The Punjab Livestock Department is considering a ban on the sale of loose raw milk in the market to ensure quality. In its first phase, it will be banned in the five big cities of Punjab — Lahore, Rawalpindi, Multan, Faisalabad and Sialkot.
In 2017, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations placed Pakistan as the third biggest milk producer in Asia after India and China with a production of 42.4-million-ton of milk. It is also fourth in the world in a list that the US tops.
The dairy sector contributes 11 per cent to the country’s gross national income but the FAO’s report shows concerns about the process of milk collection, transportation and distribution chains.
Member Social Sciences Division of the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC) Dr. Umer Farooq says that the entire chain starting from production to consumption is disorganised, neglected and an amalgamation of various health hazards.
“The chain suffers from poor sanitation of livestock sheds, animals not cleaned before milking, milking by hand, collection in small quantities from milk producers, use of non-recommended utensils and containers for milk handling, long distance between production and consumption points, insufficiency or non-availability of cooling facilities and use of preservatives for enhancing shelf life,” he explains.
The Livestock Department claims it has made this recommendation based on the difficulty in keeping check on the quality of production, transportation and supply of loose raw milk
“To find purity in raw loose milk is a really hard task. Mixing of chemicals in milk is a great source of concern for us because consumption of this kind of milk may be cancerous,” Director Communications Punjab Livestock Dr. Asif Rafique tells TNS.
“We are motivating dairy companies to invest in pasteurisation units and in mozzarella cheese plants so that the quality and taste aren’t compromised. The mechanism would be proposed after having consulted with experts, businessmen, milkmen association and other stakeholders to establish pasteurisation plants at entry points of cities from where any retailer or big dairy product company may make a purchase,” he adds.
To establish such packing units at entry points is the Turkish or Delhi model. Milk producers or middlemen sell fresh milk at these points and get paid according to the fat and quality of the milk. This is a well-established mechanism of paying well to milk producers which ultimately encourages people to invest in the livestock industry.
“Raw loose milk is healthier than packaged milk. Pasteurisation units at entry points are the best source of standardising milk while keeping its nutrients intact,” says food expert Mohsin Bhatti.
However, milkmen and shop owners of dairy products are against such policies and call it a step which may render millions of people unemployed.
“There are five thousand milk shops operating in Lahore alone that are providing direct jobs to five hundred thousand people at least. The spectrum of disaster cannot be measured if government implements the policy the Livestock Department is proposing,” Senior Vice President Milkmen Association Malik Zahid says whole conveying his concerns.
“Ninety per cent people want to purchase fresh milk because they understand that packaged milk is unhealthy and tasteless. The report submitted in the Supreme Court seconds my argument,” he adds.
Malik Zahid is referring to the report of the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR) submitted in the National Assembly on Jan 30, 2017 stating that only six out of 16 milk brands are safe for human consumption. PCSIR conducted the analysis of these brands based on two categories; Ultra High Temperature (UHT) and pasteurisation treatment.
UHT is a treatment used by milk companies to increase the life of packaged milk. Milk is heated above 135 degrees Celsius to kill harmful bacteria. Unlike UHT, Pasteurisation is done on lower temperature and seeks to preserve bacteria that are beneficial for human digestion while removing injurious microbes.
Adulterants like formalin, cane sugar, glucose, benzoic acid and alkalinity were also found in well-reputed brands of UHT milk sold in the country.
“The use of non-recommended additives & preservatives used for enhancing shelf life poses a health hazard to consumers,” Dr. Umar says.
Ambreen Akber lives in Mian Mir Colony Lahore and works at a private clinic. She buys milk from the milkman who delivers milk at her house daily. “I am not satisfied with the quality of milk but the price and taste of this fresh milk is still better than the packaged one. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t give a second thought to purchasing even expensive milk that meets all standards of quality and taste,” she says.
According to a Gallup survey conducted in 2011, in urban areas 62 per cent people use fresh milk, 19 per cent packaged, and 17 per cent both.
31 per cent people prefer milk which is easily available, 23 per cent prefer taste, 15 per cent price, while 10 per cent choose milk that makes good tea.
Apart from establishing pasteurisation units, Dr. Umar suggests that Punjab Pure Food Rules should be revised and a Dairy Development Authority is needed to formulate food safety standards and implement strict regulatory measures to ensure quality.