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     Volume 8 Issue 53 | January 16, 2009 |

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Milk products may be safe, but child specialists all over the world are advising mothers not to feed their babies any form of alternative milk products until two years of age.

Follow up

The Melamine Mystery

Ershad Kamol

After a long wait the laboratory results of the five popular brands of powdered milk were reported to the High Court (HC), as per the order placed by the Supreme Court on November 17 last year. The court had directed the Health Ministry to send samples of all available powdered milk brands to local laboratories and a World Health Organisation (WHO) supervised laboratory in Europe to test for toxic melamine. The tests were carried out at the Eurofins GmbH laboratory in Hamburg, Germany and the three local laboratories -- Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC), Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institute (BSTI) and the Chemistry Department of Dhaka University (CDDU). For months now consumers had been facing the dilemma of whether to buy milk products or not.

According to the test reports from the laboratory in Germany, brands such as Dano, Red Cow, Diploma, Nido and Anlene contain an amount of not more than 0.1 parts per million (ppm) of melamine. WHO, which collected the test reports from Germany, says that powdered milk containing melamine below 0.1 ppm is not harmful to children. The WHO recommendation attached to the test reports also says that the melamine residual level in a baby formula should never exceed 1 ppm. The reports from BAEC, BSTI and CDDU also reveal almost the same opinion.

After the hearing the HC withdrew its ban on sale and display of these powdered milk of five brands as laboratory tests found them safe. The court directed the government to have powdered milk of the other brands tested at the same time and report by the following six weeks.

The government should take careful steps to monitor the quality of food products in Bangladesh to ensure sound health of the people.

The 28 other brands that will have to be tested according to the HC orders include -- My Boy Elodrin-1, Sweet Baby-1, Nestle al 110, Kwality, Dano Instant, Diplomilk, Fresh, My Boy Elodrin-2, Nestle Lactogen-2, Baby Care-3, Mother's Smile, Mami Lac-1, Anchor, Framland, Mother's Smile (Prima), DANO vitakids, Lactogen-1, NAN-1, Baby Care-1, Lailac-1, Fabimilk-1, Primavita-1, NIDO-24, NAN-2, Biomil-1, Prolene, Star Ship and Marks.

The HC ban on eight leading brands followed a writ petition filed by lawyers of Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh (HRPB). Manzil Murshid, counsel for the petitioners, told The Daily Star that the ban on selling and displaying the milk powder of the three other brands -- Yashili-1, Yashili-2 and Sweet Baby-2--will remain in force.

Earlier CDDU detected melamine in all eight brands, BAEC in seven and BSTI in only one. Commenting on the difference between the latest test result earlier ones at BAEC and CDDU the sources confirmed that the batch codes were not the same. Manzil Murshid says, “It's not a big deal. Existing samples should be tested. But we should be conscious that no melamine tainted milk products is sold in Bangladesh.”

Most of these powdered milk imported in Bangladesh are Fonterra products which has plants in different countries and owns 43% of Chinese Sanlu, the company responsible for the tainted milk powder that has killed four babies and caused the current milk crisis. Though the importers of the powdered milk companies claim that no milk from Chinese origin is sold in Bangladesh, however, a point that is to be made that the origin of the products is not mentioned on the container, which is why the consumers have to trust the claim of the importers.

These milk products may be safe, but the child specialists all over the world are advising mothers not to feed their babies any form of alternative milk products until two years of age.

Child Specialist Professor M Abid Hossain Mollah told The Daily Star, "According to the Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF), a guideline jointly formed by WHO and Unicef, children below two years of age should never be fed any type of artificial milk. Natural food like khichuri, eggs and fruits should supplement breast milk."

Professor Mollah also suggested avoiding feeding babies cereals and pasteurised liquid cow's milk. He said, "It's the mandate of the government that only diseased mothers be prescribed to use alternative milk for feeding their infant babies. Till the age of six months only breast milk is the food for infants, not even water should be given, let alone cereals. And there is every possibility of toxic formalin and contaminated water getting mixed with cow's liquid milk. So why take the risk?"

Experts are even suggesting that the government take undertakings from multinational milk producers that they will allow their companies to be black listed, if melamine is found in their products at the same time they should mention the origin of their products.

Besides, these branded milk products 4,747 tonnes of cheap powdered milk was imported in the last fiscal year. It is suspected that these cheap powdered milk products are used for dairy making delicious products in Bangladesh.

Experts are even suggesting avoiding milk products such as formula milk, candy, cheese powder, biscuits, ready-made desserts, and chocolate. As for infants below two years, child specialists suggest avoiding powdered milk altogether and opting for mother's milk. Until all powdered milk is properly tested, this everyday drink will remain a suspect in the eyes of the consumers.

Professor ABM Faroque, a teacher of Department of Pharmaceutical Technology of Dhaka University, says, “In fact, we have missed the opportunity that WHO offered us during the latest milk scandal. We should have tested all of the common food items at the WHO-run laboratories.

In fact, most of the popular food items available in Bangladesh contain toxic elements that is the main cause of malnutrition and illness, says researchers. On the other hand, ever-increasing consumption of fast food, obesity among children and young people, use of colour and contaminated substances in foods and drinks and use of much-debated imported Genetically Modified (GM) foods are very agonising.

“To monitor food and drug standard of the country an independent body like Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can be formulated including the experts,” adds Professor Faroque.

Experts urge that the government should take careful steps to monitor quality of food products in Bangladesh to ensure sound health of the people. Doing that the government should not rely on the stereotypical government agencies. It should immediately form new agencies to monitor the sector.


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