Wednesday, August 18, 2010


The influence of foods manufactured by the process industry on well being of the citizens is always a controversial issue and the role of supply chain that delivers raw materials to the manufacturers of processed products often tends to be ignored. There are only a very few integrated processing facilities in the world where the conversion industry has tight control over the production of raw materials. Invariably the converter gets the bad name when the end product is found to be unsafe or unhealthy. Though some countries have developed strategies for identifying reasons for food tainting under mandatory Traceability Programs to get a clear picture of the flow of raw materials from the farm to the dining table of the consumer, it may be impractical for many developing countries to adopt such IT enabled traceability practices. Imagine the situation in a country like India where hundreds of dairy facilities process millions of liters of pooled milk, sourced from thousands of small producers, each owning a few cows or buffaloes! If there is a safety problem with the pasteurized milk coming out of these dairies, is it ever possible to trace the source of the problem beyond the four walls of the affected dairy?

In the absence of a traceability system it is necessary for the safety enforcement authorities or the veterinary services in the country to oversee farm production facilities to prevent abusive practices that will have health consequences when processed and delivered to the consumers. Frequent incidences of contamination of meat products, especially the frozen versions, with Salmonella and other pathogens in the US can be attributed to ineffective inspection efforts of USDA and probably this has led to the development of traceability system to pinpoint the culprits when such episodes occur. While meat industry's problem is amenable to mending with stricter controls and inspections as well as the new traceability regime. what about the safety of products from the dairy industry which has the de facto "license" to supply milk products from the farms which use undesirable but permitted practices to produce milk with doubtful safety credentials? Dairy industry is at cross roads to day, especially in the US and China where bovine growth hormone (BGH) is legally permitted for injection into milch cattle for increasing the yield.

From a meager production of just 1000 liters of milk per cow in an year four decades ago, American Jersey cows to day produce about 20000 liters, a 20 fold increase mainly because of use of BGH injection and antibiotics in the feeds. Dairy industry is a high profit line because of these technological developments for which American farms are indebted to the Bio-tech giant Monsanto Chemicals. Such developments have enabled both the dairy industry and Monsanto to laugh all the way to their banks! But at what cost to the consumer? The wide spread fear about the emerging breed of pathogens resistant to many antibiotics commonly used to treat many infectious diseases prevalent amongst human beings, is reaching crisis proportion and this has been attributed to the prevailing practice of use of of these antibiotics in animal feeds for increasing yield of milk as well as to keep a few animal diseases away. Unless such a practice is banned immediately through a global consensus, mankind is indeed hurtling towards a disaster of unparalleled dimension within the next few years.

Though Monsanto does not agree that its BGH could cause any harm, scientific evidence is accumulating to show that its claim is not true. BGH, when injected into the cow, produces a hormone called Insulin-like Growth Factor -1 (IGF-1) in the milk which is stable at pasteurization temperatures and also resistant to human digestive enzymes in the stomach finding its way to the blood system. Monsanto which produces BGH through genetic engineering technology has itself found evidence to show that there is a 10-fold increase in IGF-1 level in cows injected with its hormone. While the role of IGF-1 in developing some forms of cancer is well documented, what is startling is the recent reports from China indicting IGF-1 present in infant food formula for puberty symptoms detected in babies aged between 18 months and 4 years. Earlier reports from Porto Rico also indicated such early puberty symptoms in babies consuming milk formula containing IGF-1.

If these findings are corroborated by more studies, use of BGH must be banned internationally and Monsanto must be held accountable for this tragedy since they were aware about the IGF-1 spiking in the milk from BGH treated cows and still claimed the milk is safe. What is disturbing is the insensitivity of the governments in countries like the US and China about the consequences of giving free run to an industry like Monsanto to ruin the futures of innocent young children. The unfortunate consumers in the US has not even the choice of avoiding such milk in the market place as no mandatory labeling provision exists in the country. A redeeming feature is that they have at least access to organic milk which is produced under natural conditions using neither chemicals nor other undesirable inputs. citizens in Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and many European countries are lucky in that their governments are more sensitive about consumer welfare as they have banned the use of BGH in their cattle population.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

can you please tell if Indian dairy farmers have access to BGH and if it is a common practice to inject cows with it?