Photo: Prabir Das
Despite your children's begging and pleading for carbonated drinks or bottled juice, you usually tell them: “Drink your milk; it's good for you.” As an adult you are well acquainted with the idea. Milk is good for health. But beyond this vague notion and the familiar milk-mustache media campaign, confusion clouds the specifics of why that is. How does it improve health?
“During childhood and adolescence, cow milk is an especially beneficial food, the calcium in milk being of particular benefit to the growth of bone and teeth,” says Dr Khursheed Jahan. Seventy percent of our population suffers from Anaemia (a condition in which you don't have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your tissues.). Forty percent people suffer from chronic energy deficiency. Osteoporosis is common among women. In order to reach our genetic potential—both physically and mentally, there is no alternative to drinking milk.” Dr Jahan is a Professor at the Institute of Nutrition and Food Science, Dhaka University.
Well, you may already know all that. But wait, there is more.
Professor Peter Elwood, Institute of Primary Care & Public Health, Cardiff University, UK says via email, “Milk drinking is associated with a reduction in blood pressure, and recent research has also shown that the health and elasticity of blood vessels is directly related to milk consumption. We examined the relationships between milk consumption and heart disease, stroke and diabetes. We found small, but worthwhile reductions in these diseases. ” Professor Elwood is one of the world's leading epidemiologists.
Photo: Prabir Das
So, milk packs quite a punch when it comes to nutrition and you don't have to drink a whole lot to reap the benefits. Just one 8-ounce glass of milk provides the same amount of vitamin D you would get from 3.5 ounces of cooked fish, as much calcium as 2 ¼ cups of broccoli, as much potassium as a banana, as much vitamin A as two baby carrots and as much phosphorus as a cup of kidney beans, according to the US National Dairy Council. Like a retirement fund, you have to start banking your calcium early by drinking milk— you will lose it slowly later in life, they say.
“Unfortunately consumption of milk has declined over the years. Production has increased but we need to produce more for the growing population,” says Dr Khursheed Jahan. “Currently consumption of milk per capita per day in Bangladesh is 55 ml whereas the requirement is 250 ml.”
The government must give subsidies on feed. Photo: Prabir Das
We are lagging far behind our neighbours when it comes to drinking milk—“the number is 140 in Nepal, 142 in Sri Lanka, 188 in Maldives, 227 in India and an astonishing 520 in Pakistan.” Demand for milk and milk products in these countries are growing with rising incomes and changes in diets. This trend is pronounced in India, now world's largest milk producer and Pakistan where per capita milk consumption per year is one of the highest in the world. And a large portion of the milk they drink comes from buffalos!
With training and better management, milk production in Bangladesh can reach a much higher level. “Cows should be provided the same quality water that we drink,” says A Q M Shafiqur Rouf. “Feed must be composed of concentrate and grass. Three months after giving birth the cow gives the maximum amount of milk. During this period she should be fed well. Then gradually the amount of feed should be reduced or else she may develop ketosis, the bovine equivalent of diabetes. Two months after the birth the cow is in heat again. She must be inseminated then. Thus “a calf a year” can be ensured. The knowledge and skills of those who have studied Animal Husbandry should be better utilized. Breed development is crucial to dairy management. We are doing significant work in this area.” Rouf is DGM, Artificial Insemination, and in charge of milk collection and productions services, BRAC Dairy.
Dr Khursheed Jahan
Learning certain skills can lead to higher production. “For example, there is no need to apply oil to the teats before milking. Farmers also have a tendency to pull on them really hard,” says Shafiqur Rouf. “That's harmful for the animal. If the cow is agitated or scared, she will not give milk. The calf must be allowed to drink before milking the mother. This serves two purposes. The calf gets to drink the essential SNF (Solids-not Fat) part. Afterwards, the farmer can milk the remaining part which is fat. The opposite is often done in our country. The calf is fed after milking the cow.”
