The issue of milk safety came into light when the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) released the National Milk Safety and Quality Survey 2018.

  • A survey found a surprise with the presence of Aflatoxin M1 residues beyond permissible limits in 368 out of 6,432 samples that is 5.7% of the samples.
  • About 93% of the samples were found safe for human consumption.
  • Only seven percent of the total milk samples tested were unsafe for consumption.
  • It has been found out that Gap between milk production and demand is what incentivizes adulteration
  • It has been established under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.
  • FSSAI and the State Food Safety Authorities enforce various provisions of the Act.
  • The adulteration of food is a subject in the Concurrent List of the Constitution.
  • Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India is the Administrative Ministry for the implementation of FSSAI.
  • FSSAI has been mandated by the FSS Act, 2006 for performing the following functions:
  • Framing of Regulations to lay down the Standards and guidelines in relation to articles of food and specifying an appropriate system of enforcing various standards thus notified.
  • Laying down mechanisms and guidelines for accreditation of certification bodies engaged in certification of food safety management system for food businesses.
  • To provide scientific advice and technical support to the Central Government and State Governments.
  • Collect and collate data regarding food consumption and the introduction of the rapid alert system.
  • Creating an information network across the country so that the public, consumers, Panchayats etc receive rapid, reliable and objective information about food safety and issues of concern.
  • Provide training programs for persons 
  • Contribute to the development of international technical standards for food, sanitary and phytosanitary standards.
  • Promote general awareness about food safety and food standards.

What is milk?

    • Milk is a dispersion of milk fat globules (fat particles) and casein micelles (protein particles) in a continuous phase of water, sugar (lactose), whey proteins, and minerals. 
  • The principal constituents of milk are water, fat, proteins, lactose (milk sugar) and minerals (salts). 
  • Solids like vitamins, minerals, and proteins are classified as SNF. Higher the SNF content better is the quality of milk, and therefore the cost. 

Milk Production in India

    • India is the world’s largest producer and consumer of milk. It produces around 150 million tonne milk annually.
    • Uttar Pradesh is the leading state in milk production followed by Rajasthan and Gujarat.
    • India exports only 0.01% of the world dairy export market.
    • The productivity of Indian dairy animals which is at present only 1806 kg per animal per year against the world average of 2310 kg/animal/ year. 
  • About 80 million rural households are engaged in milk production with a very high proportion being landless, small & marginal farmers.

What are the adulterants and contaminants in the milk?

Contaminants Harmful effects
  • Aflatoxins are toxins produced by certain fungi Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus which are generally found in agricultural crops like maize, peanuts, cottonseed, and others. 
  • They are carcinogenic in nature, which means they can cause cancer. 
  • According to the FSSAI, aflatoxin M1 in milk is from feed and fodder, which is not regulated.
  • The permissible limit of aflatoxins in milk is 0.5 micrograms per kilogram.
Antibiotics, pesticides
  • India’s Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) problem is worsening due to the consumption of antibiotics through animal sources.
  • India is the fourth largest consumer of antibiotics in food animals globally 
What is adulteration? 
  • Food is adulterated if its quality is lowered or affected by the addition of substances that are injurious to health or by the removal of substances that are nutritious. For example:
  • Urea, detergents, Hydrogen peroxide, neutralizers, Starch, chlorine, hydrated lime, sodium carbonate, formalin, and ammonium sulfate.
  • Colistin has been banned for food-producing animals, poultry, aquafarming, and animal feed supplements.
  • Melamine is illegally added to inflate the apparent protein content of food products.
  • Neutralizers are substances added to prevent curdling and increase the shelf life of milk. 
  • They could be added in the form of caustic soda, sodium bicarbonate, and sodium carbonate.
  • Alkalis are used to increase the pH value of badly preserved milk.
  • Detergents and glucose increase milk’s thickness and viscosity, and starch prevent it from curdling. 
  • Milk adulterated with detergents is known to cause food poisoning and gastrointestinal complications. Some detergents contained dioxane, a carcinogenic agent. 

Laws to check food adulteration:

    • Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006: It is an integrated food law that lays down standards and guidelines for consumer safety, protection of consumer health and regulation of the food sector.
    • Consumer Protection Bill, 2018: With respect to food adulteration laws, the Bill has added certain provisions such as penalties for misleading advertisements as well as manufacturing and selling of adulterated or spurious goods.
  • Indian Penal Code
    • According to Section 272 and 273, food or drink adulteration or sale of such food or drink is an offense punishable with imprisonment which may extend to six months or fine or both. 
    • Some state amendments have made the offense punishable with imprisonment for life along with the liability of fine.

