In a first, the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s Karachi registry banned selling and distribution of four brands of packaged milk including Nurpur and Dayfresh in Sindh after Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR) deemed these unfit for human consumption.
Responsible for ensuring food hygiene in the province, the Sindh Food Department was long in slumber. So this SC move, on the back of similar orders for Punjab last year, was certainly a welcome one. The landmark decision is likely to make Dairyland; Fauji Foods, the makers of Day Fresh and Nurpur brands; and other dairy companies, such as Engro (Olper’s) and Nestle (Milkpak), improve their quality and hygiene standards even further. And why wouldn’t they – the decision is likely to cost Rs6.5 million per day to Dairyland alone (the estimate is based on daily production, at 50,000 liters).
Considered to be a complete food, fresh milk is an essential grocery item, constituting 7% daily spending of an average household and needs to be taken seriously by both the producers and the regulator. Despite reports of adulteration and poor hygiene at dairy farms and along every step of the supply chain, the provincial regulator failed to do its job. And if it were not for the SC, consumers in Sindh would continue consuming unsafe milk. It is only logical then that the media, too, check on and highlight issues pertaining to the quality of milk sold in the market because of health concerns and growing public interest in the subject.
That said, it is also for this reason that both the media and social commentators report this issue with responsibility, because misreporting or sensationalism can do more harm than good – which exactly transpired in the present case. For example, when these brands were banned, the news was everywhere from print to electronic and social media, but when the SC cleared them in the next hearing on February 17, it hardly made any headlines (the magazine version of the story went into production before the ban was lifted).
But before we dig into media’s coverage of the issue and how it undermines the larger public good, we would like to highlight what prompts Profit to write a situationer on apparently an open and shut case: the SC verdict banning a few dairy brands, found to be unfit for human consumption by the state’s scientific research arm.
For the record, on January 27, the honorable SC, while hearing a case regarding use of hormonal injections on farm cows, banned Dayfresh (UHT milk), Dayfresh (pasteurized milk), Nurpur (UHT) milk, and Skimillac (skimmed milk powder) based on the findings of PCSIR, which tested market samples of 53 brands but deemed only these four unfit for consumption.
The ruling comes less than a month since Punjab Food Authority, projected as the most rigorous foods regulator in the country, cleared market samples of both Nupur and Dayfresh UHT milks. More recently (on January 19), a legal team led by Advocate Mohamed Vawda, the SC-appointed commissioner for collecting and testing of milk samples in Karachi, inspected the farm and factory of Dairyland. The commission expressed satisfaction over hygiene and cleanliness procedures followed by the company and cleared it of any suspected contamination, according to the inspection report, a copy of which is available with Pakistan Today.
“The employees followed strict personal hygiene and the sanitation controls encompassed handling of ingredients, processing and packaging equipment, and storage houses,” the report says referring to the inspection of dairy farm, milking section, microbiological and associated laboratories, packaging plant and storage house of Dairyland, one of the companies whose products would be banned by the SC a week later.
“The Company has provided the Commission with a copy of various Certificates i.e. Certification of Corporate Dairy Farmers Association, Membership Certificate of Pakistan Dairy (PDA) Association, Certificate of Incorporation of Dairy Land (Pvt) Ltd., Membership Certificate of KCCI, License from Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA), Halal Bureau Veritas Certification, Certificates from Punjab Food Authority and Certificate from TUV Austria, which reflect that milk quality complies with good standards of health and hygiene,” it said.
Since Dairyland has only one dairy farm and one factory, the milk samples that were found to be unfit by PCSIR were sourced from the same facilities that were cleared for maintaining good hygiene by the SC’s Commission only days ago.
Fauji Foods, the makers of Nurpur UHT milk, has its facilities based in Sargodha, but the Commission’s scope was limited to the Karachi-based dairy operations. Therefore, we could not obtain any details regarding the hygiene standards of its dairy farms and processing facilities nor did the company respond to our queries or phone calls. Both companies immediately removed their products from the market till they are cleared by the SC after resampling.
But, the fact that PFA cleared these brands in all of its quarterly inspections last year merits exploring what makes them unfit in Sindh.
The devil is in the details
Since skimmed milk powder has a tiny share in the market, this report focuses on pasteurized and UHT segments. We have also skipped ‘tea whiteners’ because they are neither an essential food item nor a substitute for milk.
According to the details of the case, samples of Dayfresh pasteurized milk contained Coliform. These bacteria are organisms that are present in the environment and in the feces (waste) of all warm-blooded animals and humans. They are unlikely to cause illness, but their presence in the milk indicates that disease-causing organisms (pathogens) could also be present in the sample.
