Doctors, researchers and activists on Monday addressed an open letter to scientists at the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) asking them to withdraw a report that declared mid-day meals provided without onion and garlic by the Akshay Patra Foundation (APF) as compliant with the government’s nutritional norms on grounds that the conclusion is not based on empirical evidence.
Karnataka government had sought a technical report from NIN following complaints by the State Food Commission as well as civil society groups about the foundation’s refusal to provide onion and garlic in the food supplied to 2,814 schools in six districts in the State, which was in violation of norms prescribed by the local as well as the Central government.
“The National Institute of Nutrition, to our utter shock and dismay, has made sweeping statements praising Akshay Patra Foundation, without carrying out any systematic scientific study. No empirical data was collected on the quantity and quality of ingredients used or amount consumed and amount wasted by children to certify food supplied by APF as nutritionally adequate,” says the letter signed by ten organisations and 94 individuals.
Instead, the signatories say, the entire report had been prepared on the basis of a menu submitted by the Foundation. “We urge you to withdraw the report immediately pending a systematic field evaluation of the food being supplied by APF,” adds the letter.
The NIN was asked to look into four major issues — nutritional compliance, food safety measures, taste, and diversity of meals. Earlier, the Karnataka State Food Commission (KSFC), following visits to schools, noted that the food provided by APF was bland and monotonous, as a result of which children were consuming less than the prescribed quantity of meals, defeating the purpose of the mid-day meal scheme.
The letter also highlights how another institute that was asked to look into the matter, Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), sought “four to six” months to be able to comment on the issue.
Activists say that following the KSFC’s findings, a specific menu was prescribed for contractors, but APF had violated these norms. They also say that APF’s refusal to provide onion and garlic on religious grounds is a violation of the law.