It has brought to the notice of the Parliament that over 68 percent of milk in the country does not conform to standards laid down in the FSSAI regulations. The most common adulterants are detergent, caustic soda, glucose, white paint and refined oil. These are considered very hazardous as they can be the leading cause of some serious health problems. The National Survey on Milk Adulteration had also conducted a survey some years back to check the contaminants in milk, especially liquid milk, throughout the country. The study found that due to lack of hygiene and sanitation in handling and packaging, detergents used to wash containers and other surfaces, find their way into the milk. However, detergent and other contaminants like urea, starch, glucose, and formalin are also used to deliberately adulterate milk as they provide thickness and preserve the milk for longer periods.
Section 3 (a) of Food Safety & Standards Act, 2006 has defined adulterant as any material which is or could be employed for making the food unsafe or sub-standard or misbranded or containing extraneous matter.
Despite the FSSAI asking state and union territories enforcement divisions to strengthen checks on milk producers to ensure they are complying with the Food Safety and Standards Act, milk adulteration continues. Adulterants in milk are hazardous and can cause irreversible damage to the organs. The Indian Council of Medical Research in an earlier report had mentioned that detergents in milk caused food poisoning and gastrointestinal complications. The other synthetic compounds cause impairments, heart problems, cancer and even death. The immediate effect of drinking adulterated milk with urea, caustic soda and formalin is that it causes gastroenteritis but the long-term effects are far more serious.
According to research milk is one of the most adulterated foods all over the world. Milk can be contaminated anywhere by the milk suppliers before processing, at the processing plant, at the warehouse or in the retail store and even in the home. Besides water contaminants like urea, are most common. In some places melamine is added to increase the protein content; at other places, milk suppliers add salt which slows down decomposition process in milk. Cane sugar is also added to milk, a fact that is not commonly known. Adding salt and sugar can have negative consequences on the health of people suffering from high blood pressure, kidney problems and diabetes especially as they could be unaware of the adulteration and the extent of adulteration.
Water is the most common adulterant that reduces the nutritional value of milk. If water has become contaminated with pesticides and heavy metals it poses an even bigger health risk to consumers. Of the total samples found to be non-compliant nearly 46 percent belonged to the category of low Solids-Not-Fat (SNF) and this was due to dilution of milk with water. Eight percent samples were found to have detergents. Skimmed milk powder was present in nearly a large number of samples and almost an equal amount contained glucose.
Science and Technology Minister, Harsh Vardhan, told the parliament that a scanner had been developed which could detect adulteration in milk in 40 seconds and even pinpoint the adulterant. Earlier a separate chemical test was required for every adulterant but the single scanner can do all the tests. Though the scanners are expensive each test costs only 10 paise. In the future GPS based technology could be used to track the exact location where the milk supplied in the food chain has been tampered with. There are more than two lakh villagers in the country from where milk is sourced and so this could prove to be a huge exercise.