for milk anti-adulteration laws. A policy draft has been prepared for the adoption of the Government of Punjab.
The overall objective of this policy brief is to make milk safer for consumers by curbing adulteration at every level of the milk value chain. Emphasizing the need of prevention of milk adulteration, Rashid Javed, Country Director Plan Pakistan, says that the initiative will not only ensure quality milk but have long term economic, health and social positive implications for consumers.
The Pakistan dairy industry in general is constrained by a number of major issues: low productivity, seasonality in milk supply, a patchy distribution system, the absence of cold chains, and unhygienic handling at farm and middleman level, leading to poor milk quality and the inability to meet international standards.
All these issues need to be addressed before we think of checking the milk adulteration. The corruption, inefficiency, and lack of political will to implement the legislation complicate the issue.
According to Plan Pakistan, the adoption of the milk anti-adulteration policy will ensure increase investment in the sector and will create additional spillover of economic activity in terms of promotion of local manufacturing of dairy equipment and machinery, resulting in increased labour demand.
Additional jobs will be created at the village level through increased demand for milk technicians, chiller mechanics and vehicle drivers/contractors.
The policy will also strengthen technical capacities of laboratory staff in all districts, including activation and support of relevant Government department for enforcing regularity measures.
The entire milk chain needs to be modernized by setting up cooling chain infrastructure and provision of trainings to the milk producing farmers on modern farming and animal husbandry practices.
The Punjab Food Safety Act 2011 that introduces a rigorous punishment for adulteration must be enforced in letter and spirit. Districts should be equipped with laboratories to detect adulteration in milk and dairy products.
Veterinary officers should be empowered to collect milk samples from urban and rural areas and take action. There must be frequent sampling and testing of milk at farms, collection and sale units operated by the contractors.
There is a need to introduce licensing system for those involved in the milk business including traditional milk sellers, and contractors.
Milk processors should introduce incentives for the farmers and supplier to supply quality milk without adulteration. The relevant government departments should be provided with trained human resources to keep an effective check on the whole business.
Milk storage as ice blocks in the ice factories and cold stores should be instantly banned because malpractice has serious health implications.