Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik expressed grief over the incident. He also announced Rs 3 lakh ex gratia assistance to the kin of the victims.
The supply of fortified rice in mid-day meal (MDM) in government-run schools to curb anemia has been opposed by the civil society groups on the ground that the consumption of such rice has begun triggering adverse health impacts.
Citing the case of children falling sick in Jhankarpali village in Khaprakhol Block of Bolangir district after consuming fortified rice, the activists including prominent public health doctors, nutritionist and social scientists have sought for the suspension of fortified rice supply in the State.
“We would like to raise some pertinent issues in this regard, both about the unproven efficacy of rice fortification as well as safety concerns about iron-fortified rice in a one-size-fits-all approach. Anaemia is a medical condition and is best addressed in an individual case management approach. If it has to be dealt with as a public health matter, then it is an imperative that proven, holistic, community-controlled dietary-diversity-enhancing approaches be followed. Reductionist solutions which try to address malnutrition micro-nutrient by micronutrient are not likely to yield results and are likely to pose unacceptable risks too”, activists stated in a memorandum to the Ministers of School and Mass Education, Food Supplies and Consumer Welfare and Women and Child Development.
It is well known that iron-fortified foods are contra-indicated for people with thalassemia, and sickle-cell anaemia as well as particular stages of infectious diseases like Malaria, Tuberculosis etc. This is also not administered when there is severe acute malnourishment, the activists stated in the memorandum.
If this is the unanimously accepted medical advice, how can a government feed its citizens iron-fortified rice, including to those who have been identified with the above medical conditions, as well as those who suffer from these conditions but have not been screened?
How is this being done in schemes that are actually entitlements of the citizens under the National Food Security Act 2013?, they questioned.
Odisha is also the state which has the distinction of civil society groups reviving traditional paddy varieties which have been documented to be nutritionally superior. It is a state where scientific research has occurred on the nutritional importance of uncultivated forest foods.
When so many solutions are available, in a state where public financing is not an issue, why are risky approaches being adopted for addressing malnutrition?
The Government ought to suspend its fortified rice distribution immediately and not go along with the ‘misadventure’ being attempted by the Union Government. The State needs to call for a comprehensive review meeting, to assess the need for such an approach, alternatives available for the same, and involve civil society groups in such a dialogue, they added.