Toxic Milk Collection and Production in Pakistan – A summary:
• The most important standard that the local dairy farmers fail to fulfil is the acceptable level of toxins in milk. The @World Health Organization’s Codex Alimentarius stipulates that this level should never exceed 0.49 parts per billion (ppb)
• Zeeshan Suhail, public affairs manager at #Nestlé Pakistan, explains. “Toxins arise in milk from feed which is of inferior quality.” When farmers use such feed, he says, they are asked to “improve their quality of milk”. He chooses to stay silent when asked what his company does to milk found with higher-than-permissible level of toxins
• Muhammad Ibrahim, a dairy farmer in Pattoki, about 80 kilometres to the southwest of Lahore, tests his milk produce in front of me (testing kits made in China are available in the market at 1,600 rupees per piece, but most farmers don’t know how to operate them) and shows me the high level of toxins in it. Yet, he claims, Nestlé never rejects his milk supply even when it has been highly toxic. Fiaz Ahmed, another dairy farmer operating near Raiwind Road just outside Lahore, tells me how once toxin levels in his milk consignment reached 1.05 ppb yet the milk company bought the consignment since “there was shortage of supply”. A third farmer, living near Balloki headworks on the Ravi River, about 60 kilometres downstream from Lahore, similarly claims having sold milk to Nestlé Pakistan in spite of high level of toxins in it.
• Farmers say they cannot control toxin levels because they feed their animals whatever they can afford — which is generally green and dry fodder, supplemented with khal, the residual cake produced during oil extraction from cotton seed. The cake rots quickly and acquires fungus rapidly. Farmers working with very low production budgets cannot afford to throw away the rotten khal and keep feeding it to their animals. (Large-scale dairy farms do not use khal. They, instead, use soybean and other nutrients which do not produce toxins.)
• Farmers say they cannot control toxin levels because they feed their animals whatever they can afford — which is generally green and dry fodder
• Milk companies claim they offer farmers all possible help to improve animal feed. Nestlé Pakistan officials say they regularly send out field staff to give farmers detailed presentations on the need for using non-toxic feed and have helped local entrepreneurs set up 29 feed-manufacturing plants meant for supplying quality feed at affordable prices. Most dairy farmers that the Herald interviewed deny having received presentations on feed. They also do not know about the location of feed manufacturers in their area, or their sale points.
• On the other hand, they claim the company uses high-toxin contents as an excuse to purchase milk at a reduced rate. “For every litre of high-toxin milk, I get three rupees less than I otherwise would,” says Ibrahim. The deduction goes into paying for taking the toxins out, he quotes the company officials as telling him. Nestlé Pakistan rejects his claim. It says it never imposes price penalties on farmers. Yet, the company says it purchases milk with higher than acceptable toxin content.
• No amount of heating, pasteurisation and homogenisation (different procedures done on milk before it is packed) can rid milk of the toxins which once get into it. The companies acknowledge this, but claim the quantity of milk with high level of toxins is always much smaller in relation to the overall amount of milk they collect. Once low-toxin and high-toxin milk are mixed, ppm count goes down substantially, making milk safe for consumption, they argue.
• No independent study has been done so far to confirm or deny this assertion, raising another difficult question: What if the actual situation is the other way round and high-toxin milk is more than the low-toxin one in a company’s total purchase? The way most dairy farmers feed and treat their animals, it is highly likely that most milk consignments have higher than accepted toxin levels.