The silent mass killer called milk adulteration
With the onset of festive season every year, milk adulteration is widely reported; this year is no exception. Typically, the authorities carry out raids and officials claim of tough action against the criminals. In the festivities, however, everything is forgotten, as if such unconscionable practice were a minor offence.
With the demand for khoya, cottage cheese, and other milk products zooming in this period, unscrupulous traders and manufacturers meet the deficit by providing adulterated stuff. The result? Milk adulteration is becoming deadlier by the day. In the last few years, a dangerous phenomenon has spread like plague—that of ‘synthetic milk.’ While in adulterated milk the bulk of the mixture is natural milk to which additional components like fat, neutralisers, sugar, salt, formalin, and hydrogen peroxide are added to get higher price, synthetic milk is completely bereft of natural milk.
Never before in the history of mankind a more murderous concoction was invented and used on such a wide scale. It is said to have come into being in the 1990s in Haryana and spread rapidly all over the country, especially in the northern region. Synthetic milk is not milk at all; it is a mixture of water, vegetable refined oil, caustic soda, detergent or soap, urea, sodium hydroxide, vegetable oil, salt, and other ingredients. But it passes the tests.
The felony infuriates people. The media expresses righteous indignation; news channels, with their penchant for melodrama, use terms like ‘merchants of death’ to describe the scoundrels who sell spurious drugs or adulterated food; angry editorials are written denouncing the miscreants; politicians sometimes made dramatic statements like ‘the offenders should be shot dead’—to little effect. The chasm between the intensity of feelings and the resultant action is as breathtaking as it is intriguing. It has intrigued me a lot; I have tried to explain the chasm.
It is painful to realise that neither our political masters nor the otherwise voluble activists have much to say or do on the matter of milk adulteration in general and food adulteration in particular. Contrast this with the 2008 Chinese milk scandal that involved milk as well as infant formula. By November 2008, about 3 lakh victims were reported; six infants died because of kidney stones and other kidney damage. As many as 860 babies were hospitalised. The milk was mixed with melamime, an industrial chemical.
The incident triggered concerns about not just food safety but also political corruption in mainland China. Its reputation as food exporter was dented, as 11 countries banned all imports of Chinese dairy products. The World Health Organization (WHO) said the problem was “clearly not an isolated accident, (but) a large-scale intentional activity to deceive consumers for simple, basic, short-term profits.”
But the crime did not go unpunished. Two persons were executed; one got a suspended death penalty. Three culprits got life sentence, while two got 15 year. Seven officials, including high-ranking ones, were thrown out of service. It is not that adulteration stopped in China, but it is taken seriously by the authorities over there.
But do you remember anybody getting death penalty for selling synthetic or chemically adulterated milk? In fact, we don’t even know the extent of damage it has done to the people of India, how many children and adults have died because of this, how many more have developed serious ailments for consuming poison sold as milk. The manufacture and sale of adulterated and synthetic milk is nothing but mass murder, yet little has been done to check the practice or penalise the guilty. Human life is cheap in India.
It is not only politicians and officials who ignore the silent mass murder. The professional radicals, who espouse every fashionable cause, have turned a blind eye to it. There is a garrulous lady running a non-governmental organisation in New Delhi. She is fond of combating multinational corporations selling soft drinks. She continues to slam cola makers, despite the fact that her allegations have been found without substantial evidence. While she fights imaginary threats with aplomb and gets remarkable publicity for doing that, she does not act to address the real problems like food and milk adulteration.
This is the problem with our activists and intellectuals. Their approach is ideological, not real: they don’t see the reality as it is but as filtered, and distorted, by their doctrinal glasses. So, they continue to tilt at windmills, whereas our netas and babus are busy passing the buck. Meanwhile, the silent massacre goes on.
(The author is a freelance journalist)