Photo: Prabir Das
The dairy industry needs to retool its marketing of milk. Photo: Prabir Das
The price of feed is getting out of reach of farmers. “Subsidies must be given on cattle feed. Many farmers have sold their cattle because they could not make enough money to raise them by selling milk,” says an official at the Department of Livestock Services who wants to remain anonymous. “Artificial insemination is done by the government at Tk 30. Others do it for Tk 200. There should be one fixed rate for all. In some upazillas one personnel is responsible for hundreds of thousands of livestock. Animal feed is being made of waste produced from tanneries and rotten rice. On the roadsides, on the river banks and in chars, animal fodder can be cultivated. Cooperatives may be developed by the government. If production increases, dependence on milk powder can be reduced. Corruption must be eliminated in the government dairy sector.”
Milk has a shelf life of 3 to 4 hours. If it is not collected within that time, farmers have no other choice than to sell it in the local market at lower prices. Natural disasters and political turmoil disrupt the supply chain. Nour-E-Alam, Regional Manager, BRAC Dairy and Food Project says, “BRAC has 101 chilling centres all over the country and we always collect on time.”
Photo: Prabir Das
Bangladesh Milk Producers' Co-operative Union Ltd popularly known by its brand name Milk Vita, was established by the Government in 1973 with the goal to provide inputs to farmers at low cost and to reduce the income gap between rich and poor. Over the years, the organization has become riddled with corruption and anomalies, according to news reports. Its market share of liquid milk is 70 percent. “We need nationwide campaigns to popularize the habit of drinking milk,” says Md Mustafizur Rahman, DGM, Planning, Development and PR, Milk Vita. “For grazing cows, the government must allocate khas land which is often left unproductive. Farmers should have access to easy loans. We have to be innovative about cattle feed. We can use the remaining part of the corn, kitchen leftovers, and leaves of Ipil tree (Leucaena leucocephala). Milk Vita is going to introduce TMR (Total Mixed Ration). It is a mixture of concentrate, leaves and roughage. Annually, 21,719 metric tons of powdered milk is imported some of which is unregulated. Condensed “milk” has reached even the remotest villages.”
Kamal Prashad Das
Adulteration in milk is a concern among milk drinkers. Rahman posits that joint teams of BSTI, mobile court and City Corporation will have to monitor the quality of milk. Anyone found guilty must be punished under law. “Pouring adulterated milk on the roadside is not a solution.”
Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI) is the apex National Standards body of Bangladesh responsible for developing and promoting industrial Standardization. Kamal Prashad Das, Director (CM), BSTI says, “Pasteurised milk is one of the 59 food items that we test and permit to use the BSTI logo. Several times a year we conduct tests that are internationally accredited. Any vendor found selling uncertified powdered milk is fined or jailed and his products are confiscated. In 2013, Safe Food Law was passed in the parliament. When it is implemented, the food inspectors will be able to work freely; adulteration in all food items including milk will be reduced.”
Md Mustafizur Rahman
Change is needed at the policy level. Nour-E-Alam, the Regional Manager of BRAC Dairy says, “Dairy farming is part of agriculture. But in the national budget, it has been put under livestock. We have been led by the media to believe that powdered milk is better than cow milk. It's not.” There has been sort of a cultural shift from drinking milk. “In cities, children prefer carbonated beverages to milk. They choose burgers and French fries over traditional, healthy food like rice pudding,” says Dr Shantana R Halder. “We have to learn to adopt the best practices of the developed countries where people drink a lot of cow milk.
Dr Shantana R Halder
Drinking buffalo milk which contains more fat may be popularized. We need more chilling centres. Supply of electricity must be uninterrupted.” Dr Halder is Chief, Population Planning and Research at UNFPA. She has worked as a senior research fellow at BRAC in the past and co-authored a major study tiled Dairy production, consumption and marketing in Bangladesh.
The dairy industry needs to retool its marketing to tout the usefulness of cow's milk. They have a tough battle ahead. Nutrition Professor Dr Khursheed Jahan says, “Some malted milk producing companies have launched ads claiming that the power of milk will be enhanced if their product is mixed with milk. It's unnecessary. Milk is a complete food.” However, it may not be ideal for everyone. Various research shows that only one third of people produce the lactase enzyme during adulthood, which enables them to digest milk.
A Q M Shafiqur Rouf
Shafiqur Rauf says, “Compared to Europeans, Asians in general have deficiency in lactase, an enzyme essential to digestion of whole milk. That is why a lot of us have stomach problems after drinking milk. The answer to that problem can be yogurt which contains lactic acid producing bacteria which helps the body produce lactase. The nutritional value of yogurt is almost the same as milk.”
