Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Insecticide in India school meals

Indian children who fell ill after eating a free school lunch lie at a hospital in Patna (AP)
Indian children who fell ill after eating a free school lunch lie at a hospital in Patna (AP)
An Indian man cries while carrying the body of his daughter who died after eating a free school lunch (AP)
Children became ill after eating a free school lunch that was tainted with insecticide, Indian officials said (AP)
An Indian child eats her free school lunch at a government run school in Patna (AP)

Post-mortem tests on 22 children who died after eating a school lunch in India have confirmed that insecticide was in the food or cooking oil, doctors said.

Patna Medical College said results of chemical analysis of the ingredients seized from the school are still pending. The free meal was served to the children in Gandamal village in Masrakh block, north of Patna, the Bihar state capital.

The 25 children and school cook still being treated in hospital are unlikely to suffer from any serious after-effects of eating the tainted food, said Patna Medical College hospital superintendent Amarkant Jha Amaralso.

It is not clear how chemicals ended up in the food. One official said it might not have been properly washed before it was cooked.

The children, between the ages of five and 12, fell ill on Tuesday, soon after eating the meal of rice, lentils, soybeans and potatoes. The lunch, part of a popular national campaign to give at least one daily hot meal to children from poor families, was cooked in the school kitchen.

The children were rushed to a local hospital and later to Patna for treatment. Authorities suspended an official in charge of the free meal scheme in the school and registered a case of criminal negligence against the school head teacher, who fled as soon as the children fell ill.

Angry villagers, joined by members of local opposition parties, closed shops and businesses near the school and overturned and burned four police vehicles.

A preliminary investigation suggested the food contained an organophosphate used as an insecticide on rice and wheat crops. It is believed the grain was not washed before it was served at the school, he said.

However, villagers said the problem appeared to be with a side dish of soybeans and potatoes, not grain. Children who had not eaten that dish were still well, although they had eaten the rice and lentils, several villagers said.

Four of the children are still in intensive care, but a Patna Medical College spokesman said: "There will be no remnant effects on them. The effects of poisoning will be washed after a certain period of time from the tissues."

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