Will PepsiCo food replace hot, cooked mid day meals in schools?

Secretary for food processing denies any knowledge of Harsimrat Kaur Badal speaking to PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi to provide processed food under nutrition scheme for school children

 
By Jitendra
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

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Media reports about the government holding talks with the multi-national beverage company, PepsiCo, to provide processed food under the Mid Day Meal scheme, has angered food rights and child rights activists. They are planning to organise protests against any such move.

The reports followed a meeting between Harsimrat Kaur Badal, minister for food and processing Industries, and PepsiCo chairperson and CEO Indra Nooyi, on Tuesday.

Siraj Hussain, secretary in the ministry of food and processing Industries, however, stated that no government official attended this meeting. 

But officers close to the minister accepted the fact off record. They admitted that a meeting was held to discuss plans to provide processed food under Mid Day Meal scheme. But the minister denied it.

In 2008, during the UPA-I rule, the then women and child development minister had proposed to provide 100 gm biscuits in place of cooked meals under the scheme. It was reported that 30 MPs lobbied for it.

“The then HRD minister, (late) Arjun Singh, denied the report of involvement of his family members in this deal and rejected the proposal,” says Biraj Pattnaik, a Delhi-based food rights activist.

Under Mid Day Meal scheme, the government of India has allocated Rs 13,200 crore budget this year to provide lunch to 110 million school children. The schools cook food according to local taste and the food provided includes rice, chapatis, pulses, eggs and vegetables.

But there have been regular reports of mismanagement; food cooked in unhygienic conditions have even caused deaths in the past https://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/year-no-lessons-learnt-bihar-mid-day-meal-tragedy. But activists say that systems need to be improved, and that hot, cooked meals have no substitute.

Activists on warpath  
The convener of Tamil Nadu Child Rights Observatory, K Shanmugavelayutham, termed the government move to provide processed food as unfortunate. “In the first term of UPA-I, the then child welfare minister, Renuka Choudhary, had proposed such a move. She was then in talks with few multi-national companies to provide fortified 100 gm biscuits instead of cooked meal. We had vehemently opposed then and will oppose any such move again,” says Shanmugavelayutham.

“We had organised protests at Jantar-Mantar in Delhi and in other states also with support of other activists. Soon we will start talks with our partners in states and organise a protest,” he adds.

Another right to food activist, V Suresh, termed the move to introduce processed food in mid day meal a bad idea. “There is no replacement for hot food cooked on the spot,” says Suresh. “Hot cooked food system also provides local livelihood [to self help groups]. The new government is trying to commercialise and commodify the entire food security plan. The issue of cleanliness and hygiene is a cultural issue. It can be changed once society asserts itself,” he adds.

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