How Technology is Impacting Dairy Industry

The Indian dairy sector has been going great guns since Verghese Kurien unleashed the White Revolution in India. There’s been no looking back, despite numerous challenges by way of fodder shortage, milk adulteration, cattle diseases and shifts in dietary habits of a major section of the urban population over the years. Milk from the dairy (not plant-based faux milk), continues to be a part of Indian breakfast tables.  The dairy market in India hit the Rs 1,489,980 crore mark in 2022. As per market research firm IMARC Group,  the market is expected to reach Rs 3,118,570 crore by 2028, exhibiting a growth rate (CAGR) of 13.2 per cent during 2023-28. Yet, there still remain challenges that ought to be addressed. Let’s examine the dairy sector’s present and future outlook in terms of innovations in new technologies, governmental policies, and more.

On March 4, 2023 the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has directed States/Union Territories (UT) to deploy Food Safety on Wheels (FSW) mobile food testing vans, to check adulteration of milk and milk products considering the ensuing festive season of Holi. The food authority has requested the Commissioner of Food Safety of all states/UTs to carry out testing of at least 10 samples of milk and milk products per FSW on a daily basis to tighten vigilance against milk adulteration.

FSSAI has encouraged consumers to get their milk and milk products tested through the FSWs deployed closest to them. The tests were carried out free of cost. The whole exercise was targeted towards ensuring availability of safe and pure milk and milk products to the consumers of the country. 168 FSWs were made available with the states/UTs for carrying out on-the-spot food testing for various food products including milk and milk products. Tests for Fats, Solid-not-Fat, Protein, Adulterants like Added Water, Urea, Sucrose, Maltodexterine, and Ammonium Sulphate were done through the Milk-o-Screen system installed at FSWs.

Amidst concerns over milk adulteration and its potential health hazards, the dairy sector in India has emerged as a robust and thriving industry. 

According to data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation Corporate Statistical Database (FAOSTAT), India holds the top position in global milk production, contributing 24 per cent of total output in  2021-22. Over the past eight years,  the country’s milk production witnessed a remarkable 51 per cent increase, reaching a staggering 22 crore tonnes in 2021-22. 

The Union Minister of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying, Parshottam Rupala releasing the department’s annual publication, the ‘Basic Animal Husbandry Statistics 2022’ on March 15, 2023, said that the total milk production in the country during 2021-22 touched 221.06 million tonnes registering a growth of 5.29 per cent over previous year. The top five major milk producing states include Rajasthan (15.05 per cent), Uttar Pradesh (14.93 per cent), Madhya Pradesh (8.06 per cent), Gujarat (7.56 per cent) and Andhra Pradesh (6.97 per cent).

The dairy market in India reached Rs 14,899.8 billion in 2022. Looking forward, IMARC Group expects the market to reach Rs 31,185.7 billion by 2028, exhibiting a growth rate (CAGR) of 13.2 per cent during 2023-28. India has been the leading producer and consumer of dairy products worldwide since 1998 with a sustained growth in the availability of milk and milk products. Dairy activities form an essential part of the rural Indian economy, serving as an important source of employment and income. India also has the largest bovine population in the world. However, the milk production per animal is significantly low as compared to the other major dairy producers. Moreover, nearly all of the dairy produce in India is consumed domestically, with the majority of it being sold as fluid milk. On account of this, the Indian dairy industry holds tremendous potential for value-addition and overall development.

Droupadi Murmu, the President of India, who graced the 19th convocation ceremony of the National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal in its centenary year on April 24 said “The dairy industry plays an important role in ensuring the food and nutritional security of the country. It is a matter of pride that India is the largest milk-producing country in the world. The dairy sector contributes about 5 per cent to the country’s GDP and the dairy industry provides livelihood to about 8 crore families. The dairy sector is grappling with problems such as the management of good quality fodder for cattle, changes in weather and cattle diseases. Sustainable milk production and dairy farming is a challenge, and it is the responsibility of all stakeholders, including the government to find a solution. It is our responsibility to develop the dairy industry by adopting environment-friendly and climate-smart technologies, keeping animal welfare in mind.”

In order to supply safe and high-quality milk to consumers nationwide, the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying (DAHD), Government of India, in collaboration with FSSAI has undertaken various initiatives and measures. These initiatives aim to address the concerns surrounding milk quality and safety, guaranteeing the availability of safe and nutritious dairy products for consumers throughout the country.

