It is no secret that milk is a daily used edible household item. It is taken as such either in its liquid form or fermented as curd. It is used for making tea, consumed by infants and utilized to prepare various milk-based products and dishes. Milk is regarded as a complete food as it contains the high quality carbohydrates, fats, proteins, minerals and vitamins in the right quantities. However unlike meat and eggs, milk is most susceptible to adulteration. In fact, the adulteration of milk has presently reached an alarming proportion countrywide. Even a type of milk called ‘synthetic milk’ available in market is not milk at all. Shockingly, the white ‘synthetic milk’ which resembles natural milk doesn’t have a single component of pure milk. Milk adulteration by unscrupulous elements is done to increase its volume to get more profit. Not only does such dilution of milk deprive the consumers of the valuable nutrients, but the various adulterants are harmful per se.
The main reasons for milk-adulteration are obviously the mismatch in production and consumption of milk and the inefficient transport of milk from rural milk producing villages to urban areas. Farmers complain that the feeding cost of cows is too high. Owing to urbanization, the agricultural land in the state is decreasing day by day, leading to shortage of green fodder for cattle. “A quintal of feed costs about 2500 rupees, whereas a quintal of rice costs only 2000 rupees for human consumption. At 25 rupees per liter, the sale price of milk is not attractive and remunerative. In this scenario, which poor farmer would rear cows”, once a farmer told the author. According to farmers, even the costly feed available in market is often of sub-standard quality. The feed is adulterated and instead of increasing milk yield, spoils the health of cattle. The high input costs mar the farmers and discourage them.
Adulterants and their harmful effects
The main adulterant in milk is water. It is obviously added in order to increase the volume of milk to fetch more money. The other adulterants that are added to milk tend to hide the adulteration of milk with water. The color of pure cow-milk is yellowish white and it is thicker (viscous) than water. So, unscrupulous elements add thickening agents like starch and flour to make the diluted milk look normal. Similarly, table sugar is added to diluted milk to restore the normal sweetness of milk. Milk has a characteristic composition which is species specific. Cow milk contains a fixed percentage of Fat and SNF (Solids Not Fat) including Lactose (milk-sugar) and Proteins. Whenever water is added to milk, obviously these nutritional indicators are lowered and can be detected easily by certain instruments. To cover up this, unscrupulous elements add substances like Ammonium Sulphate and Salt to increase the Lactometer Reading. They also add nitrogenous substances like Urea to elevate the level of protein in diluted milk. Further, various harmful preservatives like formalin are also added to milk to increase its shelf life.
Since water constitutes the main adulterant of milk, quite often the water added is dirty and leads to various water borne diseases. Besides, the dilution of milk by undesirable substances also lowers the quality of the wholesome food and instead of benefitting the consumers, it harms them. Though certain adulterants being corrosive cause immediate health problems, some of them accumulate in the body and cause serious long term effects including organ damage and even cancer. The Gastro Intestinal Tract, Kidney and Liver are particularly affected. Ironically, the infants whose predominant diet is the milk are the worst affected and the adulterants cause a severe damage to their tender bodies, besides hampering their growth and development.
Detection of adulterants
Assessment of milk quality is done in various ways: by the organoleptic properties of milk viz color, odor, taste, consistency etc; by detecting the normal constituents of the milk in their proper proportions like Fat%, Protein%, Lactose%; by conducting certain physico-chemical tests like acidity, specific gravity, electrical conductivity, pH and heat stability of milk etc. Further, the bacteriological count of milk can also be determined by various tests which can easily indicate the hygienic status of the milk. Moreover, there are certain specific chemical tests to detect particular adulterants. Most of the adulterants can be detected by utilizing certain instruments and simple tests. For example, starch can be detected by simple Iodine test, detergent by the lather test etc. Even the NDDB (National Dairy Development Board) has devised ‘detecting kits’ for the quick and easy detection of adulterants by the individual households.
Milk adulteration has to be checked and public has to be sensitized regarding harmful health aspects of milk adulteration.
Government needs to open cattle farms and implement various dairy development schemes (DDS) that encourage and motivate farmers to keep high quality cross-bred cows in order to produce more milk.
The veterinary centers should be manned by qualified veterinary doctors in order to provide adequate health cover for better milk production.
Since goat is regarded as ‘poor man’s’ cow owing to lesser inputs required compared to cattle, high milk producing dairy goats need to be popularized among the poor farmers.
Even some milk producing goat breeds called ‘city breeds’ have the peculiarity that they can be reared in towns and city too owing to less space requirements.
The quality of feed available in the market has to be checked and its price has to be regulated. Farmers have to be provided with high quality subsidized feed. Feed mills for manufacturing feed blocks (with incorporation of urea and molasses) have to be established.
Milk production, procurement and transport from milk producing areas to milk deficient areas has to be rationalized.
Our aim should be to economize milk production so that the poor farmers are benefitted and to check milk adulteration so that public health is safeguarded.
The author works as a Veterinary Assistant Surgeon (VAS).