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Milk matters!

51Milk is the most balanced source of nutrition for human beings. Dairy products are a good source of energy, and contain all essential food elements including protein, fat, carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals and trace elements.
Milk keeps your heart in good condition, by maintaining blood pressure. Calcium in milk products maintains bone density and prevents osteoporosis (bone thinning). Osteoporosis is very common among women who do not consume adequate quantities of dairy products.
In most high-income developed countries, and many developing countries too, milk is a major component of the daily breakfast. However, it is difficult to store milk without refrigeration and accordingly it is more costly than, say, vegetables.
Among low-income Bangladeshi families, consumption is very low. In a nutrition survey conducted by one of us among 300 low-income mothers in Jamalpur district and another 300 living in a Dhaka slum only 1% were, based on the World Health Organisation (WHO) standards, consuming minimally adequate milk on a daily basis.
The WHO recommends 250 ml milk consumption per person per day, or approximately 90 liters per person per year. Global per capita milk consumption is 108 liters/year. Consumption is highest in Finland (361 liters/person/year); in Canada it is 206 liters. In Bangladesh it is only 16.5 liters/person/year. On an average that is one fourth of the WHO recommended amount.
Milk consumption in many poor developing countries is higher than in Bangladesh. For example it is 68.7 liters/person/year in India, in Nepal 41 liters, in Maldives 79 liters, in Pakistan 159 liters.
One of the important reasons for low consumption is high retail prices. At the present exchange rate, this is above retail prices available in Canada. There are costs beyond transport, but should they double the price?
There are other important issues related to dairy products in Bangladesh. Milk adulteration and synthetic milk are two of them. However, a reasonable price at the farmer end will encourage domestic milk production and lower our dependence on imports. And a reasonable price at the consumer end will encourage consumption.
We do not know the details of milk marketing in Bangladesh, but based on the Indian experience, a systematic investigation is justified. Everybody has an interest on this issue, because milk matters!
Nazmul Huda is a public health physician. John Richards is a Canadian economist at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.