Milk is a great source of calcium and iron and is consumed daily in Pakistan by adults and infants. But is all milk safe? Most people in Pakistan consume un-processed loose milk. Loose milk, which is assumed as the purest form of milk, unfortunately suffers from all kinds of adulteration. This causes undernourishment and stunting in young children. While milk is a complete source of nutrition our body needs, adulterated loose milk contains harmful bacteria that can be life threatening.

Malnourishment is a common problem in the poorer sections of Pakistan’s population as more than 45 percent of the nation’s children are malnourished. In the initial years of a child’s life, milk is a major source of nutrition. When a child moves from breastfeed to other source of milk, it has to be healthy and fit for consumption. Unfortunately, in our part of the world that’s not the case. If pasteurized and packaged milk is supplied to them at a nominal price, the malnourishment and stunting situation could be greatly improved.

The key importance of pasteurization and packaging of milk ensures safer and more nutritious milk, which is processed and stabilized to pass on its benefits to the human body, more effectively. Milk is a perishable product and is spoiled within 4 hours. It is, therefore, important to invest in and establish proper cold chain systems to preserve the nutrition of milk and prevent its wastage.

Despite being one of the largest milk producing counties in the world, only 5% of milk produced in Pakistan is packaged while the rest is consumed as loose milk. The dairy industry is dominated by loose milk sellers and informal distribution and retailing networks. The high taxes and duties on the packaging of pasteurized milk has further encouraged the informal market. The trend of loose milk consumption is growing as it is less expensive to buy. A great risk of loose milk is that it is contaminated easily and cannot be preserved for long. This means that a large quantity of this nutritious produce is wasted.

As a major chunk of the dairy industry is un-taxed and unregulated, it allows a number of sellers to tamper with the quality of milk and get away with it. Not only does it damage the industry but it is also playing with the life of consumers. There is a need for the government to revise taxes and offer an effective plan to ensure that all milk is treated and packaged. It should be made mandatory for milk sellers to be registered. Pakistan needs a cold chain industry through which it will be easier to monitor the temperature, preservation and distribution of healthy and nutritious milk. A combination of pasteurization and cold chain storage ensures longevity, freshness and quality of milk. If the prices and taxes are duly monitored, the trend in loose milk sellers to market the produce without quality checks can be greatly countered.

Agriculture and livestock is the backbone of Pakistan’s economy. In a population of over 200 million, breeding of livestock plays a vital role in the agricultural sector. Pakistan’s livestock contributes 11.6 of the total national GDP which is greater than the contribution of any other industry in Pakistan. Some 80 percent of milk in Pakistan is produced by rural dairy farmers. Out of this, only 10 percent is supplied to the dairy processing firms while 60 percent is consumed at source. To bring about expansion in the percentage of processed milk, the government needs to initiate incentives and control the supply chain. It should be mandatory, for example, to install chillers for storage of milk at source. This not only guarantees freshness of milk but also increases its preservation time. Absence of proper transport systems and almost non-availability of cold chain networks means that milk in villages is stored in non-food grade containers.

Other factors like untrained manpower, lack of proper management skills and absence of dairy related education of farmers, has led to inefficient marketing systems. Packaged milk is safe while substandard loose milk is not. The quality of packaged milk is mostly checked and tested at collection to point of sales.

Although large corporations have invested in Ultra Heat Treated (UHT) processing in the country, investment at the ground level is missing as small-scale farmers do not have the buying power or the education to use sophisticated mechanization. A lot of care is also needed to ensure supply of healthy milk based on proper cattle breeding, cleaning and milking, etc. The small-scale dairy farmers in Pakistan play a crucial role in supporting rural livelihoods and poverty alleviation. Effective development in this sector can really help in promoting rural employment.

If the government seriously works on supply and cold chains, then a link between the small-scale and the large scale dairy industry can be established. This will ensure quality checks and elimination of milk wastage and adulteration. The national media can play a key role in discouraging consumption of loose milk and milk from non-food graded containers. To boost hygiene standards and to educate consumers and farmers, it is important to establish a cold chain industry that is up to date and meets international standards.

To reduce the unhealthy impact of the informal dairy industry, promulgation and enforcement of proper minimum Pasteurisation laws is required. Strict measures must also be taken to eliminate unregistered loose milk sellers. A healthy national future must be founded today. Since milk is an important part of the nation’s diet, the dairy sector must also receive more attention from the government.