A couple of weeks ago, my friends and I went to McDonald’s for an ice cream. You can imagine how disappointed we were when we were told that ice cream was not available on that day. When I asked them why, they told us that their dairy supplier was Fonterra, and as Fonterra had temporarily stopped their operations at the time, ice cream could not be served. I knew that the issue was mainly to do with terms like ‘DCD’ and ‘botulism’ because I had heard them on the news. But I didn’t know the real facts. That’s when it hit me that I should do some reading and become more familiar with the issue.
So, what exactly was the deal with the milk?
Firstly we must understand the fact that the confusion in the minds of people was due to 2 different issues being raised at the same time – traces of DCD being found in powdered milk and the Clostridium botulinum contamination of whey protein concentrate.
DCD or Dicyandiamide is a nitrification inhibitor used in fertilizers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, nitrate leaching from soil into waterways and to increase grass growth. It does this by slowing down the rate at which soil bacteria converts ammonia to nitrate and nitrous oxide.
Traces of DCD were first found in Fonterra product test samples in September last year. In July this year, ITI found DCD in 4 brands of imported milk, 2 of them being Fonterra’s.
Then in August, New Zealand informed some countries that the whey protein concentrate sent to them was contaminated with Clostridium botulinum. The source of the bacteria was traced to a dirty pipe in a processing factory. Whey protein is the by product (soluble fraction) obtained when making cheese. It is a high quality protein source containing all essential amino acids. That’s exactly why it is used to make Infant Formula and Energy Drinks.
Clostridium botulinum is an endospore-forming gram-positive bacterium. It produces a nerve toxin which causes a paralytic illness if infected. There are 5 forms of botulism and all forms can be fatal. Foodborne botulism is a public health emergency as many people can get poisoned by eating contaminated
food, in this case, whey protein concentrate.
So both these issues were raised one after the other over a relatively short period of time, causing much confusion among the public.
However, by the latter part of August tests confirmed that the imported milk powder no longer contained DCD and was hence fit for consumption. Things seem to have come back to normal. For one thing, there is ice cream at McDonald’s! And for another, people have stopped talking about it. It has now become just another one of those episodes that created ample distraction for the public and enough and more attention for the dairy producers and importers.
Having dealt with the scientific issue at hand, before wrapping up this piece I’d like to look into why exactly we’ve made such a big deal out of MILK.
Milk is often regarded as being nature’s most complete food. It earns this reputation by providing many of the nutrients which are essential for the growth of the human body. Being an excellent source of protein and having an abundance of vitamins and minerals, particularly calcium, milk can make a positive contribution to the health of a nation. As a result people are under the impression that milk is vital for the sustenance of life. But is it?
The Institute of Medicine recommends that adults get a minimum of 0.8 g of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day. There are a diverse range of protein sources such as eggs, fish, meat, soy beans, nuts and even whole grains. Hence milk need not be an essential constituent of our diet. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t worry about the issue at hand, because to be a responsible citizen in this society, one must be aware of what’s happening around them!