India is finally set to get new national milk safety standards, which were introduced 60 years before and had remained unchanged. The changes in milk standards have been made with the view to standardize the outdated benchmarks for determining adulteration, include other sources of milk such as camel and yak and incorporate flavored and fortified milk. Under the existing guidelines set in 1954, only milk from cow, sheep, buffalo and goat is considered.
“There is a need to revisit old milk standards to ensure people eat and drink quality food,”
– Pawan Agarwal, CEO, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI)
According to a shocking finding, close to 70% of milk sold in India is considered adulterated as it doesn’t conform to milk standards for fat and solid non-fat (SNF) content — including vitamins and minerals — that vary from state to state. However, experts say that not conforming to fat standards is not a health hazard — which is what adulteration implies.
“Milk with water added is considered adulterated. It may be non-conforming to set milk standards but is essentially not unsafe to drink,” said an FSSAI official. Diluting milk with water lowers the percentage of fat, vitamins and minerals. Fat and SNF standards vary across states ; in Punjab, Chandigarh and Haryana, for example, the percentage of recommended fat is 4%, it’s 3% for Mizoram and Odisha, and 3.5% for the rest of India. For SNF, earlier criterion was 8.2%.
New milk standards
“With milk sourced from across states, it is pointless to have different standards for different states. While drafting the new milk standards, we have brought uniformity to the criteria,” the official said. While 8.5% will be the recommended benchmark for SNF, 3.2% is being considered for fat as the tentative benchmark for milk standard across India. “We have adopted a three-way strategy – setting new milk standards is one aspect, commissioning a national-level survey to measure the quality of milk India is drinking being the second and finally identifying the major problem areas,” Agarwal said.
The revised milk standards are also badly needed to take into account the changes in environmental conditions, quality of fodder and water that cattle are consuming. “We now have hybrid cattle and the quality of milk is changing naturally across country, which is why we need to revisit old standards,” the FSSAI official said. He argues that people could be persecuted if his or her cow or buffalo is producing milk with lower fat content than the permissible limit. “Since camel milk is traded in some states, we have proposed 3% fat content and 6.5% SNF for camel milk. Yak milk is also being considered, though we are yet to set the criterion for it,” he said.
For flavored milk, the levels of additives would be taken into consideration, while in fortified milk, the regulatory body is set to monitor the level of vitamin A and vitamin D fortification that should not exceed the set limit.