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French cheese to vanish from Indian tables — Fall-out of ban on cattle treated with prostaglandin

M.R. Subramani

Bega (Australia) , March 8

INDIAN consumers of Le Bon and Danone cheese and butter may be denied the luxury of having them anymore. That is because the Union Government has slapped a ban on imports of milk and milk products from animals that have been treated with prostaglandin.

Prostaglandins are used in the artificial insemination process. They are of use to synchronise heats or menstrual cycle of the cattle prior to artificial insemination. This is mainly done so that a large group, say of over 100 cows, undergoes artificial insemination.

Developed countries such as Australia and Canada approve the use of prostaglandins in cattle. Prostaglandins, according to some medical experts, are suspected to cause health problems of headache, nausea and vomiting and diahorrea, though its use in cattle is seen safe.

``We think it is a sort of non-tariff barrier imposed by India against imports of products such as cheese and butter,'' said Mr Max Roberts, Director, The Bega Co-operative Society Ltd. Though the Bega firm does not supply cheese directly to India, it does indirectly through a tie-up with the French dairy major Le Bon.

The ban on milk and milk products treated with prostaglandin has already come into effect, according to Mr Roberts. ``In fact, we had A$40,000 (Rs 14.2 lakhs) worth of cheese on sea. But we were lucky to get the Indian notification and unload the consignment at Melbourne,'' he said. ``We agree that all countries have a list of conditions to be met for food safety and quarantine. Each country has its own non-tariff barrier and we in Australia too have strict quarantine norms,'' Mr Roberts said.

Food safety and quarantine norms are imposed by various governments under the sanitary and phytosanitary measures agreement of the World Trade Organisation. These are implemented to ensure safety of human and animal health and ensure no harmful foreign organisms enter a country. Non-tariff barriers are curbs imposed by countries on imports through such measures, while other restrictions are imposed through high customs duties. ``It is up to the countries to justify their non-tariff barriers,'' Mr Roberts said.

Dairy exporters in developed countries are of the view that exports of milk products to India would be a difficult proposition in view of the new ban. ``Over 50 per cent of the cattle in the developed countries, particularly Australia, the US, Canada and New Zealand, are treated with prostaglandins,'' Mr Roberts said.

None of the Indian Government Web sites had information on the order, but experts feel it could be part of the Government's drive to ensure against outbreak of any cattle epidemic such as the mad cow disease or the avian influenza.

``Maybe, it could be a way of checking increasing imports,'' a dairy products exporter said.

Import of milk and milk products is among the commodities figuring in the sensitive list. According to the Union Ministry for Commerce and Industry, imports of milk and milk products increased 28.5 per cent during April-November of the current fiscal to Rs 41.58 crore against Rs 32.35 crore. During 2002-03 fiscal, import of milk and milk products, including milk for infants, increased to Rs 44.02 crore against Rs 21.56 the previous year.

Exporters though worried are not alarmed over the development and Indian milk and milk products import are miniscule compared to countries such as Japan and China.

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