Regularising milk & dairy business: amendment to laws needed to save people from intake of bacteria

Considering the health hazards of loose milk, amendment to food laws of Pakistan regarding sale of milk by minimum pasteurisation law across Pakistan, is urgently needed to save people from intake of possible bacteria as all types of milk and dairy products have the potential to transmit pathogenic (disease-causing) organisms to human beings, according to stakeholders here. 

Although so far, there is no legal framework in place, which could regularise the milk and dairy business, it is important that commercial pasteurisation of milk prior to sales be implemented. Pakistan, they said is world’s fourth largest milk producing country with the estimated annual production of 33 billion litres and dairy and livestock sectors contribute about 11 percent to the GDP of Pakistan. 

Overall, the contribution of dairy sector to the national economy is of approximately Rs 540 billion with 93% as informal non-documented economic activity which is expected to grow further. Milk produced in Pakistan is of good quality and the country has the potential to export it to the neighbouring countries and the Gulf region. However, milk, if not handled carefully, could carry bacteria and provide favourable conditions for bacteria and other micro-organisms to multiply. Bacteria, in fresh milk, from a healthy animal could be beneficial but possibilities of disease carrying animals cannot be ruled out. Rapid changes in the health of an animal, or the milk handler, or contaminants from polluted water, dirt, manure, vermin, air, cuts, and wounds could make raw milk potentially dangerous if consumed directly, they said. 

All types of milk and dairy products have the potential to transmit pathogenic (disease-causing) organisms to humans. The nutritional components that make milk and milk products an important part of the human diet also support the growth of the organisms. Pathogens present in milk (Salmonella, Listeria Monocytogenes, Campylobacter and E.coli etc) transmit tuberculosis, brucellosis, diphtheria, scarlet fever, and Q-fever (a mild disease characterised by high fever, chills, and muscular pains) to humans. 

Stakeholders said, these organisms could enter the milk supply during the milking process when equipment used in milking, transporting, and storing raw milk is not properly cleaned and sanitised. Presence of microbes in raw milk will significantly affect the quality of milk and nutritional composition. Microbes convert lactose into lactic acid, which drops the potential of Hydrogen (pH) of milk, denatures proteins and has a bad impact on the taste as well. According to them, pasteurisation destroys most disease-producing organisms as pasteurisation process heats milk to 75 degrees centigrade for 15-25 seconds, inactivating or killing organisms that grow rapidly in milk, hence preserving milk for a longer period of time and safer for human consumption. 

Generally, in an average Pakistani household, milk is boiled in open pans at home to kill pathogenic bacteria. This technique kills the pathogens but have adverse effect on nutrition composition. Protein denaturing also occurs excessively in open pan boiling as milk boils at around 100 degree centigrade and when protein starts to denature at 65 degree centigrade, boiling of milk loses three to four percent Thiamin, 5 percent vitamin E and around 10 percent of Biotin during the heating process. 

Pasteurisation is a process of heating milk to a specific temperature for a predefined length of time and then cooling it after removing from heat. Pasteurisation increases milk safety for the consumer by destroying disease-causing micro-organisms (pathogens) that may be present in milk. It also maintains the quality of milk products by destroying spoilage micro-organisms and enzymes that contributes to the reduced quality and shelf life of milk.

Stakeholders expressed confidence that proper pasteurisation and handling could greatly increase the storage life of milk and will inactivate certain enzymes responsible for spoilage. Dairy industry needs government’s support to reach its true potential and to pave the way to food security. In most developed countries (EU, UK, USA, Canada etc), minimum pasteurised requirements for milk products are based on regulations outlined in the Grade A Pasteurised Milk Ordinance (PMO). 

It is also very important to set up a legal framework by introduction of minimum pasteurisation law for milk sale (even for open market) to ensure consumer protection and encourage fair trade practices. Bringing loose milk under the ambit of law is another important step that needs to be taken. More investment in infrastructure and greater focus on corporate dairy farming with better dairy farming practices are also the need of the hour as it is through the formal dairy sector that productivity and yield per cow could be increased and rural development take place. 

Copyright Business Recorder, 2013

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