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Milk safety: A growing health concern.

Byline: Amna Naveed Butt

'We give you drink from what is in

their bellies - between excretion and blood - pure milk, palatable to drinkers.'

-Quran 16:66

Milk is a complete meal, if pure, bestowed upon the mankind from The Creator. There are several nutrients in milk that help in the nourishment and growth of infants. Not only as a child we drink milk but also as adult we continue its consumption. Milk provides nine essential nutrients which include calcium, potassium, phosphorus, protein, vitamin A, D and B12, riboflavin and niacin (niacin equivalents). Milk and milk products provide a wealth of nutrition benefits. This nutrition-rich fluid is used to make various dairy products. Butter, cheese, yoghurt, cream are some of the main dairy products consumed worldwide.

Milk and milk products are important components of a healthy diet. The US Department of Agriculture recommends people consume 2-3 servings of dairy products daily. Adding these products in diet helps in the prevention of various diseases, such as obesity, hypertension, and diabetes, and they are a source of calcium-important for growing bones and the prevention of osteoporosis.

However, despite of the nutritional value, safety is something we should all pay attention to. Raw milk contains harmful bacteria (pathogens) which can cause milkborne illnesses if not treated before drinking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 1993 through 2012, there were 127 outbreaks linked to raw milk or raw milk products like ice cream, soft cheese, or yogurt. They resulted in 1,909 illnesses and 144 hospitalizations. Milk can be contaminated at any stage in the production-to-consumption continuum.

Pasteurization is a process which involves heating milk to high temperatures to kill harmful bacteria that can cause illness. Moreover, Food and Drug Association also suggests that consumers should only drink pasteurized milk as it reduces the risk of any illness caused by unhealthy bacteria in milk. The presence of unhealthy bacteria in milk can be due to poor milking hygiene or any infection in mammary gland of the mammal. Pasteurization not only helps kill bacteria but it also improves the safety and increases the shelf life of milk by destroying the spoilage organisms.

Pasteurized milk is preferred worldwide due to its health benefits. Sale of unpasteurized milk is illegal in several countries as it is considered a threat to public health. A number of states in US have passed state laws and banned the sale of unpasteurized milk. Canada and UK also have laws regarding the selling of unpasteurized milk. Turkey made pasteurization of milk mandatory and banned the sale of loose milk. This step immensely improved country's economy and contributed to its GDP.

Milkborne illnesses are a great threat to Pakistan as well but its cause is not merely unpasteurized milk. However, its solution surely is pasteurization. According to a 2011 report issued by the Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nation, Pakistan's annual milk production in 2008 was approximately 42 million tonnes which makes it one of the largest milk producing countries in the world. Despite being a huge milk producer, most of the milk produced is not fit for human consumption. According to a report of national institutions, 70% of the milk produced in the country is adulterated. This percentage mostly constitutes of loose milk which is sold at shops in plastic bags.

It's easy to add adulterants in loose milk as there are no rules and regulations to keep a check on it. Loose milk is brought to big cities from the outskirts in both large and small scale. From dairy farm to milk seller's shop, there is no record of milk production, supply and selling. Non-traceability factors higher the chance of adulteration in this white-fluid.

Milk adulteration is a growing health risk in Pakistan. Milk, in its pure form, is a nutrient enriched liquid but due to addition of hazardous adulterants, it loses its value. The adulterants added in milk can cause serious health issues to its consumer. Most commonly used adulterants include water, formaldehyde, ammonium sulphate, hydrogen peroxide, urea and chemicals used in detergents. Among these, formaldehyde, in particular can severe stomach, heart problems and sometimes blindness. Other extraneous matters are added to increase its and improve consistency.

Recently, Prime Minister Imran Khan in his speech addressed this grave issue. He sought the report regarding milk adulteration and asked for an urgent need to introduce a policy which can stop this hideous practice. In this regard, Punjab Food Authority intends to bring laws in the province of Punjab. According to these laws, sale of loose milk will be banned throughout province which will block any kind of adulteration. Furthermore, like developed countries, pasteurization process will be introduced in order to kill harmful bacteria from. For this purpose, PFA along with the Livestock and Dairy Department Punjab determines to bring a system which will ensure milk pasteurization from the very first step of supply chain. PFA's plan will also make milk traceable for the authority in case of adulteration. In order to do so, loose milk will be packed in packets after pasteurization with a label consisting of name, address and contact information of the supplier. All these steps will help curb adulteration and ensure the provision of safe and healthy milk.

Along with aforementioned measures, Livestock and Dairy Department also needs to develop ways to increase milk production. Because if milk will be available in surplus amount, there will be no need to adulterate it to increase its amount. Moreover, prices of milk will also be reduced. Food contamination is a serious concern of food and health authorities all over the world. However, these bodies are always exploring ways to ensure food safety. Pakistan also needs to work on this subject yet some authorities are already working on it on provincial level but there is a need to introduce laws on national level if we want to achieve our goal.
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Publication:The Nation (Karachi, Pakistan)
Date:Jun 19, 2019
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