Open Letter to National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad (11/05/2019)

Dear Scientists at National Institute of Nutrition,

We the undersigned, have held the National Institute of Nutrition in high regard for its contributions to nutrition research and evidence-building, and have the used its work as part our effort to secure right to food for all citizens of India. We are therefore dismayed at the unscientific, biased and irresponsible response sent by the Institute through its Director to the request from Government of Karnataka regarding assessment of nutritional value of food supplied by Akshaya Patra Foundation (APF).

APF has been supplying food to 2,814 schools in Karnataka as part of the Mid-day meals scheme (MDM) which, it needs to be emphasized, is a scheme fully funded by Government of India and Government of Karnataka. The scheme aims at providing students studying in the schools, a nutritious meal containing locally and culturally relevant food, which children will find tasty enough to eat in adequate quantity. APF, on the other hand has refused to provide eggs or use onion and garlic in the food supplied because it considers these foods as ‘tamasik’. Since onions and garlic are part of the traditional foods like sambhar in Karnataka, and hence has been included as part of the menu prescribed by the State government, their non-inclusion by APF was raised by the Karnataka State Food Commission and civil society groups. Following this, the Government of Karnataka had asked National Institute of Nutrition and Central Food Technical Research Institute for its technical inputs on nutritional adequacy, bioavailability, diet diversity, taste and food safety and hygiene.

In their response, CFTRI has refused to comment on the nutritional quality, taste, diversity and safety of food supplied by APF instead asking for sufficient time and resources to do a proper assessment. NIN, on the other hand, to our utter shock and dismay, has made sweeping statements praising APF, 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. Instead, a paper menu submitted by APF, was considered evidence enough to comment on an aspect of the scheme which have nutritional impact on lakhs of children! Even more shockingly, without visiting a single school or speaking to children consuming the food, NIN has taken the unwarranted liberty of commenting on the taste and safety of the food even which fly in the face of observations by State Food Commission of monotony of the food supplpresied by APF or media reports of children vomiting after consuming the food on some occasions. The eagerness exhibited by NIN to offer opinions in this case, in absence of any scientific field evaluation, raises serious questions regarding NIN’s credibility and independence.

In view of NIN’s history and tradition of rigorous scientific research and considering that the nutritional future of the lakhs of children studying in government schools and availing mid-day meals has been undermined by the unscientific report submitted by NIN to Government of Karnataka, we urge you to withdraw the report immediately pending a systematic field evaluation of the food being supplied by APF.

Endorsed by-

Organizations

  1. Centre for Sustainable Agriculture
  2. Fedina, Bengaluru
  3. Karnataka Janaarogya Chaluvali
  4. Maraa, Bengaluru
  5. Right to Food Campaign-India
  6. Right to Food Campaign-Karnataka
  7. Safaikarmachari Kavulu Samithi-Karnataka
  8. The People’s Union for Civil Liberties – Karnataka
  9. Vimochana, Bengaluru
  10. Working Group on Alternative Strategies, Delhi

