STRAIGHT TALK

It seems pure milk is virtually impossible to procure, even as more and more companies selling the product appear in the marketplace with their advertising banners and catchy slogans.

A Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, has noted that a large number of milk brands are adulterated with chemicals, urea or cane juice – intended to thicken the liquid or improve its flavour. The bench, hearing a petition placed before it by Barrister Zafarullah, was told that this kind of adulteration was also being practiced in the case of boxed juices sold everywhere in the country.

The result is that consumers are simply not getting what they are paying for, with children, the main consumers of milk, also suffering health consequences because of contamination. In the past, the issue of adulterated loose milk has been placed before courts. The denial of safe milk to children was noted by the court to be a major issue, with a commission set up to examine it.

The Punjab Food Authority, which has been active in the past two years in tackling unhygienic food preparation, is to play a part in the inquiry. The issue has come up time and again at various forums. Inquiries have been conducted as well in the past. Perhaps we need to take things further.

It is no secret that many food items we buy are contaminated while laws exist to ensure companies follow codes and declare accurately the ingredients in their product, such laws are both inadequate and poorly enforced.

In the case of an item such as milk, these lapses affect millions on a daily basis. Certainly, urgent measures are required to control standards and prevent further damage to the health of people, who really have no control over what food products they consume. In short, we have failed to put food safety practices in place.

Medical research shows that contaminated and substandard milk can be the cause of many ailments including anaemia, migraine, bloating, acidity, indigestion, asthma, prostate cancer, and a host of potentially fatal allergies -- especially if one is a person of colour.

They forget to tell you about the dangers lurking in that innocuous-looking glass of white liquid. Once criticised only by naturopaths and vegans, now the health effects of milk are being decried by many mainstream doctors. The supposedly hip milk moustache is actually a creamy layer of mucus, live bacteria, and pus.

The former chairman of Paediatrics at Johns Hopkins has written a book called “Don't Drink Your Milk”, which blames every second health problem kids suffer on hormone-ridden commercial milk.

Sixty percent of ear infections in kids under six years of age are milk-induced, and milk consumption is the number one cause of iron-deficiency anaemia in infants today, according to the American Association of Paediatrics. But milk has also a racial implication. Almost 90 percent of African Americans and most Latinos, Asians, and Southern Europeans lack the genes necessary to digest lactose, the primary sugar in milk.

Lactose intolerance is the most common "food allergy," but to call it an allergy is to take a white-centric view that trivialises the fact that most of the world's people are not biologically designed to digest milk. Milk does no body good, but for the vast majority of the world's people -- people of colour -- it is a public health disaster. No other animal drinks cow's milk, not even calves once they are weaned.  Most of milk's much-vaunted protein is contained in casein -- which is also a raw material for commercial glue. Undigested, it simply sticks to the intestinal walls and blocks nutrient absorption.

The USDA continues to require that school lunch programmes include milk with every meal, and recommend that we glug milk for calcium, even though Harvard studies show an increase in osteoporosis and bone-breakage in people who consume milk. The dairy lobby perpetrates lies to ensure its profits. It benefits directly from the exaggerated support prices the government shells out for this "health food." The government pays over a billion dollars a year for surplus butter.

The Dairy Education Board, a nonprofit organisation in the United States, dedicated to exposing the milk lobby, contends that the dramatic 52 percent rise in asthma deaths among minority kids in New York coincided with the surplus milk, cheese, and butter pumped into them under the USDA's free school lunch and breakfast giveaway programmes. The incidence of asthma deaths may be even higher since asthma is not a reportable disease, and asthma deaths are sometimes certified as caused due to cardiovascular disease.

There is also a direct link between milk consumption and prostate cancer among African Americans, who have the highest incidence of this disease in the world. A study in cancer has shown that men who reported drinking three or more glasses of whole milk daily had a higher risk for prostate cancer than men who reported never drinking whole milk.

The controversial Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) -- banned in most countries -- is pumped into US milch cows to increase annual yield (50,000 pounds of milk per cow today compared to 2,000 pounds in 1959).

Milk from cows treated with BGH is likely to contain pus from their udders since the hormone leads to mastitis, or udder infection. BGH use results in a tumour-promoting chemical (IGF-I) that has been implicated in an explosive increase of cancer of the colon, smooth muscle, and breast. The antibiotics dairy farmers use to treat BGH-caused infections in cows appear in their milk and greatly hasten human tolerance to most antibiotics, a potentially life-threatening state of affairs. The Centre for Science in the Public Interest reports that 38 percent of milk samples in 10 cities were contaminated with sulfa drugs and other antibiotics.

The PCRM -- composed of some of the leading doctors in the US -- campaigned extensively in the health and consumer press and led a successful legal effort in 1999 to make dairy products optional in the federal food guidelines.

The campaign was supported by a number of prominent civil rights organisations and leaders, including the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP, Martin Luther King III, Jesse Jackson Jr, the National Hispanic Medical Association, and former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders.

The time has come for the milk industry to face the kind of scrutiny that the tobacco companies face today.

(Email: trust@helplinetrust.org.pk).