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18 July, 2019 00:00 00 AM

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Sale of pasteurised milk falls as buyers shy away

Presence of lead, chemicals in major brands almost halves sale
FAISAL MAHMUD, Dhaka
Sale of pasteurised milk falls as buyers shy away

Repeated findings of antibiotics, lead, and other harmful chemicals in pasteurised milk have eroded the confidence of consumers, almost halving the sales of different brands of milk in the last couple of months.

The Independent talked with consumers, sellers, and top pasteurised milk producers, and found out that controversies surrounding milk have put a serious dent on this burgeoning industry, which, in the last one decade, has grown in quite a remarkable manner.

The industry first took a major hit in February when the National Food Safety Laboratory (NFSL) found high levels of microbial contaminants in dairy products in a survey conducted with the support of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

The laboratory had collected the samples of all brands of packaged milk from big food stores and directly from dairy farms, and found the presence of pesticides, lead, chromium, tetracycline, enrofloxacin, ciprocin, and aflatoxin between 9 and 96 per cent, which can create serious health hazards, according to healthcare professionals.

That NFSL survey inflicted a serious damage to the reputation of the milk industry as it created a lot of buzz in both mainstream and social media, leading to a dip in sales of milk in the market.

“After I saw the news, I got seriously scared. I stopped buying packaged milk from the stores and switched back to powder milk,” said Khadiza Afrin, a resident of Dhanmondi who teaches in an English medium school.

Mamun Abdullah, an employee of a cement company, told The Independent that he simply stopped buying milk.

“I have a three-year-old daughter and I am not feeding her milk. I am scared of giving her milk,” he said.

Later, the survey prompted the High Court to ask the Bangladesh Standard and Testing Institution (BSTI) to test dairy products in the market and bring the results before the court. That HC order only added to the woes for the milk industry.

Meanwhile, a research team of Dhaka University, led by Dr ABM Faroque, conducted two separate tests within a month and found antibiotics present in at least five major milk brands of the country. Faroque first revealed the findings in a press conference on June 23 and again in a press statement on July 13.

That discovery of antibiotics in milk by Dr Faroque’s team acted as sort of the “last straw that broke the camels back” for the milk industry as it made the consumers shy away from pasteurised packaged milk. Rohul Amin, a salesperson in Dhanmondi outlet of Meena Bazaar, told The Independent that in the last two weeks, the sales of packaged milk have dropped by at least 50 per cent. “We’ve halved our request for packaged milk in our inventory list,” said Rohul.

Anisur Rahman, general secretary of National Dairy Development Forum (NDDF), said about half a dozen major milk processors used to process 10 lakh litres of fresh milk daily just at the beginning of this year. “Now the amount is being reduced to 6 lakh litres, reducing the entire amount by about 40 per cent,” he said.

Anisur, who is a director of Brac Dairy that process Aarong brand of milk, said they used to buy 1.8 lakh litres of milk from the dairy farmers on a daily basis. “In the last two weeks, we have been buying 1 lakh litres of milk.

“We have no option but to cut off buying milk from our milk producers at the countryside. We only process and package milk. It doesn’t have long shelf life. We can’t store milk products for long,” he said.

Anisur told The Independent that they buy milk from small and medium-sized dairies. “Large commercial-sized dairies are very few in Bangladesh and the usage of antibiotics to keep the cattle disease free is not that wide-spread.

As pasteurised milk processors, we, of course, have no scope of mixing any sort of antibiotic in the milk.” He said he has no comment on the academic purpose of the studies of Dr Faroque, but he believes revealing such information in a press conference before peer review is “not a good decision.”

Mozahedul Islam Mehdi, spokesperson of Milk Vita, told The Independent that they used to collect 1.6 lakh litres of milk daily from the dairy farmers. In the last two weeks, they have been collecting only 1 lakh litres of milk every day.

“Our sales took a nose dive in the last couple of weeks. Many of our sales vans came back from the retail shops with returned products. In our processing factory, we have lowered the production,” he said.

Mozahedul said small and medium-sized dairy farmers are seriously affected because of this. “You have to understand their situation. They are now stuck with milk they cannot sell,” he said.

The Independent talked with Kawsar Ali, a small farmer from Narshingdi, over phone, who supplies fresh milk to Milk Vita. “I used to sell 200 litres of milk to Milk Vita per day. For the last two weeks, they are only buying 50 litres a day. I am stuck with 150 litres of unsold milk,” he said.

Eleash Mridha, managing director of Pran-RFL Group, said the dairy industry was growing in a “very satisfactory manner” before the beginning of this year.

“This year, there have been a lot of controversy surrounding milk in the country. Our Pran brand milk products had gained a very good reputation in the market, but first a media organisation launched a vilification campaign against us which tainted our reputation, and then a few research reports found out substances like lead and antibiotic in our milk products,” he said.

Eleash said the company used to collect 2 lakh litres of fresh milk from the dairy farmers on a daily basis. “We later reduced down it to 1.6 lakh litres and, now, we reduced it down to 1.4 lakh litres,” he said.

Eleash said if businesses of milk producers and processors like them got hurt, businesses of powdered milk importers have improved. “I think, a vested quarter is working behind destroying the growing milk industry of the country,” he said. Shah Emran, general secretary of Bangladesh Dairy Farmers Association (BDFA), said the milk industry has taken a serious blow in the last few weeks after the study by Dr Faroque revealed the presence of antibiotics in milk.

“We have around 76,000 members in our association and most of them are small and medium-sized dairy farms who supply milk to pasteurised milk processors. Now their businesses are hampered as the pasteurised milk processors have stopped buying milk,” said Emran.

Dairy farming expanded fast in the last seven years, due to which, milk production soared to 94 lakh tonnes in fiscal year 2018-19, the BFDA said.

In fiscal year 2010-11, local production was 29 lakh tonnes, said the association citing estimates of the department of livestock services. “The government needs to look after the dairy industry and something has to be done to bring back consumer confidence. Otherwise, a promising industry will be destroyed,” he said

 

 

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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