Many emerging economies have switched from loose, unregulated and adulterated milk to safe milk
UNICEF report states that out of ten children in Pakistan, eight do not get nutritious food. Other published reports by the UNICEF also suggest that malnutrition contributes to 35 percent of under-five mortalities in Pakistan for reasons including maternal under-nutrition and food insecurity.
Right nutrition is crucial for infants and children to achieve healthy growth milestones. Well-nourished children are less vulnerable to diseases and malnutrition. Undernourishment and unsafe food put them at severe risk of acquiring acute health problems that can challenge their mental and physical abilities.
High prevalence of child malnutrition can also lead to diminished mental growth and to stunting. As per UNICEF, nearly 10 million Pakistani children suffer from stunting. Acute stunting and malnutrition is a leading cause of wasting in young children. Several areas in Pakistan have been recognised as high emergency hot spots facing this issue. One report has pointed out that up to 46 percent children in some areas of the country suffer from stunting. This not only indicates that a child is not having enough food to consume, it also refers to the poor quality of diet being consumed.
Malnutrition should be regarded as an existential threat for the country. Its growing negative impact on our economic, social and psychological well-being and growth should not be underestimated. Unfortunately, this is just what is happening. The severity of the issue, especially for our future, has not been realised. Discussion on the subject is largely restricted to certain circles and the massive, nationwide strategy needed to counter malnutrition is missing.
Breastfeeding is a crucial intervention to improve diet quality and quantity for young children. However, the UNICEF reports that only 38 percent of infants are breastfed in Pakistan. This means that more than half of children under the age of five years are deficient in vitamin A, 40 percent are deficient in both zinc and vitamin D, and nearly 62 percent are anaemic.
Under such circumstances, milk can be a wholesome diet for infants and young children to provide them with adequate nutrition during their critical years of growth and development. However, according to Pakistan Dairy Association, 95 percent of the milk being consumed in Pakistan is sold in raw form. Some of it is adulterated.
Currently, massive flooding has created an unhygienic environment so that the loose milk offered for human consumption may be contaminated and pose a great risk to human health, especially to already malnourished children.
Legislation and policy-making to ensure safe milk consumption in Pakistan can lead to a healthier nation, a more productive farming sector and expanded domestic small and medium enterprises. It can also boost our exports.
It is worrying that most cows are manually milked in Pakistan. This requires human contact while the recent floods have left affected people at a high risk of skin-related diseases.
Under-nutrition and infections brought on by unsafe milk can lead to a cycle of sickness progression and nutritional decline amongst infants and young children who rely on safe and nutritious food to grow healthy.
As reported in the media, with reference to Pakistan Nutritionists and Dietetics Society (PNDS), unsafe and low per-capita milk consumption is contributing significantly to widespread malnutrition in Pakistan. A recent media report quoted a report by the Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Sciences, University of Agriculture in Peshawar, to state that loose milk is a major source of various diseases due to unhygienic conditions at dairy farms, contaminated milk practices, water adulteration, and use of dirty utensils. Details of this report also suggest that loose milk can carry harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites that lead to many types of illnesses, including diarrhoea, stomach cramps and vomiting.
Many emerging economies have made the transition from loose, unregulated and adulterated milk to safe milk through a mix of measures supported by the public and the private sector. Pakistan has lagged behind on this count by a fair margin. Milk and Milk Products Order (MMPO) was enacted in 1992 in India. It was amended in 2002 and further modified at the national level by the provisions of The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, to prescribe standards and processes to be followed from the farm all the way to the consumer.
In 1995, Turkey made it compulsory for milk and cream to be pasteurised. In the United States of America, the federal government does not permit the sale of raw (unpasteurised milk) milk for human consumption.
There can be nothing more urgent than improving the health of our young and infant population, many of whom have suffered stunted growth due to malnutrition. Provision of safe milk is a key measure to alleviate this handicap and convert our youth into a more productive economic force for the nation.
The way forward is a harmonised national policy framework that incentivises the growth of this vital sector of the economy and improves public health. Dairy is a highly labour-intensive sector that cannot thrive without engaging large numbers of people throughout the value chain, including farmers, milk collectors, transporters, distributors and retailers.
The formalisation and expansion of Pakistan’s milk sector will boost economic growth. This offers a dual incentive for adoption. According to reliable estimates, Pakistan’s dairy sector has the potential to boost the national economy by around $30 billion. Legislation and policy-making to ensure safe milk consumption in Pakistan, if properly and rigorously implemented, can also lead to a healthier nation, a more productive farming sector and expanded domestic small and medium enterprises. It can also boost our exports.
The writer is a freelance contributor