Dairy challenges in Pakistan

97

Dr. Fauzia Waqar
THE consumption of loose milk is dubi
ous on human health. Adding delete
rious substances with the purpose of increasing shelf life of milk has detrimental effects on the body. Pakistan is facing this issue at a massive scale because of easily available loose milk at the doorsteps at cheaper rates without being passed through any standard operating procedures. The data shows that over 90 percent of the milk in Pakistan is being sold as loose milk in the market followed by only 6 percent packaged milk. Lahore city depicts same picture as total available milk including loose and packaged is 1.21 Mio tons per annum (2019), out of which only 73,135 tons is available in packaged form. The story of unsafe loose milk is not different in other cities, revealing that most of the population is exposed and consuming unhealthy and unsafe milk.
Milk is a source of nutrition, and safe milk has proved to be imperative for improving public health and addressing malnutrition. Malnutrition is one of the serious public health concerns in Pakistan and takes a heavy toll of population especially children in the form of high morbidity and mortality rates. As milk is rich in nutrients like proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals etc., hence can be used as a remedy to address malnourishment in the country but the need is the provision of safe and healthy milk to the population without any adulterants.
Many factors hinder the reach of safe milk to consumer. Most important is the compromised quality value chain including various perilous activities from the producers to the final consumers. It has been observed that no safety measures or rules are being followed by the individual dairy farmers while processing and handling milk for its safety; also attributing to the low process of loose milk. As milk is the favorite site for bacterias to grow because of its richness in nutrients, it is highly recommended to process it through minimum pasteurization, but unfortunately no regulations or law regarding pasteurization of milk exist in the country. In order to provide safe food to the population, it is requisite to regulate its unpackaged milk market by adopting a minimum pasteurization law. Consequently, law will incentivize individual farmers to sell their product directly to the structured industry. It will facilitate alleviating socio economic status of the farmers excluding middlemen and lowering down the price of packaged milk, making it affordable for masses.
Food safety is one of the major issues directly linked with public health and malnutrition impediments as it impacts people of all ages, gender and race globally, hence it is mandatory to follow rules while handling milk. Regulatory authorities can play their key role in ensuring food safety. Punjab Food Authority presented a success story of making spices in packaged form with all nutritional guidelines mandatory. The same action is needed to restrict adulterated milk and promote safe milk. Globally, not only the developed countries like France or Spain are strictly following food safety rules in milk, but the country like India also advocates the use of packaged milk to keep the population healthy.
Another and the utmost significant measure for the provision of safe and affordable milk versus unregulated loose milk is right taxation policy. Mandatory action is required by the Federal Government to reinstate zero sales tax for diminution of the price difference between loose and packaged milk. Because of less affordability by the masses, the sale of packaged milk is constantly tumbling as compared to loose milk, consequently distressing dairy industry of the country; whereas dairy sector is an important assert for Pakistan as it contributes approximately 11 percent to national GDP with livestock sector jointly. Moreover, being among top five milk producing countries in the world, there is a lot of potential of uplifting the industry with accurate Government interventions. The need is to acquire two-pronged approach. Firstly, implementation of minimum pasteurization law before milk reaches the consumer in a packaged format and secondly, restoration of Zero rating (sales tax) to minimize price gap between packaged and loose milk. It is evident that if more segment of the market is covered packaged milk, it will definitely have a positive impact on the farmers by engaging them in an organized dairy system, buying more milk from them, creating jobs and finally uplifting their socio economic status.
—The writer is Public Health, Nutrition and Policy Specialist.