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Watch what you eat

Published Jan 29, 2013 10:23am


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The dreaded “C” word is what no ill person ever wants to hear from their doctor – yet there is no family I know of in Pakistan (or abroad) who has been spared from hearing this devastating news. With all the dangerous chemicals and toxins around us (a by-product of the industrial age), it is just a matter of time before they get into the food chain and into our bodies where they bio-accumulate and eventually turn cancerous. While there is still no conclusive evidence on what exactly causes cancer, doctors now say that mounting evidence shows that the foods we eat weigh heavily in the war against cancer.

Doctors say that the easiest and least-expensive way to reduce your risk for cancer is just by eating a healthy diet. When it comes to a diet rich in cancer-fighting substances, most experts agree that it should consist of a predominantly plant-based diet. Living in Pakistan, where various lentils (daals) and freshly cooked vegetables are already a part of our diet, that should not be too difficult. However, we do have to be very careful about what else we eat, given all the adulteration in our food.

A few years ago, I remember interviewing Imran Khan, the politician who as we all know, set up Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital after his mother died from cancer. He told me his typical main meal consisted of a karahi made of desi (free range) chicken, organic wheat chappatis (from flour sent from a friend’s village), fresh vegetable salad from his own kitchen garden and plenty of lassi from the milk of buffaloes kept in his house in Islamabad. He would have freshly made lassi all day, which is high in protein while low in cholesterol.

Most of us don’t have access to our own buffaloes, and are dependent on packaged milk that we buy from stores. But can we trust this packaged milk? How much of this milk is “pure” and how much of it is adulterated? What is safe to give to your children, who need plenty of milk during their growing stages? I asked a good friend of mine who is in the milk business but wishes to remain anonymous.

“Most of the big packaged milk companies source their milk from collection centers, where milk is brought from nearby villages by doodwallahs who own motorcycles or other transportation. While the big companies do try to do some checks for adulteration, there are so many things that can be put in the milk nowadays that you would need a huge lab to check for everything. No such facility exists in Pakistan.”

So what are the “things” that are put in the milk by doodwallahs? “Well, first of all, no doodwallah is ever going to waste his milk – if it goes sour, they will throw in caustic soda. In the hot summers when their animal’s milk production goes down, they will add water – but that is usually dirty canal water, not water from the tap! Then, since that makes the milk a bit murky they will add some bleach. Also, cow’s milk is a bit yellow so to make the colour nice and bright for consumers they will also add bleach. They sometimes add glucose or vegetable shortening to increase the volume and thickness. To make the milk frothy they might even add surf every now and then. Urea is another commonly used ingredient.”

Bleach, surf, caustic soda, urea in our packaged milk? Why don’t these companies, some with international reputations, do something? “Some of the bigger companies buy up to 2,000,000 liters per day, that is a lot of milk. Like I said before, they do some testing but they can’t check for everything. What they do check for are the solid non-fats and also the total fat content of the milk. But they can’t guarantee that the milk is free from adulteration. Also, the UHT (Ultra High Temperature) process with which they treat the milk kills all the bacteria in it but it can’t do much for the hydrogen peroxide or sugar content in the milk.”

In my friend’s view, since these companies work with such large quantities, the hope is there that all the adulteration will eventually be diluted to negligible amounts. I asked him whether he buys packaged milk for use in his home. “Ummm, no, actually we have some buffaloes on our farm, whom we ensure eat organically grown feed and we get the milk from there. Drinking packaged milk is not going to put you in the hospital, but it is like death by a thousand cuts… what if you are diabetic and there is glucose in the milk? What if you are hypertensive and there are traces of urea (which is salty), in the milk?”

Since we were on the subject of dairy, I also asked him about the poultry industry. “Most eggs in the market today come from what we call broiler chickens that are fed a diet of blood meal and fish meal. They have made chickens that are supposed to be herbivores, omnivores that eat anything! These broiler chickens are grown in just 42 days. They are genetically modified chickens, which have been imported from Holland or the US (at least the grandparent flock). Our desi or natural chickens have just 40 per cent egg laying capacity while these broiler chickens have 90 per cent egg laying abilities. It is purely about economics, these large poultry businesses do not have our health interest at heart.”

Like Imran Khan, you can’t be too careful about what you eat these days. It’s good to know how our milk, eggs and chickens are produced so we can make informed decisions. In the end, it is up to us to ensure we have the right diet so we can at least reduce our risk of getting serious illnesses.

The writer is an award-winning environmental journalist based in Islamabad, who also covers climate change and health issues. She can be reached at

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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The writer is an award-winning environmental journalist based in Islamabad, who also covers climate change and health issues.

