Cow milk, dairy products and cattle feed will all be subject to the survey, which was ordered by the High Court bench of Justice Nazrul Islam Talukder and Justice K M Hafizul Alam, according to Dhaka Tribune.
The authorities that have been named as respondents in this investigation include the government secretaries of food, health, agriculture, fisheries and livestock, cabinet secretaries, members of the Central Food Safety Management Coordination Committee, all members of the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority and the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI) chairman.
A report is to be submitted within 15 days from February 11.
According to The Daily Star, the Anti-Corruption Commission was also directed to look into the adulteration issue and ‘take appropriate legal action’.
A probe committee consisting of the authorities above is also to be formed in order to identify the culprits involved in adulteration within three months.
The High Court also issued a ruling ordering the respondents to explain ‘why their inaction and failure in preventing adulteration and taking appropriate legal steps against it should not be declared illegal’ within four weeks from February 11.
March 3 has been fixed as the date for the next hearing.
Earlier dairy adulteration findings
This investigation is in response to earlier reports on National Food Safety Laboratory (NFSL) findings that high levels of contamination was found in Bangladesh’s dairy.
The findings were revealed by NFSL (Institute of Public Health) head Dr Shahnila Ferdousi during the lab’s inauguration in Dhaka. The NFSL is the country’s national reference laboratory, established by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO).
In the NFSL study, it was reported that 96% of raw milk samples tested were microbiologically contaminated, whereas 27 of 96 samples contained dangerous components such as lead or aflatoxins.
Up to 80% of packaged milk and 51% of curd samples contained microbial contaminants, whereas 100% of all cow feed was found to be contaminated by pollutants such as pesticides, tetracycline, ciproxin and others.
“Heavy metals found in milk basically came from cattle feeds, while pesticide is present because of its excessive use in grass and other agricultural feeds,” Ferdousi told local media.
“This happens mostly due to the lack of awareness among farmers and feed manufacturers.”
This is not the first instance in which dairy adulteration has been an issue in the country. In May last year, researchers at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b) found that over 75% of pasteurised milk in the country ‘may be unsafe for direct consumption’.
According to the study, this was due to bacterial contamination, where some 77% of all pasteurised milk samples tested were found to contain high levels of total bacterial counts.
“Our studies show that several factors are involved in the contamination of milk at the primary producers’ level including the breed of the cow, volume of milk produced by the cow, the time of milking, and farmers’ hand washing practices,” said Dr Mohammad Aminul Islam, principal investigator of the study and head of the Food Microbiology Laboratory.
“We recommend that Bangladesh’s dairy companies should have end-to-end compliance of hygienic milking practices, collection and delivery, preservation and pasteurisation practices to ensure safe and nutritious milk for all.
“Maintenance of seamless cold chain throughout the distribution channel of pasteurised milk from factory to consumer’s table is also critical for ensuring safe milk for consumption.”
The situation mirrors that in neighbouring country India, where over two-thirds of all milk and dairy products were found to be in violation of national safety standards last year, although the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) later insisted that the situation was ‘not serious at all’.