<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Dressed in a turban and dhoti-kurta and armed with a wooden stick, Bham Singh from Sinawada village in Jaisalmer, stands tall. One of India’s 34 lakh pastoralists, he jointly owns 200 camels along with others in his family of 50. He was in New Delhi to attend a three-day meeting of pastoralists that ended on Sunday. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India’s (FSSAI) recent decision clearing camel milk should have been cause for cheer, but has him in a bind instead.Far away from the dunes of his home in Rajasthan, in the corridors of power in Delhi, the scientific community, dairy cooperatives and bureaucrats are at loggerheads over FSSAI’s declaration on November 29 that the permissible fat content in camel milk, known to be leaner than cow milk, has to be 3 percent or above.Labelling it a product with fat content of 3 percent and above, could well mean that the government is rendering camel milk worthless, crippling any chance that Bham Singh’s family has of improving their quality of life.It’s baffling, says Dr. N.V. Patil of Bikaner’s National Research Centre on Camel (NRC), which had provided data from 2,535 samples of camel milk to the National Drug Research Institute and FSSAI for analysis before the standards were operationalized.”We had provided data where the lower threshold for milk fat was close to 1.8 percent. I do not know how FSSAI fixed 3 percent milk fat as permissible,” Patil told DNA.A female camel is pregnant for 13 months, he explained. After delivering her baby, she gives milk for another year. “During the first two to three months of lactation, she may give high fat milk but gradually the milk fat content may go down to 1 percent. We have written to FSSAI to revise the standards.”The Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), which goes by the brand name Amul, has done so too.”We have urged the FSSAI to revise the fat content standards as it is not feasible for us to dole out milk on these standards,” said R.S. Sodhi, GCMMF managing director.Three years ago, the central government had invested up to Rs.79 lakh in setting up a milk procurement and processing unit for GCMMF but had not declared standards for camel milk. Manufacture could not start then and still can’t.The tussle over milk fat content is not new and has been going on for a year. As FSSAI mulls over the issue following reports from NRC scientists, CEO Pawan Aggarwal said, “We have announced the draft notifications and are inviting public representations now.”The debate has Bham Singh bewildered. The 62-year-old says he has never sold camel milk in the market and doesn’t think he will ever be able to.”Camel milk is lighter than cow or buffalo milk. Experts are telling us that it may have fat content lesser than 3 percent,” he said.Thick and creamy in texture, rich in antioxidants and proteins and slightly salty, camel milk is a way of life for them, one which not only sustains them but keeps them healthy.”In our family of 50, not a single person has diabetes. Drought in our village is perpetual. We do not get food or water to eat for many months at a stretch. We survive on camel milk.”Research supports him.”We have established that camel milk is beneficial in controlling sugar levels for diabetics, eight years ago. We are seeing benefits of the milk in improving condition of autistic kids too,” said Patil.The economics of itThe FSSAI’s ‘3 percent decision’ could mean a lucrative livelihood lost for those like Bham Singh and his family.An average family can earn up to Rs.2.5 lakh a year selling camel milk, estimates Kutch-based NGO Sahjeevan. “An average pastoral family with a herd size of 25-30 animals will be in a position to earn Rs.20,000 a month by selling camel milk,” said Sahjeevan trustee Sandeep Virmani.The potential for procuring milk is estimated to be as high as 1.5 lakh litres from up to 9,000 breeders in Rajasthan. This potential is untapped even after the centuries rich tradition of indigenous consumption, said Hanuvant Singh of Lokhit Pashupalak Sansthan in Pali, Rajasthan.And could remain untapped if this debate is not resolved any time soon.
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