There are successes in India's dairy story to celebrate, the reality of some unsafe food products continuing to percolate into the system cannot be ignored.
A report in HT has cited that the state’s food safety department found that milk and milk products sold in Delhi are likely to be unsafe or substandard. According to the report, 477 of 2,880 food samples have failed quality tests. This finding is based on test reports of the food samples analysed by the state’s food safety department.
Rewind to November 2018, when the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had come out with the findings of its large-scale, nation-wide survey on the quality of milk.
The objective of the FSSAI survey had been to evaluate the quality of milk in India, to disseminate information, create a network of key stakeholders such as testing labs, co-operatives and consumers and enable targeted enforcement in future.
To facilitate the survey, eight cluster groups were formed comprising all states.
According to the interim report of FSSAI’s National Milk Quality Survey, 2018, over 90 per cent milk in India is safe. Better still, it indicated that less than 10% samples had contaminants, which were attributed to poor farm practices. The survey had been the largest systematic, nation-wide survey of milk quality.
The samples that failed were quantitatively analyzed. Geo-tagging of samples and photo-documentation of samples were also done to establish a robust and a continuous monitoring system.
Nearly one-third of the samples that failed for safety parameters were analyzed quantitatively in high end laboratory of the survey agency.
It is pertinent to note that of the processed milk, 60% were toned milk, 20% full-cream milk, 15% standard milk and 5% double toned milk. Raw milk samples were those of cow, buffalo and mixed milk.
Nine key findings of the 2018 FSSAI survey are as follows:
1) Milk in India is mostly safe for consumption, Only 12 out of a total of 6,432 samples had adulterants.
2) This is the first survey that has analyzed contaminants such as residues of pesticides, antibiotics, Aflatoxin and Ammonium sulphate in milk. Less than 10% had contaminants that make milk unsafe for consumption, which is due to poor quality of feed, poor farm practices and irresponsible use of antibiotics. The quantitative analysis indicates the problem is not serious.
3) There is no reason to be concerned about pesticide residues as only 1.2% of the samples failed on account of the same.
4) Aflatoxin M1 was detected in 5.7% of the samples. However, this does not amount to willful adulteration. It is related to feed quality and has bearing on human health.
5) Ammonium sulphate was detected in 3 % samples of milk, which is again related to the feed of animals. Also, the current FSSAI regulations do not prescribe any limits for ammonium sulphate in milk. In 3.5% samples, sugar and Maltodextrin were discovered to be added. This practice has been discouraged completely in FSSAI’s detailed interim report on milk quality.
Other concerns such as dilution of milk with water has also been discussed in the report. Also, in most cases, liquid milk is boiled and then consumed. Therefore, public health risk is minimal, which is how the report has analysed the trend.
However, an area of concern still pertains to non-compliance on quality parameters in processed milk, which needs to be addressed through various measures.
In its interim report, then CEO, FSSAI Pawan Agarwal had highlighted that the nation-wide milk survey provides a solid baseline data and a robust framework for continuous monitoring of the safety and quality of milk in the country.
The quality of milk that is consumed is not about nutrients and consumption safety alone. The study on milk quality forces us to confront multiple issues that need innovative solutions.
For instance, the quality of feed given to animals from which milk is procured, processed and distributed.
Further, any concerns of quality due to contaminants need to be addressed within a reasonable period of time.
Third party audits can also pave the way for best practices to be explored and piloted.
So, while there are successes in India’s dairy story to celebrate, the reality of some unsafe food products continuing to percolate into the system cannot be ignored. Food contamination, at any level, holds us back on many fronts – economy, industry, consumption, safety, among others. If India can tackle the problem of milk contamination with innovative and sustainable solutions, it would be a great advantage and a win-win, particularly for the common man.