Aiming to curb the rise in instances of food adulteration in Punjab, Food and Drug Administration has begun a statewide crackdown on dairy manufacturers who are manufacturing spurious milk products. With the festive season approaching, FDA in the last one month has seized huge quantities of spurious milk products and found how certain dairy manufacturers are using harmful chemicals for increasing their profit margins. FDA Commissioner Kahan Singh Pannu speaks to Jagdeep Singh Deep about the crackdown and FDA’s plans to intensify their efforts in the coming days
How much quantity of spurious milk products has been seized by your teams?
We started these raids last month. To date, we have seized around 200 tons of spurious cheese, 20 tonne curd, 1 lakh litre spurious milk, 100 tonne spurious ghee and 100 tonne skimmed milk from different places in the state. The raids are still on and the quantity shall go up. In a month- long drive by the food safety teams under the banner of “Tandrust Punjab Mission”, 724 legal samples were collected and approximately 60 per cent have failed. Even 3,500 samples out of the 6,000 advisory samples failed.
What made the Food and Drug Administration to conduct raids suddenly?
It was not sudden. In fact, we were planning this operation for quite some time. The government had given clear instructions to take on such people who are selling sub-standard milk products and playing with the lives of people.
It was alleged that only small people are targeted while big players continue to have a free run. Is it correct?
It is not true. Rather, we are only focusing on the big players. We have raided many prominent dairy manufacturers across the state and caught them producing spurious milk products. In the coming days people shall realise that it is a serious campaign.
What is the modus operandi adopted by such dairy manufacturers?
They use chemicals to prepare such spurious milk products. They make cheese and spurious khoya by using skimmed milk. One litre of poor quality skimmed milk powder and litres of starch are mixed and thereafter refined or hydrogenated oil is added to fulfil fat content to meet the FSSAI standards. Toilet cleaning sulphuric acid is used instead of citric acid to coagulate milk while making cheese (paneer).
There are many cases when it came to light that people are preparing spurious milk and milk products. Is there any shortage in the production of milk in the state which is encouraging these people to prepare spurious milk products?
There is no shortage of milk in the state. In terms of per capita availability of milk, Punjab is the leader among the milk-producing states with 1,035 ml of milk available per person per day, which is far more than Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. The demand and supply dynamics are indicative of the fact that the production of spurious milk and milk products is not need-based, it’s rather greed-based. Going by statistics, according to the State Animal Husbandry Department, there are 52 lakh buffalo and 21 lakh cows in Punjab, out of which 70 per cent are in milk production. The total milk production is to the tune of 360 lakh litres per day. About 50 per cent out of this is consumed at village level and the remaining180 lakh litres is the market surplus.
Further, in the market, 50 lakh litres goes to milk plants including 20 lakh litres in the nine co-operative milk plants and 30 lakh litres in the 10 large private milk plants. This is followed by nearly 50 lakh litres to the milk vendors and 30 lakh litres to the sweets makers. Added to this is yet another about 20 lakh litres of milk that goes out of Punjab and the rest is directly marketed by farmers.
Milk producers and some dairy manufacturers are alleging that such raids are causing harassment to them. What do you say?
Our aim is to check spurious products and not to harass anybody. The raids were followed by a series of awareness drives for the public wherein they were exhorted to consume quality products purchased from trusted sources, and get them checked time to time from the office of District Dairy Development Officer. Besides, there are eight mobile testing vans of dairy department in the field and the process of inducting more is on so that we have at least one for each district. To date, 353 awareness camps have been organised by the dairy department with the help of Consumer Awareness Forum and Local Residents Welfare Associations wherein advisory samples were taken to guide the public about the quality of milk being used by them.
During your investigation how much milk in the market was found to be spurious?
Food safety teams have observed that about 10 per cent milk and 20 per cent milk products in the market are suspected to be adulterated or spurious. In fact, a large number of units in Punjab are engaged in manufacturing low quality and adulterated milk products. These units are selling cheese at Rs 170 per kg whereas the manufacturing cost of cheese is Rs 270 per kg. Similarly, some units are selling desi ghee at Rs 200 per kg. When packing is checked minutely, the term ‘cooking medium’ is mentioned in place of ghee which prevents us from seizing it as an inferior ghee. This escape route for flouting rules is often being resorted to by miscreants. Similarly, low quality khoa is being made and is also coming through Railways and vehicles from outside the state. Special inspection drives are on at railway stations and through special nakas on inter-state highways.
The actual producers- the farmers, are at receiving end. How will your drive help them?
The drive shall make a big difference for saving farmers. The drive against spurious milk and milk products is also aimed at saving the genuine milk producers because readily available spurious, cheap milk and milk products slash the market prices which breaks the backbone of genuine milk producers in the state. In fact, the progressive farmers who with a view to reaping better profits switched off from the regular wheat- paddy cycle to milk production are left in the lurch since now they not only find it hard to sustain living but also cannot pay back the loan raised to set up hi-tech dairy units. There are about 10,000 farmers in the state who have more than 10 animals and are termed commercial dairy farmers. Besides the routine inspections, we will tighten the noose around wrongdoers by roping in officers of PPCB to conduct joint raids to nab them since such units are not following any pollution control measures to dispose of effluents.