Multiple antibiotic residues have again been detected in all the 10 samples of both pasteurised and non-pasteurised cow milk tested at a Dhaka University laboratory.
A group of nine teachers from the faculty of pharmacy, led by Professor ABM Faroque, conducted the tests at DU’s Biomedical Research Centre and published the test results on Saturday.
This is the same group of teachers who were thrust under media spotlight by their revelation in the last week of June that both pasteurised and non-pasteurised cow milk contained not only antibiotic residues but also detergent and a high number of harmful bacteria.
Their previous work has already put them under threat of facing legal action from the ministry of industry.
They also became victim of character assassination on social media by employees of national food standard regulatory authority Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution and businessmen.
‘It’s been a very frustrating experience for us. But we won’t give up . . . for at stake here is the public health,’ Faroque told New Age.
In the new test, three of the 10 milk samples tested were found laced with residues of four antibiotics, said Faroque.
Six of the samples had in them residues of three antibiotics and only one sample was found to have contained residues of two antibiotics, he said.
The antibiotics detected are Oxytetracycline, Enrofloxacin, Ciprofloxacin and Levofloxacin.
Seven of the samples were pasteurised packaged milk marketed by the state-owned Milk Vita enterprise and leading private dairy companies Aarong, Pran, Fram Fresh and Igloo.
The other three samples were collected from the open market at capital’s Palashi, Mohammadpur and Gabtoli.
‘We tested the same brands but different batches in the two phases of our test,’ said Faroque.
In the second phase the researchers ran only antibiotic test on the samples in line with people’s interest in the topic, they said.
The BSTI does not have the capacity to determine presence of antibiotic residue in milk samples, according to sources in the agency.
Lately public opinion became highly sensitive to anything involving antibiotics following reports of the growing antibiotic-resistance among the people of the country, especially children.
In its latest research the Institute of Public Health has revealed that use of antibiotics is widespread in cow rearing under the false impression that it increases the animal’s capacity to produce milk and meat.
Use of antibiotics in livestock rearing is illegal in Bangladesh but the regulators lack capacity to enforce the law.
Faroque said that growing antibiotic-resistance was undoubtedly a matter of great concern for the people but the presence of detergent and bacteria, including coliform bacteria, was no less a health threat.
He said that through their work they wanted to get across the message that though it was not supposed to be the case but it was not safe to drink pasteurised milk directly from the packet.
‘To remain on the safe side, pasteurised milk has to be boiled, too,’ said Faroque.
Another point of the research was to highlight to businessmen their failure to put in place a proper mechanism to produce safe pasteurised milk.
‘It doesn’t help businessmen profit more if their product is laced with bacteria or other germs,’ said Faroque.
‘This is completely a case of plant management,’ he said.
With their new findings, Faroque is prepared for another onslaught on him from the authorities who are responsible for looking into the matter but apparently sat idle for years ignoring evidence.
There has been overpowering evidence at least since 2008 from researchers and government-run local mobile courts that cow milk was being faked and sold to unsuspecting consumers by state-owned Milk Vita and other private companies as well.
In December last year, the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority initiated a probe into allegations that cow milk was being faked with a mixture of water, cooking oils, chemicals and detergent.
The BFSA is yet to publish its probe report.
The BSTI, however, continued to assert that all pasteurised milk in the market was safe for consumption.
But the BFSA in December last year found gaping holes in the milk value chain causing microbial contamination in cow milk.
The BFSA also found the hygiene condition at pasteurisation plants deplorable while their operators lacked requisite skills.
Faroque said that his colleagues and he shared an unstoppable curiosity to know whether or not packaged pasteurised milk consumed by a lot of their students daily was safe for consumption.
None of the research-team members was engaged in any consultancy with private companies at the time of their work in the study and that was a criterion for being included in the team, Faroque said.
‘We applied for government fund for doing the work and were granted,’ he said.
Noted medicine specialist Khan Abul Kalam Azad, who is also the principal of the Dhaka Medical College, said that consumption of antibiotics through milk would cause different health hazards to the consumers.
In the first place, he explained, taking antibiotics unnecessarily create negative health impact on the body and, secondly, when a person would need antibiotics to recover from ailments, the antibiotics would not work as they would be resistant in the person because of the unnecessary use of it beforehand.
‘Intake of antibiotics via milk would render innocent people victim of health hazards unknowingly and unnecessarily,’ added the DMC principal.
When asked for his comment on the matter, BSTI certification marks wing director SM Ishaque Ali refused to make any.
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