Food adulteration not an issue of politics
The High Court last week expressed its frustrations over the authorities’ failure to ensure safe food, including milk, and ordered the BFSA and BSTI to report back to the court on their actions against adulteration of milk, curd and cattle feed by July 28.
The court also ordered the government to stop sale of antibiotics for cattle without prescriptions from registered veterinarians.
The bench of Justice Md Nazrul Islam Talukder and Justice KM Hafizul Alam noted that food adulteration was a “public health issue and not an issue of politics”.
“A government secretary has reportedly criticised the Dhaka University researchers who detected harmful substance in milk. But why? Tell us if milk has anything to do with politics. We should all work shoulder to shoulder to ensure safe food and sound health of the citizens,” Justice Nazrul said.
The court also wondered how milk contaminated with lead and cadmium can be found in markets, and asked the BSTI and BFSA to ensure safe food for the sake of public health.
Repeated test confirms contamination
Amid concerns about the quality of the packaged and non-packaged milk available in the market, Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) has now detected lead, a harmful heavy metal, in pasteurised milk of 11 brands.
The companies are Milk Vita (state-run), Aarong Milk, Pran Milk, Dairy Fresh, Igloo Milk, Farm Fresh, Aftab Milk, Ultra Milk, Ayran Milk, Pura Milk and Safe Milk—all registered with Bangladesh Standard and Testing Institution (BSTI).
The BFSA carried out a series of tests last month at the laboratories of six government and nongovernment organisations—Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute, Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Plasma Plus, WAFFEN Research and International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh(ICDDRB).
The tests also found lead and cadmium, another heavy metal, in raw cow milk available in various markets in the capital, said BFSA lawyer Faridul Islam, who placed the test report before the High Court yesterday.
The samples of the packaged milk were collected from various markets in the capital, while the samples of raw milk were collected from 50 selling points in the city.
It comes just two weeks after Dhaka University researchers found detergent and antibiotics for humans in packaged milk of some of the top brands who boast of their “superior” quality in advertisements—Milk Vita, Pran, Aarong, Igloo and Farm Fresh.
The antibiotics include levofloxacin, ciprofloxacin and azithromycin that are used mainly to treat bacterial infections in humans.
After the DU researchers published their findings, Kazi Wasi Uddin, additional secretary to the fisheries and livestock ministry, threatened them with legal actions if they failed to publish their study in a peer-reviewed journal.
A subsequent second test by the DU researchers on the same samples reconfirmed their findings, said Prof ABM Faroque, director of Biomedical Research Centre at DU, who led the research.
Experts say lead in milk may come from cattle feed and contaminated soil and can affect liver, kidney and bones.
According to the World Health Organisation, there is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe for human body.
“If the soil is contaminated, lead can enter into animal bodies through feed. The other source may be processed cattle feed. If the feed is contaminated, milk will be too,” said Mohidus Samad Khan, an associate professor at Buet’s chemical engineering department
In a separate development, some eminent citizenslast called on the government to ensure quality milk.
The government should not show any leniency in this regard, they said in a statement, signed by cultural personality Nasiruddin Yousuff Bachchu.
“It’s a legal and moral duty of the authorities concerned to produce milk maintaining a proper standard,” the statement said.
The other signatories are National Professor Anisuzzaman, cultural personalities Hasan Imam, Ramendu Majumdar, Ferdousi Majumdar, Ataur Rahman, Mamunur Rashid, Hasan Arif, Sammilito Sangskritik Jote President Golam Kuddus, poet Mofidul Haque and cartoonist Rafiqun Nabi.
Sale of pasteurised milk falls
Laboratory findings of antibiotics, lead, and other harmful chemicals in pasteurised milk have eroded the confidence of consumers, almost halving the sales of different brands of milk in the last couple of months.
The industry first took a major hit in February when the National Food Safety Laboratory (NFSL) found high levels of microbial contaminants in dairy products in a survey conducted with the support of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).
The laboratory had collected the samples of all brands of packaged milk from big food stores and directly from dairy farms, and found the presence of pesticides, lead, chromium, tetracycline, enrofloxacin, ciprocin, and aflatoxin between 9 and 96 per cent, which can create serious health hazards, according to healthcare professionals.
That NFSL survey inflicted a serious damage to the reputation of the milk industry as it created a lot of buzz in both mainstream and social media, leading to a dip in sales of milk in the market.
Later, the survey prompted the High Court to ask the Bangladesh Standard and Testing Institution (BSTI) to test dairy products in the market and bring the results before the court. That HC order only added to the woes for the milk industry.
Meanwhile, a research team of Dhaka University, led by Dr ABM Faroque, conducted two separate tests within a month and found antibiotics present in at least five major milk brands of the country. Faroque first revealed the findings in a press conference on June 23 and again in a press statement on July 13.
That discovery of antibiotics in milk by Dr Faroque’s team acted as sort of the “last straw that broke the camels back” for the milk industry as it made the consumers shy away from pasteurised packaged milk. Rohul Amin, a salesperson in Dhanmondi outlet of Meena Bazaar, told The Independent that in the last two weeks, the sales of packaged milk have dropped by at least 50 per cent. “We’ve halved our request for packaged milk in our inventory list,” said Rohul.
Anisur Rahman, general secretary of National Dairy Development Forum (NDDF), said about half a dozen major milk processors used to process 10 lakh litres of fresh milk daily just at the beginning of this year. “Now the amount is being reduced to 6 lakh litres, reducing the entire amount by about 40 per cent,” he said.
Anisur, who is a director of Brac Dairy that process Aarong brand of milk, said they used to buy 1.8 lakh litres of milk from the dairy farmers on a daily basis. “In the last two weeks, we have been buying 1 lakh litres of milk.
“We have no option but to cut off buying milk from our milk producers at the countryside. We only process and package milk. It doesn’t have long shelf life. We can’t store milk products for long,” he said.
Shah Emran, general secretary of Bangladesh Dairy Farmers Association (BDFA), said the milk industry has taken a serious blow in the last few weeks after the study by Dr Faroque revealed the presence of antibiotics in milk.
“We have around 76,000 members in our association and most of them are small and medium-sized dairy farms who supply milk to milk processing companies . Now their businesses are hampered as the pasteurised milk processors have stopped buying milk,” said Emran.
Dairy farming expanded fast in the last seven years, due to which, milk production soared to 94 lakh tonnes in fiscal year 2018-19, the BFDA said.
In fiscal year 2010-11, local production was 29 lakh tonnes, said the association citing estimates of the department of livestock services. “The government needs to look after the dairy industry and something has to be done to bring back consumer confidence. Otherwise, a promising industry will be destroyed,” he said.