She can be reached at

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (34) Closed

vijay singh ivory coast Jan 29, 2013 01:02pm
kash Jan 30, 2013 12:26pm
so why did you keep reading? you knew from the first paragraph what this article is about.
ALi Jan 29, 2013 03:39pm
we should go for lentils and veggies from now
G Khan Jan 29, 2013 03:42pm
The thing is that we all know that the packaged milk is not good now a days as it used to earlier but why no one is taking any action against this mafia. An ordinary man can do nothing but if the Media wants they can make a big difference to expose them. Same is the case with poultry their feed in Pakistan is one of the worst in the world. There effects are the spread of disease's like Hepatitis which unfortunately is becoming to be common in Pakistan.
Shafqaat Jan 29, 2013 03:53pm
Well informative article. many thanks.
Tariq Jan 29, 2013 05:02pm
Scary Pakistan! Is there anything regarded as Scared/sacrosanct?
Steppenwolf Jan 29, 2013 05:14pm
Yes! Finally, an informative article that I have been waiting for. I have been telling all my Pakistani family and friends about the degraded quality of food they are eating. Chicken is probably the worst food you can eat. They live their short lives in great misery injected with antibiotics, growth hormones and fed food derived from blood and fish remains. I was also told that washing detergent is also mixed in the milk to produce bubbles but adding bleach to the that came as a surprise. But again no surprise at all; what can you expect from a country where everything and anything is corrupt from cricketers to chickens.
Rajesh Jan 29, 2013 06:10pm
Thank You for the informative article.
v0lt0re Jan 29, 2013 06:20pm
only buy Organic foods.
ahsan Jan 29, 2013 06:39pm
it is informative... but without any solution. May our writers also comeup with solutions? or their task is to just bring the issue?
Ali Jan 29, 2013 06:41pm
People really needs to be aware of what they eat. Infitration by food Food Industry... God knows what is the role of WHO? lot of crops are GMO (Genetically modified organism) and then the heavy use of pesticides... almost like you are eating to die... If anybody get a chance and access please watch very informational movies 'Fast Food Nation' and 'Food Inc.' the movie particularly talks about food industry in US but it is practiced all over. Good Work Rina !!
SBB Jan 29, 2013 07:04pm
Excellent, eye opening article. Thank you.. I think diet is a critical part of our existence and thinking through what we consume is essential. Too bad that modernization and population growth has brought these evils to us.
Khanjee Jan 30, 2013 12:37pm
i) Broiler Chicken are reared for Meat, Layers for Eggs ii) Chicken were and are omnivores. They eat caterpillars, worms, coaches and even small animals such as young mice. iii) Information on prevention from diseases like cancer should be supported with links and should carry proper caveats. Can, only a healthy diet prevent a habtual sunbather who does not take proper skin protection from the risk of skin cancer? iv) The issue of contaminants in off-the-shelf food is an important one and it must be understood by a larger segment of consumers.
Karachi Wala Jan 30, 2013 02:26pm
I think he lives in Ivory Coast
Pradeep Jan 29, 2013 12:49pm
Wow .. that's very informative, thanks to author for sheding some light on these which have a cascading effect on everyone.
Arif Malik Jan 30, 2013 01:04pm
what is the point she want to highlight here? I failed to get any construed opinion from this article.
Muhammad Imran Jan 31, 2013 09:36am
Like some wise guy once said "There is nothing new under the sun. But there are many old things we do not know about". This article is a reminding call about something most of us know but we keep ignoring
yahya Khan Jan 30, 2013 05:39pm
Very informative article. Thanks to the author.
Zongwa Jan 30, 2013 09:35am
Ivory coast
masroor Jan 30, 2013 02:31pm
So the solution to this problem is to keep a few buffaloes!
Amit Jan 30, 2013 09:53am
But who will assure us the vegetables are pure? They are being grown in sewerage water!
babar Jan 30, 2013 07:01pm
Canal water? are you kidding me? I mean this is so baseless to say that they add canal water. Its muddy, its dirty. They can't add that..I am such a village person and we are also into a small dairy business, but i have never seen (and i have been to big milk producing centers in Punjab from Sahiwal to Faisalabad) them doodhwala's add water from canals. What they do is and yes i will acknowledge, that they add water from water pumps on the road sides or the normal tap water they have in their facilities. But i think the author above must correct herself about the canal thing.
babar Jan 30, 2013 07:03pm
Yes you are right. There is no way out of this consumerism we are in. I yearn for the old medieval times.
m.k. sermiki Jan 31, 2013 04:17am
very very thanks for informative articles. in pakistan media is playing their role to eradication of adulteration in goods, but our government is not paying any attention on such issues. i request the government of pakistan to take action against such people.
Abdullah Hussain Jan 30, 2013 09:19am
Very nice informative article. More of such stuff will definately help in creating awareness about natural vs modified eatables. I would now prefer to eat more of natural foods.
Maroof Soomro Jan 30, 2013 06:42am
Dear Rina, Thank you for an informative article. However, please be informed that the eggs we eat are from the Layer Chicken and NOT BROILER chicken as mentioned above. Broiler chicken are farmed specifically for meat production. Hope the error is rectified by The Dawn Team.
Ali G Jan 30, 2013 06:08am
what's the point hear? way out if any? Have already heard of this a million times?
Ejaz Jan 30, 2013 05:41am
There are two types of chickens: 'Broilers' are for meat and 'Layers' are for egg production. And what Imran Khan has to do with all this.
Ahmed Saeed Jan 30, 2013 05:38am
excellent, i wish the author publish the same in some urdu press as well
Wasim Jan 30, 2013 05:22am
Egg lying chickens start egg lying after 6 months not 42 days. bioler is different breed used for meat only. please always virifiy your information before making it public.
Rajesh Jan 30, 2013 03:21am
Wow Nice Information in Simple Terms..Thanks Rajesh
sarfaraz Jan 30, 2013 02:49am
What and which Government you are talking about my friend ? The Gujrati (Indian Gujrat) woman who supplies millions of tons milk daily, knows much more than the reachers ! Eat natural food as far as possible.
Zia Jan 30, 2013 12:55am
Like the government really cares!! Where on earth do u live.
azhar damino Jan 30, 2013 10:27am
thats very kind of u for informing us about such an serious issue