Verghese Kurien. Photo: AFP
The Father of the White Revolution
Under Verghese Kurien's leadership, India became world's leading milk producer, surpassing the US in 1998
His was an accidental career. After studying mechanical engineering in Michigan State University, Kurien reluctantly returned to Anand, Gujarat in the summer of 1949 as a government clerk. Circumstances soon made him the general manager of a farmers' cooperative. He insisted that they buy a pasteurizing machine for 60,000 rupees. The investment paid off; the milk could now reach Mumbai without spoiling; and the co-op idea grew apace. Farmers from other districts came to admire, and set up their own. Many of them were landless laborers and women, whose only asset was their cow or buffalo. Producers ran everything, the selling, the processing and, most of all, the marketing.
To expand the operation even further he wanted to convert buffalo milk into milk powder, which the leading dairy experts of the time said was impossible. With the help of a friend who was a chemist, he achieved the seeming miracle. Kurien implied in his memoirs that the supposed impossibility of converting buffalo milk into powder was a myth created by the Western world, which had abundant cow's milk and wanted nations like India to continue to import its milk powder. In the late 1950s, he decided to market the milk of the cooperative through a brand name, and that led to the creation of one of the most enduring Indian brands, Amul Butter.
At his humble house at Anand, Kurien received prime ministers and VVIPs. Once, a very tall governor of a state was to visit, and his security detail complained that the bed in Kurien's guest room was too short. Kurien asked his Excellency to sleep diagonally.
He was legendary for his tenacity, drive and sheer bloody-mindedness to get bureaucratic inertia to yield to his ideas. No one stood for long in his way. One minister of agriculture tried to remove him from the National Dairy Development Board, of which he was founder-chairman for 33 years; instead, the minister lost his job. At his Institute of Rural Management he forbade the students to hang out their washing or sit on the grass.
Verghese Kurien (1921-2014) chose his words with care in a nation where humility is the only permissible form of pride. He was born a Christian, ate beef, and liked a drink—but not milk.
15 VERY WHITE FACTS
* Cow milk contains calcium, phosphorus, potassium, protein, vitamin B, zinc, vitamin A, Niacin, Iodine and other nutrients.
* Raw cow milk is about 88 percent water.
* Milk has two parts: fat and SNF—Solids-Not-Fat i.e. vitamins, minerals, protein, lactose etc. The price of milk is usually determined by its fat and / or SNF content.
* Queen Elizabeth II of England each day drinks milk from cows raised on her own Windsor estate. When her grandchildren William and Harry went to Eton, the famous public school, she instructed the estate manager to send milk from the Royal cows every day for the Prince's breakfasts.
* The habit of drinking milk first became popular 10,000 years ago, when the first animals were domesticated, initially in Afghanistan and Iran, and later in Turkey and Africa.
* During the most recent ice age, milk was essentially a toxin to adults because— unlike children—they could not produce the lactase enzyme required to break down lactose, the main sugar in milk.
* The importance of milk in popular culture is attested to by expressions like "the milk of human kindness" (coined by Shakespeare) which means kindness and sympathy shown to others.
* Drinking milk can lessen the chances of dying from illnesses like coronary heart diseases and stroke by up to 15 to 20 percent and it can contribute to weight loss.
* In Uganda an often used title for "king" is "Omukama", which means "superior milkman.”
* The lead character of the 1964 classic stage musical Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye is a milkman.
* The title of the 1966 pop hit "No Milk Today” by UK band Herman's Hermits refers to a common notice instructing the milkman not to leave the usual order of milk on a particular day. It symbolizes the singer's recent breakup with his lover who has just moved out of his house.
* In many countries, the Ramadan fast is traditionally broken with a glass of milk and dates.
* In ancient Greek mythology, the goddess Hera spilled her breast milk after refusing to feed Hercules, “resulting in the Milky Way”.
* In Indian cosmology, within the primordial Ocean of Milk lies the nectar of immortality.
* In India, newlywed couples compete to fish for the ring in a bowl of milk.
Source: Wikipedia, Scientific American, Nature, Men's Health.