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Providing Safe Meals To Children In India Presents Challenges

India’s cooked midday meal (CMDM) program, which has “reduced child hunger and increased school enrollment, particularly among less privileged social classes,” “is being viewed more critically this week, after meals tainted by pesticides killed 23 students and sickened many others at a school in Bihar state,” Washington Post foreign affairs blogger Max Fisher writes in the newspaper’s “World Views” blog. “In the backlash, some are pointing to a 2010 Indian government report on the program that, while generally positive, identified serious issues in the CMDM program, particularly with regards to hygiene and food quality,” he states, noting, “Schools in Bihar, as in a number of other regions, often lack proper cooking facilities, according to the report, which warned that this can lead to food safety and hygiene problems.”

Bihar’s CMDM program experienced rapid growth between 2000 and 2006, but, by 2010, the program was “the least likely to serve each child an adequately sized meal: 22 percent of the program’s beneficiaries said they were not getting enough food,” Fisher writes. “It’s not clear whether these strains on the program in Bihar exacerbated the health issues there or merely coincided with them,” he states, concluding, “But it’s clear from the Indian government report that, despite the program’s broader successes in feeding hundreds of thousands of children, many of whom might have otherwise gone hungry, feeding them in a way that is hygienic and safe remains a challenge — one not exclusive to Bihar state” (7/18).