Wednesday 7 March 2012

The Safety of our Food and Drinkسلامة ما ناكل ونشرب

A trip to the supermarket here, in Kurdistan, reveals the selection of dairy products available (1) and, in particular, the range of cartons of milk. The consumer in Kurdistan can chose milk from both the neighbouring states and the small countries of the Gulf, but not locally produced milk, and all are formed from dried cow’s milk that has been mixed with water. Most of these products have ‘Natural Milkحليب طبيعي’ or even ‘100% Natural Milk حليب طبيعي 100%’ written on them yet in the process of drying fresh milk some of the nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin B12 and thiamine are lost and the reconstituted product does not contain these therefore as the product was made from powdered milk it is not the same as the milk that came from the cow’s udder.. 
   I purchase milk from the Almarai Company as its cartons carry the greatest amount of information regarding the contents. The carton clearly carries the information that the milk has been made from powdered milk and then there is some information as to the main nutrient composition of the product as shown in the picture. The presence of Vitamin D indicates that the milk has been fortified with this vitamin, (vitamin D has been added). Finally there is a list of ingredients including the additives (E numbers) that have been used to make the final mixture similar in taste and texture to fresh cow’s milk but the first ingredient given is fresh cow’s milk. So the milk in the carton was made from cow’s milk powder, which is not on the list of ingredients, but fresh cow’s milk is on the list. So one is left to wonder how much fresh milk, 1%, 10% or 90%, and how much dry milk powder was used in producing the contents of the carton (2 & 3). This is a question that should be looked into by the Ministries of Trade and Food Quality Agencies in both Baghdad and Erbil
While there is some lack of clarity of information on the Almarai carton it does state the milk is made from powdered milk and that no preservatives are used. Other brands of milk on the market do not carry this type of information and indeed the packaging often indicates that the contents are ‘natural milk’ which can be misleading to the consumer.

I have frequently raised my concerns over the lack of food safety regulations and monitoring in Iraq and Kurdistan. We are all too ready to take for granted that food safety checks are done at the place of origin of the food, wherever in the world that might be, and so put ourselves at risk. The Ministry of Trade should make sure of the origin, contents and safety standards of all food entering the country. The various milk products in the supermarkets should be tested to determine the exact contents, is it fresh or reconstituted milk, what are the nutrient contents, are the contents free of pathogenic bacteria, is the storage of the product correct etc. We should not accept the products at face value. The Lebanon has a dedicated food safety and standards authority to maintain checks on all food products produced within the country or imported yet here we are prepared to rely on foreign companies. The attached advert(4) that has been published for many weeks in Iraqi newspapers tells food importers that they should now have their imports checked by the SGS company instead of Bureau Verits, both being foreign companies. If a small country like Lebanon has the facilities and organisation to regulate and monitor food safety and, in addition, have a union for its food safety scientists then surely Iraq can do the same if not better. Iraq had its first modren agricultural college over 60 years ago and we have a dozen veterinary colleges so, in other words, we have a wealth of trained people who could be utilised in the much needed food safety agency.
If we do not take responsibility for food safety there could be disastrous consequences. China has a bad record on food safety and many people were made ill and children died from drinking milk that had been contaminated with melamine. The result of this is that many Chinese buy milk literally direct from the udder as shown below(5&6). The consumer pays for the milk that he/she witnesses being milked from the goat, therefore ensuring their children have fresh milk.
It is time that we took steps to control what food products are offered for sale in the country and set up an independent government body to ensure that all local and imported food and drink reaches accepted standards and thereby safeguard the health of the nation. The system will generate an income from fees to producers and importers who are obviously profiting from selling their goods and should pay for the service. 

1 comment:

Mohammed Sa'id Berigari said...

I think the consumer has the right to know full information about any food item produced locally or imported in terms of the date of production and that of expiration, and detailed information about the composition of the product both qualititaive and quantitatine of all essential ingredients in the product.

Dr. Mohammed Sa'id Berigari, USA