Compromised national standards have allowed companies in Bangladesh to use imported low-quality skimmed milk powder in the production of pasteurised milk for years.
The public was completely unaware of the pasteurised cow milk, made from skimmed milk powder, being sold to them though the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution has been aware of it all along.
The matter has come to light only recently when companies opposed a move by the standards institution to revise the pasteurised milk standards.
The revision was intended to impose a ban on the use of skimmed milk powder in producing pasteurised milk.
In the pasteurised milk standards, formulated in 2002, the institution allowed companies to extract fat from whole cow-milk and then add other types of milk to it before pasteurisation.
‘This is completely unethical,’ Bangladesh Agricultural University’s dairy science professor MA Samad Khan told New Age.
‘Pasteurised milk should be whole cow-milk. People do not expect standardised milk to be pasteurised,’ he said.
Samad had advised the standards institution on milk and milk product standardisation for many years and had disagreements over the pasteurised milk standards allowing minimum 8 per cent ‘milk solids not fat’, also known as MSNF or SNF, which brings taste to milk and provides minerals and whey protein.
International standards do not accept it as milk if the SNF value falls below 8.5 per cent, he said.
‘Allowing milk with 8 per cent SNF value amounts to allowing water to be passed as milk,’ said Samad Khan.
Still, both the government and private dairy companies have been pushing for a further lower SNF value, at 7.5 per cent.
Companies have long been using skimmed milk powder in order to increase their SNF values to the full knowledge of the standards institution.
They argued against the latest BSTI move to ban skimmed milk powder in pasteurised milk on the ground that the SNF value in cow milk gets low depending on the fodder fed and other factors.
‘There is nothing wrong with pasteurising skimmed milk powder. It is practised everywhere in the world,’ said BSTI standards wing assistant director Enamul Hoque.
Still, the institution felt that the practice should not be allowed in Bangladesh because dairy companies were apparently pasteurising imported low-quality
skimmed milk powder, he said.
Bangladesh Food Safety Authority member Monzur Morshed Ahmed said that the SNF value would never fall below 9 per cent in cow milk unless water was mixed with it.
Dairy experts said that the SNF value in milk falls when water is mixed with it and its fat contents were tampered with.
Dairy companies apparently found the pasteurised milk standards very useful in extracting fat from milk for the minimum required fat content in pasteurised milk was 3.5 per cent, they said.
The fat content in milk obtained from local and international breeds usually ranges between 4 and 5.5 per cent.
The cow-milk fat content varies with the quality of fodder and the time of the year the milk is generated but it rarely falls below 3.5 per cent.
Milk fat contains fat-soluble vitamin A, D, E and K and unsaturated fatty acid, which are essential for brain development and a healthy heart.
‘Milk is more of a medicine than a food,’ said Samad Khan.
Consumers are denied the full medicinal benefits of milk with the companies being allowed to remove fat from it and go without informing them about it, he said.
The practice around the world is that the companies withdrawing fat from milk have to declare it on the label under various categories such as low-fat milk, skimmed milk and standardised milk.
Skimmed milk is dried fatless milk while low-fat milk is defined according to the amount of fat removed from milk.
The way pasteurised milk is sold in Bangladesh is vague and misleads the consumers in believing that they are buying whole cow-milk.
The consumers have no way to know that the fat extracted from their milk is used by dairy companies in producing items such as butter, cheese or ghee.
All pasteurised milk producers in Bangladesh are major importers of skimmed milk powder.
According to Bangladesh Dairy Farmers’ Association, more than 50 lakh tonnes of milk powder is imported annually to the country.
The milk powder is mostly imported from China, Russia and European countries.
Milk powders exported by European countries are fatless dried milk or mixed with vegetable fat for milk fat is in high demand in the countries.
Milk powders imported from Russia were found highly radioactive while those imported from China contaminated with heavy metals such as aluminium and lead on many occasions in the past, said the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority.
While 14 companies in the country are licensed to produce pasteurised milk, the market monopoly is held by four companies.
The daily sale of pasteurised milk is 2 lakh litres.
Dairy experts said that the provision of allowing standardised milk to be pasteurised exposed the dairy industry to contamination, with companies mixing water and other materials.
They said that the opportunity for contamination of pasteurised milk was created by the national standards.
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