Jan 11 - 17, 20

No matter how much scientific preference, economic priority, and mass exposure is given to the issue of food safety, some serious insufficiencies still exist in our food safety systems.

One of the recent examples of such food safety system's failure is the contamination of infant milk in China. The scandal broke out on 16th July 2008 after sixteen infants in Gansu province who had been fed on milk powder produced by Sanlu Group were diagnosed with kidney stone. The milk powders were contaminated with a fatal chemical called 'Melamine'.

In just a period of 3 months, six infants died, 862 were hospitalized, and more than 300,000 people of varied age groups were infected directly or indirectly by it.

"What is Melamine?" and "Why is it used in the food industry, particularly in infant milk?" Actually, melamine is an organic base with chemical formula C3H6N6 (Triamine Triazine). Insoluble or slightly soluble in water, melamine is rich in nitrogen and is industrially cheap. As melamine creates the analytical characteristics of protein molecule, it is added to substandard or watered-down milk to make the protein content apparently high. When this melamine combines with the cyanuric acid as a nitrogen booster, it forms insoluble crystals, which accumulate in renal tubules and cause stone formation and kidney failure.

Irritability, blood in urine and high blood pressure are also some of the signs of the presence of melamine in the food intake. In several cases, it can cause death as well.

Dairy farmers have been feeling the squeeze for years, particularly in parts of the world where technological advancement has been slow in coming and so their profit margins on milk output have not been lifted by improved efficiency.

In order to boost profits milk is diluted. However, this brings with it the problem of falling quality - measurable concentrations of milk proteins, fats, and sugars fall. Dilution by up to 30% is common, which is where melamine comes in. Melamine, a chemical used in a number of commercial and industrial applications, is unsafe for human consumption. Its small organic molecule has high nitrogen content that can easily fool the quality controllers into thinking that nitrogen (from protein) is present at normal levels and so the milk is passed as good.


Melamine accumulates in the body and causes toxicity problems damaging the kidneys and forming stones (solid deposits within the kidneys or bladder). Consumption of melamine may lead to reproductive damage, bladder cancer, acute kidney failure, and death. Infants fed regularly with milk containing melamine are particularly susceptible to these effects.

Some other application is possible for animal feed also. Fishmeal & soya meal are added to poultry feed and certain crude protein level is maintained in poultry-broiler chicken feed at different stages.

Usually this fishmeal raw material should consist of about 65% crude protein and soya meal should consist of about 48% crude protein, so the suppliers or producers of this fishmeal & soya meal may add melamine to befool the test for protein level. There is a possibility that melamine accumulates in chicken muscles which consume the above feed and reach human body finally. This is very important to find ways to get rid of this contamination.

The international authorities for setting regulations such as FDA, USDA, and WHO have set a specific value for the usage of this non-grade food substance, and any amount exceeding this limit should be strictly banned.

Now keeping an eye over such extreme consequences of the failure of food safety system in our neighboring country's dairy industry, it is a high time for us to critically analyze our own milk producing sector and consider the potential risk associated with it. In the present scenario, the most urgent question that we need to ask is: Does melamine contamination occur in Pakistan? If yes, how can we shield ourselves from its devastating effects?

If we disintegrate our milk supply chain and re-evaluate its each component in detail, it will be safe to say that there are fair enough chances of such lethal contaminations.

Pakistan is blessed with good genetic potential for dairy development, buffalo being the principal source of milk. But, due to problems such as poor nutrition, mismanagement, failure to control disease, unavailability of veterinary services and poor animal husbandry, low quality milk is produced. In order to compensate with this degradation, farmers intentionally add additives and other chemicals either in the fodder or in the milk. Generally, peroxides are added to prevent milk from going bad. Vegetable oil is emulsified and added to boost the fat level and whey is used to artificially increase lactose content. In many cases, due to the unawareness of the farmers, numerous adulterants are mixed with the milk accidentally from manure heaps and storage tanks and pass through the entire processing without any notice. The insufficient check system, lack of manpower, and no testing facilities are responsible for such instances.

Another issue is the easy availability of raw milk at cheaper rates. According to a recent survey, around 55-60% of the total milk consumed in Pakistan is raw, unprocessed milk, which can be easily adulterated and supplied to the distributors without passing through standard checking systems of the government agencies and other authorities. This inadequacy and lack of implementation of regulations can lead to the formation of numerous potential risks and safety hazards. The analytical monitoring facilities at the governmental levels are so deficient that even untrained farmers can get away with flouting.

The farmers add contaminants and additives such as melamine intentionally and turn blind eye since they are assured that their produce will not be caught and rejected by the regulating authorities.

Other serious issues, which are directly related with Pakistan's milk supply chain are lack of proper marketing, poor transportation structure, unorganized and unskilled producers, impermanent arrangement of buffalo shelters, bad sanitation and unhygienic conditions, obsolete practices with no application of modern methods for feeding and milking etc.

In order to improve the current situation and remove the chances of the potential risks, following are some of the major steps that should be taken.

1. Superior fodder should be propagated. On dairy farm cleanliness and use of good farming practices should be given paramount importance. The farmers should be trained to move forward from the traditional methods of feeding and milking to latest techniques. In modern facility, the milk is collected automatically through milking system comprising of cluster of teacups, which are attached to the udder to drain the milk off by a pulsing vacuum system.

2. The milk storage system should be improved with non-corrosive stainless steel tanks and facilities for required refrigeration systems.

3. The authorities should make establish equipped laboratories with trained staff. The choice of chemicals to be used for processing should be made with extreme care.

4. When the milk arrives at the processing plant, sample of milk should be taken and tested for organoleptic qualities and microbial status. The authority has set microbial and quality standards to which the raw milk must comply.

5. Industries should strengthen the system of management and food safety checks and make sure their products are safe for the consumers.

6. The government authorities should work on establishing laws and should make necessary tolerance limits for all possible impurities and additives. These regulations should be followed strictly across all levels of the governments and any food containing impurity at or above the prescribed level should be recalled from the market with penalties for the offender.

7. To protect consumers from the possible adverse effects, the government should closely monitor food imports and should not allow its circulation prior to complete inspection.

8. Ministry of health should take initiative to modify the system and assign the task to agencies like PCSIR to take sample randomly from all over Pakistan and from imported products as well and find out the facts about the melamine contamination as well as suggest ways to improve the production that carries least risk.

9. The government should form strict policy in this regard and ban the usage of all non-food grade substances in food industries and should establish a system of continuous inspections. Incentive programs should be launched to encourage honest and skilled farmers while strict legal and monetary penalties should be imposed on those people/organizations which violate the basic code of conduct for the food safety.

If we incorporate all such critical steps in our milk supply chain and design a complete system, the situation can certainly be improved. This is the right time that we plan and do a collective action against all the potential risks that are severely damaging the safety of millions of Pakistanis. By using proper quality and safety management systems, there are strong chances that we will be able to survive such safety crises and renovate the entire structure of the milk sector.