EghtesadOnline: Recent allegations spread by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting that milk in Iran is contaminated with excessive levels of aflatoxin has hurt the domestic dairy industry and further reduced per capita consumption of milk, Mohammad Reza Shanehsaz, the head of Iran Food and Drug Administration, said.
“Iran’s per capita milk consumption was already lower than the global average i.e. roughly one-fifth of the global average and has now reduced even more due to the misleading information disseminated by an official media outlet like TV,” he was quoted as saying by IRNA, according to Financial Tribune.
“This is while Iran enforces milk production standards that are more stringent than those in the European countries. Such unfounded rumors have unfortunately created problems for exports by our renowned dairy brands, so much so that the Federation of Iranian Food Association had no choice but to initiate legal action against the source of this rumor.”
Noting that there are 400 dairy production companies in the country and 66 medical universities have constant supervision over their performance through IFDA’s departments, Shanehsaz said, “IFDA’s supervision over milk safety starts from production till delivery; there is no place for negligence in our supervisory duty.”
Allaying concerns, caretaker of Agriculture Ministry, Abbas Keshavarz, echoed similar remarks and assured people that consumption of milk and dairy products in Iran is safe.
Aflatoxins are poisonous carcinogens and mutagens that are produced by certain molds, which grow in soil, decaying vegetation, hay and grains. They are regularly found in improperly stored staple commodities such as cassava, chili peppers, cottonseed, millet, peanuts, rice, sesame seeds, sorghum, sunflower seeds, sweet corn, tree nuts, wheat and a variety of spices.
When contaminated food is processed, aflatoxins enter the general food supply where they have been found in both pet and human foods, as well as in feedstock for agricultural animals. Animals fed contaminated food can pass aflatoxin transformation products into eggs, milk products and meat.
“Initial estimates say between 3,000-5,000 tons of milk were returned to dairy factories on the day the national TV announced that milk in Iran contains high levels of aflatoxin and urged people to avoid its consumption,” Mohammad Reza Banitaba, the spokesperson of Iran's Dairy Industries Association, said.
“As a result of such comments, families in less-privileged provinces are refusing to accept free school milk for their children. The negative impacts of such comments have gone beyond the domestic market. The footage in which the TV expert is advising people against drinking milk is getting viral and widespread in the neighboring countries under the name ‘Iranians are feeding us with poison’,” he added.
Banitaba noted that 90% of the dairy industry is run by the private sector; in fact it is one of the few industries where privatization has proved to be successful, despite fierce competition.
“All producers know quite well that they will be driven out of the market, once they opt for low-quality products. Brand diversity allows consumers to pick up brands that supply high-quality products,” he said.
Referring to the fact that this is not the first time IRIB has disseminated false or misleading information, the official said, “IRIB has already contributed in the decline in milk consumption when it fueled rumors about the presence of palm oil, bleach and other prohibited additives in dairy products, whereas such claims have been strongly rejected by experts. It took one and a half years for dairy industries to reclaim their share of the market after palm oil rumors.”
Banitaba noted that two million people are employed by dairy industries, which have the potential of creating many more jobs and eliminate poverty, particularly in rural areas.