Dayfresh samples contained 80 colony-forming unit per milliliter (cfu/ml), exceeding United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) standards, which restricts its level to less than 10 cfu/ml. However, it falls within permissible limit of another American regulator, Food and Drug Administration. Moreover, according to Punjab Pure Food Regulations, Coliform’s permissible limit is also under 100 cfu/ml. In other words, the Dayfresh pasteurized milk would have been fit for consumption in Punjab based on the same samples. In its latest report, dated February 8, 2018, the SC’s Commission cleared Dayfresh pasteurized milk and deemed it safe for consumption.
Let’s move to the UHT samples of Dayfresh. PCSIR says the brand’s UHT milk contained a very high aflatoxin level, exceeding the permissible limit as per national standards. Aflatoxin is a poison produced by fungus and found in common foods like corn and peanuts. In the long run, high levels of aflatoxin can cause serious health problems including cancer.
However, both the PCSIR and Dairyland have different claims to what forms high level of aflatoxin. According to the Commission’s report, available with Profit, the company says samples contained aflatoxin levels of less than 1 parts per billion (ppb), which is within the limits of PFA. The PCSIR disputes it saying, PFA’s limit is 0.5 ppb and secondly two of the four samples tested contained 1.06 and 1.47 ppb thus were unsafe for consumption. In addition to this, the presence of antibiotic residue was another reason for deeming them unsafe, the PCSIR says.
Though it failed to meet national standards, the brand’s UHT milk samples with less than 1 ppb might have cleared PFA, which clears any samples that have aflatoxin levels of between 0.5 ppb and 1 ppb albeit with a warning to improve its quality even further – the PFA spokesperson also confirmed this to Profit.
Responding to a question, the spokesperson said they divide samples into two categories: ‘dangerous and unfit for consumption’ and ‘not-so-dangerous’. In case of the latter, the brand is warned to improve quality but not banned – we could not obtain details regarding what was wrong in Nurpur samples.
Since the case was under the jurisdiction of Sindh, one might ask what is the permissible limit by the provincial standards. There are multiple foods standards in the country but apparently none in Sindh, prompting the SC’s Commission to raise the issue of absence of the Sindh foods standards.
The Sindh Food Department secretary, Sajjad Hussain Abbasi says the provincial food authority will commence operations in March, thanks to the SC pushing the government to expedite the process. But in the absence of Sindh Foods Laws, the PCSIR had to apply other standards, and it chose USDA’s for Dayfresh pasteurized milk and Pakistan standards for UHT.
The application of multiple food standards has long been an issue for the industry, and Pakistan Dairy Association (PDA), while lobbying for harmonization, is challenging compliance with multiple standards. A national council, PDA’s argument goes, should make laws that provinces must implement.
PDA, Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Pakistan Business Council have all met the prime minister regarding their concerns about harmonization of standards, who promised discussion in the next Council of Common Interest meeting. There hopefully the multiple standards issue will be resolved.
‘Poison’ or a logical substitute for poison?
Since high levels of Aflatoxin could cause cancer in the long term, the SC’s decision is plausible. Matters of public health demand zero tolerance, for any milk that contains harmful bacteria extreme measures are justified. If anything, it will make smaller brands, the likes of Dairyland and Fauji Foods, allocate more resources, financial and human, to their quality control. And that is quite evident from the fact that both the companies fixed the quality of their milk in no time to get the court’s clearance in the very next hearing. Here one may argue why PFA, with the reputation of being the most rigorous regulator in the country, would even if informally stretch the permissible limits from 0.5 to 1 ppb.
Simply, because the substitute, the unbranded loose milk, is far worse.
Adulteration of loose milk, its primitive supply chain and poor hygiene at the dairy farms and retailing facilities, is rather well documented. Profit recently reported how wholesalers check the quality of loose milk by dipping their bare hands in milk containers and adulterate it at various stages of the supply chain.
By contrast, the formal sector conducts up to 30 tests from farm to factory to detect contamination, ensuring high operational standards, also evident from the inspection report of SC’s Commission. From the cow’s udders to consumers, the milk is not exposed to sunlight or human touch, as witnessed by Profit correspondents who visited corporate farms of Nestle and Dairyland in the past. In fact, better quality and hygiene are formal sector’s unique selling points and they proudly advertise it: 100% Australian cow’s milk, and hormonal injection free, reads Dayfresh packaging while a Nurpur Facebook post states they conduct 23 tests and their product is verified by PFA, PSQCA and third-party labs like SGS Pak, Intertek Pal, and Qarshi.
If bacteria can make it to these brands, which have certifications from various labs and are known to observe a high level of vigilance at their farms and factories, it’s anybody’s guess how with no checks how contaminated the loose milk is?
