Opinion

How safe is your milk?

Gaurav Haran | Updated on April 26, 2018 Published on April 26, 2018

Inefficiencies in supply chain pose health risks

India has rapidly emerged as one of the largest producers of milk over the last three decades, accounting for 18.5 per cent of global milk production. According to an Edelweiss report of late last year stated that buoyed by rising consumerism and the preference of a healthy lifestyle, the Indian dairy industry is expected to register 15 per cent compounded annual growth till 2020 and emerge as a ₹9.4-lakh crore industry.

With an opportunity this huge, it’s no wonder that there has been hectic activity in the industry in the last few years with several well established Indian companies and multinationals hopping on to the bandwagon. This has resulted in a slew of new and innovative products being launched at the upper-end of the spectrum. However, amidst this heady growth, a health crisis looms.

The dynamics of the Indian dairy industry is very different from that of more developed countries. While in developed markets, dairy companies depend on an ecosystem of large corporate dairy farms and most procurement is done from few large farms, in India, dairying is still largely seen as an instrument of social and economic development. While 18-20 per cent of the daily milk produced is channelled through the organised segment and pasteurised, a whopping 80 per cent of the industry remains unorganised. The milk supply comes from millions of small producers based in rural areas who have an average of one or two milch animals comprising cows and/or buffaloes.

Another specific dynamic is the phenomena of vendors collecting milk from local producers and selling it in both urban and rural areas. What this translates into is inefficiencies in the supply chain where a large portion of milk produced does not adhere to basic standards of hygiene and is unfit for consumption. Considering that over 80 per cent of milk consumption in India is liquid milk, it can pose serious health risks. Un-chilled and unpasteurised milk can produce disease-causing germs and bacteria. A 2012 survey conducted by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India in 33 States and found that 68.4 per cent of 1,791 milk samples were contaminated. In urban areas, 70 per cent of the samples were found to be contaminated, in rural areas it stood at 31 per cent.

For sustainable growth

To ensure that the Indian dairy industry continues to grow in a healthy, sustainable manner it is important to assess each element in the supply chain and modernise it with a focus on creating toxin free and antibiotic safe, high quality milk. At the start of the supply chain, attention needs to be paid to managing and rearing cattle, and providing farms with the right kind of cattle feed. The next step involves processing and cold chain infrastructure. While significant steps had been taken under the ‘Operation Flood’ programme, some of the processing units have become obsolete and need to be revitalised. Again, since it is not feasible to transport raw milk beyond 200 km, it is important that multiple sourcing, processing and distribution points be set up to maintain the quality and shelf-life of milk. Quality-friendly technologies such as the Bulk Milk Coolers (BMC) model would be an answer to the lacuna in the industry since it brings down the time taken to collect milk to around 45 minutes as opposed to the 2-3 hours for a typical central chilling/cold storage model, thus lowering bacteria formation.

Building processing units and last-mile linkages is another important area in the supply chain that will benefit stakeholders across the supply chain and ensure that milk, which is an important part of the Indian diet, remains a source of safe, wholesome goodness.

The writer is COO, MilkLane.

Published on April 26, 2018

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