Individuals

  1. Aabida, New Delhi
  2. Abdul Shakeel, New Delhi
  3. A R Vasavi, Punarchit, Nagavalli, Chamarajnagara, Karnataka
  4. Aiman Khan, Bangalore
  5. Alwyn Prakash D’Souza, Indian Social Institute, Bengaluru
  6. Anasuya, SWARAJ Sangatane, Karnataka
  7. Aysha Khan, Activist, Delhi
  8. Bharath Bhushan Mamidi
  9. Bittu K., Scientist, Ashoka University
  10. Brinelle D’souza, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
  11. Chandra Mohan
  12. Deepak Malghan, Faculty, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore
  13. Denny John, Evidence Synthesis Specialist, Campbell Collaboration, New Delhi
  14. Dipa Sinha, Ambedkar University, Delhi
  15. Dr. Anand Teltumbde
  16. Dr. Arun Gupta (MD Ped), Central Coordinator BPNI
  17. Dr. Arvind Sivaramakrishnan
  18. Dr B. Karthik Navayan
  19. Dr. Gopal Dabade, President, Drug Action Forum Karnataka, Dharwad
  20. Dr. Karen Gabriel, Associate Professor, Dept. of English, Director, Centre for Gender, Culture and Social Processes, St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University
  21. Dr. Narendra Gupta, Prayas
  22. Dr. Prabir Chatterjee, Independent Consultant
  23. Dr. Prashanth N S, Faculty, Institute of Public Health, Bangalore
  24. Dr. Shyama Narang, Gynaecologist, Bengaluru
  25. Dr. Suhas Kolhekar, Convener,National Alliance of People’s Movements and Health Rights activist from Jan Swasthya Abhiyan
  26. Dr. Sushi Kadanakuppe, Reader, Department of Public Health Dentistry, V. S. Dental College and Hospital, Bengaluru
  27. Dr. T H Lavakumar, Professor and Theatre Director, New Delhi
  28. Dr Vandana Prasad, Community Pediatrician and Public Health Practitioner
  29. Dunu Roy, Hazards Centre, New Delhi
  30. Firoz Ahmad, Primary School Teacher, New Delhi
  31. Gee Imaan Semmalar, Sampoorna
  32. Geeta Seshu, Independent Journalist, Mumbai
  33. Harsh Mander, Centre for Equity Studies
  34. Imrana Qadeer, Distinguished Professor, Council for Social Development, New Delhi
  35. Indira C, Public Health Researcher, Delhi
  36. Indrashish, New Delhi
  37. Javed, New Delhi
  38. Jyoti Punwani, Journalist, Mumbai
  39. K B Obalesh, Safaikarmachari Kavulu Samithi, Karnataka
  40. Kavitha Srinivasan, MAKAAM- Karnataka
  41. Kamayani Bali Mahabal
  42. Nadeem, New Delhi
  43. Narasimappa T V, Alternative Law Forum, Bengaluru
  44. Neelima Sharma, Theatre and Woman Activist
  45. Neeta Hardikar- Anna Suraksha Adhikar Abhiyan
  46. Nikhat Fatima, Activist and Freelance Journalist
  47. Nisha, New Delhi
  48. Mamata S, Activist, Bangalore
  49. Meena Saraswathi Seshu, SANGRAM, Sangli
  50. Meera Sanghamitra,  National Alliance of People’s Movements, Telangana
  51. Mohan Rao, Former professor, Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, JNU, New Delhi
  52. N. Jayaram, People’s Union of Civil Liberties
  53. Neelaiah C, ActionAid
  54. Pamela Philipose, Journalist, New Delhi
  55. Persis Ginwalla, Ahmedabad
  56. Pradeep Esteves, Context India, Bangalore
  57. Prabhir Vishnu Poruthiyil
  58. Prof Anuradha Chenoy
  59. Prof Kamal Mitra Chenoy
  60. Prof G Devegowda, Former Professor and Head, University of Agricultural Sciences, GKVK Bangalore
  61. Pushpa A, Consultant & Writer, Bangalore
  62. Puthenpura Job
  63. PT George, Intercultural Resources, Delhi
  64. Ramdas Rao
  65. Ramendra Kumar, Secretary General, Delhi Shramik Sangathan
  66. Ravi Kanneganti, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture
  67. R Manohar, Centre for Amenities, Rehabilitation & Education (CARE), Bangalore
  68. R Srivatsan, Independent Political Theorist
  69. Radha Holla Bhar
  70. Rosamma Thomas, Journalist, Pune
  71. Sejal Dand- ANANDI
  72. Shakun M, Activist, Bangalore
  73. Shamsul Islam, Author, Delhi
  74. Sharada Gopal, Right to Food Campaign-Karnataka, Dharwad
  75. Shujayathulla, Indian Social Institute, Bangalore
  76. Siddharth Joshi, Independent Researcher, Bengaluru
  77. Siddharth Ramu, Forward Press
  78. Sita Mamidipudi, UCLA
  79. Subhash Mendhapurkar, Director SUTRA, Jagjit Nagar District Solan Himachal Pradesh
  80. Sudha N, Independent Researcher and Activist, Bangalore
  81. Sudha Sreenivasa Reddy, National Law School of India University, Bengaluru
  82. Sudhir Katiyar
  83. Suhas Borker, Convener, Working Group on Alternative Strategies, New Delhi
  84. Sukla Sen, Peace Activist, Mumbai
  85. Sunil, The Ant, Rowmari, Chirang, BTAD, Assam
  86. Sunita, New Delhi
  87. Susie Tharu, Retired Professor, Feminist Scholar and Activist
  88. Swati Kamble
  89. Teesta Setalvad, Secretary, Citizens for Justice and Peace
  90. V P Sarathi, Coimbatore Human Rights Forum
  91. Vinay Kooragalaya Sreenivasa, Advocate, Bengaluru
  92. Vincent Manoharan – Dalit Rights Defender
  93. Vineeta Bal, Scientist, Pune
  94. Vibhuti Patel

Media Coverage

  1. Sabrang India, “Religious Indoctrination Through Midday Meals“, May 9, 2019.
  2. Deccan Herald, “Activists slam clean chit to Akshaya Patra midday meals“, May 12, 2019.
  3. The News Minute, “Activists Challenge report certifying Akshaya Patra mid-day meal to be up to standards“, May 12, 2019.
  4. Counter View, “Top Govt of India institute told to withdraw report calling onion, garlic, eggs “tamasik”, May 12, 2019.
  5. News Click, “Mid-Day Meals: Activists Slam National Institute of Nutrition For ‘Unscientific’ Report On Akshaya Patra“, May 13, 2019.
  6. The Week, “Karnataka: Civil society groups oppose govt nutrition body’s sanction to mid-day meals“, May 13, 2019.
  7. Business Standard, “NIN’s unscientific report on Akshaya Patra food flayed“, May 13, 2019.
  8. Outlook, “NIN’s unscientific report on Akshaya Patra food flayed“. May 13, 2019.
  9. The Hindu, “Experts ask NIN to withdraw report favouring Akshaya Patra“, May 14, 2019.
  10. The New Indian Express, “Activists slam NIN for clean chit to Akshaya Patra midday meals in Karnataka schools“, May 14, 2019.

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