'For the time being, the draft did not mention any such tests. But we usually do conduct tests for lead and coliform'
Despite growing concern from different quarters, the Bangladesh Standard Testing Institute (BSTI) is yet to consider introducing tests needed to find traces of antibiotics, detergent, pesticides, cadmium and many other heavy metals except lead in pasteurized milk.
In the draft of the revision of Bangladesh Standard (BDS 1702:2002) for pasteurized milk, published online on September 29, the only state-run standard regulator proposed seven modifications for the testing procedure.
BSTI Deputy Director (agriculture and food) Golam Md Sarwar, who issued the draft revision, said they came up with the seven recommendations as suggested by the technical committee formed over the matter.
When asked why the tests of the hazardous elements including antibiotics, detergent, pesticides, cadmium and a number of heavy metals are not included in the testing method, he said they will only consider the tests if found necessary.
“For the time being, the draft did not mention any such tests. But we usually do conduct tests for lead and coliform,” he added.
The BSTI’s existing standard for liquid milk is focused on merely nine parameters. Tests for lead, coliform, phosphatase and alcohol are conducted under the current standard.
Replying to a query as to exactly why tests for finding antibiotic in the milk have been ignored, he defended the draft revision and said such tests to detect the parameters of antibiotics are not even mandatory in many foreign countries.
The draft, he said, is likely to be finalized by November following two meetings of the technical committee comprising 12 specialists from different organisations including BSTI, Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) and Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.
Dhaka Tribune also contacted BSTI directors SM Ishaque Ali (of certification marks wing) and Md Sajjadul Bari (of standards wing) over the matter, but both declined to comment.
BFSA Member Prof Dr Md Abdul Alim said the draft revision must include the tests as antibiotics, detergent, pesticides and heavy metals can cause serious health issues.
“No matter if liquid milk contains the hazardous elements or not, the BSTI should start conducting the tests required to detect their trace,” he said.
Echoing the same, Consumer Association of Bangladesh President Ghulam Rahman said the lone government standard regulator at least has to do lab tests to detect the permissible limit of the harmful elements.
Expressing his concern over two types of research that found antibiotics in some milk samples, he said: “Since antibiotics are already a worldwide concern, tests to detect their presence has become mandatory.”
“In a nutshell, all tests must be in place so consumers can be sure that they are not facing any health risk,” he concluded.
Bangladesh Dairy Farmers' Association General Secretary Shah Emran said ensuring the quality of dairy products has been an everyday challenge for them.
“In such a situation, we want the BSTI to think over introducing tests that will identify any hazardous elements in liquid milk if any,” he said.
“Even a little panic can take a serious toll on our dairy industry,” Emran said, recalling the chaos that surfaced after some recent research claimed to find many harmful elements including antibiotics.
When contacted, one of the researchers anonymously said it is high time the BSTI considered introducing the tests.
He suggested that the BSTI technical committee be reconstituted as it, he alleged, serves the interest of a certain group.
On June 25, a study by some Dhaka University (DU) researchers found antibiotics, detergent and coliform and other forms of hazardous bacterial organisms in the pasteurized milk products of five popular brands currently sold in the capital’s kitchen markets.
However, the BSTI on the same day submitted a report to the High Court, saying that it did not find traces of dangerous elements in 18 pasteurized milk samples of 14 brands — including Pran, Aarong, Milk Vita and Farm Fresh.
Nearly three weeks after the study was launched, another DU research once again had shown the presence of antibiotics in dairy products.
On July 16, the BFSA claimed to have found lead beyond permissible limits in 11 out of 14 pasteurized milk samples of as many brands, approved by the BSTI.
But two weeks later, Agricultural Minister Dr Abdur Razzak said pasteurized and unpasteurized milk produced by the local companies do not contain traces of lead, chromium, sulfa drug or other harmful substances.
The minister, however, could not be reached over the phone on Friday for a comment on the BSTI’s draft revision for testing pasteurized milk standards.
What happened at the apex court?
On July 28, the High Court ordered 14 registered companies — including Milk Vita, Pran and Aarong — to stop production, distribution and selling of their pasteurized milk across Bangladesh for five weeks.
Later, the Appellate Division lifted the ban on state-owned cooperative Milk Vita and Akij Food and Beverage Ltd (Farm Fresh Milk) and Pran Dairy Ltd (Pran Milk) respectively.
The Appellate Division’s chamber judge on July 31 declared all 14 pasteurized milk brands safe for production, distribution and sales across Bangladesh.