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July 2, 2020

Cattle farmers tap chemicals as food safety protocols remain poor

Business

July 2, 2020

HYDERABAD: Residents of a newly established housing society recently complained about all five milk vendors in their vicinity of supplying tainted milk.

Consumers said that despite multiple complaints, the vendors paid no heed. When those vendors were contacted, they accused dairy farmers of adulterating milk. Vendors go around the neighbourhood twice in the day, once in the morning, and later in the evening.

Many questions have been raised about the ways milk is being adulterated, including addition of milk as well as harmful chemicals. Milk suppliers confirmed that “exogenous use of oxytocin is very common and used for milk letting down to ease the milking process and timely increase of milk production in lactating animals”.

“Earlier, over these complaints we always changed dairy farmers one after another, but it was observed that all cattle farmers practiced the same,” a frightened milk seller told The News on condition of anonymity.

“We have nothing to do with it. We listen from clients about the change in taste and whatever they feel, but we do not do it,” he said, adding that “every consumer wants to have milk without use of oxytocin. But how can we force farmers to change their practices”?

Sale of adulterated milk in rural as well as urban areas has become questionable. Its consumption can lead to serious health complications, and often newborn babies fall prey to contaminated milk-related issues.

Prof Dr Pershotam Khatri, chairman, department of Animal Reproduction, Faculty of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Sciences, Sindh Agriculture University (SAU) Tandojam, said this hormone was responsible for contraction of smooth muscles, help in milk let down and naturally involved in act of parturition during expulsion of the foetus.

Prof Khatri believes that due to repeated use of this hormone, the overall reproductive and productive life of animals becomes questionable.

Dairy production contributes significantly to the income of small households, and an average household maintains 2-3 cattle/ buffaloes and 3-4 sheep/ goats per family, which was the major source of their income in rural areas. Raw milk is easily available at lower prices, but it may contain a number of disease causing microorganisms, chemicals and hormones, which may affect human health.

Studies in this regard have reported many residuals; however, the oxytocin hormone residual is one of the major hormones found in milk.

Pakistan is the 4th largest milk producing country, since decades. The average annual milk production is increasing and reached 48 million tons in 2018-19. Of this, more than 75 percent of milk is produced by small scale farms in rural areas, while 25 percent in the peri-urban and urban areas.

Buffaloes are the major milk producing animals in Pakistan, providing 62 percent of total milk. The famous Kundhi buffalo breed of Sindh is considered the best breed.

Elderly herders in Sindh said during the good old days they used to have organic milk and other traditional dairy products like butter, ghee and yogurt, which were key sources to maintain health, especially in children.

People did not sell milk in those days and would rather share this precious resource, particularly with the needy.

Some reports gathered from rural farmers show that when herders realised depleting natural grazing fields, increasing cost of fodder and farm management, they started selling milk to meet the need of feeding animals. Similarly, multinational companies emerged demanding milk for their dairy processing businesses. This increase in demand created problems for producers, some of whom began violating traditions.

Some researchers quote landmark decision by Supreme Court, which took suo motu action in January 2018 and prohibited dairy farmers from injecting hormones in milking animals, cows and buffaloes, to increase milk production. According to the decision, injections given to cows and buffaloes may lead to diseases like cancer in children and adults consuming the milk. It was the first reaction of its kind that and led to reducing the use of injections among many leading cattle farmers. The sale of injections in local market was also banned for some time, but a lack of monitoring mechanism the practice resurfaced.

In this regard, Sindh government also took initiatives to control the misuse of oxytocin in dairy animals to enhance the reproductive life of dairy animals. But it is yet to continue check and balance and taking further efforts to minimise its un-prescribed use.

Various livestock breeders’ associations should get involved to create mass awareness about the detrimental effects of this practice.

People have also demanded the government to ensure milk production without ocytocin and other harmful hormones. Milk production can be increased through various policies, including prevention of young calves from slaughtering. Other methods include saving germ plasma of indigenous high milk producing animals through appropriate laws against indiscriminate breeding.

In this regard veterinary practitioners suggested carrying out a new study, specifically on human health, including the effects of milk residual of oxytocin on pregnant women, newborn kids, pre-pubertal to pubertal age young ones and on reproductive health of animals from puberty to post calving. They also suggested assessing contaminated feed and environmental factors.

Prof Khatri suggested investigating the long-term effects of exogenous oxytocin administration on numbers of services per conception, pregnancy rate, embryonic and foetal losses (EFL) in precious breeds like Kundhi buffalo, Red Sindhi, Tharparkar, Kankrej cows and Kamoori goats as well.

It has been witnessed that the current food laws are inadequate for meeting market demands. The health department and local governments are both responsible for implementing food laws, but their implementation capacity at the grassroots level is extremely limited. Areas of the dairy marketing chain where safety regulation is particularly necessary are hygiene, handling and quality, in both the formal and informal sectors. In fact, existing laws have the capacity to achieve at least a minimum level of food safety. However, they are very poorly enforced.