Whether 2 million bacteria in 1 milliliter of fresh milk qualifies for the label “the globally worst”, as some have called it, is probably debatable. But we do know that the new national dairy safety standards are substantially lower than before.
The previous bottom-line for protein content in every 100 grams of fresh milk was 2.95 grams. Now it is 2.8 grams. The number of bacteria permitted in each milliliter used to be 500,000. Now it is four times that.
Consumers, who might have been feeling more secure following the high-profile posturing against melamine – though the harmful substance has hardly vanished from our dairy products – are by and large in the dark about the recent change in standards. Not to mention an explanation for their introduction.
Now, thanks in part to a number of dissatisfied industry insiders, the general public has obtained a glimpse at some of the dark secrets of the national industry, following the revelation that the lower national standards are the outcome of lobbying by major dairy manufacturers unwilling to invest in the necessary quality guarantees required by the higher standards.
The revelation that our national dairy standards are being dictated by just a few companies is simply stunning.
Proponents of the new, lower standards have cited “national conditions” and the livelihoods of small dairy farmers as the reason for the changes. Critics, however, argue it is more about the corporate unwillingness to invest in quality guarantees.
Pasteurized milk requires higher-quality raw milk, which usually means higher standards of storage and transport. Ultra-pasteurized milk, on the other hand, is more cost-effective with looser standards and a longer shelf life.
National standards and consumers should not be made hostages to corporate interests. Given the nutritious properties of pasteurized milk, our national quality standards must encourage and promote pasteurization. There is no excuse to lower the threshold to ensure market shares for those reluctant to invest in the necessary new technologies.
We are not unfamiliar with such pretexts as “preserving national industries”. But such claims are misleading and thus harmful, because lowering industry standards works against our national interests by undermining public health. The “national conditions” argument is also weak because we already have a number of firms who managed to operate properly under the higher standards.
We do not want to believe that our national quality standards have been lowered to suit some in the dairy industry, but the messy truths about the industry do give cause for concern.