A glassful of health

It is the only food that babies up to six months of age can take to meet all their nutritional requirements for healthy growth and development.




Pranav K.Singh & Inderpreet Kaur on why milk must be an integral part of the school meal programme.

To recognise the importance of milk as a global food, June 1 is celebrated every year as World Milk Day, as declared by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. This day provides an opportunity to focus attention on milk and raise awareness about importance of milk in a healthy diet, besides celebrating the achievements of the dairy sector.

India is the world’s highest milk producer with an annual milk production of around 187.70 million tons in the year 2018-19, which is around 21.39% of the world milk production (FAO, 2019), and that is why the importance of this day becomes  more significant.

In India, milk is being produced by millions of small and marginal dairy farmers. Among the agricultural commodities milk is the single largest contributor to the national GDP in terms of value of output (₹56,0770.00 crore),which is around 50% higher than the combined value of output for rice and wheat (₹37,4018.00 crore).

 

Milk and human nutrition

A mother’s milk is the first food of  a newborn. It is the only food that babies up to six months of age can take to meet all their nutritional requirements for healthy growth and development.

Milk contains all essential components required for the human nutrition including energy giving milk fat, protein and sugar (lactose), muscle building proteins, besides being a rich source of minerals particularly calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, growth promoting vitamins and immunity boosting/immunomodulatory factors like immunoglobulins and lactoferrin.

Every 30 ml of milk provides approximately one gram of protein to human diet. Milk protein broadly consists of two types of proteins i.e. casein proteins (80%) and whey proteins (20%). Casein because of its mineral binding affinity and typical structure facilitates efficient absorption of minerals by the human body and calcium bioavailability is highest from milk as compared to any other food or food supplements.

Whey protein is commonly used in many sports food and food supplements to meet protein energy requirement and muscle building purposes. Further it is important to mention here that among all foods, the quality of protein from milk is superior toprotein from any other sources.

As per FAO recommendations, quality of protein for human nutrition is measured in terms of DIAAS (Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid) score and higher the score, better the protein quality. DIAAS score for milk protein is 1.1,8 while for egg protein and soya protein isolates it is 1.13 and 0.90, respectively.

Malnutrition in India

Malnutrition is a socio-economic problem, holding back development across the world with unacceptable human consequences. It costs billions of dollars a year and imposes high human capital costs, direct and indirect, on individuals, families and nations.

The globally estimated cost of malnutrition in all its forms is around US$3.5 trillion per year. India being in the transitional stages of economic development from subsistence agricultural economies to modern economies, is currently facing a unique challenge of triple burden of malnutrition i.e. under-nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies on one hand and obesity on the other.

India is home to 46.6 million stunted children, a third of world’s total as per Global Nutrition Report 2018.

School meal programme

India’s Mid-Day Meal (MDM) Scheme is the world’s largest school meal programme designed to improve the nutritional status of school children. It is a centrally sponsored scheme implemented in association with the State Government.

The programme supplies free lunches on working days for children in primary (I-V) and upper primary (VI-VIII) classes in government and government aided schools across the country. As per the data reported on the MDM portal, at present 115.9 million children are enrolled in 11.40 lakh schools across the country under MDM scheme.

As per MDM guidelines every child in primary schools must be provided with at least 450 calories with 12 grams of protein, while the children in upper primary schools should get 700 calories with 20 grams of protein to meet their nutritional needs.

Food norms under Mid-Day Meal Programme

Source: MHRD, GoI.

 

Through MDM the government is trying to ensure the food and nutritional requirements of school going children. By bringing the MDM programme under the ambit of National Food Security Act 2013 and making the provision of Food Security Allowance, the government has demonstrated its firm commitment towards child nutrition.

However, it is important to point out here that the current food norms under MDM scheme (as given in above table) don’t have a provision of milk despite the tremendous nutritional benefitsof milk.

Currently pulses are the only major source of protein, though it is a well-established fact that milk protein is a much superior protein than any other food protein in terms of its DIAAS score, besides additional advantage of milk being a rich source of calcium, which is also important for child nutrition.

It may sound ironical but it is true that the world’s highest milk producing country which coincidentally also has the highest population of undernourished people, has no national policy to serve milk to one of the most vulnerable segments of the population i.e. children who are studying in government or government aided schools.

How can such an important and nutritious food be left out when the very basic intention of the MDM programme is to ensure nutritional requirement of school going children?

Global practices- Milk in school meal programme 

History of milk as part of a formal feeding scheme in schools can be traced back to as early as 1920s in the UK and 1940s in the US. In these countries these programmes were initially established as social safety network to improve the nutritional status of vulnerable and food insecure children.

Recent survey of International Dairy Federation (IDF) reveals that 160 million children across 62 countries are benefiting from school milk programmes (IDF, 2020). In India currently only few states like Gujarat, Karnataka have milk on the menu of MDM.

Challenges in delivery of milk through MDM and possible solutions

At ambient temperature, unprocessed milk has a limited shelf life of only four to six hours. However, depending upon the level and type of processing, shelf life of milk can be extended from few days to several months with recommended storage conditions.

Limitation of storage life of milk at ambient temperature, its voluminosity, requirement of uninterrupted cold chain throughout the supply chain, difficulty in ensuring the quality and regional and seasonal imbalances in milk production are some of the main challenges which make the delivery of milk difficult through MDM at national level.

However, advanced dairy processing technologies like UHT (Ultra-High Temperature) treatment with aseptic packaging, extends the shelf life of UHT milk up to  six months at ambient temperature with taste, freshness and nutritional qualities of UHT milk as good as fresh milk.

Therefore, UHT milk provides solutions to all those prospective challenges coming in the way of milk being included in the MDM menu. Reconstitution of Whole Milk Powder (WMP) at school level could be another option as being currently followed in Karnataka.

However, technically speaking reconstituted milk is sensorially inferior to pasteurised milk or UHT milk and may adversely affect the acceptability of milk by children. India has sufficient UHT processing capacity to meet the requirements of UHT milk in MDM at the national level.

Moreover, the government has an ambitious plan of doubling the milk processing capacity in the country by 2025 (as declared in the Union budget of 2020-21), under which creation of some more UHT processing facilities can be considered.

Just like other dry rations e.g. grains and pulses, UHT milk or WMP can also be procured at fortnightly or monthly interval and can be stored at school level, as it doesn’t require any refrigeration.

An investment worth making

Taking a cue from the experience of majority of industrially developed nations as well as many developing nations which had milk as an essential part of their school meal programmesand also having successfully handled the issue of malnutrition, can India consider including milk in its Mid-Day Meal scheme at national level?

Incorporating 200-250 ml milk daily into the menu of MDM at national level would be having long-lasting effects on society. It will improve the nutrition and health of millions of vulnerable children and also stimulate the rural economy by boosting the demand of milk.

This would also be in line with the vision of government as articulated in the economic survey, “Food is not just an end in itself but also an essential ingredient in the growth of human capital and therefore important for national wealth creation.” On this 20th anniversary of World Milk Day this could be one of the best gifts to the world from India.

 

Pranav K.Singh is a Dairy Technologist & Inderpreet Kaura Livestock Economist at Guru Angad Dev Veterinary & Animal Science University

 

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are the personal views of the authors and may not necessarily represent the official view of the organization they are working with.

 

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