New Delhi: RSS’s offshoot Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) has urged the government to not rely on dietary supplement packets to help malnourished children since it will benefit large corporations.
The SJM said the programme to begin ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTF) begun in BJP-ruled Rajasthan and Maharashtra has proved to be an “expensive and unsustainable” exercise.
More than a third of all children in the country are underweight, government surveys have found, prompting officials to look at the option of feeding children RUTF. These food packets are usually a protein, carbohydrate, lipid and vitamins and minerals that are dissolved in water and given to children.
There is a need to define take-home ration, so that RUTF, “as projected by the vested interest lobby, is not accepted as norm”, the SJM said in a letter to the ministry of women and child development (WCD).
The SJM, which has earlier taken on the NITI Aayog for supporting privatisation of health care, is concerned that introducing RUTF would benefit private players.
“Our concern is that the current drive of managing this problem is only through ‘treatment’ of severe acute malnutrition children, that too with commercial ‘ready-to-use therapeutic foods’ (RUTF). This is an entry point for food industry and such packaged foods will satisfy the ‘hungry for profits’ food industry and not our children who need real food,” SJM’s Ashwani Mahajan has written.
SJM has alleged that that the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement that has roped in three state governments –Maharashtra, Jharkhand and UP–as its members have a business network called SBN with majority of its members in food businesses promoting ready-to-use foods.
“These members include Pepsi, Cargill, Nutriset, Britannia, Unilever, Edesia, General Mills, Glaxo SKB, Mars, Indofood, Nutrifood, DSM, Amul, and Valid Nutrition,” Mahajan has pointed out.
He said in Maharashtra, which is already using RUTFs under the National Health Mission supported by agencies like GAIN, ACF, and UNICEF, a Rs 100 crore plan has been floated to tackle malnutrition in rural areas with packed RUTFs to be given to each child three times a day for 72 days at cost of Rs. 25 per packet.
“India cannot afford to allow this dangerous trend to come in and tear apart its food system,” Mahajan has written.
The SJM has drawn attention to the prevalence of malnutrition, pointing out that more than 44 million children under the age of five remain chronically undernourished in India.
“The National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) data on child feeding and nutrition shows stunting is 38.4%; underweight is 35.7% and severely wasted is 7.5.India is currently reducing child under nutrition at the rate of 1 % per year which is not a satisfactory pace at all,” Mahajan wrote.
Pushing for a policy to guide the states on most sustainable and local solutions, which are indigenous, economical and culturally relevant, Mahajan said Indian data for the treatment of severe acute malnutrition (SAM) children suggests that there is little difference between commercial ready to use foods or home augmented foods to treat SAM.