Bangladesh Food Safety Authority submits test results to High Court, the court wants to know about action against adulteration by July 28
In a shocking revelation, the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) claims to have found lead beyond permissible limits in 11 out of 14 pasteurized milk samples of as many brands, approved by Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI).
The 11 brands are: Milk Vita, Dairy Fresh, Igloo, Farm Fresh, Aftab Milk, Ultra Milk, Aarong Dairy, Pran Milk, Ayran, Pura, and Safe.
BFSA could not carry out tests on samples of the remaining three brands – MOO, Tania, Cowhead PURE MILK – as they didn’t find those milk packets available in the market.
The matter was disclosed on Tuesday when the BFSA submitted a report on the milk samples before the High Court bench of Justice Nazrul Islam Talukder and Justice KM Hafizul Alam.
Barrister Faridul Islam and Sarkar MR Hasan stood for BFSA and BSTI respectively, while Deputy Attorney General AKM Aminuddin Manik represented the state.
The maximum permissible limit of lead in milk is 0.02 milligram per kilogram, but in the samples tested, BFSA found upto five times higher amounts (0.1 mg/kg) of lead.
Other than the toxic heavy metal, cadmium, another hazardous substance, was also found in some of the 50 samples of raw milk that the BSFA tested.
BFSA lawyer Barrister Faridul Islam said: “We tested 12 feed samples, 11 pasteurized milk samples, and 50 raw milk samples.”
“We managed to collect samples of 11 brands selling pasteurized milk, of the total 14 BSTI-approved brands. But we did not test the samples for detergent and antibiotics,” he added.
The samples were tested in laboratories of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), the Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (BCSIR), Plasma Plus, WAFFEN Research, Atomic Energy Commission, and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b), in accordance with BSTI testing standards.
BFSA’s test results came in sharp contrast to a June 25 BSTI test report that it had submitted to the High Court saying no health hazardous substances were detected in 14 brands of pasteurised milk.
On july 14, the High Court directed BSTI to test the pasteurised milk produced by all the 14 companies registered by the institution at four laboratories in the next seven days.
Yesterday, the court directed BSTI and the BFSA to submit a report to the court by July 28, regarding what action is being taken against adulteration of milk, curd, and cattle feed.
BSTI awarded licences to 18 brands of milk from 15 companies. Of the brands, 14 are pasteurized and the rest are Ultra Heat Treated, better known as UHT milk.
“Following a recent court order, we have also produced details about raw milk collected from 65 local farms in Dhaka,” the lawyer concluded.
Lead in repacked imported milk too
Earlier, in late January this year, the BFSA found excessive levels of lead in local brands that import milk powder in bulk quantities and repackage it locally.
On January 25 it asked the customs authorities to ensure that all milk powder importers stock products in their own warehouses and have those tested at designated laboratories before marketing.
The permissible level of lead in milk powder is 0.02 milligram per kilogram. But the milk products of six of the seven local brands tested at laboratories contained lead between 0.2 and 0.3 milligram, BFSA Member (law) Mahbub Kabir Milon said at that time.
On Tuesday, he said they also had the samples tested to confirm the trace of antibiotics, without success.
“Cattle feed is the potential source of the heavy metals. Moreover, the ever-worsening environmental pollution also contributes to the prevalence of the heavy metals,” Milon said.
When asked what measures the health ministry is taking in this regard, Parveen Akter, additional secretary (public health wing) of the Health Services Division, said the matter does not fall under their jurisdiction.
“The BSFA is there to deal with the issue,” she maintained.
Prof Dr Nazma Shaheen of Dhaka University’s (DU) Institute of Nutrition and Food Science said consumption of both lead and cadmium through milk can impact the human body badly.
"We have found these elements in earlier research but the sources are still unknown. I don't know why the authorities concerned do not take any steps to find the source by conducting research," she said.
The DU professor blamed a lack of coordination between the authorities and agencies concerned for the rampant spread of heavy metals in food items.
“Source of the metals need to be identified to stop them from harming us,” Shaheen further said, suggesting that the permissible limits of the heavy metals be fixed.
The findings were disclosed just three days after a team of Dhaka University researchers in a second report claimed finding antibiotics in seven samples of pasteurized milk from five different brands, and three samples of unpasteurized milk.
Effects of lead
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), lead is a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems and is particularly harmful to young children.
“After consumption, lead is distributed to the brain, liver, kidney, and bones. It is stored in the teeth and bones, where it accumulates over time. Human exposure is usually assessed through the measurement of lead in blood,” says WHO.
A high level of lead can damage the brain and central nervous system causing coma, convulsions, and even death. Children who survive severe lead poisoning may be left with mental disabilities and behavioural disorders as lead affects brain development.
This results in a reduced intelligence quotient (IQ), behavioural changes such as reduced attention span, and increased antisocial behaviour. For adults, lead causes long-term harm including increased risk of high blood pressure and kidney damage.
If pregnant women ingest high levels of lead, problems such as miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, low birth weight, or minor malformations may occur.
A study, “Economic costs of childhood lead exposure in low and middle income countries,” developed by the Department of Pediatrics at the New York University (NYU) School of Medicine, says lead exposure costs Bangladesh $15.9 billion annually.
Meanwhile, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention of the US says there is no safe level of lead for children. It can impair IQ and affect a child's ability to pay attention. When children ingest lead, they absorb about 50% of it into their bloodstream. Eating low levels of cadmium, over time, can damage the kidneys. The Environmental Protection Agency calls the metal a probable human carcinogen.
Under US federal guidelines, small children shouldn't have more than 6 micrograms of lead a day from candy. For adults, the limit is higher. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn't have guidelines for cadmium in food. In all cases, the guidelines are just that: not enforceable regulations.