A healthy life and proper diet is what people work hard for day and night. But if you get to drink milk that has coliform count up to 2400 in a millilitre, I guess that’s not really happening, eh? Recent news about the presence of coliform in the milk should be taken as a wakeup call to examine if there are other wrongs associated with this knotty field of dairy industry, where thousands of farmers, a number of middle men, and some profit hungry entrepreneurs are involved on a daily basis. Thanks to the government for making this case public and also sealing some of the dairies which were found to be selling contaminated milk.
A systemic flaw in dairy business often results in coliform contamination. Local cooperatives collect milk from farmers. While transporting the collected milk to the chilling centres the cooperative adds water and soda to keep the milk from curdling, because milk rich in solid-not-fat (SNF) curdles fast in summer. Milk producers are paid on the basis of fat content only, whereas the cooperatives get paid separately for the fat, SNF, and lactose contents of the milk as well as ‘total solid commission’, which is calculated as some percent of fat, SNF, and lactose; and the quantity of milk transported. The contractor makes profit because he increases the volume by adding water and transports more milk (detail information available in Bhattedanda Milkway: Making Markets Accessible to Marginalized Farmers in Ropeways in Nepal, 2004). Since a substantial quantity of water is needed, the cooperatives do not hesitate to use water from any source, including unsafe sources. This is where the problem generally begins.
The demand for milk and milk product is rising and so is the number of dairy industries. But, the production of milk in many areas is falling due to either shortage of workforce to look after animals or simply because farmers are abandoning animal husbandry due to lack of water and grazing land. In the last four decades, most of traditional grazing land around villages has been converted into forests for environmental protection. Lately, springs in the mountains have also begun shrinking. Now, the question is: where is the milk coming from?
Even under normal conditions, milk production varies between summer and winter. Milk holidays are observed in summer because there is too much of it, whereas powdered milk is used to meet the demand in the dry season. So, what is consumed as fresh milk is not necessarily fresh. One can even go further and be surprised to note that there are malevolent persons who have invented something like Synthetic milk and have the audacity to sell it as fresh milk.
Synthetic milk looks like natural milk, except in taste and nutritional qualities. However, the cost of producing synthetic milk is less than half of natural milk. Invented in Haryana in India by some milkmen about 15 years ago, synthetic milk spread to other milk deficit parts of India.
Synthetic milk is prepared by blending urea, caustic soda, cooking oil, and detergents. Once prepared it is very difficult for common users to detect urea, caustic soda, starch/ glucose, sugar, or nitrate etc. Detergents emulsify and dissolve the oil in water giving the frothy solution, the characteristic white colour of milk. Cooking oil is used as milk fat. Caustic soda neutralizes acidity, which prevents the milk from souring. Urea/ sugar acts as solid-not-fat (SNF) – a major component of milk. Once mixed with natural milk it is even more difficult to detect it.
Synthetic milk is harmful to humans, but is more harmful to fetus and persons with heart and kidney problems. Urea and caustic soda are very harmful to heart, liver and kidneys. Kidneys have a difficult time trying to remove the urea from the body. Caustic soda deprives the body from utilizing some essential amino acid.
Despite repeated action by the police to unearth the racket in India, the practice continues. The recent one has been reported in May 2013. It is not to suggest that synthetic milk is already in the dairy market in Nepal, but one cannot rule out the possibility of it being used by unknown, unregistered milk vendors or even dairy workers to make extra money. Especially when one has seen animals bones, plastics, old rags being used in brewing low grade alcohol, what is being pumped into our food system is any one’s guess.