Source: Hindustan Times | Representational Image: naibuzz kivafellows
On Wednesday, the Union Minister for Science and Technology, Harsh Vardhan, brought up the prevailing issue of adulteration of food items in the Lok Sabha. Vardhan stated that over 68% of the milk sold in India did not meet the standards set by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), India’s food regulating body.
Discovering the magnitude of contamination
He was referring to the National Survey on Milk Adulteration, a snap shot survey, which conducted in 2011 by the FSSAI to check the contaminant levels in milk consumed by the Indians. The study had shown that, owing to lack of hygiene and sanitation in the handling and packaging of milk, several contaminants make their way into commercially sold milk. Detergents that are used for cleaning are not washed off properly and hence make their way packaged the milk. Adulterants like urea, starch, glucose and formalin are added to increase the thickness and viscosity of the milk and to increase its shelf life.
After taking samples from 28 states and five union territories in 2011, nearly 70% of the samples proved to be adulterated in some form or the other. Nearly 46% of adulteration was accounted for by the dilution of milk with water out of a total of 1791 samples that were tested. Almost 8% of these tested samples contained detergents.
How harmful can it be?
The Indian Council of Medical Research had mentioned that detergents in milk cause food poisoning and gastrointestinal complications. Some other commonly used synthetic adulterants cause numerous impairments, heart problems, cancer and even death. The immediate effects of consuming urea could be gastroenteritis, but the long term effects could be fatal.
The statement by the Union Minister is likely to cause alarm in a country whose important source of protein is milk. Last year, a US government report projected an increase in fluid milk consumption by 5% in 2016 based on the population growth in the country.
Can we combat it?
Mr.Harsh Vardhan mentioned his concerns over the health issues resulting from impurity laden milk consumption and also spoke about the new scanner that can detect adulteration in milk in 40 seconds. Unlike earlier, when separate chemical tests were required to detect different contaminants, the new scanner developed by the Central Electronics Engineering Research Institute in Rajasthan’s Pilani town. According to the minister, “The innovation represents the first fully Indian concept towards implementation effort in the instrumentation related to milk and dairy, addressing an unmet need.” He also added that “In the near future, GPS-based technology could be used to track the exact location where the milk supplied in the cold chain has been tampered with.”
The Minister also made some controversial suggestions that the scanners could be purchased by MPs through their constituency funds. He also mentioned that the cost per test conducted using these expensive scanners would only amount to 10 paisa.