milking the system — india days 5 & 6

January 9 & 10

At face value, the cooperative system of India’s dairy industry seems like an economically sustainable and just system: Individual farmers should have the power to make collective decisions. However, as demonstrated between our vastly contrasting visits to a dairy in Pune, and Schreiber Dynamix Dairies Ltd., also in Pune, the system literally can be milked. 

The two systems could not have been any different. At the first dairy, our tour guide only spoke broken English, but even through translation it was evident he was not incredibly knowledgeable about the system. As was noted at the finish of the tour, our guide only had his job because of the corruption in the system: One of his family members was a state minister.

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As a student studying the dairy industry, I have learned much about the importance of sanitation, standard operating procedures for a system, and safety. It was evident worker safety and cleanliness at the first facility was not of upmost importance. Workers wore open-toed shoes; we were not required to wash our hands, change, cover or wash our shoes; or cover our hair. Milk was left open at room temperature for long periods of time, and the effluent treatment plant was in very close proximity to the production buildings. This practice would not have passed regulatory measures in the United States.

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A few decades ago in the United States, milk was sold by volume, not components. Farmers in India are still trying to get the most money they can for their products, and are often adding hazardous compounds to their milk to increase volume. Milk is tested for these foreign substances; however, the dairy does not appear to be concerned about farmers adding water, as it is safer than some of the alternatives. This is alarming because one may not know where the origin of the water was, or what bacteria it may be contaminating the milk supply with.

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This particular dairy’s milk is pasteurized and homogenized into butter, ghee, fluid milk (pouches), ice cream, and some desserts.

Beyond the poverty visible in India, this visit was probably the point where I began to feel depressed about India’s agricultural system. India is the top milk-producing country in the world, and I had no idea whether the above system was normal. I have been on potentially hundreds of dairies, and never before have I been so discouraged or turned away by a system.

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Much to my relief, however, we visited Schreiber Dairies, an American-based system, the following day. We were greeted by one of the managers, who made it obvious from the get-go that our safety, as well as the safety of his product, was his first priority. We had to have our passports and visas approved upon entry, and were required to put on boot covers, hair nets, face masks, aprons, and wash our hand — multiple times — between various buildings. We were also not allowed to take photos (unfortunate for this post, though optimal from a security standpoint).

Unlike the first dairy, Schreiber’s does not receive its fluid milk from individual dairies in India, rather from cooperative societies. The biggest intention of this company’s processing is to increase shelf life of their products, 79% of which are marketed internationally.

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Schreiber’s may not be well known to the lay person, as its company is the middle-man processor behind the façade of big-name, international producers of cheese products, such as Nestlé, Kraft, Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Dominos, etc.

In short, the processing plant facilities included rooms for Nestlé cheese production, butter and Ghee production, and pizza string cheese. We even got to see the freshest American cheese single you will ever see — in India. Who knew!? There were rooms for casein packaging, powder packing, reconstitution, lactose packing, brining room, Danone yogurt, lactose drying, etc.

Schreiber’s also had a facility for ultra high temperature processing of products, where it could increase milk shelf life to 140 days. Ultra-high temperature processing can be done in two ways: one, through directly injecting steam, or two, through indirect heat exchange. The disadvantage of the first, even though faster, is that it adds water, and thus dilutes the product. Schreiber’s uses indirect heat exchange. In these facilities, they manufacture over 20,000 Tropicana juice boxes per hour, Nestlé’s A+ milk, as well as other familiar products.

The differences between these two systems can be easily described by comparing capitalism and socialism: the difference between investing in infrastructure, and not, to grow a business, benefit an economy, and reward those who work hard. The cooperative system faces leverage from government and politicians. The most recent dairy processing plant I have visited was the new facility at Cornell’s Stocking Hall — which is the nicest, most modern in the world. I was by no means expecting this out of both dairies, though I was definitely surprised, and at times, discouraged.

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