Govt. initiatives for improving milk quality:

  • National Programme for Dairy Development (NPDD): Department of Animal Husbandry has approved the strengthening of dairy laboratories under the National Programme for Dairy Development (NPDD) for detecting adulteration in milk.
    • Strengthening of quality milk infrastructure from farm level like dairy cooperative societies to processing plants at the District/State level.
  • Dairy Processing & Infrastructure Development Fund: It has a corpus of Rs 8004 crore with National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).
    • The project will be implemented by National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) and National Dairy Development Cooperation (NCDC) directly through the End Borrowers such as Milk Unions,
    • The project will focus on building an efficient milk procurement system by setting up chilling infrastructure & installation of electronic milk adulteration testing equipment, creation/modernization/expansion of processing infrastructure and manufacturing faculties for the Milk Unions/ Milk Producer Companies.
    • State/District level Steering Committee has been constituted in some States to ensure the effective enforcement and implementation of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006
    • Village level co-operative societies are also considered for facilitating the testing of contaminants in the next phases of the scheme.
  • Rashtriya Gokul Mission
    • To enhance milk production and productivity of bovines, including the promotion of embryo transfer technology, creation of a facility for sex-sorted semen production and genomic selection. 
  • The single norm for process certification of hygienic standards: After harmonization of products certification takes place, the Quality Mark logo shall be used in conjunction with ISI mark for Milk & Milk products sold by Co-operatives as well as Private Dairies. 
    • The food authority has now instructed big dairy houses to brand their milk correctly. When added with skimmed milk powder or glucose, the milk should be labeled “reconstituted”. But skimmed milk powder is added to milk for long to reduce its fat content.

Issues: The blame game between FSSAI & states: The FSSAI blames the states. But the states blame the food authority for a half-baked report. The states have no idea who the violators are because they do not know from where they collected the samples from.  Unorganized milk sector: Of the total milk produced in India, only 18-20 percent is channelized through the organized segment. The unorganized segment has not yet participated in modern processing infrastructure in India. High pendency rate against violators: National Security (NSA) Act, 1980, is often invoked against those involved in food adulteration which results in pendency of cases. Supreme Court guidelines:

  • Suitably amend the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 and the Indian Penal Code to incorporate penal provisions making adulteration of milk with chemicals punishable with life imprisonment.
  • The state governments should ensure that state food testing laboratories/district food laboratories are well-equipped with the technical persons and testing facilities.
  • The State Food Safety Authority (SFSA) must identify "high-risk areas" where chances of milk adulteration are more during festivals.
    • SFSA should also ensure that there is adequate lab testing infrastructure and ensure that all labs have/obtain NABL accreditation to facilitate precise testing. 
    • SFSA should take steps to ensure that sampling and testing of milk and milk products can be done at the spot by mobile food testing vans.
  • For curbing milk adulteration, an appropriate state-level committee headed by the Chief Secretary or the Secretary of Dairy Department and District level Committee headed by the concerned District Collector shall be constituted.
  • The states should set up a website, specifying the functioning and responsibilities of food safety authorities.
  • States should also maintain a toll-free telephonic and online complaint mechanism.
  • School children should be educated school by conducting workshops and teaching them easy methods for the detection of common adulterants in food, keeping in mind indigenous technological innovations, such as milk adulteration detection strips.
  • The center should evolve a complaint mechanism for "checking corruption and other unethical practices of the food authorities and their officers".

Way forward:

  • Enforcing the Supreme Court guidelines: The guidelines are elaborate and address all related issues.
  • Tackling aflatoxin: Improper storage of food harvest in warm and humid conditions leads to aflatoxin contamination. Better crop storage facilities are needed. Equally important is in having facilities to regularly test for aflatoxin M1.
  • The strengthening of laboratories at dairy plants: It will help in ensuring safe milk consumption and also in creating a reasonable database on various contaminants and milk constituents to defend India's position in international forums like WTO and CODE to promote exports.

Conclusion: Agriculture along with livestock is the way forward for realizing the vision of doubling farmers’ income. Income from crop production is seasonal, whereas dairying provides year-round income and generates gainful employment in the rural sector. Also read: Mother’s Milk Banks To Come Up At Government Hospitals Peanut Paste not a Solution for Severe Malnutrition: Study