In Addition to Being Scarce, the Milk in Cuba Is Adulterated

Veterinarians warn that stress puts the health of cows at risk. (Escambray)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 7 March 2024 — The dairy industry in Ciego de Ávila receives 12,300 liters (3,249 gallons) of milk every day, half of what it should have, about 24,000 (6,340 gallons), for children under seven years old, special medical diets, and consumption in hospitals and centers for the elderly. The established plan is 17,500 (4,623 gallons), but the producers don’t deliver what they contracted with the State.

This situation produced a lot of talk this week about the difficulties in meeting the needs of the population that was guaranteed milk, which forced the Government to ask for formal help from the UN World Food Program.

In that context, powdered milk will be delivered only to babies through seven months, while the others must have fluid milk, which is in short supply. The data come at the end of an extensive report by the newspaper Invasor, which brings up another important issue about the milk: its adulteration. The report traces in detail a chain, apparently impeccable, in which it is difficult to find – if it works so well – the point where the milk is mixed with water or other substances that can even put health at risk.

It is difficult to understand why such a well-oiled system has so many known frauds and why so few offenders are detected.

It’s not a minor problem and is denounced by a large part of the population. The report, entitled “Water and Other Milk Demons,” begins by saying, “The history of the adulteration of cow’s milk is as old as the very act of milking that ruminant, and it turns out that when demand increases and the product is scarce, the easiest way for a cheater, or several, is to add water and other demons to ’stretch’ it and increase profits,” says Invasor.

The tracking begins when the drivers arrive with the milk at the Dairy Products Company. “If the microbiology laboratory determines irregularities in any part of the trip, the next day an inspector of the Dairy Community Business Unit or a member of the board of directors of the entity accompanies that driver and takes the corresponding samples to analyze them.” Another point of interest is the inspection of producers to verify that milking takes place in the required hygienic-sanitary conditions.

According to the managers of the sector, the chain reaches the ration stores, and samples are again taken “to check if there is correspondence between what comes from the dairy and what is collected, and if it is given directly to the consumer.” Finally, there is talk of an agreement with Commerce to place inspectors at the points of sale. “It may be that the chain until one in the morning is fine. Our driver leaves the collected milk without alterations and when the ration store dispenses it, it is now altered,” adds the director of the provincial dairy company, Rubén Pina.

In the places of collection, say the managers, there are refrigerators that have a lactodensity meter, and there is also a sampling program along the routes. In addition, each municipality has – or must have – a laboratory to check the milk, and the citizens themselves have the right to go, product in hand, to demand that theirs be analyzed.

The low birth rate and the well-known problems of livestock – from theft to malnutrition – affect the figures.

It is difficult to understand – and in this Invasor agrees – why such a well-oiled system has so many known frauds and why so few offenders are detected. But the situation begins to be better understood when one reads further, in addition to the corruption that corrodes the entire system. “We regret, says an employee of the sector, that the provincial industry lacks the equipment needed to determine the addition of other products, such as cassava starch, lime, water and urea.”

The interviewees affirmed that the limitations of resources and more sophisticated technologies prevent the detection of some problems, and the shortage of plastic bags favors adulteration. “We have a very hard fight when we detect on the routes that the milk is adulterated, mainly with water and salt,” adds a specialist.

Maritza Valladares Quiñones, a dairy microbiologist, states that farmers are required to have milk with 1.030 kg (2.3 pounds) of weight (density) and a minimum of 3.2% fat, so that they can then mix it with pasteurized skim and reach 2.4%.

Presently, a ton of powdered milk on the international market is sold at $3,300 to $3,500, says the deputy director general of Economy and Planning in Ciego de Ávila, José Lemos. That amount, he maintains, rises to $4,000 in the case of Cuba, due to the embargo, defined by the official as “economic and financial persecution to which it is subjected by the coercive measures of the blockade of the Washington Government.”

That fact, despite the help of the World Food Program, purchases from some countries (including the United States) and the support of Sancti Spíritus, which provides 3,000 liters (793 gallons) of milk per day, has led the provincial authorities to restructure milk deliveries, as explained weeks ago.

The farmers are also present in the text, in which the alleged exclusive benefits of cow’s milk are provided, increasingly discussed compared to vegetable alternatives. They explain that each cow gives an average daily yield of 2.3 liters (.6 gallons), which could be four more if they had better food and more attention paid to their rumening (digestive) schedules. In addition, the low birth rate and the well-known problems of cattle – from theft to malnutrition – affect the figures.

In the last 12 years, the livestock mass in Ciego de Ávila decreased by more than 5,100 per year, and in 2023 by more than 13,000 animals.

Basilio González Adega, a veterinary doctor interviewed by the media, explains that stress on the animals makes even fertility a “luxury” and clarifies that, of those that are pregnant, “more than 10% abort because of the trauma caused by the more than 13 hours without food and water when they are put inside to prevent theft or slaughter.” For all these reasons and others, mortality is increasing.

“If our cattle slept in paddocks, the birth rate would be 10% or 15% higher and deaths 2% lower; the animals that are slaughtered would reach 30 kilograms (66 pounds) or more in weight; and each cow would give, at least, one more liter (33.8 ounces) of milk,” he emphasizes. According to this tale of the milkmaid,* 6,300 cows would be born; there would be 427 tons of meat, cows would deliver 4 million liters (1,056,688 gallons) of milk; and deaths would drop by 3,446.

But as in the story, the pail spills and the reality is different. In the last 12 years, the livestock in Ciego de Ávila decreased by more than 5,100 head per year, and in 2023 by more than 13,000 animals, which would lead, if this continues, to the disappearance of dairy farming in the next 25 or 30 years.

*Translator’s note: Aesop’s Fables: A cautionary tale of a milkmaid who was so distracted thinking about her future profits she spilled the one pail of milk she actually had.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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