Milk adulteration to be probed in Indian state

A special committee is to be formed in India to probe the incidence of milk adulteration in one of its states.

The Madras High Court called the matter of adulteration by private milk companies a “serious concern” and has directed the government of the Indian state Tamil Nadu to investigate and file a status report on actions taken against complaints that have been made.

The move follows public-interest litigation (PIL) filed in court by Congress advocate AP Suryaprakasam, which accused private milk companies of engaging in illicit milk tampering, and which sought the court to order an investigation headed by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

According to a report in The Times of India, the PIL said the government was duty-bound to safeguard the health and safety of its citizens and that it should be taken to task for not discharging its statutory duties and clamping down on the illicit practice. It adds that people have no option but to drink adulterated milk due to demand outstripping supply, which is a public health risk.

Suryaprakasam also called for the urgent amendment of Section 272 of the Indian Penal Code, which relates to the adulteration of food and drink intended for sale, including more stringent punishment for milk adulterators to life imprisonment. The current punishment under the code is six months in prison and/or a fine of 1,000 rupees.

The issue has been pushed into the public domain after the state dairy development minister Rajendra Balaji made a statement last week claiming that private milk companies were allegedly adulterating milk products and that samples had been sent to department labs for testing after a five-month operation. The PIL cited this as reason for the probe.

According to the allegations by the minister, private milk firms were using harmful chemicals, including formaldehyde, hydrogen peroxide and chlorine, to extend the shelf life of the product. Samples from three-brands allegedly showed up with the chemicals, with more samples set to be tested.

“Milk kept at room temperature should ideally curdle in five hours. These brands can remain for 30-40 days,” he told reporters.

Balaji also offered to resign if his allegations proved to be wrong. “If they prove that there is no chemical, I am ready to resign, ready to get hanged. Can they prove that there is no chemical?”

In response to the minister’s allegations, The Hindu reported that the Tamil Nadu Milk Dealers Employees Welfare Association called for any investigation to include the government-owned Aavin Milk company, which has faced accusations of adulteration in the past, said SA Ponnusamy, state president of the association. “Aavin destroyed adulterated stocks whenever complaints of adulteration were found to be true,” he alleged.

Balaji also said he would take responsibility for the quality of milk distributed by Aavin.

Other commentators have questioned the veracity of the government tests and allegations given that formaldehyde is naturally present in pure milk, and formalin – a diluted form of formaldehyde – will be used to preserve the milk samples for testing. Writing in Forbes, Tim Worstall, a fellow at London’s Adam Smith Institute, notes that the results depend on dosage. “So, we’ve two reasons to think that there probably is formalin being complained of in the milk but it’s most certainly not sure that it’s from adulteration by the producers.”

Hatsun Agro Product Ltd, which produces the milk brand Arokya, and which has a 32 per cent market share in the state, denied any allegations that may affect its milk products saying that no additional chemicals were added to its products and all testing procedures were adhered to. Heritage Foods has also rebuffed the allegations.

Further hearings on the case and filing of the status report will take place on 19 June.

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