14,June, 2017

India is the world’s largest milk producer but almost 60 per cent of its milk is contaminated due to supply chain malpractices. While the state is doing its bit to fix the system, a technology for spot analysis is the game-changer

When it comes to milk, India has both, a good and a bad track record. It ranks first in the world in milk production and contributes about 18 per cent to the world’s total milk production. In 2014-15, India produced 146 million tonnes of milk.

However, it is feared that over 60 per cent of the milk is contaminated due to malpractices in the milk supply chain, which includes dilution with unsafe water and mixing of hazardous chemicals. The milk is adulterated with contaminants such as urea, various kinds of salt, detergent, liquid soap, boric acid, caustic soda, and hydrogen peroxide, which have serious health effects. This has been candidly admitted to by the Government of India.

As per the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, milk adulteration is the “act of deliberately reducing the quality of milk offered for sale to the consumers for profit”. Adulteration can take place during the harvest, growth, storage, transport and even at the distribution stage.

The FSSAI recently conducted a survey in 33 States and found that 68.4 per cent of the 1,791 milk samples it tested, were contaminated. In urban India, nearly 70 per cent of samples were found to be contaminated compared with 31 per cent in rural areas. The survey said that only Goa and Puducherry sold unadulterated milk — or at least the samples taken from these two States were not contaminated.

At the other end of the contamination spectrum were West Bengal, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Mizoram. Not a single sample tested from these States met the FSSAI norms.

er prominent States fared just a shade better. Around 89 per cent of the samples tested from Gujarat, 83 per cent from Jammu & Kashmir, 81 per cent from Punjab, 76 per cent from Rajasthan, 70 per cent from Delhi and Haryana, and 65 per cent from Maharashtra, failed the test.

Forty eight per cent of the samples from Madhya Pradesh also met a similar fate. States with comparatively better results were Kerala, where only 28 per cent of samples did not conform to FSSAI standards, followed by Karnataka (22 per cent), Tamil Nadu (12 per cent) and Andhra Pradesh (6.7 per cent).

Keeping these grim facts in mind, one must ask: What is the big deal if India is the world’s largest producer of milk, thanks to the White Revolution? Arguably, for a layman, differentiating between contaminated and pure milk is a tall order. Only specific chemical tests can reveal the truth. As mentioned earlier, water is the most common adulterant in milk. It not only reduces the nutritional value of milk but, if itself is unsafe, then it will make the consumer sick.

This only confirms that food adulteration is common in India. And so milk, which is widely consumed by children, isn’t spared. This is shocking, to say the least. What’s particularly worrying is the kind of substances used to adulterate milk. This shows that the trade-off between the risk of getting caught and the reward of huge profits is skewed heavily in favour of the latter.

The Government must focus on raising the risks for adulterators. One way of doing this is by hiking the penalty, including making the crime of food adulteration analogous to attempt to murder in extreme cases. It’s equally important to regularly check food products for adulteration, and ensure speedy trial of those who are suspected of food adulteration.

As the situation is rather serious, the Government is working overtime to address the issue. Union Minister for Science & Technology Harsh Vardhan has recently highlighted a system for detection of milk adulteration and analysis. This has been developed by the Central Electronics Engineering Research Institute, under the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, in Pilani.

It is expected to tackle a national-level health hazard due to adulteration in milk. The Union Minister has also said that he will be reaching out to his counterpart in the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as well as to the Health Ministers of all State Governments to deploy this technology platform so as to address the problem of milk adulteration in the country. The FSSAI will also be asked to bring in the required regulatory intervention so as to ensure the delivery of quality milk.

The CSIR, of which Harsh Vardhan is the vice president, has done yeoman service in developing this technology which which instantaneously detects the adulterants in any milk sample. It is a low-cost portable system with user-friendly features. It enables detection of contaminants in just 40 to 45 seconds, and costs only 50 paise per sample.

One only hopes that this system will go a long way in breaking the backs of those who are playing with the lives of unsuspecting people.

Categories: NEWS
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