Milk, a staple in diets worldwide, plays a vital role in promoting health and is often hailed as a complete food. Its balanced composition provides a broad spectrum of nutrients to a growing body, especially children. A glass of milk, therefore, is the best literal and metaphorical symbol for good nutrition and health.
Pakistan globally stands fourth in production and second in the consumption of milk. The ranking is not compatible to the bio-matrix chart of children under five, as four out of ten children are stunted while 17.7 per cent suffer from wasting. The double burden of malnutrition is becoming increasingly apparent, with almost one in three children being underweight (28.9 per cent) alongside a substantially high prevalence of obesity (9.5 per cent). It is a subject that needs education not only for rural but urban parents as well, to avert physical and mental health concerns in the growing children.
Pakistan is one of the few markets where loose milk dominates the rural as well as urban segments of society. The reasons are primarily subsistence farming and small holdings. Convenience and pricing take the lead over safety and hygiene, resulting in what we call ‘poor economics.’ Despite being among the top five as a milk producer and as a consumer we are nowhere in the exports and health index. The increasing climate issues of excessive flooding and water scarcity are compounding poverty-related concerns - further corroborating the compromise on health.
There is no rocket science involved in understanding the strong link between hygiene with nutrition. A glance at the regular checklist for verifying the health of milk will include checks for acidity, heat stability, bacterial contamination, etc. - sans these measures, disease-causing bacteria called pathogens (a combination of viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and worms) make milk unfit for human consumption. The highest chance of milk becoming a bacterium playing field is when it is sold in the open, making it vulnerable to contamination.
Lack of the availability of veterinary care combined with obsolete practices, and prevalent weak measures of standardisation have converted the supposedly healthy glass of loose milk, into a possible source of disease, ill-health and malnutrition. The numbers for the undesired impact, continuously moving northwards, compelling stakeholders to reflect and rectify the situation for the future of the nation and economy. Pakistan is a youth-heavy nation with 36.6 per cent of the population under the age of 14, but if this menace of adulteration and contamination of milk is not contained now, a substantial portion of our youth may suffer ailments and thus become a liability rather than strength.
On the contrary, packaged milk goes through strict testing and re-testing procedures by using state-of-the-art equipment and technology. From milk production and procurement to product delivery, the quality of the milk is maintained across the supply chain with stringent processes and regulations. This is the reason why we have witnessed a global conversion to packaged milk, rendering better health indices. Packaged milk, which goes through pasteurisation and is free from any kind of harmful bacteria, can be the best source of calcium, carbohydrates, and proteins for growing children.
Wastage of loose milk is another huge concern as it has a short shelf life. In contrast, pasteurisation and UHT treatment in packaged milk ensures the longevity of the product, and wastage is minimised to almost a zero level. Packaging is not just a guarantee of safety and hygiene; it is also convenient and available round the clock. Variety is another feature, as in whole, skim, flavoured, etc. that becomes possible when the product is safely encased in protective cartons for long shelf life. Additionally, each carton carries nutritional information for the best monitoring of obesity and malnutrition guidelines. All this comes under strict regulatory compliance, making the quality constant and dependable. To cater to sustainability needs, recyclable, eco-friendly packaging has also been introduced by many brands.
The price variation may be a factor influencing the decision for buying loose milk, however, when one looks at the ills of consuming contaminated drink and benefits of packaged milk, one does want to compromise on one’s health.
Guaranteeing the freshness and nutrition of the product compelled countries like Turkey, to transition towards pasteurised milk and by minimising the untreated to less than 15 per cent of the total market. Similarly, developed countries including Canada, the UK, Australia, etc. have ensured that safe packaged varieties are accessible across the country for better health standards.
As a mother, who is concerned for her growing children, I would strongly recommend packaged and safe milk. Pakistan’s under-five population stands at approximately 13 per cent (30,015,900) of the total population. Every Pakistani child must have access to safe milk. To achieve that target, governments, regulatory bodies, and dairy associations altogether need to work towards it, so that the health and nutrition of our children can be improved.
The author is an educationist, a businessperson, and a freelance writer. She can be reached at @faryal75