In September 2008, the food regulator FSSAI imposed a ban on all milk and milk products being imported from China. The government has been subsequently extending the ban from time to time. Two weeks ago the government extended the ban on the import of milk and its products, including chocolates from China, till laboratories at ports are upgraded for testing the presence of toxic chemical, Melamine.
According to a report in Bloomberg Quint, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade said in a notification, “Prohibition on import of milk, milk products (including chocolates, chocolate products, candies/confectionary/food preparations with milk or milk solids as an ingredient) from China is extended until the capacity of all laboratories at ports of entry have been suitably upgraded for testing melamine.”
While India does not import milk or milk products from China, this measure has been taken purely as a preventive one.
India holds the distinction of being the world’s largest producer and consumer of milk. It is said to produce 150 million tonnes of milk annually.
Why the ban?
In 2008 there was an incident in China involving milk and infant formula being contaminated with Melamine. This resulted in the death of six babies and almost 50,000 babies being hospitalised. The World Health Organization referred to the incident as one of the largest food safety events it has had to deal with in recent years, and that the crisis of confidence among Chinese consumers would be hard to overcome.
What is Melamine?
First synthesised in the 1830s by German Scientists, Melamine is a white powder used in plastic-making. It is most commonly used in the manufacture of Formica, floor tiles, whiteboards and kitchenware.
It is added to milk or milk powder because it is rich in nitrogen and adding it to watered-down milk makes the protein levels of the milk appear higher.
While there is little information about the long-term ill effects of melamine contamination in the body, reports suggest that even if victims who have had their kidney stones, that they had developed due to tainted milk consumption, removed, the Melamine may crystallise in tiny kidney tubes and block connecting ducts, thus causing damage to the kidneys or even result in renal failure.
Symptoms and signs of melamine poisoning include irritability, blood in urine, little or no urine, signs of kidney infection, and high blood pressure.
Is there a way to test for Melamine in milk?
With researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bengaluru developing a hand-held device to detect traces of Melamine in milk, the process has become easy, quick, and inexpensive.
According to a report published in The Hindu, S.C.G. Kiruba Daniel from the Department of Instrumentation and Applied Physics, IISc and the first author of the paper, said, “The presence of Melamine in milk can be detected at room temperature within a few seconds through a change in colour. Our sensor has very high sensitivity as it can detect Melamine even at a low concentration of 0.5 ppm in raw milk.”
Melamine content of more than 1 ppm in infant formula and more than 2.5 ppm in other foods should be viewed with suspicion of adulteration, says the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India.
This device costs about Rs 5000 and enables one to test the milk at home rather than send it to a lab where the test conducted by machines costs lakhs of rupees. A national and international patent application for this innovation has been filed.
This is yet another feather in the cap of Indian innovators who continue to develop low cost, equally effective substitutes for expensive equipment.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)
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