New Delhi: Opposing the idea of tackling Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) among Indian children with packaged and ready to eat foods, the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM), an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has asked women and child development (WCD) minister Maneka Gandhi, to frame a clear policy and come up with an indigenous solution for the problem.
SJM said that according to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) India has stunted (38.4%), underweight (35.7%) and severely wasted (7.5%) children, and is making an improvement of 1% per year which is not a satisfactory pace at all.
But it added that Severe Acute Malnutrition “is just one component of this whole range of child malnutrition" and found fault with the current approach that only focuses on this.
It added that “the current drive of managing this problem is only through ‘treatment’ of SAM children, that too with commercial ‘ready to use therapeutic foods’ (RUTF). This is an entry point for food industry and such packaged foods will satisfy the ‘hungry for profits’ food industry and not our children who need real food," Ashwani Mahajan, all India co-convenor, Swadeshi Jagaran Manch said in his letter to Gandhi.
“Our concerns are based on the global push for RUTF approach," he added.
Mahajan targeted the global Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement and said it had managed to convince Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh to sign up.
Mahajan claimed in his letter that the SUN Business Network (SBN), which supports countries that are part of the SUN programme and which is convened by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP), is pushing the cause of ready-to-use foods, nutrition supplements, ingredients for formulas and highly processed products and snacks.
SBN’s members include, “Pepsi, Cargill, Nutriset, Britannia, Unilever, Edesia, General Mills, Glaxo SKB, Mars, Indofood, Nutrifood, DSM, Amul, and Valid Nutrition", Mahajan said in his letter which asked Gandhi to consider local and indigenous alternatives to RUTF.
Doctors say that in order to fight malnutrition, children should get wholesome food that is full of nutrients. Dr. Dinesh Kapil, senior consultant pediatrics, Red Cross Hospital, said, “The requirement for a child who is suffering from acute malnutrition is that s/he should get freshly cooked food and fruits. Tinned and canned foods and juices cannot beat the quality of fresh food as most of them are considered as junk. If we can provide children with indigenous food it will prove beneficial to children. However, hygiene factor is comprised in many schools if we talk about mid day meals and other nutrition programs.
Though, nutritionists consider fresh food as best to meet nutritional needs of a malnourished child, packaged food can be a viable option when there are problems in delivery of fresh foods to rural areas. “When it comes to mid day meal, planning and implementation is a major problem in India. There are several local foods available but they don’t reach the child due to corruption prevalent in the process of delivery. In fact, packaged foods can be a solution to malnutrition, provided that we are giving proper nutrients to the children. All children have different nutritional needs. The best option is to look out for locally available foods with proteins, carbohydrates, fats and other nutrients and pack them in a dry state in economical yet healthy package and give to the children. It can be low cost yet healthy meal for children in absence of fresh foods," said Shikha Khanna, senior dietician, Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, New Delhi