The LPS involves adding a small packet of thiocyanate to a can of milk, then a small packet of hydrogen peroxide. Both chemicals occur naturally in milk but in quantities that only inhibit bacteria for one to two hours. By boosting this natural process, the milk can last a further three hours, long enough to get it to a refrigerated collection point.
In West Africa alone, the subregion with the least adequate system for milk collection, the World Bank estimates that 5 million litres of milk per year are thrown away because there is no way to preserve it while it is being transported to cooling centres or dairies.
The widespread adoption of the low-cost system would mean increased income for poverty-stricken farmers who often rely on livestock for most of their income, but who have no way to sell their milk beyond the village.
The LPS will be reconfirmed as the preferred method, if the recommendation of the Codex Committee on Milk and Milk Products is adopted. The Committee reopened the debate on the use of hydrogen peroxide in the preservation of milk at a meeting in Montevideo, Uruguay, from 18 to 22 May. The Committee reports to the Codex Alimentarius Commission, a joint FAO/WHO body that produces standards, guidelines and principles to safeguard the quality and safety of the world's food supply and to facilitate world trade in foodstuffs.
The Montevideo meeting agreed that it was time to phase out an older milk preservation method that uses 10 times as much hydrogen peroxide in milk and reconfirm that - in the absence of refrigeration - the low-dosage LPS method is preferred. The Codex Alimentarius Commission approved the use of LPS in 1991 along with a Code of Practice, and will consider the Committee's latest recommendations at its biannual meeting in Rome in June 1999.
A ruling in favour of the low-hydrogen peroxide method could give a boost to FAO's efforts to promote LPS in the developing world. FAO has already held regional workshops on its use in Egypt, for the Near East, and Cuba, for Latin America. Eighty countries have asked FAO to conduct LPS trials in their countries.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is financing an FAO project in which China, which already treats 5 million litres of milk a day by LPS, introduces the technology to Mongolia, North Korea and South Korea.
FAO Senior Dairy Officer, Jean-Claude Lambert recalled the enthusiastic reception he got when he visited trials of the new technology on small Mongolian farms that were 150 kilometres from the capital, Ulan Bator, too far to transport unrefrigerated milk.
"Before the LPS method was introduced, the farmers only made a very dry traditional cheese from their milk," said Lambert. "By the time they could get the milk to the cooling centre it was too far gone. The centre would say 'No, we won't take it'. For them this new method was fantastic. They were able to get access to a wider market and double their income almost immediately."