The uproar over new milk regulations started last week with a social media post depicting whistle blowing on a draft bill proposed by the Kenya Dairy Board.
It claimed the board had plans to pass regulations that would criminalise sale of raw milk by small-scale farmers to their neighbours.
The post went viral, creating animated discussions, including in the mainstream media.
Milk consumers argued that the regulations were meant to enrich a few large-scale processors.
On several WhatsApp forums for veterinary doctors, the argument was that small-scale farmers would be driven out of business and the veterinarians would follow suit with no clients to serve.
One farmer told me he was very concerned with the proposed regulations because if they were passed and implemented, they would serve to enrich milk importers.
I was amazed by the negativity the proposed regulations generated despite the obvious need for a well-regulated food industry. During the same week, I had met a lady who told me she had stopped eating pork. “Doctor, it has a worm that makes people go mad or get epilepsy,” she said with finality.
I recalled there had been a report in one of the major newspapers stating that veterinary officials had warned the public against eating uninspected pork because it could be containing the pork tapeworm, which can cause nervous illness in humans.
Interestingly, the pig industry has laws and regulations that require pigs to be housed indoors at all times on cemented floors to protect them from contracting the tapeworm.
The problem of tapeworms in pork arises when pigs are reared on pastures and are also not dewormed properly. It is true the pig tapeworm can cause severe spinal and brain damage in humans.
The week was awash with many health issues concerning food of animal origin. March 24 was the World Tuberculosis (TB) Day. The day aims at raising public awareness on the devastating health, social and economic consequences of TB, and to step up efforts to end the global TB epidemic.
One running theme in TB control is that livestock farming, milk and meat production and trade must be well-regulated to eradicate the transmission of the disease between animals and humans.
Back to the draft dairy regulations fiasco, the dairy board first denied the existence of the proposed laws followed by a suspension. It is unfathomable why the government has this penchant for denials even when the blood is evident on its hands.
So why did the draft regulations create so much acrimony. The reason, in my opinion, was that the dairy board developed the regulations in their offices without seeking to understand the realities of dairy farming and trade as well as the socio-economic importance of small-scale dairy production.
The regulator also ignored the constitutional requirement of public participation in administrative decisions and actions that impact on the people.
A number of farmers I have met and some who have called me in the last week have asked the question:
“Must the government regulate everything including farming?”
My answer has been a big yes. It is the role of the government to institute regulatory interventions in all activities that have impact on the individual, the society and the global community.
In this era of globalisation, it is imperative that the government ensures the food production system in Kenya is in line with global standards to protect the health of citizens, citizens of other nations and the environment.
Additionally, it is only through such actions that Kenya will also be able to benefit from the lucrative international trade in livestock and livestock products.
Two weeks ago, I had a client who was lamenting the loss of a live camel export order running into tens of millions of shillings.
The reason was that the importing country said they had confirmed that Kenya did not have regulations for structured farming of camels.
SAFETY WHEN CONSUMING MILK
They had sought confirmation that the camels to be exported were routinely vaccinated against rabies and the answer was in the negative.
The dairy board may have retreated in its quest for enhanced milk production and trade regulation but they will surely be back soon.
They have a mandate to ensure that Kenyans are safe when consuming locally produced milk and that the produce is competitive in the international trade arena.
As they plan to make a comeback, I would strongly urge them to involve key stakeholders at all levels of the industry and also propose regulations that enable farmers and existing traders to comply, without necessarily having to shut down their operations.
The first line of action should be to adequately enforce existing regulations. Such action would weed out illegal operators.
Finally, I would urge all farmers and traders in milk industry to understand that the produce is one of the food products that easily create tenacious health challenges to humans.
Top is the transmission of deadly diseases such as tuberculosis, brucellosis and enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli bacteria.
It is also a good medium for propagating antimicrobial resistance (AMR). If unchecked, AMR can in the near future render many drugs used in humans ineffective. Such a situation would cause deaths from diseases that are currently easily treated.
To create global awareness on the importance of AMR in human and animal health, the World Health Organisation established the World Antibiotic Awareness Week which is commemorated every year in November.
Global standards and activities have been put in place to ensure food safety in production and trade.
Therefore, Kenya, as a reputable member of the global community, has no option but to adopt the standards and domesticate them to fit with our laws and operational realities.