In a recent survey conducted by the Consumer Guidance Society of India (CGSI), 413 samples were collected from across Maharastra from January to December 2019, and a whopping overall 79% of all samples were found to be adulterated.
Of these 413 samples, 73 were found to be from branded companies and the remaining 340 from unbranded sources. The percentage of unbranded milk found to be adulterated was 78% and so remained similar to 2018 numbers of 77.5% - but the percentage of adulterated branded milk rose from 79.3% in 2018 to hit 85% this year.
“According to the research conducted, [milk] contamination has increased by 5% as compared to last year,” CGSI Chairman Dr Sitaram Dixit said.
“Overall, only 87 samples (of 413) or just 21% of all the milks sampled were found to meet current FSSAI standards.”
Current FSSAI standards dictate that cow’s milk in the country needs to have a minimum of 3.2% fat content and 8.3% Solids-Not-Fat (SNF) content. Full cream milk needs to have at least 6% fat and 9% SNF, and buffalo milk needs to have 6% fat and 9% SNF.
Although the brands sampled were not named, some of India’s biggest dairy companies include Amul Dairy, Dudhsagar Dairy, and Mother Dairy. Amul Dairy was recently also in the news for violations of having attached mislabelling claims to some of their dairy spreads.
Mother Dairy was also in recent news when it was named as having one of the healthiest product portfolios in the country based on analysis done using Oceania’s Health Star Rating System. Of note however is the fact that the HSR system would not take such adulteration concerns into account.
Punishment not deterrent
This is not the first time that Maharashtra has been in the spotlight over food and beverage adulteration concerns. In November 2018, the state’s Food and Drug Administration announced that food adulterators would face life imprisonment as a maximum punishment, and that adulteration would overall also be considered a non-bailable offence.
That said, according to these recent numbers, it appears that even the threat of a lifetime in jail is not a sufficient warning for these offenders, and it is possible that even more stringent actions may need to be taken, even at a nationwide level.
It would however be difficult, as the FSSAI has previously released statements saying it considers the situation to be ‘not serious at all’, and that its recent study has ‘busted the myth’ that milk in the country is unsafe.
Quality vs safety
This could be due to the fact that FSSAI does not seem to consider subpar milk quality as a valid concern, as opposed to ‘real’ milk contamination such as with chemicals or detergent – although a in 2018 levels of such dangerous contamination had supposedly also hit almost 70% nationwide.
Previous FSSAI CEO Pawan Agarwal had stated before that there should be ‘zero tolerance’ to adulteration in milk, but that quality concerns would need ‘a period of time’ to address.
However, the agency recently also clearly placed the onus back on the milk industry and consumers to conduct self-testing and monitoring, when it opted to not implement any form of rigorous enforcement or scrutinization nor clearly lay our any form of consequences or penalties that firms or farmers would face if they failed to perform up to expectations.