The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has recently released the full report of the ‘National Milk Safety and Quality Survey 2018’. The survey results have dispelled the perception that milk adulteration in India is of a large scale so consumers can now allay fears about consumption of milk. The survey showed that only 12 out of 6,432 samples of milk were adulterated, which rendered the milk unsafe for human consumption. Out of these six samples were found adulterated with hydrogen peroxide, three with detergents, two with urea and one sample was found to have neutralizers. There were no samples found with boric acid and nitrates which are the other two possible adulterants. Out of 12 adulterated samples, nine were in Telangana, two from Madhya Pradesh and one from Kerala. The good news for Indian consumers is that over 93% of the samples that is 5976 out of 6,432 were found to be absolutely safe for human consumption. However, the worry is that 41% samples, though safe, fall short of one quality parameter or another.
This Milk Survey was conducted from May, 2018 to October 2018 covering all States and UTs with the objective of monitoring safety and quality of liquid milk in the country. A total of 6,432 samples of milk were collected from 1,103 towns/cities with population above 50,000, representing both organized (retailers and processors) as well as non-organized (local dairy farms, milk vendors and milk mandis) sectors. Number of samples collected was linked to population at the sampling locations and covered different types of milk (raw and processed of various types). While, all samples were tested on the spot for critical parameters of quality and safety, samples that failed on account of contaminants and adulterants were subjected to confirmatory analysis. This was done by proficient analysts in NABL-accredited and FSSAI-recognized laboratories using high-end equipment and employing established testing protocols. This survey has been carried out by an independent third-party agency. It is first-of-its kind extensive well-designed, representative and most comprehensive survey to assess safety and quality of liquid milk so far.
More than adulteration, a major finding of the survey was contamination due to Aflatoxin M1 and Antibiotic residues which is actually a more serious problem than adulteration and so quality concerns persist. The survey found the presence of Aflatoxin M1 residues beyond permissible limits in 368 (out of 6,432) samples, that is 5.7% of the samples. This is the first time that such a detailed survey has been conducted in the country for the presence of Aflatoxin M1 in milk. Aflatoxin M1 reaches the milk through feed and fodder and presently these animals feeds are not regulated in the country. Amongst the top three States with highest levels of Aflatoxin M1 residues are Tamil Nadu (88 out of 551 samples), Delhi (38 out of 262 samples) and Kerala 37 out of 187 samples). This problem is more dominant in processed milk rather raw milk.The survey also showed that 77 (out of 6,432) samples, that is 1.2 % of the samples had residues of antibiotics above the permissible limits. Amongst the top three States with highest levels of Antibiotics residues are Madhya Pradesh (23 out of 335 samples), Maharashtra (9 out of 678 samples) and UP (8 out of 729 samples). Only one raw milk sample in Kerala was found to contain pesticide residue above the permissible level.
This is for the first time that a quantitative analysis of all samples that failed on account of adulterants and contaminants has been carried out. However, the level of adulterants and contaminants in failed samples is not high and therefore unlikely to pose serious threat to human health. The survey has been helpful in identifying hotspots so more intensified efforts for surveillance and enforcement will be taken up in such areas. During the stakeholders meeting too, where the survey report was discussed and accepted, there was a unanimous view that reports in the media are on-of incidents, restricted to a particular area and usually happens during the festival seasons as there is a demand-supply gap. FSSAI is however committed to zero tolerance for any adulteration and contamination of milk.The stakeholders’ group also deliberated on the presence of ammonium sulphate in milk and after careful review of scientific opinion, the group concluded that ammonium sulphate is reaching the milk naturally and its presence is safe as it is not a contaminant as earlier thought. It was brought to the notice that ammonium sulphate is allowed as an additive in certain foods in several countries.
Both raw and processed samples were found non-compliant on account of low fat or low SNF (solid not fat) or both.Proportion of fat and solid non-fat (SNF) in milk varies widely by species and depends on breed as well as quality of feed and fodder. Cattle must be properly fed and good farm practices must be adopted to improve the amount of fat and SNF in milk. Non-compliance on these parameters in raw milk could be for these reasons or due to dilution of milk with water. Non-compliance of fat and SNF in standardized/processed milk is however surprising.Presence of Maltodextrin in 156 (out of 6432) samples and Sugar in 78 (out of 6432) samples is yet another surprise. This mainly confined to processed milk. Maltodextrin and sugar are not unsafe but added to raise the level of fat and SNF. While, these do not represent threat to human health, but stringent action is required to curb this wrong practice. The survey did not find any non-compliance on account of other parameters, namely Cellulose, Glucose, Starch and Vegetable oil.
The FSSAI concludes that the outcome of the survey has been a myth buster as it clearly indicates that milk being sold in India is largely safe for consumption. This is contrary to wide-spread perception of large-scale milk adulteration, which has broadly been based on deceitful campaigns and unsubstantiated reports. Further, the results of previous two experimental surveys by FSSAI have also been grossly misrepresented causing unnecessary scare in the minds of the consumers, FSSAI Survey has clearly shown that combatting, the little adulteration there is, requires more vigilant citizens and enforcement machinery but the contamination in milk requires systemic improvements through the supply chain. FSSAI remains committed to ensuring complete safety and quality of milk.