New Delhi, May 13 : Civil society activists and NGOs on Monday demanded that the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) withdraw its report approving the nutritional value of food supplied by the Akshaya Patra Foundation as part of the mid-day meals scheme without proper scientific assessment.
In a letter to the NIN, they expressed their dismay at the institute's "unscientific, biased and irresponsible" response to the Karnataka government request about technical inputs on nutritional adequacy, bio-availability, diet diversity, taste and food safety and hygiene by the APF.
The APF has been supplying food to 2,814 schools in Karnataka as part of the mid-day meals scheme, which aims at providing students nutritious meals containing locally and culturally relevant food.
The Karnataka government had written to the NIN and the Central Food Technical Research Institute after the APF refused to provide eggs or use onion and garlic in the food calling them "tamasic".
"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 the APF was raised by the Karnataka State Food Commission and civil society groups," reads the letter.
While CFTRI has refused to comment, the activists said, the NIN, to their "utter shock and dismay", made sweeping statements praising the 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 the APF as nutritionally adequate.
Instead, a paper menu submitted by the APF was considered as evidence to comment on an aspect of the scheme, which has nutritional impact on lakhs of children!" reads the letter.
Even more shockingly, without visiting a single school or speaking to children consuming the food, the NIN took the unwarranted liberty of commenting on the taste and safety of the food, it said and added that "flies in the face of observations" by the State Food Commission on monotony of the food supplied by the APF or media reports of children vomiting after consuming the food on some occasions.
Activists said the eagerness exhibited by the NIN to offer opinions in this case raised "serious questions" about its credibility and independence.
"In view of the NIN's history and tradition of rigorous scientific research and considering that the nutritional future of thousands of children studying in government schools and availing mid-day meals has been undermined by the unscientific report submitted by it to the Karnataka government, we urge you to withdraw the report immediately, pending a systematic field evaluation of the food being supplied by APF," they demanded in the letter.