Ensuring dairy safety

In its ongoing effort to curb adulteration of milk and milk products, on May 25, FSSAI announced that it will conduct nation-wide surveillance on milk and milk products (such as milk, khoa, chenna, paneer, ghee, butter, curd, and ice cream). This Pan-India surveillance will be done on a large scale by collecting samples from both the organised and unorganised sectors in all the districts of the states/ UTs. The rationale behind choosing milk is due to its indispensable role in our food culture either as a fresh fluid or as processed dairy products. Milk contains vital micronutrients and macronutrients. People of every age group include milk or milk products in their daily diet. Changing lifestyle patterns and increasing health consciousness are the key growth drivers for milk and high value milk products in India. 

FSSAI, so far, has conducted five surveys on milk and milk products since 2011 and continues to monitor the safety and quality of the food products and always plan to conduct surveillance based on the outbreak of any food related issues and emerging risks.

According to the nationwide National Milk Safety and Quality Survey (NMQS-2018) conducted by FSSAI, the percentage of adulterated milk samples was remarkably low. Out of 6,432 samples of milk collected, only 12 samples (0.19 per cent) were found to be adulterated, rendering them unsafe for human consumption. While this is a concern, the data challenges the perception that liquid milk in the country is largely adulterated. Numerous companies, milk cooperatives and startups in the dairy industry, have placed significant emphasis on providing safe, adulterant-free products using technology and through their new products and platforms. 

Gokul Dairy’s five-layered poly-film pouches

A year ago, Kolhapur District Cooperative Milk Producers Union Ltd., popularly known as Gokul Dairy, introduced a breakthrough solution to combat milk adulteration. They launched five-layered poly-film pouches for milk packaging, aiming to prevent milk adulteration. One of the most common methods of adulteration involves piercing the pouch with a syringe, extracting the milk and replacing it with water. With the new packaging, it was claimed that if the pouch is pierced, a blue colour in one of the layers automatically spreads, imparting a dark colour to the pouch. This visible change serves as an indication to customers that the milk has been adulterated. 

Advancements through collaboration

The collaboration between industry and academia has played a significant role in introducing innovative technologies to the dairy sector. Various Indian institutes are actively exploring opportunities in the dairy sector. 

On March 27, researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT-M) announced the availability of a pocket-friendly, three-dimensional (3D) paper-based device capable of detecting milk adulteration within 30 seconds. This portable device can even be used at home. It can detect multiple substances commonly used as adulterants, such as urea, detergents, soap, starch, hydrogen peroxide, sodium-hydrogen-carbonate, and salt, among others. Unlike conventional laboratory-based methods, which are expensive and time-consuming, this affordable technology enables the testing of other liquids such as water, fresh juices, and milkshakes for traces of adulteration.

IIT-M’s 3D paper-based adulterant detector

Explaining the functionality of the paper-based device, Dr Pallab Sinha Mahapatra, Associate Professor from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at IIT Madras, said, “The 3D paper-based microfluidic device consists of a top and bottom cover, with a sandwich structure middle layer. This unique 3D design enables the consistent transportation of denser liquids at a controlled speed. The paper is treated with reagents and left to dry. Through colourimetric detection techniques, the device can identify various adulterants in different liquid samples. This analytical tool not only enhances liquid food safety monitoring but also facilitates the traceability of contaminated milk in remote areas of developing countries.”

Advancements in milk analysis technology

Continuing the trend of innovation, another notable institute in Bengaluru has made significant strides in the field. Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) have developed a low-cost and effective method for detecting adulterants in milk, by analysing deposition patterns after evaporation. The team focused on testing for the presence of urea and water, the most common adulterants, but they believe this technique can be extended to identify other types of adulterants as well. By observing evaporative deposition patterns, which emerge when a liquid mixture like milk completely evaporates, volatile components dissipate, while solids or non-volatile components arrange themselves in distinct patterns. The researchers’ next goal is to expand the technique to detect a wider range of adulterants, such as emulsions formed by oil and detergents that resemble milk. 

At the industry level, the Indian dairy industry has recently received its first indigenous dual ultrasonic sensor-based milk analyser from Essae Teraoka, a Bengaluru-based joint venture with Teraoka Seiko of Japan. The Essae MA-825, the first ‘Made In India’ dual ultrasonic sensor milk analyser, matches the significant advancements in technology and design. It is cost-efficient, hygienic, and compliant with regulatory recommendations. 

