80 per cent milk contaminated

LAHORE - As much as 80 per cent packed as well as unpacked milk is adulterated and contamination is posing serious health hazards to Lahorites, says data collected during five years by City District Government Food Department. The alarming figure is still on rise despite the fact that the Punjab government notified pure food rules 2008 that are in line with the food safety measures in order to eliminate the sale of injurious and sub-standard edibles. Recently, Punjab chief minister has also announced to set up a Food Authority to check the phenomenal increase in adulteration. According to data 19,718 samples of milk collected by the Food Department in the last five years, almost 17,529 samples were found adulterated. This means that of all the milk consumed by Lahore residents, almost 80 per cent was adulterated or contaminated milk. Data revealed that dairy farms, milk supplying companies and milkmen add various chemicals and unhygienic material in milk, which varies from one supplier to another. Percentage of adulterants includes urea (30 per cent), sub-standard cooking oil (70 per cent), powdered singharas (40 per cent), unhygienic water (50 per cent), formalin, a chemical used by doctors to preserve the human body (35 per cent), penicillin for enhancing the thickness and fragrance of milk (47 per cent), hair removing powder (29 per cent), zoonotic pathogens (27 per cent) and other adulterants including soda bicarbonate (to increase the shelf life of milk), starch (to increase its viscosity), sweetening agents (to improve its taste) and urea (to lend it uniformity). These adulterants raise questions about the quality of the milk most Lahoris consume every day. Sources said that the Punjab government launched a move to formulate a new law to allow chemical and pathological analysis of milk to check adulteration. But there is no progress in sight. Formation of Punjab Food Authority was a step toward in this regard. However, progress could be seen just on papers. Food department report revealed that a cartel of packed milk companies and private dairy forms was involved in the supply of unhygienic milk. Hence, to make a balance with demand and supply, they have contracted with the milkmen, suppliers and dealers who do not care the quality of milk. It is matter of great concern that district live stock department and authority concerned have seldom inspected such dairy forms and their so-called apparatus. They have also never noticed the state of cleanliness on their premises. None of the dairy form has ever been sealed. "They (milk suppliers) use Formalin, a chemical used by doctors to preserve the human body, to preserve large quantities of milk during transportation to Lahore from rural areas. Formalin is a dehydrator and reduces the quantity of milk," report said. The report added that milkmen also injected unsupervised and inconsistent doses of steroids and other chemicals into cattle to obtain more milk, but this reduced the calcium content in the milk and affected human body adversely. The report revealed that during the examination of samples, the presence of the industrial chemical, melamine, have been found in milk powder manufactured by multinational milk companies. These companies add the melamine to claim pro bone protection high calcium milk. The report informed that melamine is an industrial compound found in plastics that has been used by unscrupulous manufacturers. Melamine, that has caused kidney stones or kidney failure, especially among infants, is added to the milk in order to lower costs, the report said. Report said that only a small proportion of milk is handled by milk collection systems, which cool milk within a reasonable time frame and hence maintain its quality. The lack of a milk collection system which chills milk shortly after milking and then keeps it cool until appropriate processing or consumption puts milk at risk and leads to its rapid spoilage. The non-availability of cooling tanks at the local level is a big handicap as unhygienic practices are used instead of proper refrigeration. According to report, there are about 10 entry points from where contaminated or adulterated milk makes its way to the city. Maximum quantity of milk enters the city from Multan Road while the other major entry points are the Wagah Border areas, Sheikhupura and Gujranwala Roads, Grand Trunk Road, Baghbanpura, Harbanspura, Hadiara Road, Bedian Road, Ferozepur Road and the Saggian Bridge. Report said that as many as 85 dairy farms were involved in manufacturing and selling injurious butter and desi ghee. Recent campaign against the use of chemical drums for transporting milk was carried out but the practice continues. The report claimed that small and landless farmers owned almost 75 per cent of dairy cattle in Pakistan, making the country the world's fifth leading milk producer with an annual production of 33 million tonnes of milk. However, achieving a world ranking at the cost of human health is a matter that must be taken seriously, it added. Chairman Chief Minister's Task Force on Essential Items, S A Hameed admitted milk as most adulterated food item. He said that recent adulteration graph had touched the alarming level. He said that with the constitution of Punjab Food Authority, the adulteration would be checked in true letter and spirit. He regretted poor performance of food-checking laboratory in the city. He said that lab lacked latest equipment and trained professionals to chemically examine foodstuff. DO (Food) Dr Masood Ashraf said that food department of the CDGL had accelerated its drive against adulteration and contamination in food items especially in milk. Sources in CDGL food department said that adulteration could not be stopped until adulterators were stringently punished. Munir said that hundreds of people had been arrested on various food adulteration charges but almost all of them had been set free after petty fines. They said that the department submitted 8,406 challans in all the six courts dealing with Food-related offences in Lahore during 2007. Till now, the department did not get any feedback in this aspect, they added. "There have been instances when the department confiscated adulteration-related material along with the suspect but the persons were freed after petty fines ranging between Rs 500 to Rs 1,000," they said, adding, "Adulteration should be made a non-bailable offence in Punjab, just like in the NWFP and Sindh". During a survey conducted by The Nation, officials of a packed milk company said that that fresh milk contained several zoonotic pathogens and other adulterants, which did not threaten human health if proper collection and packaging standards were applied. The milk should be pasteurised before it was collected and packaged, they added. "Mixing water or ice is normal practice to preserve milk, especially during summer," milkman Siddique Gujjar told The Nation. He denied using powdered singharas to enhance the thickness, or water to increase the quantity of unpackaged milk. Nutritionist Dr Shahida Javed Akram said that the use of formalin in small quantity does not cause major harm to humans. However, the chemical may cause low blood pressure and grogginess. Dr Shehla said the excessive and continuous consumption of formalin could pave the way for various other diseases. She said that people drinking adulterated milk were likely to suffer from typhoid, diarrhoea, gastroenteritis, brucellosis, allergies, stomach diseases and even cancer.

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