Milk sold in India was actually 'white poison'

Sophisticated racket busted after products found laced with potentially fatal chemicals
Milk sold in India was actually 'white poison'

An Indian Muslim prepares hot milk early in the morning in the old quarters of New Delhi on June 2. There have been increasing cases of cheap, tainted milk being sold to the public in India. (Photo by Noemi Cassanelli/AFP)

It’s a decade since Usha Jaiswal stopped drinking milk or giving it to anyone in her family. She dumped it after her son, then just 4 years old, began to experience stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea each time he drank it.

Jaiswal, 40, says she used to buy milk at a local market but she now knows how poisonous it was after police busted a racket that used chemicals, including white paint, detergents and shampoo in the “synthetic milk” that they sold in central India.

Madhya Pradesh state police raided three factories in Morena and Bhind districts on July 19 and arrested 50 people involved in the production and supply of adulterated milk in central and northern India, including the capital New Delhi.

Officers also seized a huge quantity of chemicals such as sodium thiosulfate, caustic soda, chloroform, cheap cooking oil, hydrogen peroxide and shampoo, which were used along with smaller quantities of milk and water to prepare the adulterated milk, police said. 

The production cost of a liter of spurious milk was as cheap as one US cent but was sold for US$1. These factories worked around the clock and produced 200,000 liters daily to keep alive the supply chain that covered five states. 

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“Now we realize that what was being supplied in the name of milk was not milk but was instead a white poison,” said Usha’s husband Harishchandra, who is also a social activist. 

The Jaiswal family lives in Gwalior, a major town in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

“Sometimes the milk smelled so bad, but when we used to complain the vendors questioned the cleanliness of our utensils,” said Harishchandra. “How do we know how long this was going on for?”

‘Give them life in prison’

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal termed it “an alarming situation,” noting that the adulterated milk had been “taking its toll on everyone: innocent children, pregnant ladies and the elderly who consume milk for better health.”

“It is no less than an anti-national activity as it deliberately infuses poison into unsuspecting people, destroying the nation’s health and wealth,” the prelate told ucanews.com.

Archbishop Cornelio called for “stringent action against food adulterators” and said those found guilty of such offences should receive nothing less than life imprisonment.

Physicians like Mustaq Mansoori say consuming such highly toxic milk has both short-term and long-term adverse effects.

“The short-term effects include food poisoning and gastrointestinal complications such as diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain,” Mansoori said.

“The human body may develop tolerance toward such adulteration because of regular consumption but it will lead to long-term damages to tissues and physical impairment such as heart problems, cancer, loss of vision and even early death. 

“The spurious milk, in short, destroys the health of a nation,” and those involved should be jailed.” 

Laxity in punishing food adulteration emboldens people to engage in such activities and think only of the potential profit, says lawyer Brijmohan Mahajan.

“Lack of stringent laws and enforcement of the existing laws are part of the problem,” Mahajan told ucanews.com.

He said most laws against food adulteration carry a “light punishment” jail term ranging from 6 months to 7 years or even minor fines.

The 45-year-old lawyer said he himself had also been a victim of illegitimate milk, having drunk “a lot of milk as a child” at home in the village, where fresh milk was easily available. 

After moving to the city of Gwalior for work, however, he says he “totally gave up milk” because drinking it caused him stomach and skin-related ailments.

He noted that most Hindus in northern India are vegetarian, so they consume milk and milk-food products such as cottage cheese for their protein intake. Milk in the morning is routine for many, no matter what their social or economic status.

“People are drinking spurious milk without knowing what it is” because of a shortage of original [cow’s] milk in the market, Mahajan said.

Real milk ‘no longer profitable’

The scarcity of real milk is puzzling if you believe official statistics. India is the world’s largest milk producer, generating 176 million tons of bovine milk in 2017, more than double its 2000 production of 80 million tons, according to National Dairy Development Board data.

The increased production meant the amount available per capita rose from 178 grams in 1990 to 375 grams in 2017. 

But Ram Ratan Yadav, who has quit running a dairy farm, doubted the government’s data. “The actual production of natural milk must have come down because many are quitting the farms,” he said.

“It is no longer sustainable and you can forget about making a profit from it. Spurious milk is cheap and readily available in the market. Real milk is expensive and will go bad faster. How can you make a living?”

Yadav used to run a dairy farm with 70 buffaloes in the outskirts of Jabalpur town in Madhya Pradesh. He said that after paying for fodder, workers and other expenses: “I was losing money year after year. I quit it three years ago.” 

He said he knew of hundreds of people who had also quit dairy farms, and yet the government still claimed production had increased.

“No doubt, spurious milk has replaced the original milk,” he said. 

In a bid to contain the food adulteration, the Madhya Pradesh government has invoked the stringent National Security Act (NSA), which aims to combat anti-national activities. 

Archbishop Cornelio also appreciated the move, saying it “will send a strong message to all those involved in production and supply of adulterated milk.”

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