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8 March, 2019 00:00 00 AM

How safe is the milk we drink?

Along with the dangerous impact on public health, adulteration of milk and any other food is undermining the trust of the people in the state
Syed Mehdi Momin
How safe is the milk we drink?

Milk has always been considered as one of the most wholesome food. Milk and dairy products feature regularly in our diets. In the Old Testament we read about the Promised Land described by God as a land flowing with milk and honey. Milk's special significance in Hinduism goes back to mythology and the legend of the Samudra manthan, the churning of the ocean that brought forth the drink of immortality, the amrit, and also the goddess Kamdhenu, which manifested itself as a wish-granting divine cow. Hindus, who make up 81 percent of India's 1.3 billion people, consider cows to be sacred embodiments of Kamdhenu. Krishna worshippers have special affection for cows because of the Hindu god's role as a cowherd. Stories about his love of butter are legendary.

 Milk is one food that mothers will insist that their children consume on a daily basis, and has long been accepted as an integral component of a child’s healthy upbringing.  Ever for adults mild has numerous benefits. Milk is extremely high in calcium; one cup (250 mL) of two per cent milk contains 302 mg (the RDI, or recommended daily intake, for women age 19 to 50 is 1,000 mg a day). And it contains a number of other vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, potassium, zinc, vitamins A and K, and most of the B vitamins. Plus, milk in Canada is fortified with vitamin D, which can otherwise be hard for us to come by in our northern climate-since sunshine is the main source. Vitamin D is required to help you absorb calcium through your intestinal wall, and calcium helps to build up the bones. If you don’t have a proper balance of those two nutrients, it leads to osteoporosis. Milk is also packed with protein, points out Nielsen.A cup has nine grams of protein, which is a lot. That’s more than two slices of chicken or turkey breast, which has eight grams. And chocolate milk is being called the new sports drink because it’s loaded with more carbohydrates and electrolytes than white milk, and it contains protein for muscle repair.

Now adulteration of food in different forms is hardly a new phenomenon in Bangladesh. And milk has also been adulterated for ages. Most milkmen have always water with milk to increase the volume. Later we had reports of other adulterants mixed with milk. Water thins the milk but other adulterants make it appear thick. Adulterants like salt, detergents and glucose add to the thickness and viscosity of the diluted milk while starch prevents its curdling. So non-water adulterants make it difficult for a consumer to suspect that the milk is diluted or adulterated.

Even more alarmingly when there is high level of contaminants in the country’s milk and dairy products, suddenly, this issue becomes that much more serious.

In a survey conducted by the National Food Safety Laboratory, it was found that as much as 96 per cent of all the samples tested had microbial contaminants, including lead and other toxins. The study also detected high levels of chromium in cow feeds. Besides, it found excessive presence of pesticide, antibiotic and bacteria in raw cow milk. Heavy metals found in milk basically came from cattle feeds, while pesticide is present because of its excessive use in grass and other agricultural feed.

Health professionals say that consumption of these contaminants can put people’s lives at risk through liver and kidney problems, and even increase the chances of cancer. As a matter of fact concerns about the milk we consumed were expressed even earlier. In the middle of the previous year researchers at the ICDDR,B have revealed disturbing findings about the commercially pasteurised milk, the primary source of nutrition for children in Bangladesh. The  researchers stated that at every stage of the dairy value chain - from the farm to store - milk is found to be “highly contaminated with bacteria” well above national and international standards. However, this can only be dangerous if consumed raw or unboiled, which is often the case in Bangladesh. The researchers found 72 per cent samples from primary-level producers were contaminated with coliform and 52 percent with faecal coliform bacteria. They also found 11 percent of these samples were contaminated with high amount of E coli. The faecal coliform bacteria is considered as a hygiene indicator and its presence in the milk indicates that the milk has been contaminated with pathogens or disease-producing bacteria or viruses. These can also exist in faeces of warm-blooded animals, meaning the role of milking animal or the farmers may also be blamed for this. At the collection points, samples were found contaminated with a high number of coliform bacteria and faecal contamination of 91 percent while more than 40 percent of the samples had a high E coli count. At the chilling plants, collected samples were found to be contaminated even at a higher rate than those of collection points.

Even more concerning is the fact that the scientists found about 77 percent of all pasteurised milk samples had a high level of total bacterial counts, which was beyond the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution or BSTI standards. The researchers found 37 percent of the same samples contaminated with coliform and 15 percent with faecal coliform bacteria. Pasteurisation is done to kill pathogenic bacteria to make the milk safe to consume. Both the national and international standards have zero tolerance for faecal coliforms in pasteurised milk. Reasons behind this unethical action include; gap in supply and demand of milk, its perishable nature, low purchasing capability of customers and lack of proper detection methods. These reasons paved the way for its adulteration, which could pose serious threat to the health of the consumers. This situation is going to be worse in underdeveloped countries especially Bangladesh because of the lack of adequate law enforcement and monitoring methods.

In any case Bangladeshis are drinking milk way less than the required level. While annual per capita milk consumption in Bangladesh and Pakistan stood at 90 litres and 190 litres respectively, it was a meagre 18 litres in Bangladesh.

It is the duty of authorities to ensure availability of safe and pure milk for its citizens. They should take measures to conduct a collaborative nation-wide screening of all the available milk samples to generalise the results. The role of print and electronic media in highlighting this issue is also appreciable. There is a need of a dedicated operational laboratory and research centre with modern equipment and state of art facilities that would be responsible for quality assurance of milk and certification of milk selling companies. In short, an effective inter-departmental collaboration supported by community and backed by the government is required to tackle this serious public health issue. Otherwise, there is a strong likelihood that adulterated milk might serve as a cause of epidemic of different diseases in near future.