“Essae’s USP is that the ultrasonic sensors used in these analysers are entirely conceived, engineered, and built-in in India, unlike other players who import these. Another uniqueness of the MA-825 is that it analyses samples and shows results in just 23 seconds at 30 degrees Celsius. With the MA-825, there is absolute transparency in how the milk is analysed, maximising the help of technology and digitalisation. With state-of-the-art technology in play, there are zero sampling errors ensuring farmers are satisfied. Farmers are also made aware that they are being paid based on accurate results,”  explained Prabhu Chandran, Managing Director of Essae Teraoka.

Adding to the roster of dairy technology solutions, Everest Instruments, based in Ahmedabad, has introduced another ‘Made In India’ solution for the Indian dairy industry. The dairy-tech company launched the Fatscan Milk Analyser, which utilises cutting-edge technology to provide accurate and efficient analysis of milk quality. This cost-effective device can measure FAT, SNF, added water, density, protein, and lactose percentage in less than 30 seconds. The Fatscan milk analyser contributes to the Make in India and Atma Nirbhar Bharat campaigns.

“Until now, milk analysers were imported from Europe. The Fatscan Milk Analyser is developed and made in India. We are confident that it will make a significant contribution to improving the quality and enhancing the safety of milk and milk products for consumers. With its user-friendly interface and intuitive design, the Fatscan Milk Analyser is suitable for all users. The device is portable and can be used in a variety of settings,” said Parimal Patel, Joint Managing Director of Everest Instruments.

Need for A1/A2 identification Kits

Milk plays a crucial role in ensuring nutritional security in many countries around the world. Recently, a global debate has emerged regarding the potential harmfulness of A1 milk (from hybrid cows) and the purported benefits of A2 milk (from indigenous cows). Despite the absence of clinical evidence, milk is being marketed as A2 milk at a premium price without proper identification at the field level. 

A study conducted by the Veterinary University Training and Research Centre (VUTRC), Tiruchirappalli utilising the TANUVAS A1A2 detect kit in various locations within the Tiruchirappalli district, revealed that approximately 21.05 per cent of the indigenous breeds produced A1 milk. The study also included non-descriptive local cows, of which 2 out of 6 samples exhibited an A1A2 genotype. These findings indicate that regardless of the breed, the genotype of the animal can vary.

Concluding the study, V Jayalalitha, Assistant Professor and Head of the VUTRC, Tiruchirappalli said, “Since A2 milk is sold at a higher price in the market, both consumers and producers should be aware of A2 milk identification and its concept.” Jayalalitha highlighted the fact that consumers are paying a significantly higher price for milk without knowing its true identity. Moreover, she noted the rising availability of A2 milk products in the market. “Although FSSAI has not established any specific standards for A2 milk, its demand in the market continues to rise.” This study concludes that validated test kits such as the TANUVAS A1A2 detect kit are necessary to accurately identify A2 milk before making any claims, she said. 

Contrary to the common belief that all indigenous cattle produce A2 milk, certain breeds such as Gir, Sahiwal, Tharparkar, Haryanvi, Ongole, Kankrej, Gangatiri, and Rathi may also produce A1 milk due to widespread contamination of their genomes or genome defilement in recent years. Factors such as poor breed management, hybridisation for large-scale production, and genetic mutations could be significant contributors to this issue. Therefore, it is crucial for milk suppliers to possess an A2 milk cow certificate as evidence to support their claims. 

Additionally, regulatory bodies like the FSSAI should prioritise the development of portable and affordable A1A2 milk detection kits to empower consumers in making informed decisions and prevent unnecessary expenditure on false claims.

A way forward 

To check on the problem of milk adulteration in the country, FSSAI has advised the food safety authorities in States/ UTs to maintain a strict vigil on milk chilling units, intensify surveillance during festive seasons, follow a policy of periodic transfers in respect of  Food Safety Officers (FSOs) and generate local intelligence regarding the malpractices and strengthen testing and enforcement infrastructure both physical as well as human. These measures with the support of the private players, who are investing on technology platforms and kits in detecting adulteration will go a long way in offering safe milk and milk products to the consumers across the nation. 

Mansi Jamsudkar

Image credit- shutterstock

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