At least 22 children in India have died as a result of eating soy-based school lunches served to them in the country’s Bihar state, according to new reports.
The tainted lunches, which were loaded with genetically-modified (GM) soybeans and pesticide chemical residues, were given to the student victims as part of a U.K.-based government meal program similar to the one currently being implemented in the U.S. by Michelle Obama for American public schoolchildren.
The U.K.’s Independent reports that the culprit meals contained a blend of rice, soybeans and potatoes, and had apparently been doused with an unidentified new cooking oil that was later determined to be tainted with toxic crop insecticides.
Early on, the school’s cook warned her superiors that the new oil appeared “discolored and dodgy,” but her concerns were ignored when school officials insisted that the oil was safe.
Not long after students ate the first meal served with the new oil, dozens of them began to vomit profusely and some developed severe diarrhea. Several of them had to be immediately rushed to the hospital for emergency care, which sent the school’s headmaster running for the hills — according to reports, she literally fled the school after first learning that students were becoming ill from eating the food.
“We feel that some kind of insecticide was either accidentally or intentionally mixed in the food, but that will be clear through investigations,” said R.K. Singh, the medical superintendent at the local children’s hospital in Patna, Bihar’s capital.
“We prepared antidotes and treated the children for organic phosphorus poisoning,” he added, noting that early tests identified the presence of a toxic organophosphate chemical in the tainted food.
But the school itself appears to have dropped the ball in helping its sick children in the immediate aftermath of the poisoning. Reports indicate that it took about 15 hours after the first child fell ill to evacuate the rest. It was only after 17 children died that school officials began to take the situation seriously by trying to actually help the children.
After learning about the school’s mismanagement of the situation, many parents began rioting in the streets and demanding answers. Protesting villagers reportedly set ablaze four police vehicles out of anger, and police reinforcements had to be sent in from elsewhere to quell the unrest. In the aftermath of the disaster, Bihar has offered to provide compensation of 200,000 rupees, or about $3,500, per dead child to affected families.
All government food programs, including those in US, a threat to children.
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