Sidharth Pandey Sunday, March 12, 2006 (New Delhi):
An undercover NDTV investigation has revealed some startling facts at a government dairy where workers are taking short-cuts to produce more milk.
But this could pose serious health hazards, as NDTV discovered.
The National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI) in Karnal, spread over 4,500 hectares, was set up almost 50 years ago as a research and production centre.
When the undercover NDTV team visited the dairy, buffaloes were being led out of their stables into the central milking plant.
"One man has to milk 10 buffaloes and suppose that he gets one or two buffaloes which take 15 minutes each then he is stuck with two of them for half an hour. So should he spend half an hour with two or clear 10 buffaloes in one hour?" said Dr Mahender, senior scientist, NDRI.
"If 4-5 buffaloes are giving trouble then I would advise that they should spend time with them. Often, they would ask for over time, but if they were to do this the official way, then they inject them," he added. With each worker responsible for milking 10 buffaloes in an hour, time is tight.
And for those buffaloes under stress or unable to produce much milk, the answer seems to be to inject them with hormones to produce more milk.
Buffaloes are regularly injected with oxytocin, a potent artificial hormone which is given to women and animals to hasten delivery.
The hormone increases contractions in the womb and causes milk to flow faster. But it does so by causing immense pain to the animals which undergo labour pains twice a day.
In a couple of years, the forced contractions often cause the animal’s womb to rupture, rendering them useless.
"Dairy people inject the animals in the belief that it increases milk. This is a misconception as it only lets the milk down faster.
"The milk definitely causes damage and harm to humans as well as the cattle in which it is injected," said Dr Vinod Sharma, Chief Veterinary Surgeon, JeevAshram.
"In the animals, the poor beast gives milk for 3-4 years and then goes dry and cannot reproduce. As a result they are let off on the streets of the Capital," added Dr Sharma.
The use of Oxytocin was restricted in after it was discovered that a growing number of farmers were injecting it daily.
The Animal Welfare Board set up following an Act of Parliament in 1962 has been trying to educate farmers against it.
But it may be difficult to try and convince farmers when some of the staff at the government dairy themselves seem to be flouting these guidelines and rules.
Ironically, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960 has made the indiscriminate use of Oxytocin a punishable offence.
The Act says: "If anyone injects a milch animal with any substance to improve lactation which is injurious to the health of the animal, he shall be fined Rs 1000 or jailed for up to two years or both. The animal shall also be confiscated by the government."
But it’s not just animals who pay a price for the hormone injection. People drinking the same milk are also at risk. According to the Animal Welfare Board, a substantial part of the oxytocin could be seeping into the milk. Children are the most susceptible to its effects. It is known to impair both hearing and eyesight and result in loss of energy and exhaustion. "Unfortunately people who consume this milk do not know that the milk has oxytocin as it is not labelled. If they consume this milk then there can be problems like neo natal jaundice, eyesight, gastric problems. It can also lead to early puberty," said Dr Sharma.
Testing for oxytocin in milk is difficult. Once injected into cattle the hormone breaks down in the body in a couple of minutes, but it retains its harmful effects. "We have done lots of research. It does bring about changes in the milk. While it may not show up, the other minerals, fats and proteins in milk is changed. "If there is a thing which is harmful then it should not be injected. After all, a hormone is a hormone. No hormone should be used," said Dr Mahender.
Deadly secret But that is a secret that most people outside or even inside the institute may not know.
Every day, hundreds of people come to the dairy outlet and buy milk, cheese and other products on sale. "First thing is that the products are very pure here as it is a government institute. Also the demand is tremendous, none is wasted and often by the evening the stocks run out," said a customer.
However, it’s not just customers in Karnal. The milk produced at the institute is also shipped off to other cities, much of it to the Capital. The use of oxytocin is unfortunately rampant amongst most dairy farmers, but the irony is that even most officers at NDRI may not even be aware of the practice at the government institute.
Unless it’s checked, it will not only continue causing unnecessary pain to the animals but may cause health problems to customers in other cities as well.