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Organic milk production: Brands in India are ignoring a crucial requirement to meet rising demand

According to the Economic Survey of 2015-16, India produces 146 million tonnes of milk every year, or 18.5 percent of the total worldwide output, pushing the country to the top of the global chart. Now, almost 68 percent of this 146 million tonnes was found to have adulterants – ranging from detergent, starch, urea to white paint – whereby water dilution is the least of your worries. But the huge dairy industry is highly unorganised, as deduced by Dhananjay Singh, 37-year-old co-founder of a company called Nutoras which was launched in 2012. “I was an investment banker with Merrill Lynch when I started delving into the farming industry, tracking various economies and found consumption exploding across countries. Consumer burst happens mostly in the animal-based protein space which can be achieved by sustainable farming. In India, I felt it’s an unorganised sector. Statistics and demographics seemed conducive to start a venture,” he says.

Ranging between Rs 60 and Rs 90 per litre, the brands are milking the organic label. This begs the question – what is organic milk? Dairy products differ as per vegetables and food grains in this sphere. A vegetable, grown from organic seeds – not genetically modified and without the use of chemicals (fertilisers or insecticides) – is labelled as organic produce. However, with milk, the quality of the product can be affected by various external factors beyond the farmer’s control. Hence, even if the cows are not treated with hormones or antibiotics, and fed wholesome feed, the milk may not be up to WHO standards – bacteria levels, aflatoxins, increased somatic cell counts etc. For example, the most common disease is Mastitis with huge costs to the dairy industry. It is a mammary gland infection incurred when immediately after milking, the cow has been allowed to sit or its udders have come in contact with unhygienic areas.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Different countries have varying criteria for declaring milk as organic.

Whereas the USFDA mandates that apart from no chemical treatment, cows must also be fed organic fodder, India is silent on this point.

A leading factor is that genetically modified hybrid seeds have flooded the market, capturing the farming scene. A farm producing organic cow feed is a rarity. Hence, the appropriate tag for Indian dairy would be organically-produced milk.

Mangal Gupta of Lalgoon farms in Maharashtra disagrees completely. “If there is no organic fodder for the cows, one cannot call it organic milk. At the most, it can be called not-tampered milk since no oxytocin is administered,” says this 49-year-old dairy farmer. His cows produce chemical-free, natural milk which he delivers to clients in Mumbai. Having started as an organic farmer of exotic vegetables, Mangal realised that he required cows for its dung as manure. When his infant child did not get sufficient breast milk, the doctor advised pure cows’ milk. It was then that Gupta realised the severe lack of pure milk availability in Mumbai. This was the turning point and he started his current venture.

He goes on to add that 90 percent of his city clientele are those suffering from health disorders. Consumer base has increased from close relatives of the dairy farmer to health-conscious urbanites. As more fall victim to lifestyle diseases, most are switching to organic, especially the large vegetarian section of society whose main food items are dairy products – like ghee, butter, cottage-cheese (paneer) other than milk.

With such enterprises, one comes to realise that often the entire community benefits. Dhananjay works with almost 11,000 farmers across Maharashtra to develop a sustainable ecosystem which benefits the consumers by providing healthy milk, and also improves animal welfare.

“I have worked out a barter system with the farmers who provide cow feed to the farm in Satara. Part of the payment is in cow dung for their agricultural farming, which has almost doubled their yield per acre, thereby boosting sustainable practices,” says Dhananjay. “Cow dung is a highly beneficial natural fertiliser which also brings back to life essential microbes and worms, killed by overuse of chemicals, which aerate the soil and add nutrients to it,” says 31-year-old Mithran Jayan, co-owner of The Farmer’s Store in Bandra, Mumbai which sells only organic produce.

When it comes to cow feed, there are those farms where the cows are tied or caged, and those with larger acreage which let their cows roam free. This ensures that the animal grazes on pasture with a variety of feed, rather than being on a restricted diet, thereby ensuring the best quality of milk. This is called loose housing or free range.

When it comes to storage, most packaged milk has hydrogen peroxide added to it as a preservative. In summers, the common phenomenon is reconstituted milk from milk powder. Lacking these, organically-produced milk must be chilled to 4 degree Celsius with a shelf life of 72 hours. Hence, long-distance delivery is not possible with regards to organically produced milk. But it is now being produced all over the country, across Chennai, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and other states, which in turn supply to the major metropolitan cities of India. These are all individual efforts and supplies although bigger brands like Amul have also entered the organic milk market. However, any genuine farmer worth his milk will tell you that there are no regular checks or quality control in the market for milk.

Updated Date: Aug 16, 2017 13:08 PM

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