Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The high cost of cheap food in India

Two weeks ago, I included the following story from Reuters in Overnight News Digest: Hump Day Edition.
Contaminated school meal kills 25 Indian children
by Annie Banerji, Mayank Bhardwaj and Anurag Kotoky
PATNA, India | Wed Jul 17, 2013 7:04pm EDT
(Reuters) - At least 25 Indian children died and dozens needed hospital treatment after apparently being poisoned by a school meal, sparking violent protests and angry allegations of blame.

The children aged four to 12 fell ill on Tuesday after consuming a lunch of rice, soybean and lentils in the impoverished eastern state of Bihar.

The school, at Mashrakh village in the district of Chapra, provided free meals under the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, the world's largest school feeding program involving 120 million children.
It turned out that was not just an isolated tragedy.  It was connected to a larger story, one that I included in Overnight News Digest: Fast Fill-in Edition and mentioned to my students today as part of a lecture on pesticides.

INSIGHT-The poison pill in India's search for cheap food
By Rajendra Jadhav and Jo Winterbottom
MUMBAI/NEW DELHI, July 28 | Sun Jul 28, 2013 1:10am EDT
(Reuters) - Nearly a decade ago, the Indian government ruled out a ban on the production and use of monocrotophos, the highly toxic pesticide that killed 23 children this month in a village school providing free lunches under a government-sponsored programme.

Despite being labelled highly hazardous by the World Health Organisation (WHO), a panel of government experts was persuaded by manufacturers that monocrotophos was cheaper than alternatives and more effective in controlling pests that decimate crop output.

India, which has more hungry mouths to feed than any other country in the world, continues to use monocrotophos and other highly toxic pesticides that rich and poor nations alike, including China, are banning on health grounds.
As I wrote in Nablopomo for July: Connect, everything is connected to everything else and there is no free lunch.  In fact, this lunch cost India 23 schoolchildren.  That's a steep price for cheap food.

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