Consider, for example, how the packaged industry has fought tooth and nail with loose milk over the years. According to our sources, Engro Foods, the largest player in the UHT segment, used to collect market samples of loose milk almost on a daily basis for over a decade. The test results showed, not a single one was fit for consumption as per industry standards.
None of these samples were found to have more than 9.5% milk solids and fats. In other words, they failed to meet the minimum criteria to be considered milk – as per standard definition, milk should have at least 12.5% milk solids and fats. But that perhaps is the smallest of problems.
The test results in Karachi showed, loose milk was full of hormones that came from chemical injections that are meant to increase yield (production) – small wonder then, Karachi’s milk supply decreased to 3.5 million liters a day, down by 30% from 5 million liters, shortly after the SC’s Lahore registry banned the use of these injections last month. It is pertinent to mention here, sustained intake of hormonal injection like oxytocin is linked with early puberty in children.
On the other hand, results of countrywide sampling of loose milk by Engro showed presence of antibiotics, caustic soda, pathogens and various other bacteria, whose count would run in millions. In Punjab alone, Engro Foods got several factories of loose milk closed with the help of the government. For example, the provincial government shut down a factory in Sahiwal, which was producing 70,000 liters of substandard milk per day – that is 20,000 liters more than Dairyland’s daily production.
Punjab’s food regulator is still spilling out thousands of liters of loose milk in Punjab every day, but the unknown producers do not make headlines the same way the branded sector does – because bashing the latter ensures higher ratings for news channels.
Since its inception, according to PFA spokesperson, it has uprooted 70 factories producing substandard milk in Punjab. Conducting raids daily on undocumented loose milk from day one, PFA is now taking this fight to the next level.
Sindh needs to take PFA’s cue:
“We have passed the minimum pasteurization law and, in five years, we want to convert the entire dairy segment to packaged milk like rest of the world,” said the PFA spokesperson. Raiding loose milk day in, day out is not the solution, he said. If we can convert it to packaged milk, it will become easy to trace every drop of milk sold in the market, which will make it easier for the regulator to monitor its quality in an efficient manner, he said. It has definitely set itself a tough task, for loose milk accounts for 98% of Punjab’s consumption.
It’s here that Sindh must take a cue from PFA on loose milk. For example, Dairyland’s total production is 1% of Karachi’s market and this includes their UHT milk sold in Punjab. To ensure Karachiites have access to high-quality milk, the Sindh foods regulator has to think beyond the packaged industry. That is, it has to go after loose milk supplies that number in thousands and pass a minimum pasteurization law to eventually convert the whole market to packaged industry. Tracing source of milk will not be a problem then, nor will be monitoring its quality.
Like everywhere in the world, converting the dairy sector to packaged industry is the only way forward. Unlike loose milk that accounts for 94% of the country’s total consumption, packaged milk is traceable – giving consumers confidence and building their trust in the product. Take for example, customers reaction to the ban on Dayfresh and Nupur.
“Dayfresh was the largest-selling brand at our store, so people are frequently asking about it,” said Fakhar Shah, a teller at TEE-EMM Mart at the upscale DHA Phase VIII. When Dayfresh was removed, its high-end customers switched to even more expensive substitutes, the imported MeadowFresh of New Zealand, Emborg of Denmark and Almarai of Saudi Arabia – that despite PCSIR putting Almarai under ‘suitable for consumption’ but ‘not complying with Pakistan Standards’ category. Meanwhile, Dayfresh facebook fans, some having visited their farm, flooded their page with testimonials about the quality of milk, as the alternative is far worse.
The brands (Nurpur and Dayfresh), banned by the SC are infinitely better in quality than the unbranded loose milk, with experts dubbing the latter as ‘the real poison’. Particular about hygiene, the formal sector shall fix the temporary anomaly and improve its quality, but the regulators must do something about loose milk, they say.
The curious case of Dairy Farmers Association:
While PFA has hogged headlines for its rigorous enforcement of hygiene in Punjab, taking both the packaged and the loose milk, it is a recent phenomenon. Sindh meanwhile lay dormant until the apex court pushed it to establish the Sindh Food Authority – an intervention that the citizens hail for it affects every household.
Before putting Sindh under the microscope, the SC had already made Punjab-based dairies to ensure high quality. Hearing a petition by Barrister Zafarullah Khan of Wattan Party against milk quality and use of hormonal injections, in September 2016 the SC had ordered chemical examination of all indigenous and international packaged milk brands. The PCSIR, University of Agriculture Faisalabad, and the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences Lahore conducted tests on 16 UHT milk varieties, declaring just six of them fit for consumption, with only pasteurized variety passed muster.
