Nestle plays key role in improving health, hygiene standards in Pakistan

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Salahuddin Haider

Health and hygiene, despite being the need of the hour, continues to be at lowest ebb in Pakistan, but awareness has luckily been rising that this essential ingredient of our national life, has to improve. Mineral or bottled water, call it by any name, has slowly but steadily been occupying important place in the society, which in turn has enhanced the life span of people in the country for nearly a decade.
But instead of appreciation, efforts from entrepreneurs, foreign and local, fell victim to conspiratorial tendencies, which somehow has been assuming ominous proportions in a society which has been searching for proper guidance, but with little success. However, those in the business seem determined to carry forward their mission, which indeed is a happy augury.
A Swiss firm of international repute, Nestle, has been in the forefront of such endeavours, deserving credit for its zeal, which apart from raising its image, has won accolades from Pakistanis also. A small team of journalists from Karachi, including this scribe, visited their headquarters in Lahore, and milk and bottled water plant in Sheikhupura, a small but important town, named after Mughal emperor, Jahangir, who was popularly called “sheikhu” by his father, Akbar the Great. The town now at the centre on the road to Faisalabad, the Manchester of Pakistan, was hunting place for “Sheikhu”, so say the history books.
Our minds were beset with all kinds of apprehensions and confusions as to whether the raids from Punjab Food department on milk plants in Lahore and other areas, had influenced market situations for such packaged or bottled products. Whether these were genuine, or mere propaganda but when we saw ourselves as to how the Nestle, which produces packaged milk, bottled water, juices, etc, took pains to take care of the Pakistanis health, such suspicions vanished to a huge degree.
It will be important to explain here that the Food department raids were merely to detect administrative weaknesses in the industry, but the media hype blew out of proportions to give these raids a scandalous look, and poor factory owners had to suffer undescribeable anguish for no fault of theirs.
Nestle, has a carefully planned programme of collecting milk from farm houses, patronizing selected milkmen, as ordinary as those owning on or two or maximum four cows, has most scientific and modern chilling, and transportation networks and latest equipment at their plants to ensure supply of 100 percent hygienic and nutrient milk and clean or hygienic water, and supply it to households in packaged shape, or tightly capped bottles with its brand name, which is rapidly becoming a household word.
Pages and pages could be written on the system that has been operative in Pakistan, but space being a problems, a nutshell description will have to be relied upon to narrate s to how effectively the system or the network, based on scientific research, and modern technological developments, has been helpful in ensuring hygienic, healthy, nutritious milk and drinking water, juices etc to shops and stores in the country, from where buyers, housewives, carry these items, little realizing how much care and input had gone into the items they were carrying home for themselves and the family.
Seeing is believing. That maximum worked here fully when even we journalists were asked to rub our shoes in sterilized powder cans, wear sterilized caps, aprons, and masks, like all their workers, managers and staff members did as prevention against contamination or germicide, and we could now certify that packaged milk and bottled water is not only safe but essential for healthy life.
Economic Survey figures showed a steady rise in use of packaged milk. From 36,299,000 tons in 2010 to 41,818,000 tons in 2016. Though not enough, but the tendency to resort to healthy food and water holds promise for longer life span in Pakistan. In Pakistan, barely 8 percent of the total milk sale is in packaged form, whereas in Turkey, the consumption is as high as 80 percent.
It was heartening to learn that the Punjab government was bringing law to make its compulsory that only packaged milk will be sold to the people. Its open sale which is now the practice for ages, will have to be wiped off.
The tendency or the practice in vogue since long that 80 percent of the total milk procured from dairy farmers is collected by middlemen. In other words, 80 percent of the milk collected is impure and unfit at its source. However, at Nestlé our effort is to reach the farmer directly and take out the middle man from the equation. As a result of our consistent efforts 60 percent of our total milk collection is directly through small and medium farmers and the rest is through middlemen. Nestle being the market leaders have reasons to be happy, but somehow a feeling begins to develop that to the misfortune of the dairy sector, there are neither any national hygiene standards for the milk chain — from milking an animal to the delivery of the produce to the end-consumers — nor does any mechanism exist to implement and monitor standards adopted by private operators.
Another dimension of the problem is contamination at the source. Often the milk extracted from diseased animals is neither spilt nor stored separately, rather it is mixed into the milk obtained from healthy animals. This contaminates the entire produce. The problems compounds at collection and transportation stages. Besides personal hygiene, the cleanliness of cans used to carry milk from dairy farms to collection point(s), as well as that of chillers used for hauling milk to end-consumers also matter.
In order to address the above, Nestlé has taken several measures. Our direct outreach to farmers has improved the quality of milk supplied to us. We’ve been able to work with dairy farmers on building their capacity, on animal surroundings and dietary needs. Even simple measures such as untying an animal and letting them roam free with access to clean water, or keeping them in the shade while the sun beats down in the summer need to be taught.
The company’s efforts as extensive as they may be are still a drop in the ocean. The government needs to take the lead by enforcing minimum pasteurization laws and introducing widespread education/vocational programs and work with farmers to educate and inform them. Milk is mostly sold loose in Pakistan and significant production is wasted because it does not reach consumers in time. Pasteurization laws that encourage more packaged milk will decrease quantities wasted and also ensure quality and uniform standards.
In 1995, Turkish authorities introduced the minimum pasteurization law. In 2012, the Turkish authorities had set guidelines which only allowed the sale of raw milk when there were appropriate conditions (such as heat, hygiene, transport and storage) with arrangements made in food legislation. In addition, legal regulations were put in place which ensured quick enforcement and controls. The government also provided incentives and grants for producers including, exemption from custom duty, interest rate support etc. Today, Turkey has a milk production of 17.4 mt, while ensuring quality. Sri Lanka and Mexico have undergone a similar journey. In the Far East region, Indonesia and Vietnam are good examples of enforcing packaged milk.