On one hand, if pure milk ensures healthy growth and nourishment then on the other hand, adulterated milk causes morbidity and serious health outcomes. It has been reported that the milk sellers in were found to be involved in mixing milk with contaminated water, harmful chemicals, detergent powder, pharmaline and urea. Apart from that it has also been reported that milk is stored and transferred in barrels that are usually used for transportation of chemicals. In this serious crime of adulteration, not only domestic dealers are involved but many notable companies are also engaged.

Milk is filled with nine essential nutrients that benefit our health:

•    Calcium: Builds healthy bones and teeth; maintains bone mass

•    Protein: Serves as a source of energy; builds/repairs muscle tissue

•    Potassium: Helps maintain a healthy blood pressure

•    Phosphorus: Helps strengthen bones and generate energy

•    Vitamin D: Helps maintain bones

•    Vitamin B12: Maintains healthy red blood cells and nerve tissue

•    Vitamin A: Maintains the immune system; helps maintain normal vision and skin

•    Riboflavin (B2): Converts food into energy

•    Niacin: Metabolizes sugars and fatty acids

In other words, milk packs quite a punch when it comes to nutrition—and you don't have to drink a gallon to reap the benefits. In fact, the council says that just one 8-ounce glass of milk provides the same amount of vitamin D you'd get from 3.5 ounces of cooked salmon, as much calcium as 2 1/4 cups of broccoli, as much potassium as a small banana, as much vitamin A as two baby carrots and as much phosphorus as a cup of kidney beans! To get the full benefits of milk, including the nine essential nutrients, the USDA says adults should consume three servings of milk (or cheese or yogurt) each day. A serving size is 1 cup of milk or yogurt, 1.5 ounces of natural cheese or 2 ounces of processed cheese. So, go ahead—drink your milk. It's good for you.

The dynamics of the Bangladeshi dairy industry is very different from that of more developed countries. While in developed markets, dairy companies depend on an ecosystem of large corporate dairy farms and most procurement is done from few large farms, in Bangladesh, dairying is still largely seen as an instrument of social and economic development. A huge portion of the industry remains unorganised. The milk supply comes from millions of small producers based in rural areas who have an average of one or two milch animals comprising cows and/or buffaloes.

Another specific dynamic is the phenomena of vendors collecting milk from local producers and selling it in both urban and rural areas. What this translates into is inefficiencies in the supply chain where a large portion of milk produced does not adhere to basic standards of hygiene and is unfit for consumption. Considering that over 80 per cent of milk consumption in Bangladesh is liquid milk, it can pose serious health risks. Un-chilled and unpasteurised milk can produce disease-causing germs and bacteria.

To ensure that the Bangladeshi dairy industry grows in a healthy, sustainable manner it is important to assess each element in the supply chain and modernise it with a focus on creating toxin free and antibiotic safe, high quality milk. At the start of the supply chain, attention needs to be paid to managing and rearing cattle, and providing farms with the right kind of cattle feed. The next step involves processing and cold chain infrastructure. Some of the processing units have become obsolete and need to be revitalised. Again, since it is not feasible to transport raw milk beyond 200 km, it is important that multiple sourcing, processing and distribution points be set up to maintain the quality and shelf-life of milk. Quality-friendly technologies such as the Bulk Milk Coolers (BMC) model would be an answer to the lacuna in the industry since it brings down the time taken to collect milk to around 45 minutes as opposed to the 2-3 hours for a typical central chilling/cold storage model, thus lowering bacteria formation.

Building processing units and last-mile linkages is another important area in the supply chain that will benefit stakeholders across the supply chain and ensure that milk, which is an important part of the Bangladeshi diet, remains a source of safe, wholesome goodness.

Along with the dangerous impact on public health adulteration of milk and any other food is undermining the trust of the people in the state. The only way to stop food adulteration is strict punishment for the offenders which will act as a deterrent. In Bangladesh there is provision of ‘maximum’ jail term of seven years. When lives of the people are endangered fines and imprisonments are not enough for the adulterators. There should be provision for stringent punishments like confiscation of property, life imprisonment, etc. Punishments needs also be given to the dishonest officials who collaborate with them In the West and other developed countries, they have enacted stringent policies laws which are implemented strictly.

Take the example of China, the emerging superpower for instance. A few years back a few Chinese children died after consuming adulterated milk powder. A harmful and banned substance, melamine, was found in the powdered milk. Naturally China’s image took a serious beating in the global arena and tarnished. After this incident the Chinese government gave discretionary powers to the judges to award maximum penalty for food adulterers including strictest possible punishment.

 We believe that that Bangladesh’s dairy companies should have end-to-end compliance of hygienic milking practices, collection and delivery, preservation and pasteurisation practices to ensure safe and nutritious milk for all. Maintenance of seamless cold chain throughout the distribution channel of pasteurised milk from factory to consumer’s table is also critical for ensuring safe milk for


The situation mirrors that in neighbouring country India, where over two-thirds of all milk and dairy products were found to be in violation of national safety standards last year, although the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) later insisted that the situation was ‘not serious at all’.

Unfortunately in Bangladesh several laws regarding adulteration have been enacted and more are in the offing but implementation is lacking. The results are all too evident.

The writer is Senior Assistant Editor of The Independent



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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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