Given its importance, the electronic and social media pounced on it, with news and commentary aplenty – with next to no effort in getting the details right, an irresponsible act as the coverage resulted in the loss of consumer confidence in the packaged milk.
One might argue, if the milk was substandard, why should it not be reported? By all means, but in this particular case the greater public good was undermined as putting people off from the packaged milk was not the right thing, instead more of it was the solution.
The curious thing was the Dairy Farmers Association, the producers body based out of Karachi’s cattle colony where hormonal injections abound, latched onto selective media rants by owning and spreading it. When a noted journalist at a large news network said, “In the name of milk, poison is being fed,” it was music to DFA’s ears, and its ‘value addition’ was: “Tetra Pak milk, bachon ki mot ka saman (Tetra Pak milk, cause for children’s death)?”; “Mulk Bhar Men Zehreelay Doodh Ki farokht jari (sale of poisonous milk continues across the country),” and “Packaged milk or a sip of poison” and so on.
A case of media undermining greater public good by killing consumer confidence in the packaged milk, the only logical step forward?
Consider the example of Haleeb, the only UHT brand declared unsafe by the PCSIR in January 2016. The company says their samples were sent to three labs, with two clearing it as safe consumption while one said it was not good enough. Instead of giving them a chance to defend their position, the media picked up the first report and highlighted it, they said. “The questionable thing was the fact that all 3 labs tested milk from the same batch,so how could the same milk be passed by two labs and failed by one?” the company’s COO Haroon Lodhi said, speaking to Profit in May 2017.
Likewise, media also reported that heavy metals were found in some samples, these metals were iron and zinc, naturally milk ingredients – even SC is said to have agreed to it later.
In the recent banning of Dayfresh and Nurpur, the media pressed on the news without verifying the facts. “Hormonal injection milk being sold by packaged industry,” read one report. The ruling was part of a case against the use of these injections on farm cows, but in case of Dayfresh the samples contained coliform and aflatoxin, not hormonal injections. In fact, Dairyland publicly states its milk is injection free and sourced from Australian cows – it doesn’t even make business sense to inject hormones to breeding animals.
Similarly, aflatoxin is not adulteration as portrayed by media reports. It comes from fodder (animal feed). The PFA is flexible on this issue because it knows our standards are inspired by European laws, but our environment is nowhere close to theirs.
The lack of research, distorting of facts and sensationalism by media professionals who either do not understand or ignore the larger context only results in loss of consumer confidence. Even loyal customers of these brands were left dumbfounded after how it was reported by the media.
“My whole family has been consuming it for long now but until Supreme Court clears it I’ll not use it now,” a consumer wrote on Nurpur’s social media page. Another post echoed similar sentiments: “After the SC verdict we are afraid to opt for any brand. Instead, fresh [loose] milk is a better option than packed milk with preservatives and other acids.”
The explanations by the companies on their social media accounts didn’t help because the way media reported it, damage was extensive.
That said, there is certainly a margin for improvement, especially in case of UHT milk, as indicated by PCSIR report. However, both the brands cleared Punjab standards last year, but not a single report mentioned it. Plus there are other issues regarding the testing. For example, PFA once froze a sample before testing, which caused errors in reading and they had to collect another sample. The industry is also apprehensive of chemicals used for the test, some say it could expired chemical. To solve this issue, Punjab has a protocol where both the company and PFA officers collect samples from the same batch to ensure results are not disputed — which is not the case in Sindh.
Then there are misconceptions about UHT technology in Pakistan. Majority of Europe is on UHT. In France, Spain, and Germany, UHT is 96% (in the first two), and 60% respectively. Even in India, packaged industry has 40% share.
Ultra High Temperature or UHT is packaging technology whereby milk is heated at 135 C for 3-4 seconds followed by flash cooling. The milk is homogenized with increased shelf life, three months in Pakistan, up to nine months in some western countries. It offers convenience because it does not require cold storage. On the other hand, pasteurized milk has a shelf life of three to four days, with cold storage being mandatory its share is limited in Pakistan. Both technologies are safe and do not require any preservatives to increase shelf life, or why else would western countries allow them in their markets.
Experts are of the opinion that, conforming to the global practice, eventually the entire milk market will be converted to the packaged variety. Media speculation and rumours about the quality of UHT milk only undermines the large public good because undocumented loose milk is the real threat. If converted to packaged milk, which is what Punjab is aiming for, every drop of milk will become traceable to the farm and factory level – making monitoring its quality much easier.
“It is up to the consumer whether he prefers UHT or pasteurized milk, but we want the dairy sector to be converted to packaged milk so their samples can be traced back to distributors and even the farms from where it was sourced because there is no way you can trace the roots of gowalla milk,” said the PFA spokesman.